I’ve thrown launch parties for all three of my books, and two of the most well-attended launches occurred at popular bars in Orlando—namely the Eden Bar and the Imperial. What makes this type of book party more successful than a traditional, on-site launch at your local indie bookseller? Think creative cross-promotion. Particularly for my most recent release, Perfect Conditions: Stories, I felt the uniqueness of the Imperial captured the book’s settings and themes. The bar is located within Washburn Imports, a purveyor of hand-carved furniture from Southeast Asia that, at night, the owner turns into the Imperial, a beer and wine bar. Its enchanting space uncannily evokes the themes of Perfect Conditions, whose characters often find themselves unmoored in far-flung locales.
To get things started, I approached some members of a jazz band I know well and admire, the Strange Angels, who regularly play at the Imperial. I asked if they’d be open to making one of their upcoming Thursday-night appearances a joint venture: their usual show plus my book launch. Once the members agreed, we contacted the owner, who was more than happy to schedule a doubleheader.
Here are some key advantages and strategies for authors looking to launch their book at local hot spots, with bands, if possible:
• Remember that even trendy bars have slower times when they look to bring in more patrons. You might ask the owner or manager when the bar is seeking to boost sales. Daytime or nighttime can work equally well. For the launch of my debut story collection, Train Shots, I chose a Saturday at 2 p.m. event at the always-hip Eden Bar, which has a lovely outdoor patio under magical ancient oaks. If many in your circle have young kids, you might want to explore this type of venue and time slot for something more family friendly.
• If you’ll be using your local indie bookstore to handle sales, coordinate with them early on about the venue and setup. Or, if you’ll be handling book sales on your own, be sure to have a friend or two agree to work the cash box while you meet people, chat, and sign.
• Choose a bar that at least offers a menu of tasty and affordable small bites—this way refreshments are available. Since book parties are often drop-by events, this will appeal to friends and fans who show up on a weeknight. They’ll be more likely to hang out for a while, which will make the bar, the band, and you happy.
• Consider booking musicians you know or local bands you enjoy. Ideally, you’ll approach a group with a decent following and social media presence to bolster cross-promotion. Pitch to them that your book party will be a great opportunity to reach new audience members (your friends) and that you’ll be promoting them among your circle. Design an Instagram-friendly joint-event graphic for you, the band, and the bookstore to post regularly.
• With the band on board, your book party now has music and more foot traffic, plus a mic and speakers setup. Ask the band if you can read during a break. Consider collaboration; this may lure some of the band’s followers to buy your book. Since Strange Angels is an avant-garde jazz band and several stories in Perfect Conditions have lyrical passages of magical realism, I chose to read brief excerpts, spoken word style, for my launch—something I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise. Embrace spontaneity, be inventive, and have fun!
• Never underestimate the power of libations to loosen wallets. For both of my book parties at bars, random patrons wandered over and bought copies. I’ve sold at least an extra stack of books at each launch this way. Buzzed and curious bar customers at my last launch even bought copies of all three titles—to my delight and the bookseller’s.
With some ingenuity and pluck, authors can breathe new life into the standard book launch event by inventing a unique, memorable celebration, all while introducing their work to a broader audience—and in the festive atmosphere of a
happening, supportive venue, they’ll wind up selling more books. Most importantly, by bringing together great music, refreshments, ambiance, and storytelling, a creatively cross-promoted event will embody the communal spirit of art as a gift—something the world needs now more than ever.
Vanessa Blakeslee’s most recent book, Perfect Conditions, was the 2018 gold winner for short stories in Foreword Reviews’ Foreword Indie awards.