So This Author Walks into a Bar...
As a new author, the most daunting task I face is getting my name out to the public and distinguishing myself from the thousands of other authors who have recently written a book. In bookstores all around the world new authors are setting stacks of books on folding tables and smiling at prospective readers as they nose through the "New Releases" section. Setting yourself apart from the crowd takes effort and imagination.
Luckily for me, I have a secret weapon. I know my way around a bar.
When my first book, Taco Noir, came out, I made sure that my local bookstores all carried copies, that the local business association did a story on me, and that my website was shiny and new. However, I knew that I couldn't stop there. I knew that I had to set up an event or two outside the local bookstores. An event that was sure to draw notice just by being different, and one that was guaranteed to be fun. I wanted it to be big, not in size, but in spirit. Defiantly big in spirit.
For my first event, I set up a reading in a pub that sold food. The audience purchased tickets, which they exchanged for copies of my book, a screening of an old (public domain) mystery movie, raffle tickets, and a reading. And, if those who were over twenty-one were so inclined, whenever the author said the word "Opera" it was a good time to wet your whistle.
A good bar mirrors a good bookstore in a number of ways. Both places invite their customers to relax and enjoy themselves in their own time and their own way. Both encourage their customers to connect with each other and create an atmosphere that lends itself to holding events in their establishments. One of them, however, is loaded with alcohol.
One of the first things to understand is that not all bars are created equal. You might have a special place in your heart for the local bar, but if they only fill the place on Karaoke night or are known far and wide as a launching pad for speed metal bands, I would caution you about approaching them for a quiet evening of mystery or suspense reading.
On the other hand, some bars scream out to have a book event, and you'll know them the minute you set foot in the joint. These are the places that groups enjoy hanging out in, with the kind of relaxed atmosphere that you find in your favorite bookstores. If their patrons can chat without having to yell over booming background music, or play a game of darts or watch the game on TV, then they are in the running. If the bars or pubs have a running movie night, then these are your people. If you are lucky to be in an area where the local bar embraces the identity of a noir/mystery/ hard-boiled hang-out, such as San Francisco's Wilson and Wilson Detective Agency or Vegas' Mob Bar, then run, do not walk, to their front doors.
Another variable to factor into boozy book event is the ability to go big. Really, really big. As I mentioned before, pairing your reading with a film that coordinates with the theme of your book is always a good move, particularly if you are not a known name. But that's only one of the variables. If you can, incorporate some music, food, and make yourself heard over a PA system. Go ahead and own the place! In my case, I have a backdrop that looks like a P.I.'s office, complete with wanted posters. I dress in a rumpled suit and trench coat, and have a raffle for pulp reprints and promo materials for my book. It costs next to nothing, and makes a big statement.
Finally, the best thing you can do to cement the relationship between you and the establishment is to make sure that the house makes money. Encourage a winery or a tasting room to advertise case sales when you have your event. If you are having the event in a pub or a bar, work with the house to see if the special can reflect your reading. How cool is it if the bar runs a special on your main character's drink of choice? Whatever they are offering, make sure that you mention it a few times during your event. And don't forget to tell your audience that you'll be hanging out in the bar to sign copies of your book. Don't tell them that you'll be the one drinking iced tea.
Once all the pieces are in place, not only are you almost guaranteed an entertaining evening, but more importantly, you will have made a lot of new friends who are also evangelists for your work. People will bore their friends to death about the time they had drinks with a mystery writer at their favorite bar. And they will stand in line when your next book comes out.
If you still aren't sold on the relationship between good old-fashioned hard-boiled fiction and pubs and bars, remember what Henny Youngman once said about the relationship between the written word and alcohol
"When I read about the evils of drinking, I give up reading."
Respectfully submitted by Steven Gomez, November 2012, Steven is a mystery writer and the Chief Investigator for the Noir Factory, a fictitious detective agency. In his everyday life, he lives in the Sierra foothills with his wife, two dogs, and a fully-stocked bar.
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