I suppose that there is no such thing as a ‘generic’ book launch. Not only that but it is unlikely that any two people experience the book launch in the same way. Still whilst each is unique they have factors in common and these we can perhaps look at.
Firstly there is the author. He or she stands almost, but not quite, centre stage. They hold their book, the subject of this launch, across their chest almost as a shield, and wear a fixed expression that they hope will pass for enthusiasm.
Just off to one side is a collection of fellow writers. Male or female it makes no difference, they huddle together drinking free wine. Their entire body language screams, “It should have been us, we are the rightful recipients of a publisher’s bounty.”
Moving in upon the author we have a reader. This person has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the author’s previous books and wishes to discuss plot flaws in a novel the author published two decades previously.
Next to the author, close enough to also be almost but not quite centre stage there is the publisher. The publisher’s face is fixed into a broad smile of welcome whilst behind professionally welcoming eyes there is a brain that is trying to work out whether the books sold will pay for the free wine distributed.
Moving away from the limelight we have the lesser actors in this drama. Allow your gaze to rest on the matron who, fortified by four glasses of free wine has allowed herself to be cozened into purchasing a signed copy of the book at its full price. Watch her well as she ponders whether to have a fifth glass, nervous lest it lead her on a path that will doubtless be undignified and which she may well regret in the morning.
Note also the publisher’s little helpers. Young men and women of undoubted charm who circulate through the throng, topping up glasses and calculating at what point a sale might be possible.
Then we come to the table nearest the wine bottles. Here sit the reviewers, each with their complementary copy of the book and all on their third glass. At some point the writer will come across and flatter them unmercifully whilst the publisher in person tops up their glasses.
Finally we move out from the centre to those who were drawn by the clink of wine glasses. Firstly and most importantly there are the young ladies. Every publisher likes these, their presence tends to encourage the presence of young men, and if the correct ambience is achieved, young men might be encouraged to purchase the damned book in a probably futile attempt to convince the young ladies that they are persons of literary attainment. According to my research, (I discussed the matter with Shena, my lady wife) these young ladies hunt as a group and amongst their number you will find the following.
There is the one who is crying, nobody is entirely sure why.
Then there is the one who is desperate for male attention and wants a baby.
At the centre is the pretty one. She has been dragged along by her friends to give the pack credibility even through she’d prefer to spend the evening with a good book. Ironically she might be the only one who is at all interested in the book that is being launched.
Then there is the one who drinks too much and is likely to finish the evening sprawled on the dance floor in some dishabille being disastrously ill in a bucket or on someone’s shoes
Most importantly there is the organised one. She is the one who makes sure that the evening doesn’t end in disaster. To achieve this she will often conspire with the pretty one to ensure that the one who drinks too much doesn’t and the crying one cheers up.
Finally there is Sal; she is the unique individual (yet each pack will probably have the equivalent even if they have temporarily mislaid her. She is probably in her forties, weighs a few pounds more than she used to and has a devoted husband and at least two children. Sal drinks like a man, beer in large tankards if available. She might well have acquired a larger glass than the organiser proved and is drinking her wine out of that. She is very loud; and whilst the others made their way to the rendezvous without incident, Sal will have spent half an hour chatting to the blind euphonium playing beggar. If there is singing to be done she will sing, if there is impromptu dancing on tables, then Sal will dance on the table. She will disappear off on adventures and return three hours later wearing someone else’s clothing and with yet another fascinating story to add to her inexhaustible fund.
She also knows everyone, likes people, younger women will marvel at how there are always marginally attractive men dancing attendance on her.
And out then to the periphery of the event, those who have been swept in by the offer of a free glass of wine, those who had nothing better to do and those for whom it’s an excuse not to have to go home just yet.
Ah, literature, don’t you just love it.