First things first, never arrive on time. If the launch is at 7pm, don’t dream of being there before midnight. If you do, you will likely be the first, and will immediately be introduced to the author and all his family. He will shake your hand with a confused half-smile as his wife debates whether you are a relative, colleague or lover. Perhaps all three. She will press a glass of warm white wine into your hand and surreptitiously give you a sniff. There have been times, she remembers, when there have been fading trails of perfume on her husband’s jacket. Too subtle to arouse suspicion, just real enough to spark a pleasant fantasy. Of course he was just standing beside someone on the bus, but what if, what if, what if? This, however, is different. Why else would this person be here at this time? She will look at you and inhale so deeply that your wispy scarf will immediately fly up her nose, sending all three of your glasses tumbling gracefully skyward. The muffled, snuffled roar of her surprise will be all the more poignant as a gentle rain of Chardonnay falls upon the collective brow. All that will be left is for you to mop the hair from your visage, shake the author’s dampened hand once more, and wish him every success. Again.
Assuming you have the good sense to avoid this trap, you will be arriving at the perfect moment, a decent crowd having filled the room and taken away the desolate fear that looms over every book launch that’s ever been, ever. The speeches will be moments away, leaving you just enough time to settle in.
Your entrance is always something to take seriously. You may think you know somebody there, but when you arrive you are more likely to see Halley’s Comet playing dice in a corner with the devil. You will know nobody, and it’s important to prepare for that. Do not walk through the room, scanning the crowd, smiling ever more anxiously, like one of those passengers who comes through the arrival gates of the airport, looking around for friends and family with banners and hugs and flowers, and ends up walking steadily more slowly, face dropping with every step, before wrapping their coat more tightly about them, blinking back the tears and wheeling themselves out into the rain. Don’t ever be that person.
Keep your head down, and make your way to wherever the books are being sold. Don’t ever think it’s ok to avoid buying a book at a launch. Yes, they will notice; yes, it looks cheap; no, they’re not too busy to see. Just buy the book.
It will also give you something to do for that first crucial minute. Stride through the crowd like a proud and happy lion, directly to the tiny table. Pay with cash, and ideally have exact change. This is a book table. That person is probably an editorial assistant, living on breadcrumbs and sugar. Wall Street is far away from this table. If you feel an urge to suck your teeth and arch a brow when you hear the price of the book, restrain it. It’s fine.
Once you have your book, you can safely swoop by the drinks table and, making doubly sure they see your purchase, partake, partake. It will strengthen you for the next leg of the adventure.
The speeches will generally begin with an editor, bookseller, or friend of the still-damp author tapping gingerly on the microphone. You will be relieved to learn that all of the ladies and all of the gentlemen remain very welcome.
And then we’re off. Keep an eye on the crowd for people you think may be thanked. Place a bet with yourself. Win. When someone is thanked, give yourself double points if they smile deprecatingly, bow their heads and give a slight nod. If someone accepts their praise by pulling their t-shirt over their head, sprinting around the podium and sliding across the carpet, you are at the best launch ever.
As you will be clutching your wine, clapping should be done by hand to forearm. Stick with the same forearm throughout to avoid any confusion with the Haka.
When the speeches finish, drain your wine and leave. Never hang around. Do, however, make sure to wink at the author as you go. And, of course, his wife.