Why I Held My Book Launch Party in a Hair Salon

The launch of a new book signals the culmination of an intense period of work--one punctuated by the deadlines, disappointments, delays, and other landmines that are all too common along the road to publication. For an author, a book's publication also marks the end of the long period of solitude during which time an author has been thinking, writing, mulling, editing, and revising--over and over and over again. Writing a book is tedious and lonely, especially if (like most writers) you're obsessive. Thus, the book launch offers an excellent excuse to pause, breathe a sigh of relief, and throw a party, almost like the christening of a new ship before its maiden voyage.

So when Overlook Press released my book Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend last month, I was ecstatic to tack in another direction. My immediate breakout plan was twofold: to get the word out about the book and to resurrect old friendships that had admittedly become somewhat frayed by neglect. My book extols the benefits of face-to-face friendships, but it was no secret to everyone who knew me that I had been glued to my laptop for what seemed like forever. I know I'm not the only author who feels a little desperate at the end to show her family and friends how much their patience and support has meant along the way. Launch parties aren't only for authors!

Although many people were surprised before I explained why, deciding to have my launch party at Donna Hair Design in Chappaqua was a no-brainer (and let's face it, I was fairly brain dead at that point). For one thing, the salon is right next door to the vacant storefront that once housed Second Story Books, the indie bookstore my town lost last spring. That was the place where Bill and Hillary had their book-signings and where I might have had the party. But independent bookstores are dwindling in number. According to the American Booksellers Association, as of April 2009, there were only 1,401 indies nationwide, compared to 1,524 the year before, and Second Story Books was, unfortunately, one of those casualties.

Aside from my lost bookstore nostalgia, though, there were other reasons Donna Hair Design was the perfect place for my book launch. Hair salons are some of the last bastions for women to literally let their hair down to "tend and befriend" in a unisex environment. Donna's is a grand salon in the broader sense of the word, an inviting living room where women gather to support one another. While, ostensibly, its raison d'être is focused on appearances, it provides busy multi-tasking women with a much-needed respite from responsibility: a place where women come to be pampered and nurtured, and reciprocate in kind. Women go for "cut and color" as they celebrate the passages in their lives and milestones for their loved ones--sweet sixteens, graduations, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other special occasions. Salons also offer women unfettered time to talk about politics, books, movies, health and relationships as they wait their turns or for their hair dye to take root.

If you're fortunate enough (as I am), the stylist herself is part of the draw. A special bond develops between her and the client in her chair. It's intimate, trusting, and involves the laying on of hands, almost like a relationship with a family doctor. A good hairdresser is a good listener; she comes to know our innermost thoughts and secrets and instinctively knows how to make us feel better about ourselves.

For Donna and me, the boundaries between a professional relationship and a friendship have long since blurred. She's one of my BFFs and the salon staff have become like an extended family. For the launch, the entire team was mobilized and emerged as highly talented, motivated, and creative event planners, taking on responsibility for the invitations, menu, wine, flowers, Tiffany-blue color theme (to match my book cover), music, photography, and coordination of book sales with the staff of Borders in Mount Kisco. The pièce de rèsistance: Donna's sister, Mary, baked heart-shaped cookies iced in blue with a yellow crack down the center, depicting fractured friendships.

What a wonderful day it was! The date of the book launch coincided with National Women's Friendship Day and the weather was glorious--perhaps the most beautiful day of the year. I was overwhelmed when more than 150 celebrants (including my editor and agent) began piling in the door. The room was filled with well-wishers from every slice of my life: college friends, neighbors, relatives, colleagues who had morphed into real friends, my son's first babysitter, the realtor who sold us our house--well, you get the drift. It was awesome to be together with them all in one place that celebrates women's friendships every day--the perfect setting for a book launch.

Every author deserves a launch party that feels as perfect to him or her as mine felt to me. Here are a few tips to help authors achieve that goal:

Keep it local - Plan your gala in your own neighborhood. That's where you'll find your strongest cheerleaders and best be able to tap local resources including the media.

Find a theme - Whether it is the topic of your book or the color of its cover, carry through with invitations, decorations, and refreshments that complement the theme. It will become your brand that people will remember.

Partner creatively - Find ways to help someone else promote their business as they promote your book. At my party, the salon opened on a Sunday afternoon and all the salon's clients were invited to drop in. Everyone loved the swag bags with donated hair products.

Make it fun - Don't forget it's a party, not a signing. It's your time to celebrate with everyone who helped bring you to this day. Immediate book sales are secondary to building friendships and long-term word-of-mouth interest in your book.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her new book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.