You can't put a good invitation down

NEVER MIND the book, savour the launch party. At this, the most frantic time of the year for new books, publishers hold several parties a night to ensure their latest wares are noticed.

Literary editors, networkers and bibliophiles with a taste for champagne can go on a launch crawl that can take in up to half a dozen books in one evening.

Three nights ago, the literary guzzler could have worked his or her way through The Bookseller's annual party at The Ivy restaurant in central London and the launch of Victoria Glendinning's biography of Jonathan Swift at Random House headquarters, ending up at the party for Rachel Billington's new novel, Tiger Sky, at Macmillan's head office in Victoria, where those who had partied too hard at previous launches were a little dismayed to find there was a power cut and the lifts weren't working. But there was a full day to recover before the lavish launch at the Ritz on Thursday evening of Dick Francis's latest racing thriller, Field of 13.

A modern book launch can cost anything up to pounds 10,000 - far more than the average novel makes. But the September rush, with its combination of the post-holiday buying of serious literature and the deadline for inclusion in next year's Booker Prize, is made up of names who tend to have sales well above the average.

"Actually, throughout the year we do really try not to have parties," said Minna Fry, marketing director of Pan Macmillan, "because I'd really rather spend the money on advertising." But she conceded that the avalanche of big names on to the market over a few weeks means publishers have to open bottles to grab publicity.

"There's a danger of party fatigue setting in," Ms Fry said. "People can get fed up with drinking champagne. The answer is to come up with something different."

This week saw new novels by Sebastian Faulks, William Trevor, Hilary Mantel, Dick Francis, Ruth Rendell and Morris West, with the next few days seeing works from Martin Amis, Ben Okri, Ben Elton, Ian McEwan, Philip Roth, the actor Richard E Grant, Paul Bailey and Michael Dibdin.

Grant's new novel, By Design, set among the trendy celebrities of Hollywood, will have his launch party at The Pharmacy Restaurant and Bar, designed by Damien Hirst and the haunt of some of London's trendiest celebrities.

Paul Charles, music industry manager turned crime novelist, has a new novel, Fountain Of Sorrow, which opens with a murder on a tourist boat at Camden Lock, north London. A launch party is being planned - presumably for those who have not read the book - on a tourist boat on Camden Lock.

Chris Patten's story of his governorship of Hong Kong, East And West, will be launched at Macmillan's Chelsea headquarters with Chinese food.

Some publishers are fortunate enough to have offices that make perfect party venues. Random House's offices in Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, have a large boardroom with views over the Thames and a restaurant with space for dancing.

Sebastian Faulks will celebrate the launch of his novel, Charlotte Gray, on Monday at the Cobden Club in west London, near his home and the homes of many of his friends.

Robert Harris, will launch his thriller, Archangel, in the Reform Club library in a fortnight, close to Westminster for his politician guests.

But the most imaginative publishing party plans are eclipsed by the celebrations being drawn up by organisers of the Booker Prize.

To mark the prize's 30th anniversary this year, Booker will be holding celebratory evenings of readings by previous winners at the British Library and at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature.

And in case anyone thinks that too bookish, there will be a full-scale government reception party next month at Lancaster House. Publishers will have to go back to the drawing board next year to beat that.

t Heffers of Cambridge, one of Britain's most famous bookstores, was put up for sale yesterday for the first time in its 122-year history. Nicholas Heffer, great-grandson of the firm's founder, William Heffer, and the company chairman, wants to retire soon and has no relatives who are prepared to take over.

Leading article, Weekend Review, page 3

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