5 Reasons to Set Your Novel in a Famous Place

Before I tell you why I think it’s a savvy move for a writer to set his or her novel in a well-known real-life place, rather than in a landscape that’s merely a product of the writer’s imagination, I should note that my own decision to set my new thriller Strangers on the Beach in Maine’s iconic Old Orchard Beach was more a stroke of good fortune than of calculating genius.

From the time I started writing Strangers, though, until now when I’m working to promote it, I’ve been reminded countless times of what a smart decision I lucked into making.



Guest column by Josh Pahigian, author of nine books. His latest
is his debut novel: a mystery set in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, titled
STRANGERS ON A BEACH (Oct. 2012, Islandport Press). It was
recently named an “Indie Sleeper Title to Watch” by
Publishers Weekly.
(Read the book’s first 3 chapters.) Josh teaches writing in the Low
Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Western Connecticut
State University, and at the University of New England. He lives in
Buxton, Maine. He is also the author of the nonfiction sports book,
was re-released in an updated edition in 2012.  


My wife and I had been married at low tide, just a few steps from where Pine Point Beach spills seamlessly into Old Orchard. Then, I’d spent two years working part-time in Old Orchard. I had dozens of friends who lived there. My parents owned a home there. I’d spent practically every summer day there. Though I’d been successful publishing baseball books, all of my stabs at fiction seemed to eventually end in failure…until I started writing a book set in Old Orchard.

Setting Strangers on the Beach in one of Maine’s most beloved places enabled me to write with confidence and enthusiasm. And since the book has come out, the decision has given me an unexpected, but much appreciated, assist in promoting my work.

Here’s what you stand to gain by setting your own novel in a place that doubles as a tourist attraction.

(Do agents Google writers after reading a query?)

1. You’ll Be Motivated to Keep Writing. As I mentioned above, my wife and I had chosen to spend our wedding day on the sands of Pine Point and Old Orchard. We both love the beach in general, but especially that beach. Before we moved to Maine, we used to travel from Boston to spend weekends in Old Orchard. Because I opted to set Strangers there, every time I sat down at the keyboard I was revisiting a place I loved. It was a joy to make that “trip” each day and it kept me coming back for more, even on those days when my confidence as a writer was lacking.

2. Researching Will be Fun. As familiar as I was with Old Orchard, I still needed to visit the town and its beach on a regular basis once I started writing. That’s pretty good work if you can get it. I’d walk the beach, people-watch, munch “Pier Fries” in Old Orchard’s famous Square, and I didn’t even have to feel guilty about it. Each time I went there, I came up with a new idea for the book.

3. A Receptive Audience Will Await. Since Islandport Press released Strangers in October 2012, I’ve realized the extent to which people who love Old Orchard love the idea of a book set there. The town has only about 8,000 year-round residents, but the population swells to more than 100,000 in the summer. Since Strangers was released, I’ve been getting emails and Facebook messages from people who were previously … umm … strangers to me … saying they feel as though reading the book has allowed them to vicariously visit a place they love.

4. A Built-In Distribution Network Will Await. Because my book takes place in a tourist town, there were already shops and stores in place locally catering to visitors looking for a unique keepsake by which to remember their time in town. Some of these are already stocking Strangers, while others won’t reopen until spring. Keep in mind, every weekend all summer tens of thousands of new visitors arrive in Old Orchard, so the book should find a new crowd of potential buyers each week.

(How to Sell Pieces to Magazines and Newspapers.)

5. A Built-In Promotion Team Will Await. I use fictionalized versions of actual places and businesses in Old Orchard as the chapter settings. The Pier, Palace Playland, Mr. Goodbar, Beach Bagels, the Brunswick Hotel, and other favorite locations in town form the sub-setting of the book. I’ve found that the proprietors and employees of these establishments have become some of the book’s most vocal proponents. I think they appreciate the extra attention (and business) their inclusion in the book has brought. Consequently, they are happy to tell patrons and potential book buyers that they’re in Strangers on the Beach.

So what famous place might work as the setting for your novel? May I suggest a famous landmark like the Grand Canyon, a tourist attraction like Disney World, or a sports venue like Wrigley Field?



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2 thoughts on “5 Reasons to Set Your Novel in a Famous Place

  1. Beduwen

    Great post! I wasn’t sure initially if I should include real places in my novel but in the end I felt it added credibility to the book. And people who have reviewed it said they loved being able to identify with the places they were familiar with.

  2. vrundell

    Definitely an interesting idea from a marketing standpoint, but I think I like the ability to ‘re-live’ your favorite locale in your writing even better.


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