Well, I guess the "trick" is to have a quality act and a LOT of ambition. I have 12+ years of experience in booking and promoting my own act. If you could be more specific in what you're trying to do, I may be able to help with some tips or gig leads.
This Monday, Sept. 22, I am launching a weekly luncheon designed to teach indie artists how to have successful careers without the help of a major label (see http://www.indieconnect.com). I started this post to get ideas for topics to discuss. I currenly have speakers on marketing, publicity, entertainment law, setting up your business etc. Would you be interested in speaking on how you book and promote your own act? The best advice always comes from those who have done it!
There is only one trick I know of which is understanding that getting a gig or even a record deal is all about how many fans you bring with you.
Where I've seen most people screw up is by not beginning at the beginning. That is filling a living room with enthusiastic friends and fans and not moving the party to a larger venue until people simply can't get in the door. Word of mouth is the only profitable form of promotion in the music business.
I can hardly think of a successful artist who hasn't done exactly this early in their career.
You're right on the mark. You don't build a huge following in a day. It needs to be a grass roots effort. Unfortunately, many artists are too impatient to do this. They want to take the world by storm. It taks a viable plan, and then dligent implementation of that plan.
If it's club work you want, stop telling the owners things like; "We're really good" or "Our guitar player used to be with (insert name here)".
Tell the club owners how you plan to help sell their products. BOOZE & FOOD! "We work with you to help promote your drink specials" or "We help sell your food by talking about how awesome it is before our break". Another important point. I used this to close a lucrative club date a few weeks ago... "We aren't trying to change the world with our music... we're a cover band. But, we will keep your dance floor packed which translates into much larger alcohol and beer sales for you. We play what the crowd wants, not what we want".
It's a "business" folks. The venue owners, cooks, wait staff, and its booze vendors don't care about how great you sound! It's a nice by-product when your making them money. If your not making them money, you'll slide right into the "Just another band" category.