The only thing worse than going on book tour is not going, writes Ann Patchett (RUN; BEL CANTO) in this recent Atlantic magazine article.
All of it rings true, including when she asks a writer friend about his memories of a certain 1992 book tour, and he admits, “I didn’t drink till book tour.”
Patchett explains what we less-famous writers also know from experience: that it’s really hard for a debut author (or any author) to get a consistently good crowd, that book touring breeds a kind of deep funk that can contaminate one’s writing life for months following the tour itself. And yet, as Patchett makes clear, it’s better than not going. Because we have to try everything to get our books out there, don’t we? We have to hope that in the long run, readerships will build.
My own book tour tip is to use tour time not only to read and present, but to visit as many stores as possible, including ones where you aren’t scheduled to sign. Especially at the independent stores, try to talk to book managers and staff (I was always interested in talking to book club organizers), buy books whenever possible, show your patronage. A bookseller may decide to handsell your book after meeting you, or give your book better store placement, or order your next book. Meanwhile, you’ve learned more about the marketplace.
One of the lowlights of my West Coast book tour for SEARCHING FOR STEINBECK’S SEA OF CORTEZ was realizing that a supermodel (was it Christy Turlington?) was selling her yoga book in nearly every bookstore I visited, two days ahead of me. Guess whose bookstore visit attracted more crowds? Darn those supermodels. And celebrity chefs. And limelight-hogging former presidents.
One of the unexpected highlights of my West Coast book tour for THE SPANISH BOW was arriving at a supercool indie store in Seattle (where I was not doing a signing) to find out the manager knew I was in town and had asked to be called if I came by. He’d read and liked my book, and hoped I’d do a signing there for the next one. How nice is that? I also enjoyed having local guest cellists perform at some of my readings. In some places the audiences were “intimate,” shall we say, but I felt confident that we put on a good show. Prolific Alaska novelist Jo-Ann Mapson has her own signing/reading trick: she hands out fudge. I think it’s a swell idea to hand out anything that makes it easier for someone to pause and chat with the author. It can be an intimidating experience from both sides of the table.
If you’re still reading, I want to recommend an author who has covered this topic brilliantly, and poignantly: Brett Lott, author of BEFORE WE GET STARTED: A PRACTICAL MEMOIR OF THE WRITER’S LIFE. In “Toward Humility,” he describes his experience of being an Oprah-blessed writer, who still couldn’t necessarily draw big crowds. But the essay is about much more than that, and it’s a wise little thing of beauty.
A final note about bookstore events: I’ll be signing THE SPANISH BOW at two Mat-Su bookstores on Aug 30 — Fireside Books in Palmer from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm, and Pandemonium Booksellers in Wasilla from 1 to 3. Sherry Simpson, author of THE ACCIDENTAL EXPLORER, will also be there, so it’s a two-for-one event. We hope you’ll stop by and say hello.