If you’re reading this and have published books, you know the challenges of planning even a single book release event. Coordinating a tour is exponentially tougher. From the end of April through the first week of June, I appeared in Skagway, Haines, Juneau, Talkeetna, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer, Soldotna, Talkeetna (again), Denali Park, and Anchorage (again). A few observations.
When I learned in September that a project I began more than thirty years ago — the thoroughly Alaskan novel Now Entering Alaskan Time — was finally going to be published, I started planning. A musician as well as a writer, I’ve been a touring artist since 1995, and had a sense what I hoped to accomplish in state upon publication.
Specific challenges. Though a long-time resident who moved to Fairbanks in 1985 and who has lived in Juneau, Sitka, Nome, and Anchorage, I now tour almost entirely down south. That meant I had to fine-tune my travel schedule and closely watch my budget. The publisher was a small press based in India. Though I’d worked with them before on a poetry collection, so knew they were reliable, they weren’t experienced publishing novels. And distribution into the States was going to be problematic.
We had to start somewhere. The novel is set in Fairbanks, Juneau, and Nome. I started writing it in Juneau in 1989, finished a reasonable draft again living in Juneau in 1997 (after stints in Sitka, Nome, and then an illness time). For almost 25 years I’d occasionally tinkered with the manuscript as I traveled widely while managing other projects. For this tour I strategically reached out to people I knew, or thought I should know. Though the book’s official publication date was June 1 — and I expected to receive review copies mid-January — I launched a successful crowdfunding campaign in November, and started reaching out about potential tour dates in December after I made flight reservations. April 28 I’d fly from Seattle to Juneau. May 9, Juneau to Anchorage. June 9, back to my car in Seattle since I already had dates later that month in Nevada, Utah, and Texas.
Did I say it gets complicated? In Southeast, I imagined events in Juneau, Skagway, Haines, Sitka, Petersburg, Ketchikan. I emailed bookstores, arts councils, libraries, friends, and others I thought might be interested. Though ferry service can be hit-or-miss, there was an April 29 ferry from Juneau to Skagway, a ferry to Haines on May 1, and another back to Juneau on May 3. That meant I could economically get to those three communities. Skagway bookstore owner, Jeff Brady, who I knew, almost immediately jumped on board, which set in motion a collaboration with the library there. Jeff also had a place for me to stay, helped with travel, and best of all read the novel, liked it, and ordered twenty. In Haines, the library was enthusiastic about hosting me for a children’s program, a general program, and a writing workshop. A few days before I arrived, the elementary school there invited me to visit one morning. In Juneau, friends, who I’d be staying with, passed my information to contacts at KTOO, which led to an extended live radio interview. Because I couldn’t find a Juneau venue to host me, I rented a small hall in order to have a public event. In Sitka, I eventually received an invitation to visit schools, but there were too few days left in my schedule, and the school district budget didn’t justify jamming everything else too tight. I didn’t hear back from Petersburg arts council contacts. Ketchikan? I’ll briefly mention Ketchikan again later.
My month on the road system was a variation of what I’d done in Southeast. Between gigs I stayed with a friend in Eagle River who also had a car I could borrow. I’d had more than 100 books shipped to Anchorage, which I hoped would be enough. In both Talkeetna and Homer I had success reaching out to community arts councils. In Talkeetna, that led to a mid-May kids’ library show, a writing workshop, and an hour-long radio interview. Memorial Day weekend I returned for a two-day festival. In Homer I played a concert joined by four local accompanists and was the subject of a short radio feature. Before leaving both communities, I had the new book in local stores, and made new friends. Driving to Homer, I stopped at River City Books in Soldotna where I not only got the new book into the store, but arranged a lunch-hour stop on my drive back to play fiddle and sign books. In Anchorage, the Anchorage Folk Festival sponsored two events. The Denali Education Center by Denali Park hosted me Memorial Day evening. In Fairbanks, the Noel Wien Library had reached out to me about a potential Zoom event for an April National Poetry month program. Since I could be in town in May, that April invitation turned into an in-person book-release show, which also allowed me to go on KUAC radio for an hour-long interview, and then to spend extra days at a local recording studio — late July, I’ll release a CD to go with the book since music is prominent.
My last days in state, I followed up as seemed right. I sold books to shops in Anchorage, Palmer, Juneau, Denali Park, Hope, and mailed sample books to stores in Sitka, Kodiak, and Ketchikan that I thought ought to be interested (and sent email follow-ups that included my website — I’m still following up with contacts at the Anchorage Daily News, the Anchorage Press, and public radio where I’d sent books and already followed up once; the tasks are endless.) I also wrote to a few long-time friends I hadn’t been in touch with for years, and introduced myself to a pair of state library association board members. On my way out of Anchorage, I left a sample book and sheets with Mosquito Books, the airport bookstore.
This work is cumulative. Documenting the tour, writing this piece, that’s part of it too.
Ken Waldman combines original poetry, old-time string-band music, and smart storytelling for a performance uniquely his. Since 1995 he’s appeared from the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage to the Dodge Poetry Festival to the Woodford Folk Festival (Queensland, Australia). 20 books consist of 16 full-length poetry collections, a memoir, a creative writing manual, a kids’ book, and a 2022 novel, Now Entering Alaska Time (Cyberwit Press, India). Nine CDs include two for children. Current projects include three more CDs, including one to go with the new novel. “Feels like a Ken Burns movie . . . Always recommended.” –Austin Chronicle