The Pros & Cons of Book Touring
I’ve been on tour since May 10, and away from home (meaning, not going back home after an appearance but instead living out of a hotel) for two straight weeks. I will continue to be doing so until Sunday — assuming I’m able to get home without delay by taking a Memorial Day Weekend flight, which to my knowledge I have never once been able to do. When everything wraps up I will have been on tour for three weeks, which for a normal human is a long time to be away from home, and this particular instance if nowhere else, I happen to be a fairly normal human.
While I have been about on tour, folks have asked if I like touring, or if I’m having fun, or if I miss being home — or more generally, what it’s like to be on a book tour for an extended period of time. So to answer these questions, I’ve made a little list of the pluses and minuses of being on a long book tour.
To begin, let’s start with the pluses:
1. An opportunity to promote your book. This is of course the whole point of the tour, and it’s not an insignificant point. Lots of books get released every week, even in just science fiction and fantasy, and you have to work hard to differentiate yours from every other book and get people excited about it. Showing up in physical form in a place your readers can find you is one of the ways to do that.
In my case at least there’s some evidence that touring helped punt the book up and through that ineffable goalpost known as the New York Times Bestseller List — not wholly through the number of people showing up to the events but also through the second-order stuff like media covering the event and people talking about the tour and so on. It’s that second-order awareness raising that makes a difference in the long run and justifies a tour, even if the numbers of readers showing up at any particular spot varies significantly.
2. A chance to meet fans. I’m under the impression that it’s exciting for fans to meet authors, but it works the other way, too — it’s very neat indeed to show up at a bookstore and see dozens of people (or more!) waiting to see you and meet you and being excited about your work. Writing is a process usually done alone and staring into a computer, and most writers are not so well known that they are stopped on the street by the adoring masses. A tour is a nice way to be assured that indeed, all of our hard work and hair-pulling angst in writing a novel does not result in the book falling down a dark hole; people really do read it, and like it, and show up to let us know about it. I assume other writers are grateful about that; I know I am.
3. An opportunity to road-test material. In my case, when I’m on the road, I try not to read from the book I’m touring, since presumably people either have already read it, or will be reading it once I sign their book. Instead, I present material from upcoming works, and that serves two purposes: One, it gives me an idea of how that particular piece is working with people who are core fans of my writing; two, it both rewards people for showing up to my reading (they get an exclusive sneak peak!) and if they like it, at least, gives them something to be excited about for the future.
4. See friends and other places. I live in rural Ohio and most of my friends live a significant distance away, so a book tour gives me a chance to get out of my little hometown for a bit and at most stops to spend some time with friends who I would not otherwise easily see. At nearly every stop on the tour there were at least a couple of friends I had not seen in a while and was happy to be able to spend at least a little time with. Also, occasionally on tour you have an opportunity to meet with people you have always wanted to meet, but managed not to up until that point. That’s fun too.
5. Most everything is paid for by someone else. Hotels, airfare, dinners? Paid for by the publisher or expensible. That’s fairly awesome.
So those are upside happy things. Now here are the disadvantages:
1. Discombobulation. What day is it? Where am I? What’s on my schedule that I have to do this time? There’s an actual rest of the world outside my tour? After a couple of days it really does become a blur, because usually at each stop one is heavily scheduled. It’s not just the event — there’s meeting with booksellers, signing stock, being driven about, doing interviews and other work on the road, and so on… and doing that all while constantly moving.
When I did my first tour for a novel, I was told I’d have a media escort at each stop, and I thought, why on earth would I need one of those? By the second stop I knew: Because you’re doing so much, and usually in a place where you don’t know where anything is, that you really do need someone to guide you around and sometimes do the simple things, like, you know, make sure you eat and make it to the airport for your next flight.
2. Performance mode. This isn’t an actual minus, but it’s taxing, which is why I put it in this category. When I do an event, I am essentially doing a live and generally high-energy performance: I do a significant chunk of reading, which I try to deliver in something other than a pedantic monotone, because that would suck; then I do a fairly extensive Q&A session, which obliges me both to think on my feet and to be entertaining while doing so, and then I do a signing session, which is an hour or more of making sure that everyone who gets a book signed feels they get at least a moment where it’s just them and me talking. When all is said and done it’s two or three hours of being on.
As fun as that is for me — and it is fun, a lot of fun — it’s also very tiring. When I’m done with what I call my “Performing Monkey Mode” at the end of every tour event, I’m usually wiped out. Friends with whom I go to dinner after an event usually notice it — I am quiet(er) and appear a little withdrawn and tired, and slightly dazed. And you do that every day for a couple of weeks.
3. Time pressure. So, the good thing about touring is that you get to see friends. The bad thing about touring is that you often don’t get to see them as much as you like, and the fact is, you’re working, and you have to fit your friends around that work. So often that means that someone you’d really like to spend an hour or two with you end up being able to spend maybe fifteen minutes with, or even just a couple of minutes in the signing line. And while I expect most of those folks know you’re busy and working and don’t hold it against you, it’s still not the best circumstance. And of course sometimes there are people you want to see, but then your schedules just don’t match up. So you’re in a town of one of your friends and what you end up doing is waving at their house as you fly out.
4. Isolation. You see friends, you see fans, you meet people on your tour. But you’re still out of your usual circumstances and you are usually flying solo and you are generally only in any one place for a short period of time, and you travel around a whole lot. So you end up spending a lot of time alone, and not just alone but alone away from familiar places and people. Which leads to being (for me) a little isolated and out of sorts. I tell people that my usual limit for being away from my wife, child and pets is about three days, and after that I start being cranky and moody. So now I’m on day fourteen of that, with a few more days to go. I’m pretty sure I’m not letting my existential yearning for home show much — and to be clear I’m still enjoying myself quite a bit and am looking forward to the last few days on the road — but it’s there. I am very much ready to be home and not having to go anywhere or do anything other than be with my family.
So there are the ups and downs of the life of the touring author, at least when the touring author is named John Scalzi. Other authors may tell slightly different tales. But I think in general we’d all say: these tours are a lot of fun, we have a wonderful time when we’re one them, and when they’re done, it’s nice to be home.