My Thoughts on Book Tours
Via Metafilter, I found and read this article on The Awl in which several authors (and a couple of publicists) discussed the pros and cons of book tours. As someone who tours and otherwise does lots of author appearances I found it interesting, with some of the points lining up with my own experience and some not. This prompted me to write up my own thoughts about book tours in the Metafilter comments. Because I believe in “waste not, want not,” I’m reposting the bulk of that comment here for the edification of all y’all, with a minor edit because I made a hasty snark which I thought I should walk back a bit (you’ll see it).
Some of this has been covered here before, but this has enough variance that I think it’s a worthwhile post.
And yes, I will be doing a tour for Redshirts in June. We’re still fine-tuning the stops. I’ll post it when it’s locked down.
My thoughts on book tours.
1. I find them to be very useful, personally; the tour I did last year for Fuzzy Nation definitely helped to get the book on the NYT best seller list, first by helping me do publicity in the various cities the tour was in (which helped sales) and second by the tour going to bookstores sampled by the NYT lists, which helped to sell a lot of books at those particular stores.
2. You don’t have to be an extrovert to go on a book tour, but what you do have be is social — that is, have the ability to engage an audience during the reading part, and make amusing small talk during the autographing part. You are essentially going to be on stage and the focus of attention for three hours straight, and that’s draining (especially if you are an introvert), so you better be prepared for it.
3. Related to the above, you should recognize that for the duration of the appearance, you are not a writer, you are a performer — your job is to entertain the people who have come out to see you. To that end, the person in that article who said they like to read in a quiet, flat monotone is, in my opinion,
something of an idiot not doing it the way I think it should be done. You have to perform your reading and make it memorable. They’ve humped out to wherever the hell you are; it’s not out of line for you to make it worth their while.
4. When I read at an appearance, I rarely if ever read from the book I’m touring for; most of the people have either already bought the book (or are going to buy it at the appearance) so reading them what they already know is no fun. What I typically do is read from an upcoming novel and emphasize that because the audience members took time from their lives to see me, I’m giving them an exclusive that no one else gets. It makes them feel special and it also serves the useful purpose of giving me feedback on what’s often a work in progress.
5. Book tours can indeed be lonely and disorienting, particularly if you’re traveling to a different city every day. If you can, do visit with friends either before or after your event, but do make them aware that after two or three hours of being “ON,” you might be a little… dissipated. In other words, they’ll need to do the heavy conversational lifting.
6. Try to fit everything into a carryon. On my last tour I traveled to 14 cities; that was 14 opportunities for the airlines to lose my luggage. Be aware if you have a long tour that this means you may have to do laundry in the middle of it. It helps to have a friend with a washer and dryer somewhere around halfway through the tour.
7. Try to eat well. Tours give you lots of opportunity to eat a bunch of shit from airport news stands and fast food restaurants. Resist the temptation. You will notice the difference in your energy level.
8. Authors don’t get groupies. Sorry.
9. Book tours really aren’t for everyone. You have to be willing to perform and entertain, and be a public entity, and lots of writers either can’t do it or don’t want to do it. For such a writer, a tour isn’t going to be useful. They should focus on publicity options that are congenial to them. Not being able to tour isn’t a crime, and it isn’t even necessarily a drawback, publicity-wise, provided that the author is doing other things to get their work out in the public sphere.
10. That said, if you can tour, and be an interesting public speaker and personality, then there are definitely benefits. People remember good readings and appearances and thereby think positively about you; that makes them more likely to buy your work in the future and to recommend your work to others. Touring can give you an opportunity to meet booksellers, librarians and other writers, all of whom can be helpful for building friendships and business relationships. You get to see the country (and sometimes the world), often on your publisher’s dime, and that doesn’t suck, either. And hey, you might sell some books too. It beats lifting heavy objects for a living.