Notes and Advice From a Book Tour
Posted on October 26, 2018 Posted by John Scalzi 19 Comments
The book tour for The Consuming Fire only has a couple more stops (that is, not counting the week I then spend in France after I am home for a day…), and I thought it might be fun to note a few things about life on the author tour road, and offer a few tips as well. These are not big revelations and/or tips, but are things worth considering, if you’re on the road as an author, or are hoping to be at some point.
1. I eat a fair amount of room service on the road, and it seems to me that in general room service food has gotten better over the last few years. This might be because the hotels now often have an actual (i.e., not just Sysco’s Greatest Hits) restaurant on board. But even when not, it just seems better. Last night I had very serviceable pad thai and better than average pecan pie. I’m pleased about this development and hope it continues.
2. You can put two weeks worth of clothing into a carry-on if you know how to maximize space, but at least a couple times in the course of the tour you will have to reorganize your carry-on so you can easily access the clean stuff. I just did that again this morning; I don’t want to have to go exploring to find the clean underwear (small tip for telling apart the clean and dirty clothes if you don’t put the dirty clothes in a bag: Turn the dirty clothes inside out).
3. My largest cash expenditure on tour? Tips. Everything I can put on a credit card I do (so that there’s a clean record for taxes or reimbursement from the publisher), but for people like hotel staff and drivers, cash is best. I should note that most of the costs of the tour are shouldered by the publisher, but (and this is a personal choice) I usually handle tips myself, because I am the direct recipient of the service;. This is where I insert the usual complaint that the tipping society we live in is inherently unfair, etc, etc, but the fact is we live in a tipping society, so I tip.
4. I use a carry-on when I tour because there’s less chance of being separated from my luggage forever, BUT because of contemporary luggage policies, a lot more people are doing carry-on these days. If you aren’t in the first couple of “zones” to get seated on a plane, you’re probably going to have to end up gate-checking your luggage. It used to be that if you were seated in premium economy (or its equivalent on your airline), you’d automatically be in one of those first few zones, but at least some airlines — I’m looking at you, United — appear to have decoupled the two. The moral of this story is probably to fly Delta, which still does pair their premium economy to getting on the plane relatively early.
5. This is matter of personal taste, but for most domestic flights, I do find “premium economy” or its equivalent perfectly serviceable for plane rides. This is no doubt because I have relatively short legs and also don’t drink alcohol, so two of the major attractions of business/first class are wasted on me. I did get an upgrade to first class on one flight of the tour and it was lovely, but (and aside from a bit of Twitter comedy about it) not so much that generally I’m willing to spend a couple hundred dollars more (or a couple hundred dollars of my publisher’s money) to make the upgrade. I make exceptions for this — if I’m on a red-eye flight I will often opt for business class in order to sleep a little better — but generally I don’t find it worth the money, mine or my publisher’s.
6. Authors: Want to make friends with the bookseller hosting you on the tour? At the end of your presentation, just before the signing part, encourage the people at the event to buy a book from the bookstore (even if it’s not your own book!). Most people at your event have probably gotten a book from the store already (and probably your book, because they want you to sign it), but some haven’t, and some people forget that there’s a high correlation between a bookseller hosting future events, and the bookseller doing well with the current events. So remind people to buy books from the bookstore at your event, and to support them the rest of the time as well.
7. Authors (and anyone else who travels a lot), if you have a decently long tour and also a favorite airline, I suggest either getting an American Express platinum card (uhhhh, if you can) or an airline-related credit card, which allows you access to the airlines “clubs.” Especially if you have a long layover/wait at an airport, they tend to be places that are less frantic than the rest of the airport, where you can get something to eat or drink and otherwise depressurize for just a bit. I have the platinum Amex, which means I get access to the Delta Skyclubs (when I fly Delta) and Amex’s own “Centurion Clubs,” and it makes a difference for my airport experience. The annual fee isn’t cheap, but for the amount I travel in a year (and factoring in other benefits, like the fact I have automatic “Gold” status at several hotel chains), it’s been worth the cost overall.
8. General rule of thumb for a tour, but also I think for life in general: Try to be kind and decent to everyone who is supporting you on a tour, from the people who drive you places to the booksellers to the hotel staff to (if you have one) media escorts, and especially to the people who come to your events to see you. Sometimes this is less easy than others, if you’re tired or you’ve had an aggravating day or whatever. But, aside from the fact that when you practice kindness, kindness is often returned to you, the fact is that everyone remembers how you treat them and everyone also talks. A reputation for being a decent human will take you a lot further than a reputation for being a difficult turd.
9. One of the best things about touring for me is the fact I often get to see friends either before or after an event. I highly recommend trying to book a little time to see people if you can, not only because touring can be isolating and people react poorly to being isolated, but also because friends can keep you grounded and happy. If you have a lot of friends you won’t be able to see them all (and you may have to remind them that you probably won’t be able to go off and do some hours-long thing because you’re actually working, and you’ll probably have to stay near your hotel and/or event), but make the effort to see at least one or two. It actually makes a difference to your quality of life.
10. But also make sure you have some time for yourself! Most authors are introverts and can use some recharge time. One of my favorite things is to do when I have a day when I have an early event (or if I get into a hotel room early) is to nap, or to order room service, fire up Netflix and do a little bingeing. You will have to be “on” nearly every time you’re in front of someone else on tour, so having time where you can be “off” is actually really important. Make sure you schedule time to do that. It’s important.
And those are today’s tips.
All excellent tips. I’d also add that, whether with friends or going solo, getting out of the hotel for some local cuisine is a nice way to change things up. Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh, Daikokuyu in Los Angeles, Taco Guild in Phoenix…go find the iconic nosh, or wherever the locals recommend.
Related: Hotel gyms are also better than they used to be.
This is all smart advice. I buy a Delta SkyClub membership every year and, though I wince at the price, it more than pays for itself. I probably go into one of those clubs every two weeks, and the combination of relative quiet, free food, free wifi, and ease of locating them justify the expense. (I pay for the SkyClub membership rather than having it be a card perk because then there’s no question about getting into the clubs abroad, which can sometimes otherwise be an occasion for disputatiousness.)
Yes to lounges! My husband travels extensively for work, so he gets more use out of the lounge access than I do. But when we were traveling to and from Europe the lounge access made things so much more pleasant. Free food, comfy chairs, all the yes.
I think you must have the Delta Reserve card, not the Delta Platinum. Platinum only gets you a discount on SkyClub, it’s the Reserve that gives it to you for free, unless you have some grandfathered in benefit. Big annual fee difference between the two, though. And, all of the Delta cards get you into an early boarding group. I hate the annual fees, but the airline credit cards have become just about essential these days, between the free bags and priority boarding. We also just got free Global Entry from the United card.
Charles Owen: it’s the regular Amex Platinum.
Excellent advice. I especially like the taking time for yourself. Even stretching out for 15 minutes can be luxury during these things. Much as I’d like to be a tourist, the extra energy/time belongs to the readers I’ve come to meet. Thanks for this!
I just heard this one: when tipping in restaurants, put a small tip (50¢ is good) on the card, and the rest in cash. I’m told the IRS figures cash tips at 18%, unless there is a tip on the card.
Best way to find good food in a new place is Yelp. Google search ‘yelp restaurants anywhereville’. You can also search for ethnic food, burgers, burritos or whatever you’re craving.
Being kind to other people helps me feel better, I find, even when I am having a lousy day.
Have fun in La France!
Eat in or out depends on a lot of factors: remaining energy after the day, the city (easy in Rome, far less in Brussels for example), the weather (no way to go out if it rains or snows…),… but also whether I am alone or with others. Still shy about eating alone in a restaurant…
About that week in France… any schedule of events available…?
I traveled for decades for business, and I can attest to the fact that Making Time For Yourself is absolutely necessary. My favorite way was to find a park, university or safe older residential area and walk for a mile or two. Worked wonders for me and my attitude.
In USAF pilot training, they taught us the turn-your-underwear-inside-out thing, not as a way of identifying it from the clean, but as a way of enabling it for a second day of use. As long as you don’t have the same side of your underwear against the same skin a second day, you’re good to go (and by that principle, pilot and copilot can do an exchange to redouble usage once again…). So then you have to keep track of your dirty dirties, and your not-so-dirty dirties. And if you really get stuck on the road a long time with a broke-**** airplane and your underwear is starting to stand on it’s own, then you need to know how to wash your clothes in the hotel sink, using plain hand soap or shampoo.
As any veteran road-warrior knows, getting enough sleep is the most essential thing to not just surviving a long, multi-stop road trip. It is also the most difficult thing to get! Along those lines, I would add a few other tips:
On the plane
1) Find out if your wireless carrier or credit card gives you free access to an in-flight wifi service. This can save you more than a few bucks when doing a series of one-night stands. Take care of those emails when the pilot gives you his/her “We’re about 20 minutes out” announcement. You will be awake anyway and fewer people will be on the wifi.
2) Keep a large bag of almonds in your computer bag. Great for those times when life prevents a regular meal. Skip the airline meal whenever possible, or get the vegetarian plate.
3) Sleeping on a plane tips:
a) Noise-canceling headset AND foam earplugs.
b) Good fitting sleep-mask.
c) Take your coat off and drape it backwards over you, like a blanket – works FAR better promoting sleep than just zipping it up….
d) Use in-flight magazines, tablet, other materials at hand, etc., to make a lumbar support (especially if you are taller than the mythical 5’10” average person.
e) Use a neck-pillow, but in reverse, i.e., the ‘back’ of the pillow under your chin. It works better, especially if you are a head-dropper.
f) Avoid alcohol. It will actually make it harder to stay asleep on long flights.
In the hotel
1) Pack everything up except toiletries and the next day’s clothes the night before. You CAN be showered, packed, and out the door in 20 minutes. 15 in a rush. (i’ve done it ten, but I used my electric razor at the airport.)
2) Block any source of white, blue, or yellow light. Get creative. Bring black electrician’s tape. Use spare pillows, chairs, turn clocks on their face, etc., the darker the room, the better you sleep. If necessary, wear your in-flight sleep mask.
3) Set the room temp as low as possible, down to 64F if it will let you. The cooler the room, the better you sleep.
4) ALWAYS turn the fan to “On”, not “Auto”. The hum acts like white noise and masks sounds that would otherwise wake you up.
5) NEVER rely on the room’s alarm clock or a scheduled wake-up call. Use you phone instead.
6) Hang your wrinkled shirts & slacks in the bathroom…then take a long, hot, steamy shower before bed. This will steam the wrinkles out them, and help you be ready to go to sleep.
7) Always ‘live’ out of your suitcase. Only put things in a dresser if you are staying in one place for more than two nights.
8) Swipe whatever fruit you can from the lobby area on your way to the airport – can be a snack or lunch on the plane (and again, taste better!).
I’ve heard that is exactly the reason why Keanu Reeves never lacks for work, and Chevy Chase is whining that he never gets offered acting jobs anymore.
When I was a grad student, one of my lab mates worked as an usherette at the local enormodome. One of the regularly visiting Very Big Stars would personally thank everyone on the staff (including the usherettes and program sellers) before curtains up for “helping him with his show”. As a result even some deeply cynical students were supportive of him despite his unfashionable choice of material.
What is your book tour schedule?
If you don’t want to pay the overhead on room service, you may be able to get “take out” from the hotel restaurants and you can even call them and order ahead. This is particularly the case in the Vegas complexes. It also looks like some of the delivery places (e.g. DoorDash, Postmates, etc) will deliver to individual hotel rooms too.
All great tips, though some not to my personal taste.
I’ve been a frequent business traveler for 30 years, in the first few years I’m sorry to say I was a jerk sometimes. Now I try to have a smile and a kind word for desk clerks, flight attendants, clerical staff and such.
I used to be a fan of room service but for the past 5-10 years I’ve preferred to find a casual restaurant to eat in. I like having the people around me. I’m pretty introverted by nature but business travel can be too isolating even for me. However, you, sir, are the star of your trips; I’m just one of a pack of tech journalists. So I can see why you’d like to not have to be on anymore, not even to a restaurant of strangers.
Last time I did room service was breakfast. I had an appetite for pancakes and ordered just that. I wondered whether it would be enough, but I had forgotten I was in Las Vegas, which serves the heartland; the room service guy came in with a serving of pancakes so large I am surprised he could carry it himself.
Lee Stevens – Sleep on the plane? I’ve heard people do that. My work occasionally takes me internationally and I can’t even sleep on a 22 hour flight.
TLDR: Don’t be a dick, be kind.