Notes and Advice From a Book Tour
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.