When my writing buddy Wendy Call and I began to plan our joint book tour for this past summer and fall, we proposed events from readings to workshops to writing-prompt sessions. And, as this Wall St. Journal article indicates, we are apparently not alone in thinking outside the traditional book tour. In fact, of the nearly dozen events Wendy and I did together, only two of them were straight readings.
We took this approach for several reasons: For one, we are two writers with quite different books that are very similar in theme; our books cover travel, globalization, and characters facing challenges, yet Wendy’s book, No Word for Welcome, is nonfiction, while Forgetting English is a collection of short fiction. So we wanted to bring readers together to offer something for both nonfiction and fiction readers, as well as to give them a chance to participate as an audience.
We also recognized that neither of us is (quite) famous enough to have fans lining up around the block. And when you are an unknown author, it helps to offer a little something beyond the book when you’re meeting your readers, most of whom will be new.
Finally, we planned to visit a variety of venues, from Grub Street to The Writer’s Center to Boston University, as well as bookstores. And we also recognized that a bookstore event needs to draw crowds and sell books to be a win-win, and it’s up to the author as well as the bookstore to try to make that happen.
We learned a great deal — far more than will fit into a short blog post — but here are a few tips…
– Team up. There are so many advantages to doing a joint book tour — and offering a little something different to participants is only one of them. And, as this WSJ article mentions, sometimes a bookseller will interview an author, which is another great idea.
– Offer a workshop. Wendy and I taught several different workshops on our tour, all geared toward the themes in our books, from narrative writing to travel writing. Though we each chose sections of our books for the other to read, we also offered examples of work other than our own and included handouts and reading lists. You can also, as Wendy did at several of her solo events, offer slide shows with images that relate to your book; many authors use PowerPoint presentations as well. There are really no rules other than making the presentation engaging and relevant.
– Talk about what inspired the book or certain scenes. It’s always fun to learn what’s behind the scenes of an interesting book, and by going this, you offer readers more than what’s between the pages. You’ll want to read enough to give readers a taste of what’s to come — but the idea is that they’ll be buying the book, so you’ll want to offer something they can’t take home with them.
– Make time for audience participation, whether you assign a couple of writing prompts or start the Q&A with you asking the Qs. As novelist Jason Skipper says in this interview, on his recent book tour he took several fun approaches to his readings, from singing Wilco songs to inviting the audience to read with him.
– Structure the event so that reading time is minimal. While Wendy and I both made time to read brief excerpts from our respective works (you definitely want to give people at least a little taste of your book), we spent only a small percentage of our event time on reading, which allowed for us to get to know our audiences and vice versa. We’d often begin with a brief reading and then conclude with one as well — this is a good way to bookend an event — but for the most part, while we were there on behalf of our books, we talked more than read.
In the end, the most important thing is that you have fun — this is something that readers will remember — and often the most fun and surprising events go well beyond the book itself.