Years ago, before my book was published, I remember reading an article by a very successful author who was complaining about doing book tours. And I remember thinking, How can any author fortunate enough to have a book published and a tour scheduled complain about the privilege not only of having a book out in the world but of being able to meet her readers?
Now, after having just completed a ten-day whirlwind tour of my own, I can empathize a little more — it really is quite exhausting — but I most definitely cannot complain.
For one, I feel so fortunate to have teamed up with my friend and fellow writer Wendy Call, whose amazing book No Word for Welcome (University of Nebraska Press) was published two months after my book, Forgetting English, was reissued by Press 53. Though my book is fiction and hers narrative nonfiction, our books touch on similar themes — the global economy, home and travel, border crossings both literal and figurative — and we put together a series of workshops, seminars, and joint readings that made for a very busy ten days.
We did eight events in four states, traveling through Hurricane Irene-damaged areas that sent us on all sorts of detours, which were so very minor compared to what most residents were going through. It was amazing to see how these communities we visited bonded together; the photo below is from Woodstock’s Shiretown Books:
Wendy and I gathered a whole series of lessons from this tour, and if I had to sum them up as one, it would be: Be prepared. For anything.
We had water shortages, a car break-in, oddly timed meals (our first meal at 4 p.m. one day, dinner at 11 p.m. on another), and a lot of detour stress. Yet the less-than-fun aspects were offset by being hosted by fantastic indie bookstores and generously taken in by amazing friends. We met with inspiring students and writers, and, no matter how long the day, we always managed to have a glass of wine and at least a few hours’ sleep at the end of it.
I’ve learned that book events are one thing, whereas an extended book tour is another thing entirely. Book touring is for writers who are flexible above all else — you never know what you’ll encounter when you show up for an event. You need to be prepared for detours, of course, and for events that need to start late or end early. Be prepared for crowds larger than you’d expected, or smaller than you’d hoped. Be prepared for more questions than you have time for, or for no questions at all.
But most of all, be prepared to have a lot of fun. I reminded myself, even in the challenging moments, that we were out there talking about our books, which is something many writers don’t have the opportunity to do.
So if you’re a writer considering a tour, remember that, despite the inevitable challenges, when you do a book tour you’re not only meeting your readers but supporting indie booksellers, community centers, and other venues important to the literary world. And if you’re a reader, go to your nearest bookstore on an event day and see what it’s all about.