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"...for the next tour, I’ll either be calm and collected or nervous with a dangerously out-of-control boner."
April 12, 2012 3:11 PM   Subscribe

The Awl: Nine Writers and Publicists Tell All About Readings and Book Tours
posted by zarq (18 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm a new but midlist YA author whose big 6 publisher doesn't schedule a thing for me -- any event or reading I do, I have to make happen myself. which is tough, because I find them emotionally exhausting in many ways. the promotion, the anxiety over turnout, the events themselves. outside my book launch parties -- which were more like parties for my friends & family -- I've mostly done group panels/signings, which are much easier, even fun, but I probably sell an average of five books at each.

and while I realize this, that these events don't sell many books (unless you're a top-name bestseller, whose publisher promotes the heck out of you), and they're not necessarily necessary -- really, I should be doing school visits, horrors -- I still stress that I'm not scheduling enough, not doing enough, particularly when non-industry people ask me if I'm touring for my book. they're always so disappointed when I tell the truth; that unless you're frontlist, it's all on you.
(they're usually the same people who ask, "how are your books selling!?")
posted by changeling at 3:45 PM on April 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


• Seattle (train; read in what was possibly the basement of the bookstore).

Aw, I miss the Eliott Bay bookstore (since moves to a different, less convenient location) - they had some great readings there.

And FWIW *I* like them, if only to make a little connection and say "hey, you're doing a cool thing, good on you."

'course, I also like to bug people in the same way on Twitter, so there's that.
posted by Artw at 4:05 PM on April 12, 2012


The one reading I really wish I had been at...

Christopher Moore: I Do Not Read
posted by MrVisible at 4:07 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wait. It's bad to admit you have your own time machine at a book reading?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:53 PM on April 12, 2012


Audiobooks are a great thing, but if I wanted to listen to someone reading fiction, I don't care who you are, I'd probably rather hear George Guidall. On the other hand, I really would happily buy a book now and then to hear even authors who aren't really my thing talk about the writing process, how they got into it, that kind of thing. The reading is a baffling thing to me because essentially, the only people interested will be those who already have reason to think they'll like your work. That's a pretty narrow crowd, especially if you're new.
posted by gracedissolved at 5:15 PM on April 12, 2012


I dislike Tao Lin as much as the next guy, and his response is, for the most part full of grating Tao Linisms ("Feel like just typing 'AVOID SUBURBS.'"), but damn if he isn't spot on in the last paragraph about how Q&A questions that have have clear, "concrete" answers (the example he gives is "What did you eat today?") are better than ones with vague or abstract answers, because (I'm quoting his all-caps final sentence here) "THE ANSWER WILL LIKELY BE SOMETHING NO ONE KNOWS YET, WHEREAS MOST QUESTIONS THAT ELICIT ABSTRACT ANSWERS HAVE ALREADY BEEN ANSWERED AND CAN BE READ AT ANY TIME IN MORE ACCURATE FORM ON THE INTERNET OR IN ONE OF THE AUTHOR'S BOOKS."

That's really more of a piece of advice of people going to readings that to authors. I don't go to many readings, but I do go to a lot of film festivals and screenings, and I think that this rule generally holds true. In my experience, asking "What did you mean to accomplish with this film?" or some other very wide ranging question tends to a illicit a shitty, canned response -- but when an audience member asks a filmmaker about some stray detail it often leads to a very interesting answer, because said filmmaker has probably not been asked that question before. I assume the same thing goes for author Q&As.
posted by alexoscar at 5:16 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favorite author's reading story, is Chuck Palahniuk's The Guts Effect. The true tale of how one of his short stories causes some people to faint at almost every reading.
posted by ill3 at 6:28 PM on April 12, 2012


I feel you, changeling. My debut book came out from a Big 6er in 2010, and it seems like so much of it just comes down to the luck of the draw/the weird marketing math of everything.

I slept on friends' couches on the self-dubbed "littlest book tour that wasn't," which I bankrolled and begged for. A good friend whose debut book came out about a month after mine drew the long end of the stick and gets put up in the local Four Seasons, has an actual HANDLER who meets her at the airport, pays for a driver to/from her events and the airport, etc. when she is on tour. I'll leave it to you to determine which book was the bestseller (and she so deserves it). It's just part of the craziness of publishing.

I've had readings with standing room only and ones where the security guard had to come over and make me feel a bit better. My favorite story was a woman who requested I read from a certain passage of my book in the Q&A period, then loudly declared "OH. I guess you CAN write," before turning back to her knitting. Not for the thin of skin, this business!
posted by mynameisluka at 6:32 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


My favorite author's reading story, is Chuck Palahniuk's The Guts Effect. The true tale of how one of his short stories causes some people to faint at almost every reading.

He'd stopped reading Guts by the time he got to Seattle, and did another story. But before he read that he handed out novelty T-bone steak air fresheners and instructed the crowd to open them. By the time he got to the end of the story, and if you've read Haunted you'll guess which one, it was horribly apparent why...
posted by Artw at 6:58 PM on April 12, 2012


Ah, memories! I did 14 readings for my debut novel from a small press. They didn't pay -- I travel a lot for work, so I basically told them "Here are cities and dates I'm going to be in, see what you can do" and they did great.

Worst: Austin, where what I thought was a reading turned out to be a thing where I stood at a table in front of a stack of copies of my book like a perfume demonstrator. I didn't really know what I was supposed to do so I just kind of weakly grinned at people who wandered by me on their way to the cookbooks. Needless to say, no sales resulted.

Best: Barnes and Noble in Chicago. I didn't know anybody there except one aunt but thirty strangers showed up. People laughed. I sold copies. What does Tao Lin have against Barnes and Noble? Every Barnes and Noble in the country stocked my small-press literary novel, which is more than I can say for most independent stores. And lots of them hosted readings for me.
posted by escabeche at 7:09 PM on April 12, 2012


The one reading I really wish I had been at...

Christopher Moore: I Do Not Read


I owe you a debt of gratitude for linking that.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:35 PM on April 12, 2012


Fascinating stuff. As someone still clinging to their literary aspirations long after its become a little awkward for all parties involved, I look forward to digging into these stories to learn more about just how much worse it could be if I ever managed to achieve any further literary successes. I used to love doing readings when I was a youngster--even helped run regular weekly poetry readings at a local coffee house for a microscopic literary zine a friend of mine and I "published" (i.e., xeroxed and stapled together) called The Raspberry Reader--but I can't imagine what it would be like now, in the current intellectually-hostile cultural climate.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:00 PM on April 12, 2012


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. 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 - 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 buch 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.

(And yes, I'm going out on a book tour this year, in June, for the release of my novel Redshirts. It will have at least a dozen stops on it. See you out there.)
posted by jscalzi at 8:51 PM on April 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


Worst: Austin, where what I thought was a reading turned out to be a thing where I stood at a table in front of a stack of copies of my book like a perfume demonstrator. I didn't really know what I was supposed to do so I just kind of weakly grinned at people who wandered by me on their way to the cookbooks. Needless to say, no sales resulted.

Hell, yeah. The sit-and-sign thing is the worst. On my first book's publicity tour, I was set up at a table smack in the middle of the new arrivals area of a major chain's small shopping mall outlet. At the height of Christmas shopping season. I think I might've sold three copies of my book. Got asked twice where the mystery section was.

I can't seem to find it online at the moment, but Margaret Atwood has a great story about being set up at a signing table for one of her first poetry books in like the men's underwear department at the Bay. If you publish a book and do decide on a tour - and jscalzi has outlined all the best reasons why to subject yourself to such a thing and how to approach it philosophically - then leave your ego at the first airport's check-in desk.
posted by gompa at 9:08 PM on April 12, 2012


Fascinating reading these, and jscalzi's contribution as well. I'd want to emphasize the point about entertaining the people who have come to hear you read. And entertain doesn't necessarily mean making jokes or reading in a theatrical way; just show that you care about what you're reading and you care about the listener receiving your work in a powerful way. I've heard authors that were quiet and slow in their readings but were nevertheless captivating, simply because they understood the strengths of their writing. They had found a way to get inside their poem or story and speak from there.
posted by troubles at 9:25 PM on April 12, 2012


jscalzi: " 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."

Yes, absolutely.

I've created, managed and worked book tours for authors in the past. One client -- a first-time author who happened to be a college professor -- decided after his first signing that he absolutely hated touring, but rather than quit he would stick it out.

The subsequent tour was a miserable experience for him, me and the people who went to see him. He'd read passionately, then stammer and stutter his way through Q&A's. And often, he'd clam up when people tried to chat with him during signings. I worked with him throughout the tour to try to get him to relax. Uphill battle.

He threw an angry fit at breakfast in two different cities, and each time canceled an entire day of media appearances less than an hour before they were to begin (mostly local drive time radio and morning/noon television.) To my horror. Thankfully, I was working for a company that was large enough and could provide an alternate phone-in guest for the radio shows. That didn't stop one of the DJ's from badmouthing him on the air for canceling. By that time I probably would have been happy to badmouth him myself.

We had one stop in Lexington that was very poorly attended thanks to the weather. Only three people turned out. And that was his favorite stop on the tour because he wound up sitting around a table chatting for two hours. The intimacy of the tiny group was less intimidating. Ditto an appearance on Art Bell -- because the show's longer format allowed him to speak for an extended period of time without feeling as if he was performing for an audience. We used that knowledge later in the tour, and tried to adjust his appearances accordingly. But readings / signings for only a handful of people aren't profitable.

I actually learned a great deal from that tour... how to tailor our pr efforts and appearances to an author's individual personality. Who is or isn't a good tour candidate. What to do when a client cancels radio or television appearances at the last minute. Learning to separate the artist from their art, so to speak.

But man, what a nightmare.

Congratulations on Redshirts, by the way. Hope you have a fantastic, productive and profitable tour.
posted by zarq at 12:09 AM on April 13, 2012


I'd recommend Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame which is basically a whole book of writers signing/touring horror stories
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:13 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jscalzi is definitely worth checking out for readings.
posted by drezdn at 10:16 AM on April 13, 2012


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