For those of you lucky enough to have published a book, tell me about going on tour. Did it live up to your expectations?
And for those of you who simply attend readings and book signings, tell me why you go and what expectations you bring with you.
Wednesday, stop by and meet three authors – Sarah Hall, Emily Maguire and Heather O’Neill – touring together as the Harper Perennial Lit-Chick Invasion. I’ll leave you with a taste of each of their books because they’re good:
One morning she watches her father kill a lame cow. It is still upright in the field, but one hind hoof is rotten. It will not move and cannot be saved, must be destroyed before it destroys the herd, her father says. It sways and lets out an occasional quiet bellow. The decision is made quickly and, without remorse, her father leaves for Whelter Farm to get some cartridges and the gun. For a time she is left alone with the animal. During the wait she prays that the cow will somehow recover and move from the middle of the field where it is stuck. Even two rotten steps to the left might mean it could be saved, so that she could take her father by his cuff and say, See, see, it is still capable. Salvation. Her mother would say the word, the place, is reserved for humans, for they alone can be redeemed through God. Not the animals who have not been blessed under His Mercy. What, then, of this beast without choice or hope of mercy? Only a bullet in the brain to stop its energy and the eventual spread of its bones across the soil. And the land will borrow back that which was lent, as always. She tries not to notice the creature’s gentle, living eyes, but keeps a blind company for it in these last minutes. She can see her father coming back down the lane, shotgun cracked open over his arm. He is inserting cartridge cases, looking down. And at the back of her mind she knows better than to hope for the impossible. She knows she won’t beg her father not to shoot it. He would not mind her pleas, but certainly he would tell her to leave because of them. As her position as guardian it is vital that she stays, a witness to the events entire. And she does not want to disappoint him, he has no son. She wonders if she will cover her ears when he raises the gun. Her father’s boots on the gravel track are louder, and she thinks, thinks hard about the motionless cow, and salvation falling away, perhaps never existing at all.
– Sarah Hall, Haweswater, winner of The British Commonwealth Award
Sometimes he was so much the English teacher that it drove her crazy. While he was locking the change room door, she let slip that she had finished Madame Bovary last night, and now he wanted to waste precious alone time talking about it.
He smiled. ‘Anxious, aren’t you?’
Sarah shrugged her school bag off her shoulders. ‘The weekends are so long. By Monday afternoon I’m just so-‘
She felt herself blush. It was the sort of word the girls who shared smokes in the toilet block used to describe the boys they drove around with on Saturday nights. Sarah did not think it was the proper word for what she felt.
‘It’s not that. I just miss you.’
‘So hurry up and sit down.’ He pointed to the stainless steel bench that ran through the centre of the room. ‘Talk to me.’ He sat himself at her feet, looking up at her. ‘I want to know what you thought of Emma Bovary.’
Sarah sighed. ‘I don’t know. I sort of hated her, especially how she treated her kid, but I felt sorry for her, too.’
‘Well, because she was searching for something amazing, for ecstasy. But her husband’s such a plodder, so she falls for the first guy who offers her a bit of excitement and he turns out to be a pig and then the next guy is this awful coward and it just seems the more she searches, the worse things get for her.’
‘And this makes her deserving of our sympathy?’
‘I just think it’s sad she never found what she was looking for.’
‘Do you think what she was looking for even exists?’
Sarah nudged him with her shoe. ‘Yes.’
He took hold of her foot. ‘And what makes you think you’re not as deluded as poor Emma?’
Mr. Carr frowned up at her. ‘Ah, Sarah,’ he said, and started to untie her shoelace.
‘You didn’t say if you missed me on the weekend.’
– Emily Maguire, Taming the Beast
We looked at each other and a peculiar feeling of excitement came over us. We just started wrecking everything we could think of. There was a statue of a ballerina that I threw against the wall. All its limbs broke off at once, poor fragile thing. We knocked everything on the floor. Theo ripped the shower curtain off the hook. He took a marker and scribbled on the wall, “You are a bitch and you are going to hell. I am going to kill you all.” He took his machete and started stabbing the couch cushions. Theo handed it to me and I cut through some paintings on the wall. We knocked their stereo system over. We did a whole bunch of other things that I can’t really remember.
I dumped a potted plant in the sink. I rescued a little flower from one of its stems and stuck it behind my ear. At this point we’d lost all sense of reality. It was like being in a dream. What made everything feel so strange was how easy it had been to break into someone’s house and wreck their things.
Violence never gives you a specific feeling that it’s time to knock it off. That’s because it is impossible to satisfy. All your actions are like shoveling mud into a hole with no bottom.
– Heather O’Neill, Lullabies for Little Criminals
P.S. In case you missed it, the lovely Jim Tomlinson was reviewed in The New York Times on Thanksgiving day:
C.Dawn McCallumNovember 27, 2006
My publisher–Longhorn Creek Press–set up the dates at Barnes & Noble stores and at schools to promote my book, THE CARETAKER OF TREE PALACE. I write for middle grade children (grades 4 to 7), so the readings I did were in the children’s section. Those go much better, if the parents stay with their kids. I couldn’t believe how many parents just left their little ones with me. Luckily, I’ve worked with children my entire adult life, but I kept imagining what it would have been like if I hadn’t had those experiences. (Picture twin 3-year-old girls climbing over a mountain of Harry Potter while I’m trying to read with no parents in sight. It happened!)
One thing I wish we had done more of was to have radio advertising. The viral marketing and other local media advertising didn’t have the power that we had hoped although it was okay. It can be disenheartening to travel so far then have only a few folks buy books which happened at a couple of stores. But if there a few really enthusiastic buyers, other people in the store get excited and stop by to talk and buy books. One funny thing that happened in every store was that folks would ask about the bathrooms. (Most B&N bathrooms are in the back right corner.) I did help a couple of parents/grandparents find other books in the children’s section. 🙂
I would have liked to speak at more schools. And it’s important to not book events too closely. A couple of times I didn’t get to my hotel until late and had to be up early in the morning to go to a school. My energy wasn’t “up” enough to be as charming as I can be.
My favorite bookstore signing was at the Opry Mills B&N in Nashville. There was a local talent show outside that brought in a lot of fun energy. (I saw a man propose to his lady there on the stage. I started to get teary-eyed but then I noticed that she was about 6 months pregnant. Then I got upset–what took him so long?!–until I remembered I had books to sell and needed to appear approachable and inviting.)
A book tour is a fun way to travel: get on the road for a while, then hang out in a bookstore for a while. I’m really glad that I did the tour and hope to do another one next year.
My blog has the full story about my book tour: http://www.myspace.com/cdawnmccallum.
JulietNovember 27, 2006
Just starting my tour/signing for In Spite of All the Damage. I’m tired already! Mostly because I bring my heart at its open-most, and find myself so genuinely interested in everyone I meet that by days’ end, I could write a thousand words per person. :0)
The radio stations around here are very good about doing interviews and such. Plus, Canada has the great old CBC radio, which is about as supportive of artists and authors as you can get.
I always try to go in circles… small to large, geographically. Your local bookstore, radio station, newspaper, library… then once you’ve got some articles and interviews, move outward.
Anyhow, thanks for the bits and pieces of the ladies’ work. I have a number of congratulatory cards which include book-store gift cards. Now I have something to spend them on.
Gail SiegelNovember 27, 2006
I’m not sure if tours for anthologies count, but I relished the readings and events I did for Lost on Purpose (fiction anthology) and Fresh Water (nonfiction anthology). I did 3 readings in Chicago for the former and 2–in Michigan and Chicago–for the latter. I think there will be one or two more.
Since they were anthologies, meeting the other writers was the real, unanticipated highlight for me. I owe my friendship with Tara Ison to the Lost on Purpose anthology.
The readings themselves were lovely but uneven. It’s great when they have to set up more chairs, and depressing when they aren’t filled, or full of people I already know. It’s always a thrill to have someone ask me to sign their book but bracing when I draw a blank, and don’t know what to write.
Readings have been a learning process. I love to read, but I had one notable failure, when I read too short a piece. I’ve finally figured out the right length to read (5-10 minutes) to hold, but not bore, the audience. I’ve never read longer because I’ve always read with other people. If I was the only reader, I’m sure that would change.
Julie Ann ShapiroNovember 27, 2006
I just sent off the first installment for the serialization of my novel. My publisher needed it to get the programming and design ready for 07. They’ll be no conventiona book tour as it’s digital. Someday…someday. This whole online way of publishing whether it’s ezines or ebooks is not designed for the conventional book tour crowd, not unless the author can think of a clever way to tour digitally or with CDs of the digital book or something.
I’ve loved the book signings that I’ve gone to all my life. It’s been a wonderful chance to hear special insights of the various books and hear how incredibly human published authors are at times. Watching the readings itself has been an inspiration. I do think they maybe going the way of the dinosaur. Most of the ones I’ve been to had a small attendance.
Lance ReynaldNovember 27, 2006
ah, the tour.
as for my dreamtour (someday); I think Chuck Palahniuk does a great job, he brings prizes and props and makes it fully interactive in his off-beat way. and KGB bar is certainly a goal of mine as well, get a few drinks in the crowd and yourself and wait and see what happens.
as a reader my outlook has changed radically as I’ve suffered the writer’s life. A few years ago I considered myself a pup or hack at the writing thing, I was terrified of the writers I revered. I’d go mute and get that anxiety reserved for grammar school choir presentations and proms. But as my own writing matured and I found a voice of my own I somehow moved into a new realm… Writers moved from revered gods to contemporaries and collegues, and somehow that voice I found on paper and screen stayed with me when facing down a bestseller attached to a Sharpie Marker. My first meeting with a notorious memoirist had me stunned and silent, but when he toured his most recent collection of essays we chatted about the landscape, weather and the fact that he really should bring his partner out to see the Rocky Mountains next time. Felt more like equals… then again I still can’t get him to friend me on MySpace so he may have just been humouring a would be stalker. 😉
what was the question again?
AimeeNovember 27, 2006
I have yet to publish a novel. However I have been to a few signings. My first was at the Shaman Drum in Ann Arbor. Jonathan Lethem was reading from Motherless Brooklyn. I was star struck so I stood silent when he signed my book and commented that he had a friend who spelled her first name the same way I do. I felt stupid the whole way home.
The next one was an older man (late 60’s I think)who continuously asked me and other college girls to go back to his hotel room with him. I think one finally did.
And the last one was Gloria Steinem. Again, I was star struck, dropped my camera, tripped, and felt like a big huge idiot. She told me women aren’t supposed to make each other nervous and hugged me.
Carolyn Burns BassNovember 27, 2006
What I love about readings is hearing the voice of the author speak life into his own characters. When I write, I imagine a character’s voice sounding a certain way, with pronounciations, gestures, and other descriptives not always captured in the prose. When I hear an author emphasizing certain words and speaking his prose like a song only he knows, I get shivers.
TerryNovember 27, 2006
I love being on book tour.
Can I emphasize this enough? Maybe bold and italic and capital? Is that overkill?
I LOVE BOOKTOUR
Okay. I don’t love being away from my family. That totally and critically sucks.
But the actual touring and sharing my book? That’s the best thing ever. I can stand up there and read from my book and tell people about how my book came about (or answer any question I’ve already answered about a million times, frankly) and I love every moment of it (besides the part where I’m away from my family, which totally sucks. I’m going to say totally sucks a few more times just to give you the idea of how much it sucks. Totally sucks.)
Did it live up to expectations? Well, my first book tour we set up almost entirely ourselves. A first time dog-book author doesn’t necessarily get a lot of support. And both times I went on book tour, my publicist left either just before I left, or while I was on book tour. And it’s extremely helpful to have a decent publicist. In fact, it’s extremely helpful to have more than one decent publicist. More than worthwhile. Especially if your publicist can manage to book you into a hotel on the same date as the reading you’re supposed to be doing that night.
I love reading (can I mention that I’m reading on kpbx fm (the Spoka-Vegas NPR affiliate) on ‘the bookshelf’, 6:30 Pacific M-T until about Dec 6 here, Sue? Would that be obnoxious? If so, just bomb this comment and I’ll say something different.) I think it’s obvious from my readings that I really love it. It seems to me that if I really want people to buy my book, or just to read my book, I have to present it in such a way that lets them know that I actually like the book too. And make it sound like something that’s interesting. And pull the 2 by 4 out of my arse. Etc.
Good lord. This comment is becoming too long.
Blessings to all. And thanks for listening to my overzealous approval of tour booking and book touring and drinking wine (and getting your publisher to pay for hotels, if you can swing it, because, oh my, hotels are lovely).
mikel k poetNovember 27, 2006
I will tour no book before its time…
Robin SlickNovember 28, 2006
I’m actually doing my first book tour in March.
Please write to me with Valium, Xanax, and copious amounts of alcohol.
Just kidding. And I don’t know if I’d call it a tour — it’s part of the Epicon Conference and for those of us in print, we’re having a reading at Barnes and Noble in Virginia Beach the night before, another reading the following day at a suburban book store, and then there’s Epicon itself, which is a Best of E-Book event. People who have digital books do have them in CD format and sign them just the way a musician would sign one.
I adore going to readings. I remember when I heard Steve Almond read from his first short story collection…it was such an experience. I love going to Opium Magazine events filled with frat humor…great little short stories and poems. And Susan, I love hearing you read. You have such a quiet, wonderful voice…you mesmerize your audience.
But I know from a lot of friends that very few authors have huge crowds attend their readings and most publishers won’t put up the money for them anymore…unless you are Stephen King. Most writers have to finance their own tours and are even discouraged from doing it. That’s what’s really sad.
I’m really curious to hear about this Lit-Chick Invasion Tour. I adore the name and bet it’s a success. Good on whoever thought it up.
JimNovember 28, 2006
I’ve had no tour as such for TKTLB. I have done a few readings and signings within driving distance, though, and once beyond reasonable driving distance, this in Memphis. So far, it’s been fun, and getting better each time.
The best (and most recent) was reading at a jazz venue in Louisville with a jazz duo improvising behind me. An unbelievable experience, to hear your words backed up as if they’re poems or some weird music form. I think I sold one book that night. Still, it felt like success, speaking artistically.
I’m not a promotions whore, though, not by a long shot. I’ve turned down gigs that I though might frustrate and discourage me, hours sitting behind a card table, smiling and hoping someone will come by and buy a book. It’s part of the process, I know, and Vonnegut has sat behind card tables ignored at times. But it’s an experience I’m trying to skip in life. So far, so good.
Atlanta early next year (AWP) is on my schedule, as is the VA Festival of Books, followed by a reading at a college in the Washington DC area. That’s as close as I’ll come to a tour.
If I’m near NYC visiting daughter and family, I’ll try to book a KGB bar gig or The Back Room gig if I can work it, or even a downtown Manhattan bookstore. That, I’d like, sales bust or not.
amyNovember 28, 2006
I’m 60 pages from the end of Madame Bovary… and in the middle of rewriting a chapter about a girl’s inappropriate relationship with her English teacher. Kismet? Looks like I’ll have to add Taming the Beast to my pile.
Alexander CheeNovember 28, 2006
I did two tours, hardcover and paperback, for Edinburgh. The first was cobbled together for my indie press debut, and was fairly low-fi: I had a launch party at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in New York (sold 40 books in hardcover!), and then hit Iowa City for Prairie Lights, where I was on the radio there and had dinner with some of my former teachers, then I was off to SF for Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books. It was two months after September 11th and the flights were almost empty. The airline attendants gave me extra meals. All of the events were terrific, well-attended by good audiences. I was grateful for just about anything, as the novel had been rejected 24 times.
Then, the following year, Picador picked up the paperback at auction and relaunched me. I signed four-color-cover galleys at the BEA, went to the Picador authors cocktail party there (it was in NYC that year), AMFAR threw me a paperback launch party at Otto in NYC, I had a West Coast tour, boutique hotels in Seattle, Portland, LA, SF, I did radio, I had a publicist who gave me a bit of media training. It felt like a political campaign a bit, Vote for me for Independent Bestseller. Went to drinks with the booksellers afterwards, rented cars in some cities to head off to the readings in Sonoma and Stanford and Laguna (yes, Laguna—surfers read). I had a fan cell in Laguna, what can I tell you. They taught me words like Amped.
Then, there were stores that still wanted me out there, so I went back for a redux: LA and SF, then back to NYC for a B&N reading with At Swim, Two Boys author Jamie O’Neill, who’s a doll.
Was it everything I dreamed? Kind of. Some audiences were enormous, some were small. But you have to remember, publishers send you on tour as advertising for you and the book, so that even if people don’t go to the event, there’s an awareness created with your name and the title appearing for the week prior to you being in town. It’s not really about you as the person at all, or what you want, and so you have to let go of wanting cheering throngs at every single reading. It just matters that you got there and you passed through town.
All the same, I remember being at Skylight Books in LA and a reader said something there I didn’t know I was waiting my whole life to hear. His name was Paul, I remember, I signed his book, and as he took it back, he said, I’m glad I live in a world where you write. And then he left, as I sat there in a sort of stunned silence.
When you’re struggling to get your first book out, you secretly let yourself hope someone will tell you that, there in the dark of your apartment as you close your computer and go off to work your money job. And you bury that hope deep so it won’t intrude on the reality of waiting tables and correcting papers. Picador, AMFAR, the AAWW, the booksellers, the audiences, they really treated me like a prince—I felt rescued, it was like climbing out of a tunnel I’d dug out of prison, into a party that I discovered was for me, someone dusting off my prison uniform, someone else handing me a glass. And so I sat and drank my blood orange cosmo on the black patent-leather banquette. Before it was time to go work on the next one.
Susan HendersonNovember 28, 2006
Cindy Dawn – I’ve never heard from a writer of children’s books before. Incredible that parents would just leave their kids there. Although I have to say, when we brought my kids to a Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson reading, my youngest (Green-Hand), who was the big fan of their Peter and the Star Catchers series, got so upset during the reading (because they’d skipped around instead of reading from the beginning) that he dragged his metal chair from the front row to the back of the store and then just sat down and read their book. He didn’t even want to meet them afterwards, he was so pissed. So I guess kids can be awful even when their parents are there.
Juliet – I love your idea of starting out in small geographic circles.
Gail – Absolutely, anothology tours count! I think it’s that uneven thing that’s so humbling for writers (like we need more humbling). You have a good crowd one reading and empty chairs or bored audiences at the next. Do you remember when we did that late night reading at AWP and how I tried out that humor piece in front of all those really deadly serious types? Ouch!
Okay, I better post this before my computer crashes and then start on the next comments.
Susan HendersonNovember 28, 2006
Julie – Do you ever do open mic readings? They do a lot of those in NY, and it might be a great way to get people interested in hunting down your digital books. I love the intimacy of those small readings you described.
Lance – I think what I love best is seeing these icons all shy and stumbly at the mic. I don’t often run into a-holes and prima donnas in the business (but over drinks, I’ll bet you can get me to tell you who they are).
Aimee – You’re so adorable, I can’t stand it. And what a sweet response you got from Gloria Steinem. I never would have imagined her being so nurturing.
Carolyn – Oh, I agree. I once did a mass-reading with friends and we considered reading each other’s work instead of our own. But then we decided against it for the very reasons you named.
Susan HendersonNovember 28, 2006
T – I love hearing you read. I’ve never heard you on the radio before, though, so thanks for the link!
Mikel K – But that time’s a coming…
Robin – You better not take Valium and Xanax because you are just about the cutest nervous person I know. I will even heckle you to bring it on. (She thinks I’m kidding.)
Jim – I’ll be at AWP, too!
Amy – TAMING OF THE BEAST will inspire you. It’s sexy and funny and horrifying and tender all at once.
Alexander – I’m so glad you’re here! What a weird thing to tour right after 9-11. And the comment from that guy Paul – I don’t even have words. I’m just so glad he said that to you.
Can you tell us some media training tips you got from your publicist?
Gail SiegelNovember 28, 2006
Oh, yes, I DO remember you reading in Vancouver. You were funny and terrific and there were not enough people there to appreciate you. So frustrating.
I’m glad I’ve also had a chance to see you read when there were GOOD crowds around, in Manhattan and Kings Park!
As it happens, I bought Haweswater on Saturday. It’s in a big pile of ‘to be read’ books next to my bed.
Julie Ann ShapiroNovember 29, 2006
I have gone to a few functions where I have read my flash stories at some events in Orange County and where I live in San Diego County. This area is so spread out and there aren’t that many concentrated areas and reading events. Also, many of them are strictly for poetry.
The community itself is so spread out too. For instance, I went to a meeting today that took an hour in drive time and that was actually 30 minutes away. Everything here is 30 minutes this way or that. I have some writers friends that regularly swap flash stories and we’re all spread out across the country. Fortunately, most of us are north county by the cast so we can get together socially. Even that’s a challenge with everyone’s commute to work and stuff. We’re always aiming for a half way spot to keep down on time in traffic.
I would like to do more readings locally in the future. I need to look into that more. I’ll be giving a talk at an upcoming conference and will also have table top space to sell my digital books. I think I’ll follow Robin’s advice and bring CDs of the book.
Alexander CheeNovember 29, 2006
Hi Susan, thanks. It’s good to be here. To answer your question:
1. Think of what questions readers are going to have about the book, and then come up with the answers.
I wrote them out, so I’d remember them easily. You don’t want to memorize them, per se, or read from them—no one wants you to sound canned. But while I remember thinking it was a little cynical, I was wrong. It’s just public life. When you’re meeting hundreds and hundreds of people, and there’s a mike on, you find you could say anything, or worse, nothing. By having the answers ready, I could give those answers when I was exhausted and had to talk to people, or exhausted and had to be live on the air, where even 15 seconds of a pause for reflection is deadly blank airtime. I could deliver the clear answers I’d thought through when I was rested, and thus give the audience a sensible and intelligible evening, even if I wasn’t sensible and intelligible, or even wanting to meet one person, much less a room of 100.
2. Don’t change your answers for being bored with them.
It has a way of coming back to you, my publicist said. And, I think that’s right also. At least I did it, and I wasn’t sorry.
For most first-time authors, it’s not normal to wake up, grab a hotel breakfast in time to get to the radio host, arrive, find they sometimes don’t even know why you’re there (they’re busier than you), give the interview prep, then give the interview or interviews, then get out to the airport, fly, land, check in to the new hotel, and have maybe an hour or so to yourself before you get dinner, then go to the event, read, answer questions, sign, and if there’s time, get a drink or coffee with the bookseller. Go to the hotel, call whoever it is in your life you miss and then do it all over again the next day. You need to just be ready in this whole different way for what’s ahead.
And for Sarah, Emily and Heather, the Britlit crew: Have fun. It’s called putting it on the room charge.
Susan HendersonNovember 30, 2006
Gail – Nice spin! Hey, do you work in politics?
Julie – Same here. All the good readings are in NYC but it takes me 2 hours to get into the city. I thought of starting my own reading series out on Long Island but realized life is too short to add something like that to my to-do list.
Alexander – I never ever thought of that, not changing answers because you got bored of them. I would be the very person to do that because boredom is the one emotion I can’t tolerate.
Shelley MarlowDecember 2, 2006
Hey there, I’ve been going to readings since I was a teen living near Cambridge, Ma, where I saw Allen Ginsberg,Kathy Acker, and Jill Johnston read on separate occasions. The night before seeing Ginsberg, I had a dream that I met a friendly lion which I think had to do with Ginsberg’s buddhism.
Even though I do not have a book published, I’ve read and sing from my fiction for over 10 years at art and literary settings. I organized a few readings over the years. One of my most memorable earlier readings was at the OutWrite festival. Because I hadn’t read before an all GLBT audience before, I was extra nervous. Another notable reading moment was when I visited my friend Emilio Fantin in Bologna,he had his friend, a grand nephew of Virginia Wolfe translate me into Italian.After awhile, he said, I understand…this is about Love and not in a soap opera way.
Shelley MarlowDecember 2, 2006
Alexander… I think I met you at Oznot’s Dish, in Williamsburg, a number of years ago. Your book wasn’t finished and we talked about the title. Hmmm, I think Wallace Shawn was at the table.
Susan HendersonDecember 4, 2006
Shelley – What a story about the Italian translator!
And Alexander – Would you check in here because I just read your blog and now I’m really worried about you.