Thursday, May 8, 2008

Book Tour: Don't forget to pack your resilience

Elizabeth Zelvin

In general, I’m a good packer. I take plenty of changes of easily washed underwear. I don’t forget my migraine pills or the charger for my electric toothbrush. For the first leg of my first book tour, I threw six copies of Death Will Get You Sober into my suitcase, the air traveler’s equivalent of the proverbial box of books in the trunk of the author’s car.

By Day 2, I was glad I’d taken the books. At the first bookstore where I was scheduled to appear, the copies they’d ordered had not arrived. The bookseller was reluctantly ready to cancel when I offered to bring my own books. She was glad to work it out so the books people bought at the event registered as genuine sales, essential to my publisher’s good opinion of me. Books, I thought, that’s the essential, just as experienced authors had told me.

By Day 5, I’d decided the essential was the GPS. I owed that tip to the master of book tours, Joe Konrath, whom I don’t know personally but whose 600-bookstore tour a year or two ago is legend. I got the GPS in January so I’d have time to practice, fell in love with it immediately, and quickly became completely dependent on it. Her. I call her Sadie. (I’ve since learned that almost everybody names their GPS, talks to it, and feels as if they have a relationship with it.)

Unfortunately, my own Sadie developed laryngitis the day before the start of my trip, so I had to rely on my rental car providers for a GPS. My first experience was good: Avis provided a unit that was less advanced than my own, but when I turned it on, there was Sadie. Same voice, same patience with my mistakes on the road (“Recalculating,” she says calmly), same perfect navigational timing.

Next state, next rental car: Disaster! Alamo is a lot cheaper than Avis, and their GPS is correspondingly less advanced. Not only did this strange woman—not my Sadie!—fail to announce the names of streets, but she failed to pick me up on satellite as a went around and around confusing airport boulevards, ending in a Walmart parking lot having a meltdown on the cell phone to my husband in New York. “I don’t know where I am!” I wailed. (He’s used to this. His daughter once phoned from Bruges to say she was lost, but that’s another story.)

Not-Sadie finally located me on satellite and guided me more or less to my hotel, which turned out to be a little inn so secluded that I drove around the block several times before I figured out how to arrive, as opposed to being almost there and lost again. I did ask: the next-door neighbor had never heard of it. It’s that hidden. You have to walk through a jungle to find the office. I was still getting lost between bed and breakfast the next morning.

Let’s see, what else on Day 6? No air conditioning in my tropical room. They offered to move me, but considering I still have bricks—I mean books—in my suitcase, I settled for a fan. My next-stop bookstore canceled because their books hadn’t arrived, and being a chain rather than an indie, they couldn’t make do with my copies. I called my 88-year-old cousin, who had invited her book club to that event. She didn’t think they’d mind—actually, she said she didn’t think they’d care—but there was a hitch to our plan for a nice familial visit: she was about to go to the hospital for an emergency procedure.

At that point, I decided that if you can only take one indispensable tool, forget the books. Forget the GPS. Just make sure you pack your resilience. The book tour will kill you without it.


Sandra Parshall said...

At my first book signing ever, at a store a few minutes from our house, I had to supply the books because the store's copies were sent to the wrong warehouse. I learned an important lesson: call ahead! Make sure they have the books before you set out.

I hope the rest of your tour has fewer snags, Liz!

Julie Compton said...

Liz, good lessons for us newbies to keep in mind. It was great meeting you last night. I hope you sold a bunch of books! I'm looking forward to reading my signed copy.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Julie, it was great meeting you too--and I sang your hubby's praises as a great PR partner on the Murder Must Advertise list. Good luck with YOUR book in a week or so! Sandy, I've found calling ahead is one thing a publicist (in this case the fabulous PJ Nunn) can do for you. She's been emailing me on who's ready and who's not, so I don't go racing to a canceled event.