The Peter, Paul, and Mary song, one of my favorites, has been running through my head these days as I email and pack and organize the hell out of my life for my very first book tour. For those who may not know, nowadays only bestselling and celebrity authors get the traditional publisher-sponsored tour. For the rest of us, it’s a do-it-yourself venture—and essential to success for a debut mystery author. Luckily, I’m enjoying the process enormously, in an overwhelmed and anxious kind of way.
One big advantage I have over some writers doing this is that I adore public speaking. Talking or sharing my work with an audience, for me, taps into the same hunger for connection that, in my “other hat” as a therapist, I express through listening.
For example, I’m proud that on occasion I have been able to make people cry. As a poet, that’s meant I’ve moved them. As a therapist, it’s meant I’ve helped them tap into something deep and genuine that they need to release. As for making them laugh—what a high! I’m not a constant comedian, but on a few memorable occasions, some going back decades, I’ve been able to set a big group roaring with laughter. Those memories are indelible. In fact, I’d call each one a peak experience.
Another asset: as a veteran of thirty years of poetry readings, I am thoroughly familiar with the event to which no one comes. I remember one in a Brooklyn Heights art gallery in which the sole attendees were the husband of the other poet who was supposed to read with me (she had the flu), my parents, the woman who ran the art gallery, and a crazy person who wandered in off the street. The latter, by the way, is a perennial feature of such events. My recent book launch for Death Will Get You Sober—very well attended, I'm glad to say—ended with my husband helping the bookstore staff escort a drunk off the premises.
Experienced writers and publicists have told me that the primary agenda on a book tour is getting to know the booksellers along the route. Selling books is a bonus. In fact, I’ve heard numerous authors say that visiting a bookstore generated sales not at the event but later on, as people who may have met them briefly at the event come back to buy signed stock, ie the copies of their books that the author autographed for the bookstore to display. I’ve taken this approach to heart and made mystery bookstores the milestones of my tour. In towns along the way—or towns where I have friends—that don’t have a store devoted to mystery, I’ll visit independent bookstores that are friendly to genre fiction. And I’ll do “meet and greet” events in some of the chains as well.
At my publicist’s suggestion, I’ve added libraries to the mix. I’ve become addicted to library conventions, which are a terrific opportunity to meet librarians—enthusiastic readers all, and many with impressive budgets for new books—while hanging out with other mystery writers at the exhibit table of Mystery Writers of America or Sisters in Crime. Some of the librarians I’ve met at these huge events have been happy to have me come and give a talk to the general public or the mystery book club at their library. And I'm delighted to visit their libraries.
From the initial response, my willingness to tour and schmooze with book people makes not only the pros but readers happy, especially if they live in small towns in the country. For example, a cousin of mine who lives in rural New Jersey helped me contact his local librarian, and as a result I got not only a date for a signing and discussion but the following delightful letter from his 9-year-old daughter:
Congradulations about your book. I saw your summary about yourself at the Ringwood Public Library and I hear that you are coming to the library at my place to talk about your book. Congradulations!