Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tips for the Book Tour

Elizabeth Zelvin

Here’s a writer’s-eye view of the book tour that I hope will be of general interest to mystery lovers. Without readers, booksellers, librarians, publicists, agents, editors, and publishers, there would be no book tours.

1. Get a GPS. I can't imagine how I'd have navigated multiple strange cities and found multiple addresses at the right time without Sadie. (I'm not weird--I've discovered that everybody names their GPS.) If you're technology-shy, get it months in advance and get comfortable before the tour starts. The GPS that comes with a rented car is a more primitive model. Bring your own. And get the best you can afford. Sadie had an up-to-date map (2009), spoke street and road names aloud and pronounced them correctly, never lost her temper and was always right--even when I was sure she was wrong. She did have a little trouble with Wanaque, NJ, but so do the resident humans. They render it Wanna-kew or Wanna-kwee. Sadie did her best with Wanna-KKK. I did the Heimlich maneuver and she was fine.

2. Bring that box of books. Bookstores sometimes don't get the books on time. That goes for libraries too, where Friends of the Library will usually find a way to order books for sale. If you're flying, you can't throw the box in your trunk, but you can bring as many as you can fit in your checked luggage. (If your airline charges for the second bag, it's still cheaper than the fee for going over 50 pounds.) It can mean the difference between a cancellation and a successful event.

3. Balance staying at hotels with crashing with friends. Staying with friends saves money, and you get to visit with the friends. They may also feed you, drive you around, and bring friends to your book event. On the minus side, you may have to share a bathroom and hump your book-filled suitcases up flights of stairs. The same goes for bed and breakfast inns. They’re charming, but every few nights you need a nice Econolodge or Holiday Inn where you can throw the contents of your suitcase on the floor and make a mess in the bathroom. I’m not kidding. My dentist recently ordered me to use the mirror when I floss. I could not bring myself to do this in people’s homes. Also, if you have a plumbing disaster, it’s much, much better if it occurs in a public place.

4. Be delighted no matter what. I didn’t have to fake this. The whole trip was a joy, between being treated royally as a real live author and making friends everywhere I went. If nobody comes to the signing, settle down in a comfy chair and schmooze with the bookseller. (In fact, at least one person came to every event, unless it was set up as a stock signing with no audience expected.) If you’re allergic to cats, bring antihistamines. If rows of chairs are set up and only a few people come, put the chairs in a circle. If you get a crowd, leave time for questions. Admire the store or library: each one is unique and beautiful. Oh, and bring a pen that will write on your glossy bookmark and/or a few postcards of your book. Little girls may ask for your autograph. They may even be the next generation of writers.

5. Tell your stories, funny or touching. Talk about the book, but don’t give away too much. Make sure anyone in the audience who’s already read the book knows how to avoid spoilers. Don’t read unless the store requests it, and if you do, keep it brief and pick a lively passage—dialogue or action—with a good punch line. Throw in some personal details, but think about it first. Stick to what in the shrink biz we call “benign disclosure.” Anything you say in public can be spread. Remember all the hoop-la last year when Ian Rankin said from a podium that J.K. Rowling had been seen in a Glasgow café writing a detective story? He was joking, but the international mystery writing community was like a kicked anthill as everybody scurried around trying to figure out if this would be good or bad for the rest of us.

6. Don’t plan on sightseeing or visits that take you far off the track of your tour. You’ll find you want to stay focused throughout the trip. Getting from place to place, making sure you’re fed and housed, keeping the details organized, not to mention the rest of your life, via phone and email, and doing the actual events will take all the energy you’ve got. Give yourself an occasional down day. And plan for travel days that don’t involve any events. You’ll have enough stress without worrying whether you’ll arrive in time.

7. Double check everything. My freelance publicist was terrific. She booked events I couldn’t (or was afraid I couldn’t) get myself. She also contacted the venues (not only those she’d booked, but all of them) the day before each event to find out if they were ready for me. Did they remember I’d be coming? Had they received the books? How many? And did they need anything else? I strongly recommend you get someone to do this, or do it yourself if you can’t get help. On the other hand, my publicist and her staff didn’t have time to track every point to point on Google or Mapquest and figure out if the distances between events (and lodgings, which I had to arrange myself) were realistic in the times alloted. I averted a couple of potential disasters by doing this well in advance and rescheduling if necessary.

8. If you plan an extended tour, try to get back to home base every couple of weeks. I did the trip in three or four fell swoops because I had commitments in New York in between. I started out regretting this, but ended up glad of it. I love to travel, but after a couple of weeks I found myself counting the pills remaining in my little packets of vitamins and thinking, “I wanna go home! Three days to go…two days….”

9. Don’t forget to have fun! I did, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your blog/column on tips for a book tour. I admire your determination to get the word out and sell your book. Many wishes for future success from a fellow mystery writer!

Jacqueline Seewald
Five Star/Gale

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Thanks, Jacqueline. Having put in the effort--and persistence--up to the point of publication, I was/am determined to do whatever I could/can to give the book a chance. And as I said, I enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

I have to echo your comments on bringing extra books. I've had two signing events where the books weren't ordered and I was glad that I had brought some of my own.

It also helps if you can send the store (or library) some advance marketing tools. A small poster or post cards can work well. These are inexpensive, but it helps to send them several weeks in advance of the signing.
Also a small press release to the local paper (which, I must admit, they may never print)can't hurt either.
I've done a lot of signings and tours and I haven't found a single "trick" yet that guarantees lots of books signed. Nevertheless, the value is in meeting the store's manager - or the head librarian if that's the venue.
Oh, and always sign a few copies, if the store doesn't mind, for later sale at the store.
And check back later. It never hurts to maintain contact and send a signed copy to the manager/librarian as a nice "thank you".

Brandt Dodson
Author of the Colton Parker Mystery series and the stand alone crime novel, White Soul

L.J. Sellers said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing what you've learned. I admire your extensive promotional efforts. I hope to have a similar book tour experience some day.

Julia Buckley said...

Great advice, Liz! Your learning experience is our gain. :)

Edwin said...

I have recently returned from a trip to Hawaii with friends. It was all fun.