The book tour is an old school promotional tool, and yet, for many an aspiring author (including myself) it’s an integral part of what we imagine as we spend our lives dreaming of the day we get a book published. For some authors, the idea of reading in front of an audience sounds like torture, and they can rejoice in the fact that we live in the digital age of book promotion where much of the hustle can be done behind a screen while wearing pajamas.
The tour is not for everyone but if you can pull it off with some airline miles, friends’ guest rooms, and maybe a little help from your publisher, it can be a blast. After all, digital media is essential, but nothing replaces face-to-face, and going to a bunch of different cities allows you to make connections with bookstores, bloggers, readers, and local media outlets you would never meet otherwise. And if you do like being in front of an audience, nothing feels more author-ly than the book tour.
I chose my cities carefully: all places I could get at least a handful of friends to show up, with a solid independent bookstore (preferably those who’d let me bring wine). I came out with Seattle (where I live), New York, San Francisco, L.A., Phoenix, Austin, Portland, and Chicago. The first three cities are under my belt. Here’s how it went:
I celebrated my on-sale date at one of Seattle most storied independent bookstores, Elliott Bay Book Company. My friend, local Seattle author Laurie Frankel, agreed to present with me and we welcomed an eclectic mix of my friends, family, future in-laws, colleagues, and writer pals with champagne and French music.
I speak in front of crowds all the time for GFP, but there’s something infinitely more terrifying about reading one’s own work aloud. It’s there on the page and you can’t change course based on the audience’s reaction. You’re making public something that you worked on privately for years, and you feel suddenly and viscerally that it now belongs to readers as much as it belongs to you.
The only time I’d previously read from the book was last year when I read a sexy scene from Losing the Light at Babeland as part of Lit Crawl. An erotic poet named Larry, who had a silver ponytail halfway down his back and wore a sleeveless t-shirt that said “Fuck Yeah” in huge block letters, was our moderator. I learned that it’s impossible to feel nervous when you’re reading next to an entire wall of sex toys. I opened with this story and thankfully everyone laughed. I was off to a good start, considering I had just survived saying the word dildo in front of an audience that included both my parents and the lion’s share of my future in-laws.
There was no place that loomed larger when imagining a book tour than New York. It was where I’d lived most of my twenties and started my career in publishing, but where success had eluded me as a writer.
I started my New York trip with a visit to my publisher, Judith Curr’s, class with my editor, Sarah Cantin, and my agent, Carly Watters. We discussed our various processes and how we work together as a team, I got to talk about my own career trajectory and how it landed me at the fabulous Girl Friday Productions, and meet with the students to sign some copies we’d brought for them. My favorite moment of the night was when one of the girls from the class told me she hoped it became a bestseller. I thanked her and said I was lucky to have an awesome team around me. “Yeah,” she said, “it seems like they’re not about any bullshit.” First, she’s right. Second, I want that on my tombstone.
For my New York event, we skipped the store and brought a bookseller into my friend Duncan’s store where drank many bottles of his signature rose (bottled in the South of France!). All of the darling ladies on my publishing team came out to celebrate with me, one of my best friends (and former New York roommate) made a surprise visit from Chicago, and my wonderful agent, Carly, was still in town from Toronto. Even my parents came out from Seattle! There were also some guests I’d never met before, author Miranda Beverly-Whittemore (who blurbed my book and has been extremely supportive) and tiny dynamo book blogger Natasha, also known as The Book Barista (you should all be following her, she will be running everything someday).
I traipsed all four corners of Manhattan (plus a stop in Brooklyn) to sign stock. My mom came with me on the second day which made it lots more fun. Later when I was chatting with a sales guy at Aldo about why I was in New York, she let him know where he could find a signed copy and reminded him to post a review on Amazon. It was a veritable Dunlop Roadshow.
After the high of my New York and Seattle events, I think the universe was like “Eh, this one’s getting a bit full of herself,” and decided to send the worst rainstorm ever to San Francisco. My day-of flight was rerouted through San Jose and by the time I made it to the Ferry Building I was drenched from the two block walk from the Bart Station. My co-presenter Jordan Reid got stuck in an apocalyptic traffic jam and finally made it to Book Passage about a half an hour into the talk (fortunately my friend Kate was moderating so I wasn’t solo). The crowd consisted of six people, two who were friends of mine and four who I had never seen in my life. This was a revelation. Four total strangers with no personal obligation had braved the rain to come see Jordan and me. I was glad we had wine for them. The event was a little more intimate than planned but still oh so much fun, and the folks at Book Passage were wonderful.