Because I wrote my grateful-to-be-alive-and-having-a-great-time post yesterday about all the terrific things happening with the book, today I want to write about some of the ridiculous, less-than-glamorous parts of what being on “book tour” entails. Of course, “book tour” is this thing where you go around the country doing readings and events and interviews to promote your book, and it’s this thing that publishers used to “send” people on, like paying for their tickets and setting things up. Now the book world has changed quite a bit (i.e. crashed and burned), and publishers have, I think rightly, figured out that book tours don’t pay off dollar for dollar. Only the most gigantic authors get them these days, for the most part.
I still believe, intuitively, that they pay off in non-monetary ways, and so I, like many authors, sent myself on a tour. I’ve bought my own plane tickets and rented my own cars and stayed in relatives’ and friends’ places. This might explain the sad state of my credit cards right now, and the fact that I endured Spirit Airlines just for the low low prices. (When you are thinking of doing this yourself, just think: NO.) But magical things happen on book tour, because they allow for human-to-human interaction about the book. I feel that if I can make just one new “fan” at every event, I’ve done my job. In that way, I think some of my events have paid off a few times over, and all of them have paid off.
When I talk to people about book tour, however, they often get that dreamy look in their eye as they imagine me on expensive, paid-for flights, in expensive, paid-for hotels, and appearing on national talk shows. Instead, I’m sorry to say, most of book tour feels like the most boring, yet stressful, video game ever. Some suggested scenarios for Book Tour: The Game include:
- You get to the book release party in the city where you live, only to find that 40 people are waiting to hear you speak and then buy the book … but the bookstore has only 8 copies on hand. Can your significant other race home, carry a box full of your complimentary copies, and make it back in time for you to sell them and sign them after your talk? Can you stall long enough to make sure that happens? 10 points for a good stall; 50 points for the SO making it back; 10 points for each book purchased; another 10 points for each book signed cleverly.
- You drove four hours from New York to DC in a rental car they almost didn’t give you because of some new rule about which kind of credit card you can use at Avis. Your SO put his/hers down instead, and off you went. Now you’ve just given a 40-minute talk at the National Archives while trying to not act too weird about scratching your cornea that morning, and you’ve driven another hour to the retirement home where your SO’s grandmother lives, where you’ll be staying for the night. You’ve managed to at last find an open take-out restaurant, a sushi place, which was no easy feat on a Monday night in Frederick, Maryland. But they took nearly an hour to prepare your order, and now you’re racing back to Grandma’s place in hopes of getting there before your imminent phone interview with an NPR station in Northern California. You’re lost, and trying to get the journey back on track using the Google Maps on your phone, barking orders to your SO, who’s driving. (“No! Bear slight left! Slight!”) At a critical moment, your phone buzzes, cutting off your access to the directions — it’s the radio station, five minutes early. What do you do? 10 points for nicely but firmly telling the guy he’s early and needs to give you the damn five minutes; 50 points for navigating back correctly; 100 points for doing interview while stressed and hungry; 10 points for finally eating the sushi, because, well, you earned it.
- No matter how early you leave for your Chicago events, you get stuck in traffic on the Kennedy. 4:30 p.m.? 4 p.m.? 3:30 p.m.? No matter, you will be later than you wanted to be. You start thinking you could leave at 3 a.m. for a 7 p.m. event the next day and still be late. This part of the game takes various forms: Sometimes you’re driving to Milwaukee for two hours until you’re almost late for your newspaper interview before the event, and you get a call from the reporter in the middle of trying to parallel park on a side street. Sometimes you’re trying to get to the Hemingway house in suburban Oak Park to set up for your event, and you will remember to bring 12 bottles of wine and will remember to pick up the raffle prizes at the spa, but you will forget a corkscrew. (Ironically, they will not have a corkscrew at the Hemingway house, but they will have a nice person willing to go get one for you.) Sometimes you’re trying to get to a North Side book store where you’re giving a talk about writing for magazines. 50 points for getting there before time runs out, 10 points for knowing whom to call to tell you’re late, 10 points for answering your phone (probably illegally) while driving and parallel parking, 100 points for remembering the corkscrew (which is important).
I think it’s clear that the SO is a critical player in this game. I imagine it as a collaborative game of two players, with the SO doing most of the work and the Author doing most of the freaking out. I’m sure I’ll be hearing from Rockstar Games to snap up this idea immediately.