What I Learned on My Very Long SEINFELDIA Book Tour

 

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Mini-pies and black and white cookies in Louisville.

I’m sort-of done with my book tour for Seinfeldia‘s hardcover edition—which I certainly should be, given that it came out nearly nine months ago. I have a few book festivals and paid speaking engagements left, but as far as my straight-ahead, girl-and-a-book road show is concerned, I’m wrapped until paperback (which is a mere three months away in June). In any case, it’s a good time to reflect on some things I’ve learned on this tour, which was by far the most intense book promotion I’ve ever done. Not only was this book a bestseller about a topic people loooove, which meant more invitations than I’d ever gotten before; I also did the Jewish Book Council, which books authors who are Jewish or who have Jewish books at synagogues and JCCs across the country, paying for all travel expenses. (Publishers very rarely pay for tours these days, so usually authors themselves are paying their travel if not for an organization like the JBC.)

 

I did enough appearances that I lost count long ago, but I would say dozens. I know how lucky I am to have a book people want to hear about; though it is an arduous process, I remain a big believer in the value of meeting people in person and making connections throughout the country. I have stayed in fancy hotels and in people’s homes; I have been feted with fancy nighttime soirees and I have been asked, upon requesting the luxury of water during my speech, “Is warm water okay?” I have been stuck in the special hell known as a missed connecting flight several times. I have sold anywhere from 1 to 60 books in a night, with crowds ranging from a handful to 200 or so.

If you’re touring with a book yourself anytime soon, please learn from my experiences:

  • Get TSA Precheck, then make sure anyone booking your flights has your Known Traveler Number, then make sure it shows up on every ticket you get. I had Precheck, and it saved me untold agony; but there were also a few glitches when it didn’t show up, and one time this was compounded by a nightmare scenario that had me going back and forth between terminals three times at one airport. Every time, I had to go through standard security with my carry-on.
  • San Francisco International Airport has a yoga room in Terminal 2. It is tiny and no-frills but an extremely pleasant way to spend time between flights.
  • Make your job easier: Have something going on besides just reading or talking. I’m lucky in that I can show scenes from one of the funniest sitcoms of all time. I put together some edited clips, which I showed at the vast majority of my events. It’s a pain beforehand, because you need to make sure your venue has an audio-visual set-up that works. But it’s much more fun for everyone, including you. Alternatives to this include having an interview/discussion with another author (my friend, rockstar author Jami Attenberg, has been doing this on her tour right now to great effect) or putting together a little panel—I usually do this in Los Angeles, where, for instance, several former Seinfeld writers are based. In Louisville, with The J, I did a joint event with Seinfeld composer Jonathan Wolff that was a highlight of my tour.
  • If you do have an A/V presentation, put together a little kit of all the adapters you might need. I have a Mac laptop, so I don’t go anywhere without an HDMI adapter and a VGA adapter. I often bring my own HDMI cable, too, just in case. Jonathan speaks often on the road, and he showed me his even fancier kit, which includes his own lavaliere mic pack.
  • If you need to put together film clips, I recommend ScreenFlow, though certainly there are other programs as well.
  • Don’t travel on a day when there is a deeply emotional, historic election for President of the United States happening. You will be extra distressed when you then get stuck overnight in Charlotte, North Carolina, and your airline does not provide accommodations and you seem eternally doomed to a hell full of CNN TVs blasting terrible news at you. Just a general tip.
  • If you’re planning your own events, partner with a venue that has its own outreach—mailing lists, social media, etc. This goes double/triple/quadruple for cities where you don’t personally have a huge network. My best events were at places like Book Soup in Los Angeles, the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, Word bookstore in Brooklyn, and the 92nd Street Y in New York City.
  • Small towns often have big turnouts. When I got invitations through the Jewish Book Council, it was tempting to just jump at places like Portland, Oregon, and ignore places like Dayton, Ohio, or Newport News, Virginia. No offense to those places, but some cities are just more travel-glamorous than others. Portland was great—it’s one of my favorite cities, and I got to stay in a sweet hotel—but Dayton and Newport News, among other smaller cities, drew some of my biggest crowds. In a place like Portland, there are about three bazillion impossibly cool cultural activities to compete with on any given night; the JCCs I visited in Dayton and Virginia were the hot spots for the night.
  • The bigger deal an event seems, the better it will be. Sounds kind-of duh, but let me explain: If you’re just another author they’re parading through on a daily or weekly basis, neither you nor your guests—if they even show up—will get much out of it. My most memorable events were the ones where we had themed food like Junior Mints and black-and-white cookies, trivia contests, and even—thanks, Louisville!—special themed cocktails and goodie bags. Do what you can, along with your hosts, to make an event An Event.
  • The Savannah Book Festival rules. A total highlight. They made me feel like a celebrity.
  • Applebee’s is not bad in a pinch. The salmon is great and a mere 540 calories.
  • Do not underestimate free breakfast at the hotel.
  • Make a standard list for packing that includes whatever you need for your presentation, what you want to wear for your presentation, and whatever else keeps you sane (I always bring workout clothes). Next time I want to get better at this and come up with a basic set of healthy, air travel-friendly snacks to pack. The eating situation has been a nightmare.
  • Shop for a few go-to outfits beforehand that span whatever seasons might be necessary. I have a lighter linen blazer and a wool blazer, plus a few cotton dresses that aren’t easily marred by travel. All of these outfits can be worn with the same black boots.
  • Don’t assume that because you’ve been asked to speak somewhere, your books will be for sale. Ask ahead of time so you can decide whether it’s worth showing up.
  • Especially for events where your book isn’t for sale, have something easy to hand out to remind people of your book; I got bookmarks made.
  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If there’s a small turnout, that’s only the tiniest bit to do with you and everything to do with the weather, the venue, local and national events, and all kinds of other things. One event planner at a Barnes & Noble told me that even INSERT NAME OF SUPER-FAMOUS MULTI-BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF AIRPORT-SOLD MYSTERIES HERE showed up once to an audience of zero.
  • Have fun and make friends with organizers and booksellers. They’ll be your allies next time around.

Any authors have any other book tour tips? I’d love to hear them!

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Writing ‘Sex and the City’: The Notecard Phase

I get really excited in the notecard phase of writing any book. This is when I’ve done a lot of research and broken down all my notes and transcripts into bite-sized pieces. I put each piece on a notecard so that then I can spread them all out on my bedroom floor while listening to music (probably some Beyoncé Lemonade this time), then put them in little related piles that will become my outline.

I like this phase because it gives me the feeling of control. Finally, I have gotten (most) of what I need from others, and now I can be alone with my thoughts and figure them out. It’s very satisfying.

Here’s a photo from this phase of my current book, which is about Sex and the City.

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And here’s one from Seinfeldia that I still think is funny.

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Candace Bushnell: You Need a Point of View to Be a Writer

sex_and_the_city_book_-_cover_artWhile researching my upcoming book on Sex and the City, I had the pleasure of interviewing the author of the book that inspired the series, Candace Bushnell. She said something that really stuck with me: “One of the reasons that I am a writer is that I do have a point of view. I have a real take. I feel like that’s what I was born with. Otherwise there’s really no reason to be a writer.”

If you find yourself with “writer’s block,” ask yourself: Why am I here? What am I trying to say? Presumably there’s something; if not, go do something constructive like cooking dinner or going for a run.

Real Writers Risk

I read an insightful piece on Fast Company‘s website today by novelist Michael Grothaus about how he quit his six-figure tech job to write his book. What I loved most was this part:

Like any dream venture, whether it’s writing a novel or launching a startup, there is a large amount of risk involved. It’s often the fear that risk brings—How will I find the time? How will I pay the bills? What if I’m no good and don’t succeed?—that often keeps people chained to careers they may, at best, tolerate and at worst, detest.

This explains why I get irritable when some most likely well-meaning person at a cocktail party tries to relate to me by saying something like, “Oh, I’ve always meant to write a book,” or “I really want to become a writer when I retire.” Maybe they really have meant to write a book, and maybe they will. And there’s nothing wrong with picking up a writing hobby upon retirement. But these offhand comments, which imply that anyone can be a professional writer, downplay the hardest part (beyond the actual writing, which is not always a picnic): the risks professional writers take every day.

I love my freelance writer life and the control it gives me over my days (sort-of … though I promise there are plenty of days that feel way out of my control, full of interview times being changed and assignments I take to pay the bills). But walking away from a steady paycheck is a risk. Writing something and just hoping someone will pay you for it someday is a risk. Writing something and publishing it is a risk, and neither the comments sections nor the critics will let you forget it.

Real writers’ main job requirement isn’t writing. To get to the writing, and to get it out there, they must take constant risks.

‘No Satisfaction Whatever’: Advice on Creative Frustration from Martha Graham

Miranda July posted this wonderful little excerpt: Martha Graham’s advice to her fellow dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille, perfect for all of us creative types (“No artist is pleased”). It’s great no matter what, but it really hit me hard as I’m getting ready to put a book out in July and trying to figure out what my next book will be. Maybe it will resonate with you, too:

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Win a Free Skillshare Class!

The nice people at 96 Problems — creators of the Rough Draft writing app — are offering a Skillshare scholarship for the best answer to my writing prompt:

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All the details are here; the deadline is April 4. This is your chance to take any of Skillshare’s great classes — including mine on pop culture writing and finding your writing voice — for free!

How to Fight Evil with ‘Pens, Books, and Advanced Acrobatics’

I just learned about Pakistan’s cartoon Burka Avenger, thanks to a piece I’m writing for BBC Culture about superheroines. Of course I loved her from the minute I heard her name, but what’s particularly striking about her is her emphasis on literacy: The intro tells us (according to the English subtitles) that her weapons are “pens, books, and advanced acrobatics.” In the first episode, she saves a girls’ school from closing down:

She reminds me of the women I’m lucky enough to mentor through the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. These women often risk their safety just for the chance to write their own stories. We help them to share them with the world in English. Please check out some of their work on the site. They are truly fighting evil with pens and books. I can’t speak for the advanced acrobatics, but I hope they don’t need them.

Getting Real About Writing 30 Day Challenge

My experience with my own writing career, as well as with clients and students, all comes down to one conclusion: Most of us just need to buckle down and actually do the writing. We can talk about it, read about it, think about it for months, maybe even years. But to be a writer you must write.

That’s why I designed this new motivational program: particularly perfect for those New Year’s resolutions you’ll be making soon. Here’s all the info you need … sign up now!:

The Getting Real About Writing 30-Day Challenge

Do you have tons of ideas for writing, but “no time” to actually get them done? Maybe you’ve taken a zillion writing classes, read a billion books about writing, but still haven’t finished (or started!) that novel, essay, short story, or book proposal. Maybe you have a demanding job and/or family that seems to always need tending until your allotted writing time is all gone.

YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE. THIS CHALLENGE IS FOR YOU.

Getting Real About Writing is a 30-day program designed to help you to (read: force you to!) focus on your writing. I’ve designed it to meet the needs of most “aspiring” writers I’ve encountered as a teacher and writing coach: You have great ideas and you have the skills. You just need to actually put the words on the paper. This is what separates the aspirants from the writers: words on paper. In just one month, we will make you a writer.

Enough with the “if only …”s. If only you were independently wealthy and didn’t need to work. If only you lived in a silent house alone by the ocean with no responsibilities. If only the space-time continuum weren’t so restrictive …

The “if only …”s are never going to happen. The Getting Real About Writing Challenge will show you that your writing is possible anyway. My approach is simple, even if it isn’t easy: I’ll help you set concrete, achievable goals. Then we’ll get to work.

WHAT IS THE GETTING REAL ABOUT WRITING CHALLENGE?

It’s a self-guided, 30-day course that dispenses with all the (well, most of the) talking and writing about writing … to get to the writing itself. Course materials include:

  • Goal-setting exercises, which I will consult on if necessary.
  • Daily minimum-writing-time goals, with e-mail reminders.
  • Optional membership in a private Getting Real About Writing Facebook group to exchange tips, complaints, and support with fellow writers.
  • Weekly downloadable inspiration and practical exercises to keep you on track.

WHAT DOES IT COST?

One easy payment of $29.

WILL IT WORK FOR YOU?

If you’re ready to put in the work, it will. This is not a course about how to write — you have that covered. (Seriously, you do.) This is about making yourself into a writer, about doing the actual work. It’s about setting goals and achieving them, sticking with a writing routine, and finding the time to do it all despite your “if only …”s. Yes, we are going to make time. We are going to find it where you thought there wasn’t any. WE ARE GOING TO BEND THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM.

Are you ready to Get Real About Writing?

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Halloween Week Open Mic in NYC!

Pretty purple Daisy Rock guitar.

Pretty purple Daisy Rock guitar.

The open mic night I cohost in NYC’s East Village, Rock ‘n’ Roll Poetry, will be at Otto’s Shrunken Head for another installment at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26. Music and poetry, originals and covers, beginners and pros welcome. Come out and watch, or sign up now to perform. Costumes welcome (but optional)! I’ll be there doing some George Michael and/or Taylor Swift.