Putting the ‘tour’ in Tour Journal

I’ve always described these as ‘tour journals’ since my early model, back with the first one, was writers on tour offering insights (usually funny) as to the vagaries of life as a writer on the road. You know, arrive at a signing in one city and there is promotion but no books have arrived, arrive in another and books are in the bookstore but they forgot to promote the event. (Yes, both happen.)

Over the years I’ve expanded the journal concept to include activities that start well before the tour itself (finishing the draft, copyediting, covers, first marketing meetings), but we’ve now reached that actual On the Road planning stage.

We could pause for an authorial lament at how damned early everything happens these days. Or did I do that rant already, about sending out the first Advance Reading Copies? Probably. I give good rant I have been told.

So, here’s the thing about book tours: they don’t happen nearly as much any more and the debate as to their efficacy concerning cost and time is ongoing, and varies case by case. Margaret Atwood or Stephen King on the road makes sense for everyone. There is guaranteed coverage and events will succeed by any measure one wants. Still, a lot of time, airports, hotel rooms, publisher money spent, but the calculation tilts strongly to ‘let’s do it’.

When you see younger authors on tour, be kind, odds are good they are spending some of their own money, are speaking to small numbers, are stressed, and may be sleeping on someone’s couch. Buy a book.

For me, over the years, tours remain worth it if well set-up. That involves two different elements. Obviously bookstore reading/signing events, at a store committed to promoting the evening, and with a constituency in any given city that are legitimately excited that there’s a new book out. The second element has gotten trickier: media. The simple truth is that there are fewer newspapers out there, there’s less coverage of books (especially fiction), radio and tv coverage of books has dropped significantly, which means less to do on the road, and fewer chances to promote the signing event, too.

The slack, to a fair degree, has been picked up by online coverage. Book bloggers, online mags, and mainstream media that delegate book world coverage to their online sections. And all of these can just as easily interview a writer sitting at his or her computer typing answers to an e-interview. Why fly somewhere?

Indeed, here’s a secret: many of the local print interviews you see with a writer who has arrived in town for an event were done online or by telephone the week before. But they were only done after the newspaper or magazine confirmed the author was coming to town! They wouldn’t have happened without that assurance. In other words, you have to commit to the tour to get the at-home interview.

Another variable (everyone taking notes?) is author festivals. Many cities now have these, with significant numbers of writers coming in sometimes. The upside for a publisher is that the festivals can (often via grants they get) cover much or even all of the cost of getting writers there. The downside is that bit about ‘significant numbers of writers’ … signal to noise ratio. It can be challenging for a publisher to get attention for their writer (and sometimes they have a few writers!). The upside for an author is, often, that the festivals can be a lot of fun. No, I am not about to tell the good stories.

All of this is prelude to the fact that last week I started getting draft itineraries and options to assess for hitting the road in May.

Publicists get in touch with bookstores, festivals, media way ahead (not ranting, not!) because so much needscoordinating. There can be conflicts of a varied nature. You don’t want to do a reading on Mother’s Day! (Pro tip.) You don’t want two major authors doing events in a city on same day or evening. (Duh.) Reading with someone else can double the audience (if the authors are roughly matched in significance), reading with four others may not be not all that great for tour value. There’s a trend I like of doing onstage interviews not just readings, and if there’s a wonderful interviewer in a city, you need to check her schedule, too. Bookstores sometimes compete for a writer. Flattering, of course, but publishers need to be careful, and fair. If you give X store Y writer, you may need to give B writer to C store the next week. I always push for my events to be at indie bookstores (a crusade of sorts) but it is simply foolish not to acknowledge the importance of the chains in selling books, and dropping in to sign stock and meet fans on the staff at those is just good manners.

So, what we know now (what we think we know now) is that Children of Earth and Sky will have its worldwide launch in Toronto on May 11th, in the Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library. I’ve launched there twice, they do terrific work, and a bookseller will be there (it is obviously a plum gig for whichever bookseller does this, and that, too, can get political). I’ll head west in Canada the next day, then go down the west coast into the States at the end of that. All details will be released well ahead as they firm up. There will also be events later in summer, and in fall, at various festivals.

Do I enjoy it? What curmudgeon ever admits to something like that? Seriously, people. My longstanding joke has been that the only people less happy than authors on tour are the authors not on tour.

More seriously, by now I mostly do have fun on the road. For one thing, I’m not prolific, this isn’t an annual exercise (some overseas tours and events can happen between books, though). I have old friends in many cities, media friends in some, and there are bookstores I love visiting. (McNally Robinson in Winnipeg, both the University store and Elliot Bay in Seattle, as examples…) There is even an invite this spring to a top secret single malt night if I have a free evening in a Particular City. This needs to happen.

I also find it a really good way to get a bit of the pulse of the book business in any year. The online world can be insular, meeting the people selling books in their stores, meeting my own readers, talking to journalists …I learn a lot from all of this about the world in which I operate professionally.

So, yes, I enjoy it. Don’t tattle.