Photo by Jeff S. PhotoArt

Today, we’re thrilled to have Jenny Milchman with us. Her journey to publication took thirteen years, after which she hit the road for seven months with her family on what Shelf Awareness called “the world’s longest book tour.”

Jenny’s debut novel, COVER OF SNOW, was chosen as an Indie Next and Target Pick, and was nominated for a Mary Higgins Clark award. She is also the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day and chair of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors Program. Jenny’s second novel, RUIN FALLS (Ballantine, 2014), also an Indie Next Pick, just came out and received starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal. She and her family are already back on the road.

Says Library Journal:

Essential for psychological thriller fanatics, Milchman’s second novel trumps her acclaimed debut, Cover of Snow. Extreme heart pounding action follows this determined mother as she risks everything to save her children.

Follow Jenny on her blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

On the Road: Face-to-Face in a Virtual World

Every day I get an email from a writer asking me, “Do I have to do X?” X could be any number of things. Tweet. Blog. Pin things on…what’s that site again?

And my answer is always, “No.” Writers don’t have to do the latest Next Big Thing; they don’t have to do any one thing at all. But that’s not to say they shouldn’t do anything.

The way to cope with the barrage of possibilities is to find those you do enjoy so that when you do them, your enjoyment will be infectious.

My joy is live, in-person events. I am a passionate fan of bookstores—in 2010 I started a holiday called Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day—and appearances at them is for me a little piece of paradise.

Think about it. You arrive at the bookstore to a lovely stack of your very own books, a picture taken of you when you looked your best—or at least had makeup on. The bookseller greets you with cookies or a glass of wine, and then you get to meet the one or one hundred people who have come to chat with you about the writing life.

Did I say one or one hundred people?

Yes, I did. We’ll get to that.

When my first novel was due to come out, after a thirteen year journey/struggle/battle to publication, my husband and I knew that we would have to give this thing our all. So, like any other logical people, we rented out our house, traded in two cars for an SUV that could handle Denver in February, and withdrew our first and third graders from school.

We then hit the road on a 7 month/35,000 mile book tour. The question I get asked most often is whether it was worth it.

It’s a difficult question to answer because it comes down to what worth it means in terms of launching a writing career. Did we sell a lot of books at every stop? No, definitely not. Remember I mentioned the one-person event? Well, I had some of those. (I was also lucky enough to have some where the bookstores had such well-established followings that I got to walk into a crowed room.)

But we knew from the outset that this wasn’t going to be about selling books on any one particular day, but about building relationships. Booksellers receive hundreds or thousands of Advance Reading Copies. They can’t possibly read them all. By going to the bookstore, I added to the wonderful work my publisher’s reps did of putting a book by an unknown author on the radar. 60-70% of the reading public love to browse in bookstores. That’s a lot of potential fans. And no matter how an event went, I would hear from booksellers weeks and even months later about a copy they had just hand sold to a person they knew would enjoy it.

The other question I hear is “But what if I don’t have 7 months? Or 7 weeks for that matter?” My answer to that is: Don’t worry. The power of the face-to-face can be mined in 7 days. Or in a weekend. What I love about doing events is that it’s additive, and you can start with one.

Plan an event at your local bookstore, which won’t even require missing a day of work. Take a weekend road trip, making it a working vacation. Draw a radius around your hometown, and identify bookstores within it. If setting up the events seems difficult, consider working with an independent publicity firm. This was the way I was able to get booked at places that had big and established attendee lists.

Another factor to consider is the power of meeting your readers face-to-face. I found that as much as I enjoy communing with people by email or on FB or Twitter—or blogs like this one—there’s a powerful connection when that relationship is lifted to real time. I met people on the road whom I now consider friends. I can’t wait to meet them next time.

That’s right, I did say next time. Perhaps the best answer to the worth it question is that with my second novel about to come out, we are set to hit the road all over again.


Do Try This at Home: Tips for Touring

  • Start building relationships with bookstores early. Frequent your local bookstore, go into bookstores on vacation. Shop, attend author events. One day, booksellers will be some of the first people to get your book into readers’ hands.
  • Consider a specialty that would lend itself to public speaking. Is your book a cozy and do you cook or knit? Gourmet or craft shops often have groups. Interested in genealogy and you’ve written a multi-generational saga? Is there a religious theme whereby appearances at a house of worship may be applicable? Do you have experience talking to kids? Schools are always looking for educational programs. Plumb the depths of your day job or outside interests for creative ways to get out there face to face.
  • If you’re self-published, work this into your planning. If you like the idea of appearing at bookstores, you will want to have a print book, and you won’t want it published by CreateSpace, but there are other options. If you do use CreateSpace, consider the non-bookstore event site possibilities.
  • Start out slowly. Some authors feel energized by events, some regard them as a slog. If you hate what you’re doing, you’ll burn out, and the events won’t do much good. There’s nothing wrong with a trial run.
  • Consider working with an independent publicity firm to get the most dense and focused tour possible, with media outreach to increase attendance at events.
  • Keep your expectations realistic. A tour is probably not going to turn you into a blockbuster author—at least not at first. What it will do is add a whole new dimension to your audience, and lay a foundation for a growing career.

Have you used any of these tips before? Do you have any to add? Jump into the conversation below!