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Thinking Outside the Box for Book Tour Events with Indie Bookstores

The Perfect 36, TN Repertory Theatre: The suffragettes disguise themselves as men in order to infiltrate the hospitality suite and document the selling of votes. This very funny soft shoe was called “Pants.”

Therese here. It’s the second Thursday of the month, which means it’s #IndieThursday—a day dedicated to independent bookstores here at Writer Unboxed.

Today’s returning guest is author Laura Harrington [2]. Laura’s debut, Alice Bliss–the story of a girl’s adjustments to her father’s absence after his deployment to Iraq, and her development over that time from tomboy to teen–was recently released in paperback. It’s been widely acclaimed, chosen as a “People Pick” by People Magazine, a “Best Book of the Summer” by Entertainment Weekly, and as a book in Barnes & Noble’s “Discover Great New Writers” program, and so Laura is busy right now doing the sensible thing:


Which means plenty of visits to independent bookstores. But how can you help to ensure your indie bookstore visit is a splash and not a flop? Laura’s unboxed ideas are as fresh and entertaining as her novel. Read on.

Thinking Outside the Box for Book Tour Events with Indie Bookstores

How can you draw from different circles in your life, even when you’re on the road, and what are the possible ripple effects?

I’m very new at the book tour because I’m very new to the book world. When Alice Bliss launched in hardcover last year my publisher set up events that I could drive to.  I quickly learned that even in my own area, if I did not work hard to get an audience, the numbers at my readings would be very small.

The prospect of an east and west coast tour for the paperback launch of Alice Bliss put me into a kind of anxiety free fall. On the one hand, my publisher is sending me on a book tour: Lucky me. But how were they deciding where to send me, and why? Was I actually going to fly around the country to places where I knew absolutely no one? Wouldn’t that make for a string of empty venues?

So I started to ask questions and I got out a map.

Nashville was not originally on my tour, but Tupelo MS was, which is four hours distant. I wrote to my publicist, promised that I could drum up some audience in Nashville and they booked it.

Why Nashville?

Aside from the fact that everyone wants to do a reading to Ann Patchett’s bookstore? 

In 1995 I was commissioned to write a musical (with composer Mel Marvin) that would be the cultural centerpiece of Tennessee’s 200th birthday celebration. We knew from the get-go that it would be big: a large cast, and a 2500 seat theatre with a 200-foot proscenium arch.

A little back story:

THE PERFECT 36 is a warm hearted political satire about the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Tennessee was the 36th and final state to ratify. All of the local and national players, including Carrie Chapman Catt, descended on Nashville for a long, hot legislative session in August 1920 where votes were for sale to the highest bidder and the youngest legislator changed his vote that changed history with these words: “Rarely has mortal man had it within his power to free 20 million women from political slavery.”

Making connections/ taking advantage of the connections you already have:

What does this have to do with a book tour? The connections and friends I made in Nashville were important.  We had a cast of 45, an orchestra of 12 and a large crew and support staff.  25,000 people saw the show.  It’s always exciting to be part of a new show, a show that’s being created right in front of your eyes.  We were all galvanized by that experience. But there’s something else that sets The Perfect 36 apart from my other career highs. It matters. It’s an important story that retains its relevance. The fight for women’s voting rights took 72 years and 800 legislative campaigns. Having a voice and the vote is our most profound right and privilege. Keeping the people’s voice alive in our political process may be one of the most important political issues of this century.

Photobucket [3]How do you take advantage of unexpected connections to enhance your book tour?

I set up a Facebook page and an event to create a reunion for the musical. Within 24 hours I had reconnected to 42 of my 45 cast members, our director, assistant director, and musical director.

Ripple effects:

And out of the blue (and because he had seen The Perfect 36 Facebook page) I heard from journalist Jef Ellis at BroadwayWorld.com [4] saying that he would like to do a series of articles leading up to and including the reunion.

That was completely unexpected.  But suddenly, there’s something newsworthy going on [5].

The bottom line:

Does this guarantee me a great turnout at Parnassus Books? No. In my experience actually getting people to a reading is very challenging.  But if book tours are about building relationships with bookstores and readers and planting seeds for the future, then this has been a success even before the event occurred.

Can this experience be duplicated?

Not everyone has a background in the theatre, but we all have circles we can call on when we are traveling, whether that’s your home town, your high school or college reunion, a previous job, your past life as a juggler, or your early days in a rock band.

What are some of your experiences on book tour? What efforts have paid off? What were some of your highs and lows on the road?

Thanks for a great post, Laura! Readers, you can learn more about Laura and her novel, Alice Bliss, on her website [2] and blog [6], and by following her on Facebook [7] and Twitter [8]. Write on.