Today please welcome return guest Jenny Milchman .” Jenny’s new novel, As Night Falls , will be released tomorrow. She is also the author of Cover of Snow , which won the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and Ruin Falls , an Indie Next Pick and a Top Ten of 2014 by Suspense Magazine. She is Vice President of Author Programming for International Thriller Writers, teaches for New York Writers Workshop, and is the founder and organizer of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which is celebrated annually in all fifty states. Jenny lives with her family in New York’s Hudson River Valley.
In 2013, Shelf Awareness dubbed my book tour “the world’s longest.” Of the first two years I was a published author, eleven months were spent on the road, visiting bookstores, libraries, book clubs, schools. Now I’d like to help other writers add this kind of richness to their careers by getting out there face-to-face in an increasingly virtual world–oh, and you don’t have to rent out your house, trade in two cars for an SUV that can handle Denver in February, or “car-school” your children to do it.
** Special for Writer Unboxed Readers! Today is the last day of a giveaway for anyone who pre-orders Jenny’s forthcoming thriller, As Night Falls. You’ll be eligible to win a Writer’s Wish List, or give one away to an emerging writer in your life. Click HERE for details .
The World’s Longest Book Tour
Or, Why I Rented Out My House, Traded in Two Cars for an SUV That Could Handle Denver in February, and Hit the Road With My Husband and Kids
When Therese graciously agreed to let me appear on WU, she asked two questions about my book touring. (I’ve spent 11 of the past 24 months on the road, putting 70,000 miles on the above mentioned SUV. Now with my third novel set to release, we are heading out again.)
Therese wanted to know whether I do it all myself. And, how I manage not to lose my mind.
Well, assuming she’s right about the not losing my mind part—and some would say that’s a reach—I do have some ideas as to how to keep a hold of your sanity on tour. But it might be better to talk first about why I do this, and whether a scaled down version could work for you.
I believe that the value of the face-to-face has only increased in this increasingly virtual world. Because it’s rarer. We appreciate seeing what somebody’s smile looks like versus their emoticon. A hug or a handshake is not the same as a Like. And when the virtual meets real life, that may be the best yet. I’ve met Facebook Friends out there on the road, and find it amazing that now I get to call them friend.
My publisher was one of the ones who thought I’d lost my mind when I suggested going out on such an extensive tour with my debut. Do you know how many empty rooms you’ll walk into? was the general sentiment. And sure, there were some. But thanks to the stellar, engaged, and creative booksellers of this country, plus my kick-butt independent publicists, I also walked into a fair number of rooms filled with dozens—occasionally hundreds—of readers. And when my debut went into its sixth printing in hardcover, my publisher offered to help set up the tour for my second novel. With a third book about to come out, they have taken on part of the cost as well.
I think when one of the world’s biggest media conglomerates says, “This turned out to be a good idea,” you know you’re onto something.
So that answers one part of the “do I do it on my own” question. I have help from publicists, and from my publisher, but a great deal of reaching out to venues is just me making phone calls, writing emails, and dropping in when I am nearby in the hopes of planning a return visit one day. As I get a little more established, sometimes people invite me without my asking, which feels like something of a miracle.
The other part of not doing it on my own is that my husband and kids join me on book tour. That means “car-schooling” the children and my husband working from the front seat of our car. He’s a surgeon.[pullquote]Whether you’re an emerging author still anticipating publication, a soon-to-be debut in the throes of planning, or an established author for whom touring hasn’t quite worked in the past, think about getting out there. [/pullquote]
Just kidding. He’s actually a software developer, which of all professions probably best lends itself to a mobile office, but is still a juggle at times. You should see him when the signal goes out in Wyoming in the middle of conference call.
Bringing my family is what allows me to go out for so long. Let me say that right at the outset. Without support and company, it would be one of those don’t-try-this-at-home type deals. Or away from home either.
A lot of people say writing is a lonely occupation, and while I don’t quite agree with that—our characters keep us company—I would agree that it’s an isolating one. Until you get out there and connect with the people who make up this book world—booksellers and librarians and book bloggers and book club members—you have not experienced a dimension so rich, it’s like when Dorothy woke up in Oz and everything had turned to color.
Authors sometimes say to me, “This all sounds great, and I’d love to try it, but I can’t possibly travel around the country for two months. And my husband really is a surgeon.”
My answer to this is the mini-tour. Draw a circle around your house of how far you can drive in the hours when your kids are in school, or the time after work, or a weekend overnight. Or take a longer vacay of a week or two, maybe in some far off state you’ve always wanted to visit, and then draw your circle. Find the bookstores within that radius and reach out to them.
Whether you’re an emerging author still anticipating publication, a soon-to-be debut in the throes of planning, or an established author for whom touring hasn’t quite worked in the past, think about getting out there. And if you do, I hope these tips will not only help make your trip a success, but answer the how-to-hold-onto-your-sanity question, too.
Ten Top Tips for Touring
- If you are pre-published, make a habit of going into bookstores. Say hello, introduce yourself, buy something if possible (I do most of my Christmas shopping at bookstores and shop for my children’s friends’ birthday gifts there). The roles of author and bookseller are reciprocal, and it’s never too early to start building relationships with people you hope will support your book.
- Once your book is acquired, make up small gift bags filled with bookmarks and swag related to your book. (Think, a winter read and pouches of hot cocoa). When you go in to bookstores and libraries, or meet someone who belongs to a book club, give them a gift bag and ask for contact info. When you are three-to-five months from release, you’ll have a ready list of stops.
- Consider hiring an independent publicist. This can help keep your empty rooms to a minimum—though even an empty room is an opportunity to get to know a bookseller who might fall in love with your work—and arrange for media coverage around your events.
- Get creative about events. Don’t just read—give a writers’ workshop or a talk about publishing. Teach a skill related to something in your book. Sing. (OK, maybe not that, unless you can sing.)
- Use your contacts. Rather than depending on the bookstore to bring in a crowd, boost attendance by finding FB Friends and Twitter followers in the area and sending out invites. Develop a contact list and use it as well. Ask friends and family to invite people on your behalf. Pair with a local author, and introduce his or her readers to a new book and an interactive event.
- Make sure to take advantage of fun things to do in the area. Even if you don’t have time to visit the Grand Canyon, go for some authentic Mexican food in bookstore-rich Arizona. Eat from a cart in Portland, Oregon. Buy a hotdog in New York and visit a museum. Balancing events with fun will round out your touring. (Hmmm. I see that a lot of my fun seems to revolve around food).
- Use Airbnb and VRBO and Home Away to find unique and economical accommodations.
- Contact local papers, radio, and TV stations wherever you are scheduled to do an event and see if they might like to cover it and/or review your book.
- Once you’re on tour, realize that success is measured in a variety of ways, and number of sales is the least of them. Sure, it’s nice to sign 100 books. Or 10. Or 1000. But even the latter will scarcely cover the costs if you’re flying, staying over, and eating. What an event will do for you is start the return on a long term investment. You never know when the sole attendee turns out to be an influential reviewer. Or when the bookseller regularly handsells hundreds of books. Or if the goodwill spread by giving a great talk will make its way back to your publisher—and make them think seriously about supporting future events. And many other possibilities as well.
Whatever turns out to happen, I hope you will share it with me. And if I’m coming to a spot near you , please come out. We can take this face-to-face!
Have you toured or considered it? We’d love to hear your stories, your tips, plus how did you keep your sanity? (Or the ways in which you’ve lost it…!?)