My adventure begins sixteen tons of sundowns ago… maybe say, November-ish, when the Clarendon Hills Public Library in Illinois asked me to be a featured reader at their No-Shush Salon. They wanted an author for early 2015. My first response (which I thankfully didn’t send) was no. Grateful that they thought of me, but no way. Who can afford to travel 5 hours one-way for one reading?
And then, THEN! In a cosmic crapshoot of hell yeah, another Chicago reading series, Tuesday Funk, contacted me. They wanted me for a reading several days after No-Shush.
When the universe shimmies at you, you wink back. I said yes to both.
And seriously then — THEN! My favorite reading series in Chicago, the Tamale Hut Cafe Presents, was also going on. Michael Penkas, a super rad Chicago writer (you may recognize as the Website Editor of Black Gate), was scheduled as the featured reader, but I could absolutely open mic it up. This meant I could do three readings in the span of a week. For me, three readings was definitely worth the road trip.
– Get to Chicago Wednesday, January 28th
– Thursday, January 29th: No-Shush Salon Presents: Rock the Podium
– Saturday, January 31st: Tamale Hut Cafe Presents
– Tuesday, February 3rd: Tuesday Funk
– Leave for home on Wednesday, Feb 4th
Between all that, there were two dance nights, several tea parties, a homemade soup night, the entire last season of Parenthood watched with my bestie, and a snowstorm to be dug out of. Oh, and chucking the week full of as many bookish promos as possible – like seeking out new consignment locations and finding appropriate spots to drop off bookmarks and stickers.
Chicago is full of beautiful scumbags I adore. I wish I was able to see more of ’em while there. Instead, I sat snowed in on Sunday and Monday, and what do you do when yer snowed in? You write. So here’s a gathering of tips I’d give other indies before they go out on their own book tours. Stuff I did and wish I’d done.
Book Tour Tip #1:
Consider the weather.
Do not plan a book tour in January in the Midwest. There will be snow. So. Much. Snow. Winter makes folks stay indoors. Travel is harder. City parking is atrocious. Winter means schlepping merch through ice alleys and foot-deep flurries to smaller crowds. Ugh.
Book Tour Tip #2:
Can’t justify the cost of journeying too far from home for one reading? Check and see if other readings in the area will feature you. If none can or they can, but in the far flung future, you should probably reschedule your trip. If yer taking time off work and decreasing yer checkbook on travel, you need as many bookish activities as possible scheduled in the same localized area.
…but you don’t want that localized area to be too small. You want to reach new people near their homes. I did a reading in the western burbs of Chicago, one right outside of the city, and one in Chicago proper. There was very minor overlap in the people who would attend all three.
You are in town! Make the most of it! What bookstores can you drop off bookmarks or flyers at? Can you contact them in advance with a review copy? If they like it, would they be willing to consign your book? Who is your audience? Maybe flyer the local coffee shops or local historical society. Drop bookmarks at libraries. Promotional materials can be sent via the interwebs, but it always makes more of an impact to meet someone in person.
Book Tour Tip #3:
You don’t have to wait for a library or a reading series to contact you. Contact them! But you need to plan for a long look forward. Many smaller libraries need at least 3 months lead time for an event, if they choose to accept you. Larger libraries (like the Mount Prospect Public Library where I used to work) have their activities planned at least 6-9 months in advance. As for reading series at bars, coffee shops, and bookstores, usually they have their next 3-4 readers lined up… so if they want to feature you, it’s probably gonna take 3-4 months.
If a library, bookstore, or reading series doesn’t get back to your email… yeah… it’s kinda crappy. But don’t get mad. They’re overworked and underpaid promoters of the arts. They do what they can, but they can’t do it all. If they do get back to you, but tell you no, take it gracefully.
Rejection is why we have bourbon, industrial music, coffee candy bars, and other writers to rant privately to through Snapchat.
Book Tour Tip #4:
Adventures mean greenback stacks. Gas money. Airfare. Honestly, if you are DIY… I don’t know how you would do any of this flying. Heavy book luggage. Maybe shirts or buttons or postcards or ALL OF THESE THINGS! Plus bookmarks, homebrew flyers, other promo junk, and, ya know, yer actual clothes. So… all this is with the idea that you are driving. And if you are driving (and don’t want to sleep in your car), then you may be wracking up motel costs.
Which is some crap. No thanks.
When you’re starting out, tour where you know people. Chicago is/was my home. I may be currently living in Iowa, but my dark heart still sits in Chicago and I can’t convince it to leave Reggie’s and re-enter my chest. I have sofas all over Chicago to sleep on.
Where do you have guest rooms or couches waiting for you?
Reminder: if you offer your couch to artists in need, yer more likely to have a couch waiting for you. Also, If all else fails, AirBnb is usually cheaper than a hotel.
Book Tour Tip #5:
Speaking of money. SAVE ALL YOUR RECEIPTS!!! All of them. Tolls? Yes. Fill-ups? Yes. French fry and peanut butter cup roadfood that’d make yer mama growl? Yes. This is a business trip. Deduct the GD hell out of it.
Book Tour Tip #6:
Get to know people. People who run podcasts. Bloggers. Librarians. Writers. Bookstore owners. Reading hosts. Gallery owners. The folks you become pals with and promote the businesses of are the self-same folks who will tweet your new book and let you crash their daybed while touring.
Book Tour Tip #7:
Before: Invite friends through Facebook. Post (e-)flyers. Make sure that your readings are listed in (alternative) newspapers and local literary sites.
For example, Chicago has the Tribune, the Reader, the Redeye… and that’s only a few of the newspapers most likely to catch folks’ attention. There’s also mags like Literary Chicago and Gapers Block. All of them list literary events. Give plenty of lead time. Don’t expect results if you give one day’s notice.
During: Instagram. Twitter. Facebook. Tumblr. Use them. There was an adorable sign from the library reading that made me look like I was opening up for Family Lego Night. I Instagrammed that. Do a selfie with yer audience. Mention your reading on Twitter, you never know who will show up. Ditto that for Facebook.
After: Post pics! Tag pics on social media! Write a blog about your experiences.
AND! Say thank you. To your audience. To the hosts of your events. Thank them in person. Thank them online. Reaffirm relationships. Seriously. They believed in you enough to present you. Give them multiple high fives.
Book Tour Tip #8:
Do not expect to sell books.
At first… I was like WHAT THE HELLA? because I sold more books at a haircut than I did at one of my readings… but hey, it ain’t always gonna be a moneybags kinda night. What matters the most is giving a good show. Drawing your audience in. Seeing folks get lost in your story. Meeting new people. New people mean new readers.
I did rough headcounts at my readings. All told, I performed in front of almost a 100 new faces who now know my fiction. That’s a mighty rad reach.
Book Tour Tip #9:
You don’t have to be Liberace Stephen King or Lady Gaga Rowling. I mean, I sure as hell won’t stop you from trying (the only good bomb is a glitter bomb), but if it ain’t in your personality to be an out there performer, don’t force it.
For a successful reading, follow these steps: pick your piece in advance, make sure it fits the time limit, PRACTICE ALOUD! Then practice some more. You don’t have to have a 15-20 minutes piece memorized… but you should be dang familiar with it.
Don’t get freaked if people take pictures or videos during your performance. Ignore it. Keep reading.
Before the reading, you can offer the audience a staged photo. If no one wants one…have a friend take one anyways – that way you have at least one photo you know you’ll like.
I say this as someone who is sick of seeing ACTION PHOTOS! of me reading…which amounts to my eyes looking sleepy on the page and my mouth gaping wider than the Grand Canyon.
Book Tour Tip #10:
Whatever you perform… it should be a scene that holds a room’s attention. This doesn’t mean it has to be UBER SEX! or MEGA VIOLENCE! But… it has to have a spark to it. Try your excerpt out on a friend. If someone who loves you accidentally goes wander-eyed, yer gonna wanna pick a different piece.
Bonus Book Tour Tips:
- You are probably gonna be doing a lot of driving. There. Back. In-town traffic. Have your music ready. Have audiobooks on hand. Look up the local NPR station.
- Think about the outfits you wear to your readings. You are projecting an image as much as you are selling your stories.
- Arrive early and stay late.
- Have an awesome signing pen. Read this Debut Author Lesson by Mary Robinette Kowal!
- Expect to be photographed. Read this Theodora Goss post about Being Photogenic.
- Do something extra. Like…
- A raffle/giveaway copy.
- Treats. People are brought together by cookies. And chocolate. Seriously.
- A coupon code handout for later online purchase. Make the coupon a limited time offer.
- Lots of folks don’t carry cash. If you have a smart phone, look into getting a Square or other credit card reader you can plug into your phone. There’s a few brands out there now.
- PAY YOUR TAXES! Yup. You should be paying sales tax to whatever state you are in when you handsell books. Each state has different tax levels. Google the state’s Department of Revenue and ask how much the special event tax rate is and where to send your check.
- If no reading series or bookish institutions can host you — ask friends to throw art salons where with you as the featured reader.
- Book tours don’t have to be huge, multi-state affairs. Brainstorm how a small-scale tour could work for you.
- If you can, plan a book tour around other bookish events… like writer cons… get the most outta yer traveling dollars!
Now get out there, ye scribblers and storytellers! Share your words with the world in person.
Patty Templeton is the author of the 1880s ghost story There Is No Lovely End. When she isn’t driving the countryside looking for honky tonks that play Muddy Roots music or reading in bars, she’s writing about working class heroes and the weird. Holler at her over on Twitter or Tumblr.