Last August my friend Vicki Delany and I decided to do a book tour in Northern Canada. She had three books in her comic Klondike Gold Rush series set in Dawson City, Yukon, and my upcoming Inspector Green novel, THE WHISPER OF LEGENDS, was set in Nahanni National Park in the Northwest Territories. Our goal was to work with libraries, museums, and bookstores across the territories and Alaska.
This past June, after sacrificing a good chunk of our sanity, our hair and our meagre income, we pulled it off. Eighteen glorious days, sixteen events, and thousands of kilometres of highway and open skies. Along the way, we learned a lot about the value of laughter, flexibility, and humility. Here are four tips on how to survive a book tour…
1. Tour with a friend who knows how to laugh. Not only is it cheaper to share hotel rooms and rental cars, but having someone to share the highs and lows, the anxieties and frustrations, makes the load lighter. There is nothing lonelier than an empty hotel room in a strange city at the end of a long day.
2. Make it an adventure. Choose a place you want to visit, and people you want to meet. Enjoy the experience, play tourist, and don’t make it about fame and fortune. Unless you’re JK Rowlands or Margaret Atwood, you won’t get either. Work hard, but don’t obsess over book sales and audience size (well, try not to). Book tours don’t make money; they’re about spreading the word, making new friends among book people and readers, and trusting that the word will spread far beyond your visit.
3. Be helpful, receptive and appreciative of the efforts of the local booksellers and librarians. Most of the time they don’t know you and are nervous about how well the event will succeed. They work hard on your behalf, sometimes with limited resources, finances and staff. Trust me, they remember the divas who find nothing but fault!
4. Be prepared for the unexpected. At worst it will be a learning experience, at best a serendipitous delight, like the time Vicki and I drove several hundred kilometres to what we thought was an adult library reading and found ourselves doing a presentation to a group of First Nations school children. And if an event is truly a bust (there will be those, although the school children wasn’t one!), there’s always that glass of wine at the end of the day.
There are other concrete steps you can take to make a tour more successful, such as trying to get local media coverage, which is much easier anywhere but Ontario, working with the event organizer and your publisher on promotional material, and developing a really interesting presentation. ‘Author reads book’ will not have them queuing around the block. But enthusiastic attitudes and expectations will make all the difference between delight and misery for everyone. Most of all for you.