Monday, June 30, 2008

Tour de Force

Thoughts on book tours by Rhys Bowen

Next week I set out on yet another book tour. I should be looking forward to it with eager anticipation. Of course I do love visiting the bookstores and meeting fans, but it’s the mechanics of touring that I’m not looking forward to. I’m remembering the six a.m. flight out of New York, the car that came for me at 4 a.m, which was 1 a.m. my time—oh, and did I mention it was snowing? I’m also remembering the thunderstorm in Houston, that resulted in our plane sitting on the tarmac for two hours in sticky heat.

When I was a new writer I dreamed of being whisked around the country on a book tour. Then of course I discovered the reality that any whisking around the country was going to be on my own dollar. I had to make my own arrangements and I learned a few things along the way. The first of these was booking flights. Always try to book a direct flight if you can. If you have to change planes, then never go through Chicago if you can avoid it, especially not in the late afternoon when delays have piled up, and never in winter when it snows. Try to avoid places like Atlanta or Houston where summer thunderstorms will ground flights.

Always try to sit near the front of the plane so you don’t exit feeling completely frazzled. We all travel on a budget but sometimes it’s worth spending money. Southwest now has a sort of business class and you can pay to board first. You can avoid the security lines at some airports by paying for a Clear Pass. Both worth every penny. As is a hotel near the signing, in a good part of town and preferably with a pool and spa.

Always give yourself more time than you think you’ll need. Bite the bullet and fly in the night before if necessary. It’s better than what happened to me flying to New York once, arriving two hours late, taking a train into Penn Station to save time only to find that the train was canceled, literally throwing my bag into the hotel, and jumping onto the Staten Island ferry as it left the dock. I needed a large glass of chardonnay before I could speak!

And speaking of chardonnay, always travel with an emergency snack bag for those times when the flight is delayed or stuck on the tarmac. I always pack a banana, a trail mix bar and some string cheese, just in case. And I try to travel with just a carry on, or at least have everything I need for that evening’s event in the carry on, in case my luggage goes to Alaska when I’m in Arkansas.

Of course most of us who are paying for our own tours try to keep the flying to a minimum and do most of our traveling by rental car. For me touring with another author was an all around best option: halving the expenses, having a driver and navigator to get though the middle of Boston, drawing twice the crowd at bookstores (okay occasionally it was doubled from one to two), and above all having someone to laugh with after awful events and celebrate with after good ones. I’m thinking of the time we had to have our photo taken with the store pig and it drooled over our shoes, or the time a self published writer showed up, stationed herself at the front of the store and sold her books before anybody could get to us, or an over-devoted, and very strange, male fan followed us to three signings in one day, found out where we were having dinner that evening and sat at the next table.

So what have I learned? Network, network, network. Invite other writers to stay with you and they’ll reciprocate when you come to their town. Show support and attend signings by visiting authors. Above all, stay cool and always be gracious to the bookseller and the fans, no matter what. And I mean even if the chain store clerk has never heard of you and has to crawl along the floor to find two copies of your book, or the giant store dog comes to sit beside you and growls every time you move (I’m not making this up). Try to be equally animated if the audience is 3 or 30. Those three fans have gone to the trouble of showing up. They deserve you at your best. Dress the part of the successful author—which isn’t always easy after living out of a suitcase for a week.

I always try to make the signing an event. For my new series I hosted royal tea parties last year and served tea and English goodies, as well as dishing out royal scandals. I invited ladies to wear hats and gave a prize for the best hat. I’ll be repeating that this year as it was so much fun. This kind of thing is fun for the store personnel too. One store owner brought her own English bone china and linen cloths. Always have something to hand out to people who are not sure they’ll like your book. I usually bring bookmarks and leave a pile with the store. I’ve also made mini recipe books. People like to get something for nothing.

And now I’ve finally reached the stage when my publisher is touring me. So it’s all out of my hands and I should be able to relax and enjoy it, apart from worrying about what clothes to pack that won’t wilt to limp rags in Houston in July and be warm enough for a freak snowstorm in Denver. But that’s a whole new blog and I’m sure you’ve all got suggestions for me.

Rhys Bowen will be touring for A Royal Pain, the second Royal Spyness mystery.
www.rhysbowen.com

5 comments:

Jeff Cohen said...

Rhys! I'm going to Houston in August--and I'm connecting through Atlanta! Suddenly, I feel doomed...

Roberta Isleib said...

Rhys, you are a touring trooper. We bow down to your royal highness of grueling schedules and thank you for your tips! From everything I read about airline travel, it will only get worse...

It does make me want to stay close to home when my new book comes out in September. Or travel through cyberspace...

Charlaine Harris said...

I'm not touring in 2009 because our daughter is graduating from high school, and this year's touring is over. Reading your blog gave me intense flashback on the worst parts of touring. I'm feeling such a sense of relief . . .

Maggie Toussaint said...

Wow. You're an amazing woman. Thanks for sharing your experiences with you at SINC.

storyknife said...

Everything Rhys said. Also read "Postcards from the Imaginary Mom" in Barbara Kingsolver's High Tide in Tucson.

Dana Stabenow