I just returned from a book tour that saw me driving my car from my North Carolina home to Maine and back, visiting a loop of seven states in twenty-eight days. Of the nineteen planned events, seventeen occurred. I met many great readers, connected with cousins I hadn’t seen in years, and had a wonderful mini-reunion in my hometown library, selling my newest and my original mystery. Living out of my car for a month, here’s what I learned about what I did right and what I would change. (You can read part one of this series – the “before I left” post – here.)
1. Bring your hostess gifts: Pack a bag or carton with thank you cards and small, generic hostess gifts to leave on the sofa or guest bed where you spent the night. My friends and family opened their homes to me to help reduce costs, and they appreciated that gesture of thanks for their efforts. And this way I’ll be welcomed back if I wish to stay with them again.
2. Tax receipts: Keep a folder or large envelope in the front of the car next to you, handy for stashing gas and food receipts. When you do your taxes, the entire trip will be in one place.
3. Prep your route: I’d mapped out my route carefully when setting up the readings and signings I’d be doing, but I found one device extra helpful. I took a small 2 X 3 notebook (mine says “Keep Calm and Carry On”), and on a new page for each event, listed the GPS address, contact numbers, timing, then threw it in my purse. Every night before sleep, I jotted down the number of books sold on that day to keep track of sales. I included notes to myself about whether this was a good place for a repeat event down the road—or not!
4. Time events carefully: Pay attention to the timing and to your target audience. If it includes parents with children, scheduling on a school night makes it more difficult for them to get away, so if that’s unavoidable, better to make it later when their kids are settled. Also, don’t neglect to find out who slated to appear around you. The only event I did that did not have great turnout was in Massachusetts, held on the night immediately after Tess Gerritsen had been there; and she had had a poor turnout on a school night. The events coordinator should have realized that an author with Boston-based books would be the bigger draw for that week and scheduled me for another time. I learned to ask who else was my competition that week. Asking people to come out two evenings in one work week is asking for split audiences and a probable low turnout, especially if you are not the bigger name. Next time I’ll know better.
5. Pare down: Pack differently for a long time away with many stops. Instead of dragging a suitcase into each home to riffle through, I used a hanging rod across the back seat for event outfits and a wash basket for shoes, casual clothes and underwear. I only brought an overnight bag into each house, loaded with my nightshirt, cosmetic bag and the next day’s clothing. And of course, that thank you note and hostess gift! Don’t be shy about asking to do a load of wash at staggered points. That will keep you from bringing too much in the first place.
6. Use your history: Don’t overlook your personal history when setting up a tour. One hospital I’d worked in years ago allowed me to set up across from their main elevators. Armed with my posters, books, and a bowl of Tootsie Rolls, I garnered chats from staff and visitors which often turned to sales. For agreeing to donate a small portion of each book sold to the hospital volunteers, I sold a nice chunk of books by just sitting there, offering my candy, and drawing people into conversation. If they weren’t readers, they often bought a signed book to bring to the person they were visiting.
I hope some of these points will resonate with you when you are setting up your own book tour. One last caveat: bring your own pillow. One small creature comfort that is familiar when you are traveling many miles can make the most lumpy sofa feel comfortable.
* * * * *
A former writer with “Mystery Review” magazine for seven years, Marni Graff has interviewed Ian Rankin, Deborah Crombie, Val McDermid, and her mentor, P. D. James, amongst many others. A member of Sisters in Crime, Graff’s English mystery series features American writer Nora Tierney: The Blue Virgin is set in Oxford; The Green Remains in the Lake District. Graff is also co-author of Writing in a Changing World, a primer for modern writers to find their writing group. Her poetry was most recently published in A Tribute to Amelia Earhart and her creative nonfiction seen in Southern Women’s Review. You can learn more about Marni on her Amazon.com Author’s Page and her blog.