I spent months planning a DIY book tour that entailed driving up the West Coast and visiting all the major cities, from LA to Bellingham, to present ten readings from my debut novella, Mama & the Hungry Hole. Leaving in June on a six-week expedition, I couldn’t help but feel a bit anxious. I really had no idea what I was doing. I would have to create my own path and figure it out as I went along. With that in mind, I decided to allow myself to make mistakes, lots of mistakes. By doing so, the pressure was off. I had no goal but to have fun and no stiff ideal of what a successful book tour should look like. I just went for it.
While, I didn’t have much opportunity to enact the lessons learned from my follies over the course of the road trip, I hope that others might benefit from my experience. Here are a few things I did right and a few things I might do differently next time.
First of all, you better love to read in front of an audience. Hopefully, you got an A+ in your high school speech class, like I did. Otherwise, you’re just torturing yourself. On the other hand, if you have a tendency to feel insecure due to abandonment issues, like I do, this will also be torture. Minutes before every reading, I suffered the thought, “What if nobody shows?” Someone always showed, even if it was just the bookseller or event coordinator who felt bad for me. Never give a half-assed reading because you have a small audience. Give it your all every time. You can think of it as practice. I like to think of it as an opportunity for some unknown wonder that exists in another dimension, or something like that. Besides, if you read my previous article, you only scheduled readings in towns where you know people.
Bookstores vs. Other Venues
Bookstores are great places for book events. People are already mulling around thinking about buying books. Sometimes, in order to suppress my aforementioned anxiety about no one showing up, I walked around the bookstore before my reading and personally invited customers to attend. I gave them bookmarks that promoted my book, so even if they didn’t attend (maybe one in seven did), they would remember me later. Once, I gave a bookmark to a man who then turned around and gave me his own bookmark. This is what it’s like when writers try to sell books to other writers.
Libraries, theaters, and literary venues are also special. These places draw in a more diverse crowd. Even better, you can sell your book yourself without anyone taking a piece of the profit. One of my readings was at a bar. This was best because I could drink during my reading. My audience also appeared far more captivated, but that might have been the pretty lights.
Read Alone or With Others
I read with other writers at three of my readings. This was beneficial because I had someone to drink with before and after the readings. Also, more writers meant more friends who felt obligated to attend and a bigger audience. However, these extraneous friends will most likely only buy their friends’ books.
People are hesitant to ask questions. But after the first question is asked, it is often difficult to get them to stop. It is convenient to place an acquaintance in the audience with an initial question to break the silence. In my case, this was my husband who always asked, “What is your next book about?” He was attempting to promote me, but I always felt embarrassed talking about my next book. Don’t feel embarrassed talking about your next book. I hate to say it, but my husband was right. You never know if that stranger in the back is an agent.
Have a list in mind of authors and/or books that inspired your work. This is an inevitable question. Also, be prepared to answer, “What is your writing process?” This question has an elusive answer, so make up something that sounds good.
Because questions can often be slow coming, it helps to elaborate, a lot. I would often answer one question with three answers. I just said anything I thought was amusing or interesting or even relevant. This inspired more conversation. Having people talk about your book is awesome. Learning what insights other people gained from your work, things you never even considered, is like an artistic orgasm or an intellectual bacchanalia.
Confirm with Bookstore
One bookstore forgot to advertise my event. One bookstore lost my books. One bookstore closed down for construction and never notified me that the event was canceled. Call ahead and confirm that they know you are coming and have everything you need, especially if you are doing an audio/visual presentation. Ask if someone will introduce you and see if they need you to bring your books with you. Most importantly, make sure the bookstore has not closed down due to construction.
One of the most important things I learned from the whole experience: go to more book readings. If the author or book seems even remotely interesting, take some time out of your day to attend. You’ll have a lovely cultural experience, it’s good karma for when it’s your turn to give a reading, you’ll be able to discern the components of a good reading, and it will make the author feel great.
Is it Worth it?
Financially, no. I did not make enough money selling books to offset the cost of my trip. But that’s not why I was doing it. We were on a summer family road trip first of all and a book tour secondly. We visited with family and friends and my daughter got to collect four more Junior Ranger badges.
Creatively, yes. While I had next to no time to write on my tour, I came back more invigorated than ever to get back to work. I got to meet readers and see firsthand how important stories are, how they influence people’s thoughts and ideas, how there is still an important place in the world for good books. Most importantly, I learned that people like me; they really like me, and that felt good.
Johanna DeBiase is a freelance journalist, novelist, yoga instructor, vintage boutique owner, world traveler, and mom based in Taos, New Mexico, or on her website. Follow her on Twitter @JohannaDeBiase