Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series following author Johanna DeBiase on a DIY West Coast book tour to promote her novel, Mama & The Hungry Hole.
When I began to plan for my West Coast book tour, I made sure to schedule events only in the cities where I knew people, which happened to be Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Bellingham, and Lopez Island. I needed a built-in audience, people who were related to me or good enough friends to feel obligated to attend. In my first few readings in Taos, Denver, and Los Angeles, this plan was successfully executed and my audience was usually about ten people. However, I pushed my luck by scheduling two readings in the City of Angels. Everyone I knew had already attended the first one.
As the clock ticked toward the designated presentation time and continued to tick past it, the folding chairs set up in front of my podium remained empty. Ten minutes later, I experienced a quandary. Do I read to no one and hope stragglers appear, pretend my husband is a stranger in the audience who hasn’t seen my reading three times already, or pack it up and head back to my campsite?
In truth, my book tour was just an excuse to take a summer family road trip up the West Coast from New Mexico where we live. My husband and I, our seven-year-old daughter, and our collie packed into our Nissan Frontier with our 1966 12’ Cardinal camper in tow for what we approximate to be a five week adventure. I had no illusions of grandeur. The most I hoped for was to visit some people, see a national park or two, put my toes in the ocean, and maybe make some new literati friends.
I realize now that there is another unexpected benefit to my book tour. Months before the publication date of my debut novella, Mama & the Hungry Hole, there seemed to be a whirl of excitement with reviews and interviews, but after the book came out, I had one review on Amazon and then nothing. All the excitement diminished. People were buying the book, but otherwise, not much was happening. The book tour gave me a way to prolong the enthusiasm.
Setting up the book tour was no easy feat though. Several months ahead of time, I researched bookstores, libraries, and literary groups along the coast. I emailed anyone and everyone that sponsored readings. I heard back from only a few, but genuinely interested, venues. I responded and confirmed carefully scheduled dates. As geographically challenged as I am, I was glad it all worked out and allowed for travel and fun in-between. But even on the road, I still have to work to promote each upcoming event, sending press releases to newspapers and radios, mailing books and marketing materials ahead to the various venues, promoting events online and showing up early to events to make sure all the technicalities are taken care of. The dirty flip side to the book tour: it’s so much work, I haven’t had as much time to write.
That night, at the LA bookstore, I decided to read to the empty room. This was the moment I expected anyway, the necessary part of the whole experience. I needed to hit bottom. After that, there was nothing left to fear. But just as introductions began, a woman rushed in. She had been stuck in traffic, but she was there specifically for the reading. At the beginning of my tour, one friend advised me, “Even if there is only one person in the room, read to them like they are the most important person in the world because, you never know, they may be.” Well, I was going to read to an empty room anyway so that was no problem. I gave the stranger the full experience, not taking any shortcuts. In the end, I shyly asked if she had any questions and eagerly she replied, “yes.”
That’s when I realized that this reading, the one where only one person showed up, was more successful than the first three combined. This woman was not related to me in any way. She was not obligated to like me. She was a reader. She was interested in my book and keen to discuss it. So that’s what this book tour was all about after all.
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