Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Sherrie Flick on Organizing a Book Tour

In the 28th in a series of posts from authors of 2018 books entered for The Story Prize, Sherrie Flick, author of Thank Your Lucky Stars (Autumn Press), offers advice to writers on putting together their own tours.

Your new book stands forlorn on the remote publishing island called No Marketing Department. It wants to be saved, but no pleasure boat skirts the horizon. My book Thank Your Lucky Stars escaped on a DIY reading tour to New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana, and Maryland. Here’s some advice.

It doesn’t start the moment you publish your book. It begins with its author living a good, empathetic life. Be a supportive writer friend to others. Attend readings. Buy books. Bake cookies. Some of these people will offer up a couch or a ride or a slot in their reading series in your future.

Some people call this Networking. Other people call it Not Burning Bridges. I call it Being a Nice Person.

After you’re a seasoned writer friend, and after you’ve gotten your manuscript accepted, you’ll need a website and a social media/newsletter presence that isn’t just about your book. This should be in place long before your publication date.

Work ahead. Many universities schedule a year in advance, as do many popular reading series and bookstores. When you query, even if it’s to a friend, practice good email etiquette. You never know where that email might be forwarded.

Be sure to have a readily available press sheet, a two-sentence pitch, and an e-ARC or hard copies ready to forward, if requested.

I contacted some venues cold, of course. Some never get back to me. Some requested a book and never got back to me. One university’s funding fell through, and one slot in a reading series was mysteriously revoked. Sometimes it’s impossible to sync up available reading dates with your driving schedule.

I choose not to dwell on the weird and sometimes disappointing circumstances around setting up a book tour. Some venues say yes, some say no. Look to the future. Maintain objective perseverance. Rejection is part of the game, just as it’s part of publishing.
When the going gets tough

Know that you’ll probably need a spreadsheet to keep all this straight and to keep your publisher in the loop.

Once you have some readings scheduled, always carry a box of books in your trunk or some extras in your luggage, even if you’re reading at a bookstore. For similar reasons, invest in a phone credit card swiper.

Think about funding. For I Call This Flirting, my debut chapbook, I was able to get a local Opportunity Grant to support the travel from Pittsburgh to Chico State for its release. For my current tour, my fourth, I have combined paying and non-paying gigs in each geographic region so there’s always a small net gain. Not all paying gigs are at university reading series. Sometimes you can tack on a university visit, a student conference, or a community center class to supplement your income stream.

Consider how much you like to spend time with strangers. I’m not an extrovert, which is why I try to set up readings where I have friends, which also increases attendance. But sometimes I splurge on a hotel instead of staying with my host or friends because I need to recharge.

Know what’s expected of you. Put details into your spreadsheet. Practice your reading in advance. Have a pre-set 10/20/30-minute reading ready in case your time changes once you arrive. Show up early. Never go over your time. Mark your pages so you don’t flip here and there saying: “I should’ve marked some pages.” A good reading sells books, and short organized readings sell more books than readings that are too long and disorganized.

Consider if you like long road trips. A book tour looks easier on the calendar than from rush hour on route 70.

Bring along things that make you happy. I bring my own coffee, Melitta, and a little jug of milk. My husband Rick loves to join me. Having a supportive partner is extremely helpful, but remember to orchestrate time away from the book events or you’ll both lose your minds.

Once you’re done reading, signing books, thanking your host in person, and going out for drinks and dinner, send a thank you card. Send a card to every venue and every person who hosts you. It will make both you and them feel good.

Be a nice person. Connect with friends. Travel the country. Plan a book tour. No search and rescue team is coming to save you and your book. Sometimes that’s okay. Build the boat yourself.