Take It On The Road by Janet E Cameron
So your dream has come true: your book is published. You’ve had your wine-soaked launch, bombarded local radio stations and newspapers with requests for reviews and appearances, maybe even given a reading or two. What’s next?
It might be time to take it on the road. A book tour. I just got back from one myself, and I thought I’d share a few notes on the experience in case you find yourself in a similar situation. Here’s what happened:
First of all, whose idea was this, anyway?
Mine, sort of. My book is being sold in Canada, where it’s set, as well as in Ireland, so I always knew I’d be hitting at least one Canadian city to do publicity. I decided to approach my publishers with the idea of adding more stops – I had friends in several cities across the country and was willing to pay for the flights if they could find me something to do there. Gradually my schedule started to fill up, and what had started as a visit became a coast to coast tour – and in Canada, ‘coast to coast’ means a shift of five time zones. But…
J.K. Rowling once filled the Toronto Sky Dome with over 50,000 people for a reading from The Goblet of Fire. Other established authors will regularly pop up on TV and radio arts programmes, wielding books and reusable anecdotes. But if you’re an unknown writer with a first novel, you’ll take whatever you can get. The venue for my first reading was a cookbook store. The sites for two of my other appearances were decorated with puppets and stuffed animals – by day they were playrooms. All this was fine. The cookbook store had several other non-food-related books on the shelves, and by evening the playrooms were full of serious adults. The venues weren’t that important, anyway; I would have happily read at Vern’s Bait Shop and Mortuary if I’d thought anyone would turn up. Oh, and speaking of people turning up…
Don’t expect your publishers to do everything.
My publishers set up the places and times, put the word out that I’d be reading, and sometimes provided wine and snacks. But to a large extent, roping in the audience was up to me. This is understandable. At home, I can barely be bothered leaving the couch to go see a bestselling superstar, especially when there’s no wine involved. How much effort would I put in for an unknown author? So I hit the internet and begged everyone I knew to show up for my events, and they came through for me in ways I never would have expected. A group from my high school grad class appeared at the Halifax launch – I hadn’t seen them in twenty years or more. If there was anyone at a reading who was a complete stranger, I considered that a bonus. The good news was that there were more of these bonus guests appearing as the tour went on and the book was out long enough for people to notice, buy and read it. Hooray!
Visualise the setting to help with nerves. No, don’t! Don’t!
At my first reading I was facing a cosy gathering seated around a table having tea and cinnamon toast. I was completely thrown: I’d been expecting a podium, chairs ranged in quiet rows, a library vibe. Now what? Was I going to take out my seven-page printed speech and start declaiming at them? This was a scene that repeated itself almost every time I walked into a venue – not the toast, but the surprise. Try not to expect anything at all. It’s easier that way.
There’s always one.
A guy at the Toronto event seemed personally offended that none of the characters in my book had AIDS. At another reading an old friend interrupted so she could explain the municipal divisions of Annapolis County. There’s not much you can do in these cases except wait it out, try to gracefully change the subject, or make desperate eye contact with someone else in the audience, willing them to divert things. It all seems to work out in the end. But maybe bring a water pistol, just in case.
Public appearances are only part of it.
I tended to fret over the public events, but perhaps the most important part of the tour was meeting local booksellers. Sometimes I just visited the stores, or I might end up going out to long lunches with several of them and a representative from the publishers. Most of these booksellers had read Cinnamon Toast – they didn’t want to be stuck for conversation at lunch any more than I did – and later I found out that a few of them had put the book in their store catalogues or their front window. Again, hooray! Know and love your booksellers, especially the independents.
This is all fairly exhausting.
Try to be interesting for two hours straight. Go on. See if you can last the length of a blockbuster movie without having a ‘duh’ moment or staring into space thinking about laundry. Then on top of that, throw in heaping dose of stage fright and a generous sprinkling of jet lag. You’d be surprised at how physically tiring these emotional workouts can be. For me, the range before a reading went something like this: nervous, terrified, mildly apprehensive – switching to happy, very happy, overjoyed, and then totally manic. And suddenly: tired, so incredibly tired, mostly dead. Unfortunately this point is often exactly when you’ll be whisked off to another public event. If you can, arrange to be twenty-five years old, or a robot.
This is all completely fantastic.
I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining. The bottom line was, I got to travel around hugging old friends and seeing my beloved book on the shelves of shops I couldn’t afford when I was a student. I got to stand up in front of rooms full of people and read my work. And I found out that my dad Google-searches the title of my book more than I do. What’s not to love? I’d be happy to take it on the road again tomorrow.
(c) Janet E Cameron
A Canadian writer and teacher, Janet E. Cameron has been living in Ireland since 2005, where she teaches ESL at Dublin Business School. She has also lived, worked, and taught in Halifax, Toronto, Montreal, and Tokyo. Last year she graduated from Trinity with an MPhil in Creative Writing, and her first novel, Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World, was published by Hachette in March of 2013. Cinnamon Toast was also one of the winners of the Irish Writers’ Centre’s inaugural Novel Fair contest. For more information or to contact, go to www.asimplejan.com