10 Things I Learned On Book Tour

You may be surprised to learn that publishing houses still send authors out on book tours. What’s the point, you may wonder, when you can micro-target potential readers within an inch of their demographic life on Facebook or Instagram?

That, among other tidbits, is what I learned on the road this fall for my first hardcover. If you’re thinking about whether to push your publisher to send you out there (or just send yourself), I would like to confirm that while a tour may not turn you into an immediate blockbuster author, there are other intangible benefits.

Here‘s what I discovered:

10. A beautiful string of indie bookstores still drapes across our country. The employees are passionate, matcha lattes are big, and the displays are gorgeous. But more importantly, these stores have become sorely needed community meeting spots. They are the new church basements or 4H clubs. My biggest crowds were at Seattle’s Third Place Books, Powell’s in Portland, and Denver’s Tattered Cover. Delightful.

Book store events are big.

9. If you write a book and someone generously requests that you sign it, don’t do it on the front cover. I did not know this. You sign on the title page.

8. If for some reason you can’t sign a person’s book (they bought in on Amazon and forgot it at home, say), you can send them a signed bookplate. “Bookplate” is just a fancy word for sticker.

This is a bookplate.

7. Lay off the lingo. When I thanked people for coming to hang out IRL, half the audience looked at me blankly. Not as many people as you’d think know what IRL means. I believe this lesson applies to more online acronyms than we know. And yes, likely mostly to people over 30.

6. As an author, it’s important to ask your audience to buy your book from their local bookstore but also important to ask them to rate it on Amazon. This kind of self-promotional yuckiness normally makes me retch, but keeping your book in print requires it. Ask.

5. Eat BEFORE you do a talk or signing. Presenting your life’s work to a crowd requires a full tank of gas. Add in the short but meaningful interactions you’ll want to have while signing as many books as possible, and exhaustion can set in quickly. So fuel up. Even if it means two Kind bars and a latte. Gross but necessary.

4. Most people I met on the tour were lovers of my show, Note to Self, and big podcast listeners generally. That was an interesting data point in and of itself. Podcast people want to get together in the flesh! But on a personal note, I was also fascinated by two specific archetypal outliers who come to book signings and had never heard my podcast:

  • The Bad: an older man with questionable hygiene who sits in the front row and expects you to entertain him. He goes to all the free book events at the store. He will never buy your book and will definitely ask you an irrelevant question during the Q&A.
  • The Good: a tired young restaurant shift worker walking home who spots a poster about the event in the bookstore window, realizes it’s happening AT THAT MOMENT, and spontaneously joins the crowd. She’s never heard of the podcast or the book but she believes in serendipity. She definitely buys the book and waits patiently until the end to have you sign it. You love her.
Talking about the neurological effects of our digital devices can be fun.

3. If the audience keeps posing the same questions, no matter what city you are in, take that as a sign from the creative gods that this should be your next project. Thanks to the numerous inquiries I consistently got about coping with workplace burnout, women’s mental health issues, and parenting generally, that’s where I’ll be digging in further in 2018. Watch this space, and find my podcast for updates.

2. You, author, will need to repeat yourself night after night. But sometimes you’ll worry you just repeated yourself within the last five minutes.

You’re not sure.

“Did I already give them that stat about workplace digital habits? Or was that last night in Austin? Am I losing my mind?”

It’s ok. Esther Perel and Gretchen Rubin, friends and book tour veterans who generously coached me, assure that even the pro’s suffer from this confusion. Apparently it comes with the territory. And I assume stand-up comedy tours too. Just think to yourself, “My factoid/joke/anecdote was so important that it bears repeating.”

Coming in at number one…

1. The one-on-one moments and deep eye-contact you’ll have with a reader while you sign their book will sustain you through all the doubt about whether pouring your heart into this bulk of paper was worth it. NOTHING will inspire you more when you’re back at home. Even just one reader. For me, the memories of shy young women asking for selfies, parents who brought their kids and told me the book had helped them understand each other, and managers who said the book was making them be a better boss…THIS IS WHY I DID IT. Definitely not the money. Ha.

So whether you’re working on a book or some other creative endeavor, consider going out to meet the people you want to consume it. Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter are great for marketing but the eye contact, conversation, and body language is immeasurably more wonderful and intellectually useful in comparison. Think of book tours and live events as your personal focus group. And remember to pack snacks.

My book tour kit. Those are tea bags.