The Touring Test

By Boyd Morrison

This week at Bouchercon I’ll be on a panel called “State of Grace: How not to go crazy on tour,” and my first answer will be that you should sell a couple million copies of each new book. Nothing helps preserve your sanity like flying by private jet, staying in ritzy hotels, and eating gourmet meals. I know of several major authors who travel in that kind of luxury, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard them complain about touring.

Most of us, though, sell a few copies short of a million, so we have all the hassles of any other business road warrior when we go on book tour: unpredictable flight delays, hotel snafus, fast food caught on the run, and early wake-up calls to get to the next city so you can save money by spending only one night in each hotel.

To non-writers a book tour is the ultimate sign that you’re a real author and sounds glamorous. Those of us who’ve been through tours know they can be both exciting and a tedious grind, often on the same day.

The reason for going on tour initially seems self-evident: to meet readers and sign books for them. But for a new or up-and-coming author, recruiting fans outside your friends and family can be difficult without a unique angle or significant publicity from a publisher. The true reasons for touring are two-fold. First, you’re building relationships with bookstores that can hand-sell your novel, resulting in sales long after you’ve left and loyal fans eager for the next book. Second, you try to schedule appearances on radio and TV in the cities you visit, which gets your book in front of a lot more people.

A book tour should be considered an investment, because the truth is you will never sell enough books on tour to cover the cost. If you have a publisher paying the freight, I say go for it. The in-house publicity staff can make connections with stores and media that would be hard for you to get for yourself. But if you’re thinking about paying for a tour on your own, I’d advise against it unless you can drive your own car and stay with family.

I liked touring, but I only went to five or six cities when I did it, and even that many was taxing. I’m just not a fan of cramming myself into coach seats and packing and unpacking on a daily basis. The key is to have everything organized before you leave, down to planning what clothes you’re going to wear each day. One nice thing if a publisher organizes the tour is that they often provide an escort who will pick you up and drive you to all the places you need to be.

What made my second tour go even more smoothly than the first was that my wife went with me. We were visiting cities where we knew people, so it was a great tax-deductable way to see friends and family. Even though she’s a doctor by day, she could have an excellent career as a PR rep. Not only did she help keep me on track (and keep me company), she also is a big part of my publishing story. In Milwaukee she was on NPR with me, and in Denver the talk show host even brought her on set to participate in the interview. She definitely made me look good.

I guess the main way to not go crazy is to have fun, even when you have the inevitable one-person book signing, (it happened to me several times, including in Milwaukee). Remember that lone person may be a perfect stranger who came to see you because you wrote a book, which is pretty incredible when you think about it.

What advice do you have for making a book tour more bearable?

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5 thoughts on “The Touring Test

  1. I’ve yet to tour as an author, but I have toured as a musician, and there are some similarities.

    What I used to make myself remember when I was tired and/or there was a small crowd was the people (person) who are there gave up some of their most valuable possessions specifically to come to see me: their time. Then I’d think of how I’d felt in their situation when the artist clearly didn’t care about his audience, and make sure I didn’t do that.

    It also helps to find little tings to amuse and focus yourself. Maybe something happened on the way in, or as part of the introduction.

    A trick I was taught as a musician for when focus won’t come is to pick an individual in the audience and pretend you’re performing for that one person. This is, of course, considerably easier if only one person shows up.

    Remember, they took time and effort to come to see you; you’ll get the benefit of the doubt. Reax and have fun.

  2. Since my publisher never sent me on tour and I’m not liable to do this on my own, I have no advice to offer for a multi-city experience. But I can say that the emphasis should be more on the people you meet than on how many books one sells. It’s the relationships that count, and also remember to be courteous at all times.

  3. Cool advice. I had planned in the past to do something like that regarding my self-pubbed books, once I figured out how to get them in more than just online stores that is. When the day comes for that to happen, either as an indie or once that big-time deal comes to life, our plan is to take to the highways in an RV and go from city to city as best we can arranging signings, speaking engagements, conferences, etc as frequently as possible along the way. Figure that we can save hotel and air money, and just cruise right along making new friends and hopefully some gas money along the way.

  4. On our first book co-written with my pirate partner, Cap’n Slappy, we had a reading in a neighboring city where only 4 people showed up. We did the whole routine – we needed the practice – and just as we were getting ready to pack up, this guy came in who had been dining at a nearby restaurant. He wasn’t even from the city, he was visiting from across the country on business. He ended up buying 26 copies of our book, for everyone in his office and friends and family! I’ve gotta think the two bottles of wine they’d had at dinne had something to do with that.


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