book tour

In a bit over a week Scott is going on his very first proper book tour. Hooray! I am going along in my wifely capacity. Largely because everyone we know who’s done a book tour solo says it can be total misery. “Don’t do it alone!” they all cried.

The whole book tour thing is deeply weird. Most writers never get sent on one and are desperate for it to happen to them:

FOR the publication in July [2007] of her first book, “The Late Bloomer’s Revolution,” Amy Cohen imagined a promotional tour of bookstores in Sydney, Australia. And Paris. And a few places closer to home, New York City, would work, too.

Then her publicist at Hyperion told her, as Ms. Cohen recalled somewhat tongue in cheek, “You aren’t going to Scarsdale.”

Yet many writers who do get sent on tour really dislike it and start wondering what the point of the whole thing is:

Why, I sometimes wonder, does anybody want a book signed? I have a whole wall of books by friends, and it never occurs to me to ask them to sign them.

My wife, who has an abiding passion for hagiography—we have a surprising number of editions of Lives of the Saints, not one of them signed—has her own theory. As she explains it, a book signed by its author is a second-degree relic, not as precious as a finger bone, but on a par with a pair of cast-off sandals.

I like the explanation, but how long before the bastards start wanting the damned books signed in blood?

Writers who get to tour are aware that whingeing about it is unseemly:

I was stuck in traffic yesterday, thinking about how awful book tours were because I had to get up early and not get enough sleep and deal with lots of different people and never get any down time to just relax and I remembered what it reminded me of: working for a living. Not that writing isn’t working for a living, but I used to have to put on pantyhose and go out to teach at 7:30 every morning and I was always on the run and there was never any quiet time and I almost lost my mind. Which is what most people do every damn day. Meanwhile on the tour, I was sacking out in the Hotel Metro eating amazing room service and bemoaning my fate. Tell me again why nobody here threw things at me? Note to self: STOP WHINING, YOU INGRATE.

The folks I know who’ve enjoyed their book tour did it with someone else. Holly Black and Cassandra Clare had a fabulous time on their book tour earlier this year. The way a whole bunch of us did going to DragonCon together.

There are lots of claims that book tours don’t work: That for most authors they don’t increase sales; or contribute to that writer being better known; and that more money is lost than gained from doing them. Others claim that you have to look beyond immediate money returns for the value of book tours.

Although I’ve never been on an official book tour, I’ve done appearances back home and in the US of A, mostly I really enjoy them. I love meeting the people who sell and lend and buy and borrow my books. I love hanging out with folks who are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about books—YA books in particular—and gossiping and arguing with them. I find signing and talking to folks fun. I enjoy the Q & A sessions. And I love going to places I’ve never been before.

There’s less than fabulous stuff too. I’m not wild about staying in hotels where the windows don’t open, having to eat truly horrendous food cause it’s that or faint, air travel and all the related hassles, but compared to the cool stuff all of that is minor. Also I’m lucky: I’ve never had to do any of it alone. I’ve barely done any events alone. We usually put on the Justine-and-Scott show which we both enjoy heaps and seems to go over better with audiences then when we do appearances on our own.

For the authors who’ve toured—do you like touring? Consider it a necessary evil? And for those—like me—who haven’t do you want to? What are your expectations if you do tour?

I’m also curious to hear from the publishing pros: what’s your take? Does it entirely depend on who’s touring? Do you think blog tours are more useful? Are there authors who, no matter how great they’re books are doing, you would never send on tour?

And the booksellers and librarians who host authors on tour—what do you make of the whole thing?

And those who’ve seen authors on tour doing appearances what do you reckon?


  1. Barry on #

    i generally enjoy touring, but then again, I’ve not done a great deal of it. Perhaps it will get old or tiresome at some point, but right now i like it.

    btw, it was great to meet you the other night!

  2. Oyce on #

    Yay! I am selfishly excited because the tour means I will get to see you and Scott!

    As a reader I’m now less into seeing authors than I used to be, but I think part of that is because of growing author presence online — I don’t have to drive for an hour and find parking to see what authors think about their books! On the other hand, if I really like an author’s online persona, I’ll be much more inclined to go see them and buy their books in hardcover and get them signed. Also, there are some authors that are just awesome in the flesh, like the Yarn Harlot from the knitting world and Neil Gaiman.

  3. Patrick on #

    As a reader, I’ve never had an overwhelming desire to see a writer, by the same token, I have no desire to meet actors on my favorite shows. I think readers that do want to meet writers are already fans, so a tour for them would not generate new readers.

    I do think that booksellers and lenders *DO* tend to want to meet and hear writers speak. so by that token, I think they are where the opportunity to sell more books come in. they by nature are avid readers and are prone to recommending what they read.

  4. Justine on #

    Barry: Nice to meet you too.

    Oyce: I do think the intramanets has changed everything. When I was a kid it never occurred to me I would ever get to meet a real live writer. When I attended a reading by Angela Carter when I was 21 I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

    Patrick: I’ve always wanted to meet my favourite writers but not actors. This is a huge and horrible prejudice on my part but I kind of see actors as automatons animated by the writers thus they do not interest me (except as objects of gossip and mockage) unless like Tina Fey they’re the writer too.

  5. haddy on #

    where are you closest to florida i would love to meat my favorit authors

  6. Justine on #

    Sorry, Haddy, the tour doesn’t go anywhere near Florida. We’ll be in Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Lexington.

  7. veejane on #

    I’ve never attended a book tour event, I don’t think, but that’s what cons are for, right? Anyway, I get a bit of the same effect.

    As to authors signing books, I don’t have a strong sense of its importance, except for those funny times that (a) an author signing his/her page in an anthology helps me remember that I met that person (usually late at night, and sometimes involving our friend Al K. Hol) or (b) the time I met Patrick O’Leary and he drew a caricature of himself on the title page of my copy of The Impossible Bird.

    That last is something important because he did it for me, you know? Because he was nice and we chatted and I did like the book and liked the person even more.

  8. janet on #

    Never underestimate the allure of free entertainment, especially for the young. In my relatively impoverished days, this was certainly part of it for me. These days I only go to author events when a) the author is a friend, and/or b) there is a reading or a talk. I would never go just for a signing. Alas, I can no longer take my daughter to readings; when she was younger I could breastfeed her to keep her quiet, but those days are over.

    Hearing an author read their work can be very illuminating. I never realized quite how funny Margaret Atwood’s writing can be until I heard her read. One of my favorite author events ever was Alison Bechdel’s talk on how she wrote “Fun Home.” (You can’t really read from a comic book, so she had a slide show when she went on tour.) That was fascinating. On the other hand, there are a few writers that I wish I’d never gone to see, either because they were jerks or because their reading voices were unpleasant.

    As for autographs, some people like them for their collectible value; either they’re collectors themselves, or they’re hoping to sell to collectors. But I think for most people having a book signed is their one opportunity for face time with a favorite writer. I remember how thrilled I was, years ago, when Ursula Le Guin said she liked my t-shirt!

  9. Rebecca on #

    while i like having a favorite author’s autograph in the book, what i like more is actually meeting authors and talking to them. (which is why i almost never buy signed stock copies from a bookstore.) small signings where i get to do more conversing are much more worth my while than gargantuan lines with bouncer-like people who push you through at a dizzying rate and maybe if you’re lucky you get to say, “helloiloveyourbooks” before it’s the next person’s turn.

    so basically, the value of a book tour is about making a connection with the person responsible for the story that one loves and asking questions and making comments and hearing cool stories about struggles or “outtakes” or whathaveyou. this sort of interaction is especially valuable to wannabes like me. 🙂

  10. Dess on #

    When i met maureen johnson, it was amazing. i don’t know why it’s so exciting but meeting the person who writes the fabulous stories you have read countless times in person is just so happy-making. (the coolness of it was probably also due to the fact that maureen johnson is made of awsome.)

  11. marrije on #

    My big intarweb author crush Neil gaiman is on the road rather a lot. I read his posts on his journal about these travels with a kind of horrified fascination – it would kill me to travel like that and meet that many people.

    Didn’t stop me from standing in line for his autograph some years ago, though… I only had a cheap paperback of one of his books, but i do treasure it. It’s a second-degree relic, indeed.

    but still i want him to stay put and write more, not dilute himself giving things/autographs/time to people who are not me.

    scott and you are going to create an indelible memory for a number of people – but in return you are going to lose writing time that would have made permanent things for (potentially) lots more people. there’s a william gibson novel in there somewhere, i think.

  12. hillary! on #

    I just want to see if the authors are just as cool as their storie, or just as cool as their blogs. But I think that you get more out of reading an authors blog rather than meeting them because it’s their opinion *without* being frazzled by all their adoring fans. But then again I have never met any of my favorite authors so I wouldn’t know.

  13. genevieve on #

    Whoaa, these comments are amazing. I almost published an article on some of this recently – but it was a bit misshapen so I let it be.
    Justine, I saw and heard Alexis wright speaking about her novel Carpentaria at MWF recently, and that was electrifying, not only because her novel is based on the actual struggle of Gulf country people with mining companies, but because there is an intriguing story behind its writing and its place in world literature.
    However, I didn’t line up to have the book signed – it’s simply not my thing, and I wonder if I’m a bit strange. For me most author events are non-events, I prefer to spend time with the book, or to read reviews or online material.
    Very interested indeed in some of these comments about the effects of the online presence, though.

  14. Dawn on #

    I went to see Stephenie Meyer in Missouri. Talk about a freakin’ circus. It was like she was a movie star, and I’m not even in the teeny tiniest bit exaggerating when I say this. I have a short movie clip that I took with my camera, and for a solid two minutes when she came out it was deafening screams and blinding camera flashes. I don’t think it’d be fun to do it again, but I did have fun making my Team Edward shirt, and meeting her. She was really nice…and having her autograph in my book is special as well. 🙂 But I would be this excited to meet ANY of my favorite authors. Orson Scott Card came to my university last week, and that was insane as well. Tickets to his lecture were gone in six minutes. SIX! I was four minutes too late.

    My dream would have to be, though, not just meeting you all and getting autographs…but to actually sit down and have a chat with you. Throw ideas back and forth, just…talk. that would be amazing good fun!!! If only, if only.

  15. Rebecca on #

    orson scott card!!!! i am officially green with envy. ender’s game is one of my all-time favorite books. i’ve pretty much given up hope of actually meeting him, and i’m not much more optimistic about ever even seeing him speak or anything.

    and yeah, the insanity to which i was referring above was a stephenie meyer signing. it’s a little better if you go see her at a conference. but then you get broke paying for the conference, and it’s not all that less crowded. damned if you do, damned if you don’t! yeah. and i never even bothered entertaining the idea of meeting j.k. rowling or anne mccaffrey.

  16. Justine on #

    Robert Legault: Indeed that’s why I quoted that article in my post above.

  17. Dawn on #

    rebecca: Orson Scott Card gives really hilarious and amazing lectures. Though I didn’t get a ticket to be in the same room with him, they did a broadcast into a nearby concert hall. GREAT, great stuff. He did a signing here the next day. LOVE Orson!!! 🙂

  18. Meeks on #

    I don’t love travel in that as you say, I don’t love to be out of my element, but certainly, if a publisher believed in me enough to send me on a tour, I would pack my bags.

  19. Gabrielle on #

    I haven’t seen many author appearances. But one thing’s for sure, for the one appearance that I can think of, I bought the author’s whole trilogy (well, my dad did, I wasn’t there).
    I think the efficacity of a book tour really does depend on the author. If the author hates the tour in question and keeps whining and doesn’t talk to the attendees, then it sure won’t work. But I know that just reading a comment or a blog post by an author can get me to buy his/her book. Imagine if I meet him/her.
    And I think the relic argument is totally true. Let’s say you got Harry Potter 1 signed by JK Rowling 10 years ago in a small bookstore where ten people showed up. You’d be pretty proud of your relic now, huh? Or maybe you’d sell it for 5,000 bucks on eBay.

  20. Nicholas Waller on #

    As a reader, I realise I haven’t gone looking for authors to sign my books, though I did meet Brian Aldiss at a do in Forbidden Planet in London about 25 years ago.

    I haven’t written any novels, so the situation is academic, but as a one-time publisher’s rep whose daily round was to visit bookstores, if a publisher did want me to go on an author tour I’d do it and be OK at it – and be polite to the long-suffering bookstore staff too. I worked for a college publisher, but it still involves going round bookstores and universities on a regular basis meeting lots of people and building relationships and making friendships (and in one case buying a house and living with her for several years) – and it beats sitting in one place for months on end.

    I don’t think I’d have liked to accompany specific authors, though – they’re naturally interested in the promotion of their own books, whereas I was thinking about all the other books too (and since I worked for Prentice Hall there were thousands of them).

    But I guess trade publishers have dedicated one-on-one author minders on tours, who can provide the requisite tlc, rather than reps responsible for the whole list, and that might be fun, assuming the author is not some precious prima donna.

    I was in a quiet corner of Waterstone’s in Bristol as a customer and a bod came along to sign a pile of his books, presumably after a more formal event. I overheard him chatting amiably and non-prima-donna-ishly about the film version to the bookseller, who carried on doing his own thing putting books on shelves. Curious, when he’d gone I had a look at the book: Starter for Ten, by David Nicholls. I didn’t buy it but I did go and see the film (which he also scripted). So it had some effect… and if he’d come over as a preening tosser I might have given it a miss…

  21. sheryl on #

    I agree with all of the above about the fun of meeting authors and the impact of hearing them read from and talk about their books. i can also add that while the direct sale of books probably doesn’t ever cover the cost of the trip, i think the point about investing in future returns is true. when you and scott came to our school lit festival, for example, we bought 50 copies of Uglies for the libraray (and there were many times when all of them were checked out). that translates into a whole lot of people reading that book and, presumably, many of his others in the future. making people excited about reading, a book, and/or an author seems like a good investment of time and resources for both the short and long term. but maybe it’s just me hoping that authors won’t stop doing appearances!

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