There are dozens of people involved in turning a big stack of paper into a book — the writer, agents, editors, publicists, marketing people, print managers, sales people and tons of support staff.
But sometimes it feels like the loneliest gig in the world.
If it’s your first book, you probably won’t go on tour. You probably won’t get rich. You probably won’t get on Oprah. And you’ll probably show up for at least one book signing where nobody else does. And sometimes, when you call your publisher, you’ll feel like that old publishing joke “the only good author is a dead author” might actually be real.
I was lucky enough to go on tour for Fifteen Minutes of Shame.
When I say “book tour” most people get this really glamorous idea of five-star hotels and limousines, formalwear, a ready-made entourage, and non-invasive paparazzi hanging around to take photos from your best angle outside your hotel, while a handler whisks you from party to interview to party to every author’s fantasy, a book-signing with throngs of your adoring fans lined up around the block.
The reality of a glamorous book tour is that you either a) take a flight at the crack of dawn, or b) show up in an airport the night before, and take a cab to a Ramada, or some other similarly-ornamented halfway house for business travelers. In the morning, you’ll drive yourself all over a strange city in a rental car, or if you’re really lucky, an author escort named Marge, or Betty, will pick you up in her late-model Toyota with used Starbucks grande cups and McGriddle wrappers littering the floor of the passenger seat.
Marge will know all of the gossip on every author on tour over the last five (to twenty) years, and can tell you who’s nice, who sleeps with bookstore managers, who takes uppers before she does the local morning show, and what bestselling spiritual author let his ratty little dog poop in the back of her car and didn’t even offer to clean it up.
You might head to a radio station at the crack of dawn to do a morning drive show, or a local TV station to do Good Morning Little Rock! or Good Morning Tupelo! or Good Morning Wherever The Hell You Are! and do your four minutes with a host who is graciously small-talking with you on-air, despite the fact that he probably doesn’t know or care who you are or what your book is about. Then, you’ll go to your bookstore signing, where even if you’re well-known, you can expect to sit at a faux wood table, looking a lot like those survey people in the mall, hoping to God that at least ten people will show up, so the bookstore manager won’t believe your appearance and frankly, your existence, to be a complete inconvenience and utter waste of her time. Typically, you’ll just be sitting around for two hours trying to catch any customer’s eye as they enter the store so you can psychically will them to your table. Mostly though, you’ll be giving them directions to the bathroom.
Whenever there are breaks in your day, you’ll drive-thru for coffees or sandwiches, then drop in at bookstores en route to your next gig, where you introduce yourself to as many unfazed bookstore employees as possible, and offer to sign any copies of your book they happen to have in stock. Which, if you’re a first or second-time author with a major publisher, will probably be one.
After you sign the single, lonely, copy they’ll rummage around the desk for one of those gold foil “signed by the author” stickers to slap on the front.
After your day is done, you’ll head back to the airport. You’ll grab a quick slice at Sbarro before your nine pm flight, and head (in coach) to your next glamorous destination. Maybe Akron.
You’ll miss your family or your sweetheart, you’ll gain ten pounds from eating crap at the airport, and you’ll spend much of your week(s) trying to figure out where the hell you are.
But here’s the reality that’s better than the perception:
Seeing your book, the book you wrote, for the first time in a bookstore. (Actually, that never gets old, even after the hundredth time)
And the best part, meeting your readers — the people who thought enough of you to spend $20 of their hard-earned cash on your book, and nice enough to tell you that your work means something to them personally.
For a writer, it just doesn’t get any better.