How To Put Together a Book Tour
What is the purpose of a writing tour? When do most writers go on a writing tour?
Just like a band touring, I think the purpose is primarily to get your name and your work out there into the world, instead of trying to network solely through email and social media outlets. But for me it’s also about meeting new people, seeing new places, and learning how to read your own work, which is really crucial for me. And with that, unlike a band—unless there’s multiple forms of art going on, like mixing poetry with music somehow—it’s you, a microphone, and (hopefully) a room full of people who are quiet and hope to hear something good come from your voice.
I’m not sure when most writers decide to go on a tour. The older you get, ideally the more responsibilities you have, so for a lot of younger poets with first books out, that seems to be the time, and that’s when Kyle McCord and I decided to go on ours in July of 2010. I suppose if you can do it, then a tour with each book (if you continue to publish books of course) wouldn’t be a bad idea, but I think to make it really worth it, having a book to promote on the tour is always a good idea.
What’s it like to be on a writing tour on a daily basis?
A lot of driving, for one. So make sure you have a lot of music with you—road trips without good music for me would be unbearable. And since I hadn’t been to a lot of those places where we read, embracing the newness and openness of the landscape, the people, the venues, etc. is important. Being organized is also really crucial. Do you have change for people who buy books? Do you have a bank you can hit every few days to deposit said money? Do you have a GPS, with a paper copy of back-up directions from the first place to the last? Do you at least have a floor or a couch you plan to sleep on after each reading? Did you bring enough books with you? It’s always good to take a few more books with you than you think you’re going to sell, especially if you won’t be able to get anymore on the road. Mostly, if you think a question’s important enough to ask or consider, it probably is. But overall, each day was new, each day was welcome, and it was a whirlwind that seemed like it was four days total instead of seventeen—that’s how much fun I had.
What sort of steps go into developing a writing tour? What’s the toughest part of tour? What’s the most rewarding?
The first thing is figuring out a general area where you’ll be going, and how you’ll get there. I think we tried to make sure we had around six to seven hours maximum for driving each day—with most days driving even less than that. And making sure you know the times of when you’ll be reading, when the venue wants you to get there, making sure there’s time for eating, etc. Once all the venues give you confirmation, and you have a map figured out and it’s feasible, then it’s just getting everything finalized and actually getting in the car and going.
The toughest part is probably the days where you may sell no books, or maybe one or two at most. Those can happen and probably will, and you just need to embrace it and realize that it comes with the territory. For each day we had like that, we had another day where we sold five, ten, maybe even fifteen—it just all depends. I think we decided to go in the summer because we hoped the weather would be good, and of course that’s the most ideal time for folks still in school. I think we only hit rain once or twice, so that was a good idea, but summer also means schools and colleges aren’t in session, and that’s when many others do their traveling also. Probably the ideal time to do a tour is early fall, but summer seemed to work best for us.
The most rewarding part is, to me, the all-encompassing “living the dream” type of moments. I keep mentioning the idea of a band, and I do that because I always wanted to get in a van with the rest of the band and drive across the country and play music at cool venues. It never happened, but this definitely rivaled that dream. It goes fast—you’re either in the car or sleeping most of the time—but by the end, it’s one of those things you’ll always remember, be able to give advice about, and tell stories about also.
Tell me about the economics of going on tour. What costs should one expect? Will one make money from the tour?
Kyle and I were pretty honest with ourselves—we wanted to try and break even at the very least, and I think if you can do that, it’s more than a completely successful tour. We were relying on selling books for gas money and for food, and most people were understanding and supportive of that idea. We also were lucky to have friends, family, and other acquaintances that were amazing enough to let us crash on their couch, floor, or even a bed (and if that’s the case, it’s a pretty happy day on a tour like this). In other words: don’t expect to stay in hotels, unless you have the extra cash. And if meals aren’t provided for you (in our case, this happened more than I anticipated, which I was also extremely grateful for), I tried to stick to $5 Footlongs from Subway—load them up with vegetables so your brain can function.
And I do have to say that if you go with a touring partner, one of the best pieces of advice I got was from one of my current professors, Joe Weil: don’t compete against each other. In other words, if someone’s going to buy both books, say, for $10 a piece, instead of just one book for $15, do what you can to sell both. It’s worth the minor loss of a few dollars to get both books into the hands of people who want them, or will be willing to pay a little more for both books to benefit each author.
If you make money, you’re very, very lucky, and your circumstances are probably that you have some kind of funds coming from somewhere else. Like I said, I was thrilled to break even—it made the whole thing more than totally worth it. If you can do that, it’s a success.
What was the most surprising part of going on tour? What was your favorite moment?
I’d probably say the most surprising part was the generosity of people. From cooking a meal, paying for dinner, offering a floor, couch, or bed, buying you a beer, buying a book. All of it adds up, and it makes you appreciate the effort of others who decide to go on a reading tour—I try to buy a book from everyone I know is doing the same thing that we did. All of those small things add up to a successful tour for people, and it’s good to think about that if you’re in the audience.
I don’t know if I can think of one single moment, really. I’d have to say it would be seeing friends and family, meeting new people, and having to at least temporarily visit many cities I’d never been to, and some I may never see again.
What’s the main thing you learned from touring?
Enjoy the time you have, since it ends rather quickly. Everything that can be frustrating (and during the whole tour I’d say we had few moments like this, thankfully) has the potential to become a pretty great story.
And make sure your tank’s filled with gas before you’re on your way to the next destination.