What Do We Lose—and Gain—As Book Tours Move Online?

From The Literary Hub:

When I was young, in a distant century, there was an odd feature of the literary community: celebrated authors writing essays for magazines or newspaper book sections chronicling the horrors of their tours. Usually amusingly, sometimes just trying to be. Laments about arriving at a bookstore to find many people waiting, but no copies of the book. Or many books but no people, because someone had forgotten to promote the event (or there was a playoff game in any relevant sport that night). A reading for five people, two of whom were the mother and father of the bookstore manager, under orders to look attentive and enthused. Or, airline chaos with a luggage follies subplot. Hotel booking failures, weather events. Interviewers confusing the author for someone entirely else. (This is real, by the way, happened to someone I knew well.)

The lede buried in all of this, for today’s writers (and readers) is, of course, that there were book tours once. All over. For so many authors. There used to be a joke that in October you couldn’t go through an airport without colliding with a writer on tour. I went cross-Canada from the start of my career, and down into the United States, at a time when I was barely known. And in most cases there were actual people gathered for a reading and signing, besides the manager’s parents. An author coming into town could be an event of sorts, back when.

Sometimes a colossal one. One older friend had a launch in Toronto one night. I went with a third, mutual friend. The bookstore was… flat-out mobbed. Buzzing. Hundreds of the city’s best and brightest had gathered. The author was well known and well liked in the legal community and word had definitely gotten out. No slackness on the part of publicists or bookstore at all. People were lined up holding three, four, five copies of the new book to be signed.

I got in line with two copies (the mutual friend elected to mingle and chat). When I finally arrived at the signing table the author leaped up and we embraced. I said, “X, this is amazing!”(His name isn’t really X, by the way.)

X said, “Guy, you understand nothing!”

I said, “Always a possibility. Why, in this case?”

“Because tonight, tonight, I will sell three quarters of all the books I am ever going to sell of this title!”

But he did sell them. (And the book is still in print, decades after. Just checked.)

For my own second book, as a callow thirty-one year old, I remember arriving in a city for two days allocated to media and a signing. The local publicist met me and handed me a printout of my schedule. I looked at it and blinked. There were ten events. Five radio gigs, two television, one magazine interview, one newspaper interview, and the bookstore signing that night. Plus what I always call “drive-by signings,” when you drop into a store to sign their stock and head off into the midday sun, or whatever, tipping your hat.

. . . .

Is a tour really the best way to allocate budget and time? Will it be a painful experience? Awkward for everyone? Might email or telephone interviews with whatever media exists in a given city not be smarter? While aggressively going the online route: magazines, blogs, social media? Or, more recently, Zoom conversations with an audience logging in and asking questions? One rarely loses luggage en route to one’s computer, after all.

What’s been lost in the transition is the personal. The direct connection with readers. If you’ve spent, as I do, years writing a book at your desk, brooding and swearing, but then find yourself in a library’s reading room, church hall, bookstore, literary festival, to encounter those who have come out to express their affection for your work… that’s profoundly rewarding.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

1 thought on “What Do We Lose—and Gain—As Book Tours Move Online?”

  1. Thinks back to book tours for HarperCollins etc.: Four-hour train trip. Sitting at a table unbothered in a Waterstones like a modern art installation for most of the day. Four-hour train trip back home, considering how many words I just missed writing. Hmmmmm.

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