Writer(s) on the Road: Best & Worst of the Book Tours
In honor of so many friends publishing novels this spring, I thought I'd provide stories from many writers on the road: our Best & Worst Book Tour Moments. Probably every single writer, including yours truly, has dealt with Invisible Audience Syndrome: readings where NOBODY SHOWS UP. But in case you think you're all [email protected]$$, these writers have dealt with thieves, stalking exes, ghosts and jail. Enjoy!
Moment from hell took place near Detroit, on tour for my novel THE LATE LAMENTED MOLLY MARX. The crowd turned out to be entirely senior citizens. The venue was about 2 blocks, literally, from where the books were sold after the reading, way too far for most of those in the audience, many of whom were on walkers. I think I sold 2 books.
Sweetest moment: in Dallas. After the reading, a woman approached me, introduced herself and asked if I recognized her name. Of course I did. She'd been my husband's girlfriend in high school and had been practically stalking him for the past five years, since I had mentioned him when I was editor-in-chief of McCall's and she'd tracked him down. "I know exactly who you are and it’s so great to meet you," I gushed. "Wow, Rob never mentioned that you were PRETTY." She never got in touch with my husband again. ~ Sally Koslow, author of WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE and THE WIDOW WALTZ (June 2013)
Four books ago, I had a reading in Princeton on a sunny day. The store had all these rows and rows set up. NO ONE SHOWED UP. The store clerks felt so terrible for me, they all sat down in the chairs and urged me to read, and when I couldn't, they bought me coffee from the cafe. That night, I called a writer friend, Michael Dorris, in tears. "Let me tell you a story," he said. He almost always had 400 people coming to his readings. Standing room only. But one night, he went to a store and there were only 4 people. Being a trooper, he decided to read anyway. Halfway through, two cops burst into the store and arrested three members of the audience. Turns out they were bank robbers on the lam from the law, and they thought no one would ever think to look for them at a book reading! Hearing that story made me feel much better, and now, when I do a reading, if there are only a few people, I always think some of them must be bank robbers, and it makes me laugh. ~ Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of PICTURES OF YOU and IS THIS TOMORROW (May 2013)
My worst book tour moment was arriving in Houston to do a signing at a great mystery store there, Murder by the Book. I rented a GPS-equipped car. My Harper Collins publicist had written the wrong street address on my itinerary. I found myself driving through “old” Houston, came to the number I had plugged in and saw only a dilapidated warehouse building. Not seeing anyone around, I made a U-ey. Within seconds, flashing lights pulled up behind me.
A young, square-jawed Houston police officer came up to my driver’s window and humorlessly asked for my license and proof of insurance. I had no proof of insurance, I explained, as the car was a rental.
“Driving without insurance is a five hundred dollar fine in Texas.”
“What are you writing me up for?” I asked forlornly.
“Making an illegal turn. Driving without insurance. And driving down a one way street.”
The cop said I could argue it in court. I came back that I didn’t want to argue it in court. That I was merely following a mistaken GPS command. He said he’d asked me twice nicely, and that if he had to say it one more time I wasn’t going to like the consequences....
I said it one more time.
“All right, that’s it!” he yelled. “You’re under arrest and your car is being impounded.”
“I’m an author. I’m a book tour. I have a speech to give in an hour.”
"Well, you’ll have to work that one out from jail!”
I was tossed into the back of his car, and not long after, at least seven or eight other patrol cars, sirens blaring, lights flashing, arrived on the scene.
I did make my signing. I told them, I'd been fumbling for an opening for tonight’s talk. “But, uh, on the ride over here, I think I just found it!” ~ Andrew Gross, New York Times bestselling author of EYES WIDE OPEN, 15 SECONDS, and NO WAY BACK (April 2013)
Editor's note: the story Andrew just described also became the opening of his novel 15 SECONDS.
There are more than a few moments that stand out for leaving me breathless with how to react. Below is the one that left me speechless, moments before I had to take the microphone. I was being led into a room of 200 women, a luncheon, where I was a keynote speaker. Leading me was my appointed keeper, whose almost last words before I went onstage were: “I am known for finding mistakes in people’s books. Want to know yours?” Her last words were a recitation of my error, complete with page number and citation. ~Randy Susan Meyers, THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTERS and THE COMFORT OF LIES (Feb. 2013)
I was booked as a featured author at the ticketed 2012 Glen Ellyn Bookfest luncheon. The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn graciously arranged all my travel and accommodations. Unfortunately, what was to be a quick flight from El Paso to Chicago simply didn't happen. The flight was irrevocably canceled. Nothing was available until the following day when I could arrive in Chicago two hours after my scheduled presentation slot.... I proposed that I Skype into the Glen Ellyn Bookfest luncheon, which we did on a wall-sized projector screen. I was able to chat with the sold-out crowd and even provide an exclusive glimpse of my book's contemporary landscape from my office window. I could never have done that had I been sitting in the room as intended. Moral to the story: your worst can end up being your best. Lemons to sweet, satisfying, splendid lemonade, friends. ~ Sarah McCoy, author of the international bestseller and 2012 Goodreads Choice Award nominee THE BAKER'S DAUGHTER and THE TIME IT SNOWED IN PUERTO RICO
After I published COMME UN INTRUS in 2011, my publisher set up a signing session for me at the Salon du Livre in Montreal, French Canada’s biggest book expo. I was so proud at the thought of sitting behind one of those tables I’d seen for so many years and signing copies of my novel. Being realistic, I didn’t think that readers were going flock at my table, as I was a first-time, very little-known novelist. But wouldn’t you know that across the aisle from me, Kathy Reichs was also signing her new book. Madame Reichs being one of the world’s most popular crime writers, the line in front of her table was about two miles long. As for my table, my mother came by and so did my sister and a couple of friends. Then one lady came… to ask what time it was. At the end of the hour, I’d signed about two copies of my masterpiece, whereas the Canadian equivalent of the National Guard was called in to contain Kathy Reichs’ hordes of fans. ~ Jean Charbonneau, author of COMME UN INTRUS and TOUT HOMME REVE D'ETRE UN GANGSTER (April 2013)
Low point: At my launch party the BOOKS WEREN’T DELIVERED. Quick-thinking husband and best writer friends not only arranged a relay caravan to get books from my fully-stocked local indie, 25 minutes away, but got them there right before selling/signing time, AND without my knowing there was a problem until the books arrived. Moral of the story: Always check in on books to make sure there’s no communication snafu.
High point: my reading at the Darien CT library, my very first public event. The amazing events person Erin Shea had set up the auditorium stage like an Oprah talk show set, with two overstuffed armchairs, a coffeetable and mic, huge turnout. My sister (who lives there) interviewed me about my book: sisterhood, friendship, marriage, and our public and private faces we keep even in our closest relationships — spouses, siblings, old friends. And she called me on the carpet about whether I’d stolen a crucial bike-riding scene from our childhood. It was also our father’s birthday, and we surprised him with a cake, and the 100-person room sang to him. ~Nichole Bernier, author of THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D.
On a vacation in 2009 I went on a tour of the home of Ernest Hemingway. I would return to that house many times over the years for research, and finally, for a book signing on the grounds. The day of the signing was emotional. I never felt as connected to Hemingway as I did that day. There was a charming display for the event, and as the sun crept across the sky, and the cats purred around my feet, I felt the true blessing of my experience writing the book. ...Late that night, my friend at the house, Dave Gonzales, sent me two pictures. One showed the area where I’d had the signing. Strangely, he’d had to take the picture over and over again because this kept showing up:
He asked me if I believed in the supernatural and said the “aura” in the photo lit where I sat, a girl who was infatuated with a dead writer [and] sat in his space to honor and remember him. Perhaps Hemingway did approve. ~Erika Robuck, author of HEMINGWAY’S GIRL and CALL ME ZELDA (May 2013)
Jenna Blum is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of novels Those Who Save Us, The Stormchasers, and The Lost Family as well as the novella "The Lucky One" in anthology Grand Central. Jenna is also one of Oprah's Top 30 Women Writers. Jenna has taught for GrubStreet since 1997 ; she currently runs the master novel workshop and seminars focusing on craft and marketing.See other articles by Jenna Blum