Nationwide Book Tour: A Peek Inside the Sausage (+ Giveaway)

When I heard the words “nationwide book tour,” I used to imagine working an hour or two every day for several weeks and spending evenings in fancy hotels, all the while being hounded by adoring fans. Sounded pretty sweet.

Well, it may be that way for the superstars, but for the rest of us, a spring book tour begins in November, with planning, research, pitch letters, and reaching out to friends and contacts in various cities.

So there I was in November staring at a blank calendar—almost as terrifying as the blank document I stared at when I began writing the book itself. Somehow I had to brush a full-on tour into those white squares. Where did I even start?

I had launched the self-published version of my book in New York, and it seemed weird to launch the same book again, calling on the same friends to attend a launch for a book they’d already read. So I looked west, to the Bay Area of California. I’m a Stanford alum, the bulk of my college friends stayed in the area, and my publisher is based in Berkeley. So I had a starting point.

Another friend, an Israeli living in Seattle, offered to put me up if I ever visited his town. So I went north, with a stop in Portland, home of the venerable Powell’s Bookstore. I had met a Portland couple at a conference in Albuquerque who were active on the Israel/Palestine issue. I hoped they could help me set up and publicize events. They could offer only limited help, but when I reached out to my email list, a college friend reminded me that he lived there—and he’d be happy to host me and help set up a talk or two. It was a huge relief, and it’ll be a joy to reconnect with him.

Next was Colorado, where an enthusiastic reader offered to help set up talks. (As it turned out, she wouldn’t even be in town that month, but that’s another story.) Then Oklahoma City, where I’d gone to high school and had many friends and contacts. Finally back to the east coast, where I could take buses from New York to DC, Philly, Boston, Princeton, and other cities.

Once the itinerary was in place, I researched book stores in each area and sent the top candidates to my publicist. Then I reached out to contacts, Facebook friends, and blog readers, letting them know my cities and available dates. I also cold-emailed countless student groups, activist leaders, and professors at various universities. Many never replied, but most did and were very kind, even if they couldn’t help at this time. Several seemed genuinely excited to hear from me, which always boosted my mood.

Here’s the schedule so far. It's a bit more ambitious than usual—around 40 events in twelve states. (My poor fiance will hardly see me in the three months before our wedding. But we look forward to a long, leisurely post-wedding summer, relatively speaking.)

As for funding? Well, it’s not cheap, but it’s also not as expensive as one might imagine. I’ll stay with friends or contacts in nearly every city, and other expenses include plane fare, food, local transport, and food and wine for the launch party.

But by far the largest expense is the time it takes to organize all of this—time that could otherwise be used to earn freelancing income. And there’s still so much to do, including sending books to all the non-bookstore locations, confirming everything (and dealing with any problems or flake-outs), letting all my hosts know when I’ll be at each airport (and/or figuring out public transport to and from each airport), and helping out with publicity for every venue. The only way to keep from hyperventilating sometimes is just to keep eating the elephant one bite at a time.

Book stores do not offer honoraria or help with travel expenses, but colleges and community organizations often do, and my publisher is chipping in a bit. Still, it doesn’t approach the break-even point when you factor in the time it all takes.

For this reason—and also as another avenue of publicity and creating relationships—I put together an IndieGogo campaign, which is similar to Kickstarter with less stringent rules and more flexible funding options. I created a video to explain everything, and I’m offering cool prizes for various levels of donations, starting at $1.

So that’s a peek inside the sausage of a modern nationwide book tour. Once the organizing is done and I’m on the road reconnecting with friends and meeting new people, hopefully I’ll enjoy the ride and, more importantly, remember the real reason I do this: To tell a story I think deserves to be told to as wide an audience as possible, and connect with dedicated and passionate people who can help make it happen.

My next and final post in this series will be written from the road. What would you like me to write about while I’m on the book tour? What questions do you have about touring, publicity, and publishing in general? I’ll use your comments to craft my next post! And keep in mind, my publisher will send copies of Fast Times in Palestine to three commenters chosen at random at the end of this three-part series on March 18!

Pamela Olson is the author of Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland, a gripping coming-of-age memoir full of beauty, suspense, cruelty, star-crossed romance, and dark humor that was named a Top Ten Travel Book of 2013 by Publishers Weekly.

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Comment by Christine Keleny on March 13, 2013 at 9:02am

Very ambitious  Much luck to you. Your book looks very interesting. I'm sure it will do well, especially after the nice Publishers Weekly plug.

Comment by Jeanne Nicholas on March 13, 2013 at 6:53am

This is great insight.  I have a group of author friends that made a world tour to hit Europe.  I can only imagine the cost factor.

Congrats on your accomplishments.

Comment by Jennifer Johnson on March 12, 2013 at 11:08pm

This is all so interesting!  I feel like I am peeking in through a window into your life.  I have no plans for a book any time soon, and I don't really know of any questions I have about the process, but it's fascinating learning about what you are doing.  I hope I can come to one of your readings when you are in Seattle (though that is spring break, so we'll have to see if I am in town myself!)  Have you contacted the local NPR stations?  KUOW has authors on all the time. Third Place Books is also another great book store in the area if you need another one while you're here (but I hope you'll spend some time exploring the surroundings, as well!) 

Comment by Pamela Olson on March 12, 2013 at 3:36pm

Julie, I'll be in Colorado April 8-12. Boulder and Denver. Would love to see you there!

Comment by Pamela Olson on March 12, 2013 at 3:33pm

Hi Gloria! Don't fear the tour -- you don't have to be either as crazy or as perfectionistic as I am. I started small a couple years ago with just five or so events at a time when I was self-published. It let me know exactly what to expect. Which still makes me wonder how I thought I could pull of 40 at once!

I'll try to post updates on my blog semi-regularly:

But of course, even while you're on the tour, it's not like you're working just a couple hours a day. The organizing, publicizing, interviewing, traveling (including between cities in the same airport radius), etc. goes on and on. A personal assistant would be nice about now...

Thanks for the offer of a place to stay near Portland! My friend has me well taken care of, but I appreciate the offer. Hope to see you at one of the events?

Wednesday, March 27
Broadway Books
1714 NE Broadway
Portland, OR

Thursday, March 28
Powell’s Books
3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, OR

Comment by Pamela Olson on March 12, 2013 at 2:30pm

Karen, about choosing which section(s) of the book to read, it's tricky. The book stands as a whole structure, so reading just one part feels like only showing someone a chunk of a cathedral, not the whole thing. There are a few stories in the book that stand on their own reasonably well, and there are other parts that are funny (to loosen up the crowd) or hint about a certain surprising aspect of the book. The star-crossed romance intrigues many people, so I often read a little about that. I might also throw in a sad or controversial section to make it clear there's depth to the book as well.

In other words, I try to show a few different chunks of the cathedral so they can triangulate and have an idea what the whole thing looks like. To make it a little more complicated, I try to keep each reading very short. It's shocking how long it (feels like it) takes to read just two pages! And few people like readings that go on and on and on. Or, well, I should say it's hard to pull off. Short and sweet is a better bet.

As far as writing in isolating vs. reading to a crowd, I'm often surprised at the places where people laugh... and the places where they don't. Some of the funny things happened so long ago, I don't think of them as funny anymore, just filed away and normal. Other times I try to throw in a little humor to lighten up a particularly grim passage, but people are too appalled (at least in public) to meet it with anything but silence. But getting a laugh or a tear in person feels like a terrific affirmation after all those days alone with a keyboard and a glowing screen.

I don't really get scared anymore when I read in front of people, though I do get nervous that I'll speak too quickly or quietly, say "um" too many times, forget my posture and slump over, and just generally fail to express myself as well or be as entertaining as I would like. It's good to remember that an audience who came all the way out to hear you speak is rooting for you to succeed.  Even if you deliver a laugh line that gets no laughs, it may just be because it takes people a beat too long to process (that happens sometimes if I get too motor-mouthy), and even if it's simply not as funny as you thought it was, don't dwell or worry. They want you to succeed. Keep going.

Finally, what are the moments that keep me going? Getting kind emails from thoughtful readers is always a huge treat, especially when they tell me they've shared it with friends and family. Getting a review from a publication I never imagined would be talking about something I wrote feels nice. Waking up on Mondays excited about what I'm putting together (even if I wish I could work only 40 hours a week like a normal person and, er, get paid a living wage) is a good feeling.

And just expanding the network of people I know who are doing amazing work so that all people can have equal rights under the law. I keep up with the news in Israel/Palestine, and every time there's another senseless, utterly avoidable tragedy -- or another incredibly inspiring nonviolent campaign (which are often met with severe punishment) -- I feel like this is the least I can do.

Comment by Beth Anne Reed on March 12, 2013 at 1:11pm

Thanks for sharing your publishing odyssey with us, Pamela.  I have been writing for many years and while I have plenty of content, I've only just really started to venture out and let the world see my writing.  I love the title of your book, very intriguing. 

Comment by Pamela Olson on March 12, 2013 at 11:41am

Kelly, that's smart! Sometimes I wonder if I'm using my time in the most efficient way. I do find meeting people in person to be rewarding and valuable in many ways, if possible, but of course it's an enormous investment. I'm lucky I have the flexibility to take the time to do this (even if I'm scraping by with no health insurance and hoping my wedding will actually be thoughtfully planned and enjoyable despite all the craziness preceding it -- knock on wood), and I realize this is a rare thing. A "non-body" strategy can be great if a schlepping-around tour is not desired or not an option!

Comment by Kelly Hayes-Raitt on March 12, 2013 at 11:12am

Pamela, ambitious schedule!  I wish you all the best...

I'm doing a "non-body" strategy to build an audience for my book:  Radio.  Like you, I have a book topic that is current (I'm writing about my experiences with Iraqi and Palestinian refugees).  As I prepare to return to Iraq (and raise the $20,000 budget to cover expenses), I'm dong an aggressive radio tour.

Here are a couple of resources I use:

Radio & Television Interview Report ~ Magazine goes out to 100s of producers of radio and TV public affairs shows who book guests.  Ads aren't cheap, but I'll bet they are competitive with the airfares you are booking!

HARO ~ Help A Reporter Out is a FREE daily list of reporters and producers looking for interview sources on a variety of topics, from current events to self-help.  Often there are radio hosts/producers looking for guests.

Radio Guest List ~ A daily FREE digest of hosts and producers of internet radio shows looking for guests to interview.  I used to pooh-pooh internet radio, but these shows have loyal followings.

There are other paid subscriptions of lists of radio and TV public affairs shows (e.g., Vocus), but they are pricey.

You might consider googling radio stations in each community you are visiting and look at their web sites to see what public affairs shows they have, then pitch the producers to have you on as a guest before your readings.  ...Gets out your political message and publicizes your reading.  And you can do it by phone from anywhere in the world!

You might also consider doing a short newspaper column (800 words or less) for community weeklies.  They are always looking for free content -- esp content that comes with graphics (like your book cover).

This may sound like adding on a lot of extra work, but really this is the gravy.  You've done the heavy lifting with setting up these events, so adding a couple of radio interviews and/or community newspaper hits is a way to maximize the work you've already done.

For other SheWriters, anyone can do these "low-hanging" PR strategies without having readings scheduled.  Again, my strategy is a "non-body" one where I can get the most book-bang for my precious time.

Looking forward to hearing how it all goes!

Kelly Hayes-Raitt

Mosey on over to my web site and download your FREE reading of my first chapter about an Iraqi beggar!

Comment by Wendi Nitschmann on March 12, 2013 at 11:00am

Very informative! I love that you are reaching out and getting help from friends. It will help to be with them amidst all the activity. And the book sounds so interesting - I grew up in the Middle East and am looking forward to reading it. If you get down Savannah way look me up and I'll definitely help out where I can. Bon chance!


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