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.