We all know the oft-repeated bad news: the publishing world, which was always going to hell in a handbasket, is now rushing down the mountain on steroids. Translation: there's little opportunity or money to be had when it comes to getting big publishers to promote their writers, send them on tour, and pick up the tab. I remember a friend of mine, who has written nine bestsellers, telling me that in the good old days, she actually had a credit card from her publisher that she could use to take her extended family out for a fancy dinner in a city where she was giving a reading.
Now, whether your book is being published by Random House or a small neighborhood cooperative, you are likely to face the distinct possibility of touring with your book on your own dime. But then again, it's your book -- your baby, your life's work for x amount of years -- so why wouldn't you want to put yourself out into the world on your own dime?
That's been my attitude with my books, most of which were published by small presses with no funds for marketing. Yes, I would drive long distances to give readings because it was and is such a joy to share my work with others. Yes, I would speak to bookclubs, groups only vaguely interested in my work, or someone who happened into a coffeehouse at the wrong moment, all in the name of taking my work seriously, despite whether or not I lost more money than I gained. At least, this is how I started out: willing to do anything that might work, whether it had a 99% chance of success (e.g. drawing in listeners who would be prone to buy my book) or a .005% chance.
Now that I prepared to tour during the year with my 13th and 14th books -- a novel and a non-fiction book on the Holocaust -- I'm somewhat older and wiser, or maybe just more weary and less apt to wear out the tires on my car without good reason. Here's a list of what I learned makes for a good touring opportunity, and some hints I've picked up about how to gauge whether to go or stay home:
There are no hard and fast rules when deciding whether to stay or go, and sometimes, even knowing all you can know and planning all you can plan, you might show up to find no one there except us chickens. When a group of poets I'm in went out to Western Kansas to do a bunch of readings, we ended our little tour with a reading at a coffee shop in Dodge City, only to discover the owner of the shop did no publicity for us whatsoever. So we surrounded tables of customers and read our poetry guerilla-style, but only subjected the lunch crowd to one poem each. It wasn't the end of the world, and the reading amused us enough to make the stop worthwhile. Sometimes, even when all goes wrong, there's a rightness in the journey.....and there's always something to learn about how, why and where to do it next time.