[SWP: Behind the Book] The un-Book Tour
Written by
Ann Hedreen
December 2014
Written by
Ann Hedreen
December 2014

I’m not new to writing, but I am brand-new to being an author. It’s a word I’ve longed to claim my whole life, and this September, I did, with She Writes Press's publication of my memoir, Her Beautiful Brain.

I understood—and my freelance publicist gently worked with me on this—that as a non-famous, first time book author, it did not make sense to attempt to book what you’d call a tour with a capital T. So I decided to start out with one big, morale-boosting hometown event: a launch reading at Elliott Bay Book Company, the Seattle bookstore I’ve loved since I was a girl. All summer long, I spread the word, and on September 7 at 3 p.m., people showed up. And by people, I mean family, friends, clients, colleagues; so many people we were pulling out extra chairs and spilling up the stairs. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in September. 110 people! I couldn’t believe it. I had practiced, I was ready, and though standing up in front of them all was one part terrifying, it was many, many parts thrilling.

But out-of-town readings are not quite like that. Not when you’re not famous, and your subject—a mother-daughter story about love, grief and a wild card called younger-onset Alzheimer’s—is not easy. My husband and I had this crazy dream of doing lots of readings as we made our way from Seattle to Colorado in October to visit our daughter. But as we accepted that that wasn’t going to happen, we vowed to make the most of what did happen. I called it the un-Book Tour.

The un-tour started with an actual reading, at Portland’s Broadway Books, a gem of a neighborhood store across the river from the more legendary Powell’s. It was a rainy Monday night. Fewer than a dozen people showed up, including two relatives, three MFA classmates, my publicist, her friend, and a handful of others. The good news was that unlike that feverish day at Elliott Bay, I had real conversations with the people who came, including the ones I had never met: people who were there because their families, like mine, know Alzheimer’s personally. And I picked up on a few things: Roberta and Kim at Broadway Books thought it noteworthy that I’d received two good early reviews, one from Shelf Awareness and one from the American Library Association’s BookList. They also were very positive about SWP’s distribution deal with Ingram.

I filed this information away. And by the time I got to Sisters, Oregon, I thought I’d try a little experiment.

Book in hand, I walked into Paulina Springs Books and browsed a bit.

“May I help you?” asked the woman behind the counter.

“Um . . . yes,” I answered. “I’m passing through Sisters on a road trip. What a great store you have. I happen to be a new author and I’d love to offer you a copy of my book.”

I saw a flutter of skepticism cross her face, but I pressed on. “It’s distributed exclusively by Ingram and it got a few nice early reviews on Shelf Awareness and Booklist.”

It was the moment I said “Ingram” that her face relaxed. Thank you, She Writes Press!

We chatted a bit more. I continued to browse and bought a book of poetry. And when I walked out, I thought: That wasn’t so scary after all. I could do that again!

And so I did. All along our route through seven states, I sought out and found thriving independent bookstores that were happy to take a copy of my book. Yes, there are “book deserts,” where the big mega-sellers have driven out every store except the tiniest, used-books-only holes-in-the-wall. But many readers in the West still buy their books from lively local shops, including Second Story Books in Laramie, Wyoming, Boulder Book Store in Boulder, Colorado, Bookhaven in Salida, Colorado, Back of Beyond Books in Moab, Utah, Northtown Books in Arcata, California and Gold Beach Books on the Oregon Coast.

We timed the homeward leg of our trip around two pre-planned events in the Bay Area: a speaking invitation from the historic Claremont Book Club in Berkeley and a reading at Book Passage in San Francisco. The afternoon spent with forty members of the book club was a highlight of the trip and another un-Tour lesson for me: though this was not a bookstore reading, these were thoughtful, engaged, super-smart women who, I knew, would be priceless ambassadors for Her Beautiful Brain. The reading at Book Passage was, like the reading in Portland, intimate. But the staff was so warm and welcoming, and I felt honored to be there. 

So much of getting your book out there involves intangibles and algorithms and invisible gatekeepers. On the un-Tour, I found that for me, the best antidote to panicking about all of that was to find tangible, personal ways to increase my book’s reach: to learn not to fear the one-on-one pitch to a friendly independent bookseller. Amazon matters, but so do the indies, and they are all about connecting faces with names.

When you travel, have books with you. Don’t waste them, but do invest them. Think of it as planting seeds. You can follow up with your new connections later, and when you do, it will feel so good to remember the actual faces and places. 


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