by Tess Gerritsen
(currently on tour on the UK)
This year marks the release of my fourteenth thriller. It also marks the fourteenth time I’ve gone on book tour, and after nearly two weeks on the road, I finally got home last night. Now I have about 36 hours to catch up on my sleep, visit my mom, tackle my email and my stuffed in-box, do my laundry, and then re-pack my suitcase before I board a plane for the next two-week stint on the road, this time in the UK.
Oh, and I have to write this blog post. Which explains why this may be short and I may be just a tad distracted. When you cross too many time zones in a matter of days, the brain does tend to fade out on you.
After so many years, the various tours blend together. One reporter asked me if I’d ever been to his town before. I sat flummoxed for a moment, because I just couldn’t remember. And no wonder we forget where we’ve been. All we see is airports, the inside of bookstores and radio stations and media escorts’ cars, plus a numbing succession of hotel rooms. I’ve gone days in a row without time for lunch, much less sightseeing. I’ve learned to eat when I can and sleep when I can. And yet, every single moment of the tour, I never forget how lucky I am to be on tour. It’s a privilege that not every author enjoys, and despite the grueling schedule and the lost sleep, it’s exactly where I want to be.
I also relish the chance to see familiar faces. In Cincinnati/Dayton, I’ve had the same media escort since my very first book. Through the years, Kathy Tirschek and I have traded family news and shared the ups and downs of the business. When I get to Phoenix, I always look forward to seeing Evelyn Jenkins, who’s sure to point me to the hot new restaurants, and Barbara Peters at Poisoned Pen Bookstore, who was one of the first booksellers in the country to rave about my debut novel, HARVEST. We’ve been in this business together long enough to see the changes.
And there certainly have been changes. When I started out, the independents were the stores for an author to visit: Joseph Beth, Hawley-Cooke, Davis Kidd, Kepler’s, Cody’s, Stacey’s, and Chapter Eleven. Then there was Waterstones in Boston, Complete Mystery Bookstore in Portsmouth, Bookland in Maine, and the Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles. Of course, there were also visits to chain bookstores , and every tour would usually include stops at Barnes and Noble and Waldenbooks and Borders.
But as the years went by, many of those beloved independents vanished. In Hawaii, the venerable Honolulu Book Shops was squashed by the arrival of Borders. The era of the big box stores had arrived, and I’d arrive in a city to find that the little mystery bookshop I’d visited just a year ago was no more. Waterstones disappeared. So did Cody’s and Stacey’s. Shops you thought would live forever instead withered on the vine.
This year, there’s been a strange turnabout. Borders has closed half its stores. Suddenly places like Maui, where Borders took out all the independent competition, is left without a bookstore. As chain stores close, whole swathes of the country become bookstore poor, and customers are forced to rely on Amazon.com or grocery stores to buy books. Add to that the popularity of e-readers and the transition toward 50% e-sales, and it’s harder and harder to just drop into a local bookstore to browse for print books.
But … what’s this I’m seeing? In Scottsdale, at the Poisoned Pen, the crowd for my latest book event was the largest ever. In Maui, the local populace is trying to lure a bookseller, any bookseller, to open a shop. Maybe a mid-sized town can’t support a big chain store, but a smaller neighborhood independent — the ones we used to see everywhere — just might be able to make it again.
So now we seem to be cycling back to where I started, where the little bookseller is once again a treasured part of the local community. I witnessed that just yesterday in the village of Bucksport, Maine, where Bookstacks has managed to become a popular stop in town. I see it in Half Moon Bay at Bay Books, which has become a destination for book lovers from miles around. Yes, we’ve probably lost a lot of print readers permanently to the lure of the e-book. But there’ll always be a core group of readers who want a place where they can ask for recommendations, browse the stacks, and talk to a bookseller about what to buy Uncle Bob for Christmas.