Fourteen years on the road

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 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.



14 thoughts on “Fourteen years on the road

  1. Paula R.

    Have a great book tour in the UK, Tess. Hopefully, you get a chance to eat, sleep and relax a bit before heading out.

    I am hopeful that the independent bookstores begin to flourish again. I would be in heaven. I can just picture it.

    Peace and love,
    Paula R.

  2. Judy Wirzberger

    Thanks – for the hours of entertainment you writing has given me. I'll meet up with you somewhere and get a personalized autograph– I envy those who live where you are touring. Thanks for the shout out for the Independents. Ed at M is for Mystery is looking for a buyer; he's retired.
    Lovely book store. (enjoying the series on TV – congrats on your accomplishments).

  3. Susan Russo Anderson

    Tess, You know, I think you may be right. The BookBin in Northbrook, IL, where I spent many hours in the late 60s and 70s is still going strong. So is the BookCourt in Brooklyn, and of course the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale and Phoenix—three of my favorites in addition to all the great haunts in Manhattan. I'm hoping, in this day of e-readers and the crush of the chains that independent bookstores will provide a physical presence for books, a place where books and book people hang. Thanks for the post. Susan

  4. Allison Davis

    Tess, Maple Street books in New Orleans has just opened two new stores — one in Bayou St. John where we hang out when I'm not in SF…indeed it seems that the death knell is a bit soon. Hang in there, endurance is an art.

  5. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I've got friends, both of whom lost their jobs as managers for two different local Borders stores, who are now opening their own independent bookstore. I'm so happy for them! No bank would give them a loan, however, and the had to depend on a private investor who came through at the last moment. The banks didn't think a bookstore would be a good investment. I believe my friends will prove them wrong.

  6. Reine

    Tess, this sounds very hopeful for independents. I cried when I heard about Waterstones. When the COOP went with B&N . . . I dunno . . . you can say it wasn't really an indie anyway, but it felt like one. Then there was Wordsworth in the square that closed after 29 years. And now my daughter's favorite, Curious George – that she continued to visit as an adult with no children – is gone too. Too late for these, the revolution, but hope for new . . . very nice.

    Special appeal to indies: My favorite indies in the world, like the Spirit of '76 in Marblehead, I can no longer get into, because it isn't wheelchair accessible. I adore Bob Hugo who opened this store, the year he graduated college – the year I graduated high school . . . and he struggled greatly to do it . . . and others struggled to help him do it . . . but if you have to use a wheelchair, you can't get into the store. My appeal to all indies is to make your stores accessible. It's not just about us wheelies. It's about crutches and canes, and children and other short people, and balance, and fatigue, and well . . .for godssake your grandmother . . . even you some day. When a wonderful store has brilliant events, as they do at the Spirit of '76 . . . when these are in inaccessible stores, many people cannot go. Sometimes there is no room to move inside, and sometimes you just can't get in the door. Sorry, Bob. Sorry, Tess.

    Tess, I hope you have a successful tour and that you can have some fun too while you are there in the UK. I have just finished reading THE KEEPSAKE and loved it – a true thriller with a hugely engaging mystery. I made the mistake of buying – unintentionally – the abridged CD version. I should have realized from the price, but I thought it was on sale for some reason. Stupid me. Anyway . . . I discovered you here on Murderati, and I just wanted to mention that, because this is a great place to learn a lot about books and discover different writers and new options in reading. And I discovered Rizzoli & Isles here! Stories in my favorite setting. And that museum in THE KEEPSAKE . . . such memories that were already haunting me since I was a little girl. Now I'll never get those displays, and store rooms, and acquisition logs out of my mind. Just brilliant really.

  7. Katherine Howell

    Hi Tess, thanks for this post, and hope you get a bit longer break before you come to Australia! Aussie readers, if you live in Melbourne, check out this event me interviewing Tess for Sisters in Crime on Sat 27th August! I can't wait.
    Also Tess, just finished The Silent Girl – wow! Another ripper read. II had no idea who did it and couldn't put it down until I found out! Thank you 🙂

  8. Sandy

    I have always enjoyed the Borders stores in NYC and CT and elsewhere because they seemed to have more titles in more genres than BN. In that way, I always thought of them as an "Indie."
    However, Tess, one of the messages of this post exposes an irony, doesn't it? For some time, big stores destroyed Indies. Now, in some places where the Bigs went bankrupt, the Indies are in demand. What do you scientists call this? Natural Selection?

  9. Laura

    Working for an indie, a post like this makes me smile. We've had rough times, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Have fun on your UK book tour! Can't wait to see you in Australia!
    Laura 🙂

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