How to Survive an International Press Tour

by Alafair Burke

Okay, that headline’s a little misleading.  It sounds nifty, though, doesn’t it?  It should.  I stole it from none other than Tom Hanks, who recently wrote a guest column for Entertainment Weekly (aka My Bible) to explain how he got through a “world-wide promotional tour” for his new film, Larry Crowne, without losing his mind.

I happened to read Hanks’s column as I was returning from my own tour to promote my new book, LONG GONE.  This is fantastic, I thought.  I can sort of bond with Forrest Gump over a shared experience.

But even the headline was a reminder that we existed in very different worlds.  International Press Tour?  Here’s Charlie Wilson sipping wine with his Corona typewriter in France.

Here is a picture of me (or at least part of me) being super excited about the extra leg room I scored in an exit row seat!

His column is also filled with references to the Concorde, his Delegation, and VIP green rooms.  I have somehow managed to miss all of those on my seven book tours.

But despite the gentle reminders that Robert Langdon lives large, I did find some of his advice helpful.

Like this one: “Prepare the Obvious Answers and Vary All Anecdotes.”

That’s good advice.  On my first radio interview after my first novel was published, the venerable Leonard Lopate asked me why I liked crime fiction.  I honestly don’t remember the words that came spilling from my mouth, but I do remember leaving the radio studio wishing I could have a do-over on the last thirty minutes of my life. If only I had Larry Crowne’s advice.

On a book tour, you will be expected to talk about the plot of the new book without giving too much away.  You will be asked where you get ideas.  You will be asked about your writing schedule.  Get that stuff down cold.

Here’s another piece of his good advice: “Be a Tourist, But For No More Than 30 Minutes a Day.”  Now, Chuck Noland’s* version of 30-minute-tourism means a “saunter through the Rodin Museum.”  My version usually means finding the best food stand in town.  But still…

Another word of advice from Woody: “Put All Vices on Hold.”  Um, I don’t know anything about that.  See above note about food stands. 

“Survive the Hotel Room.”  Good advice here: Don’t spend an hour flipping channels on the hotel TV.  They won’t be adding any more stations, and you will wind up watching cable news or Law & Order SVU.  Bring your own entertainment: a good book or shows downloaded to your iPad.

I would like to add a few lessons of my own that Paul Edgecomb omitted.

Pack light.  Duh, you say.  Packing light is rule number one of Book Tour 101.  But I don’t mean pack sparingly.  I mean pack lightweight.  I’ve heard some authors say they wear the same two outfits throughout tour, washing their undergarments in sinks as necessary.  That is not how I roll. 

No, I will never stop using this picture in my blog posts!

In my one little carry-on, I managed to tote no fewer than seven complete outfits, and that’s because I pack “light.”  This dress, for example, is basically made out of tissue paper.  When rolled into a tight ball, it takes up less room than a cell phone.



Get Yourself Right. 

Now, maybe you’re one of those people who can feel fine even if you don’t look fine.  Or maybe you’re naturally beautiful and don’t need any help.  Or maybe you’re a guy.

But for the rest of us: Get Yourself Right.  By this, I mean take care of all your grooming needs before you hit the road.  You won’t have time for hair cuts, pedicures, and pore-cleansing masks on tour.

It’s no fun catching a glimpse of the back of your head in those weird three-way hotel mirrors and seeing a bunch of gray roots you missed in the last do-it-yourself job.

That’s just an example, of course.  I don’t actually have any gray hair.  Cough.

And my best piece of advice: Bring Out Your Friends.

Jimmy Dugan may have a Delegation to keep him company, but authors are basically on their own.  That’s where the friends come in.  And this one is a three-parter.

A) Plan joint events with fellow authors.  Thanks to a joint event with Phillip Margolin, we celebrated afterward with a fantastic dinner.  (See ignored advice above about vices.)

And thanks to Barbara Peters at Poisoned Pen, I spent one glorious tour afternoon at the Biltmore Resort with old friends like Michael Koryta, Laurie King, and Jan Burke, plus new ones like Marcia Clark, Sophie Littlefield, and Juliet Blackwell.  

 Yes, Laurie King and Jan Burke really are this fun together

Who knew book tour could be so darn fun? B) See your in-town friends

After every book event, I had dinner with people I knew from the local area.  It’s a time to be with friends you’ve known for years.  To hear about their jobs and their children and their remodeling projects.  It’s a chance NOT to be asked about your writing schedule and where you get your ideas.  It’s a time to remind yourself that this world is not all about you and your new book.

C) Drum up attendance from reader friends

You’ve probably all heard the nightmare book tour stories about walking into the store to find two people in the audience, one of whom is looking for the bathroom. You never know what the turn-out will be.  Even major bestsellers have slow nights.

But turn-out isn’t only about the numbers.  Some of my best events have been tiny, but with loyal readers who know the work and enjoy talking about it.  Don’t be afraid to know your readers and to let them know you.  They will show up.  They will support you.  They will make your book tour better. 

Added bonus: They’ll remember to take pictures of your events.

Courtesy of Pamela Cardone (note shirt that can also be rolled into size of cell phone)

Courtesy of Carl Christensen

One reader-friend, Carol Johnsen, even made me this framed “Faux Duffer” to keep me company on the road.


My final piece of advice for book tour is to celebrate the good news and brush off the disappointments. 

Thanks to many of you, I’ve had a lot to celebrate this time around.  Thank you for showing up at stores and making me feel welcomed and appreciated.  Thank you for helping LONG GONE get to a third printing after three weeks.  Thank you for giving it enough attention that it got shout-outs from People Magazine and the Today Show.  And thank you for all the wonderful reviews you have posted online and shared with your friends.

With all this thankfulness, I am also thankful to be home.  The tour is over.  I’m with the husband and the Duffer.  And I have a sudden, inexplicable urge to watch Bosom Buddies.

For the comments: What is your favorite travel advice – whether tour related or otherwise?  Bonus Question: Your favorite Tom Hanks role?

* You have probably figured out by now that all of these names are characters portrayed by Tom Hanks.  If you did not realize that, you probably do not call Entertainment Weekly your Bible, and I apologize for the confusion.

20 thoughts on “How to Survive an International Press Tour

  1. Chris Ewan

    Hi Alafair. Congrats on the success of LONG GONE, and thanks for some invaluable tips. I'm about to tackle my first US book tour in a couple of weeks, and I definitely need to find some clothes that can be rolled into the size of a cell phone!

  2. Catherine

    I went to an author event here in my small town this past Thursday. All I knew going in was that the author had a national profile and had compiled a recipe book celebrating winter …and that he contributed to my favourite food magazine….oh and the book store had organised a locally sourced lunch reflecting the ethos of the writer. At that point I didn't know his ethos.

    That comment you made about preparing the obvious answers and varying anecdotes proved on the money at this book event. People listened enthusiastically but few people asked questions. I think the author explained what he was about fairly succinctly too, motivation explained, ethos expanded, humour attended to. So I don't feel as though it left a lot of room for people to ask much. The author looked a little startled at one point by the lack of questions so he spun a tale around a question asked at another book event on his tour. I think this was a good strategy. I suspect that everyone was a bit sedated by the good food and this slowed the interaction a tad.

    How cool that you're into your third reprint already.

    My travel advice syncs to yours. Never let go of hand luggage that holds enough clothing and sundries to get you through at least a few days travel. Although I'm happy for my clothing to roll to the size of a pair of socks. I have roll envy now.

  3. Catherine

    That last comment, should read as ….previously I was happy to roll my clothing to sock size bundles. Now in a state of roll envy.

  4. PD Martin

    Great advice. Packing light (especially for on-board luggage) is ideal. Mind you, it's hard to pack light with a four year old! Although I do love the pre-boarding for guests with infants and young children. At least then we're always guaranteed space in the overhead for all the carry-on you swear you're not taking ๐Ÿ™‚

    If I'm travelling by myself, I also love hanging out for a night in the hotel room, solo. Something totally luxurious about that. And exploring a city on foot. Nothing better.
    PS We're heading on holidays this week – thanks for the reminder that I need to wax!

  5. Alafair Burke

    Phillipa, Glad to come in handy ๐Ÿ™‚

    It dawns on me that I've never done a book tour in winter. I don't think I'd want to live out of a carry-on bag for two week with sweaters, boots, and parkas involved.

    Catherine, Dealing with the "no questions" silence can be awkward. I often kid that I'm a law professor and can call on people if necessary ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. tess gerritsen

    Absolutely right-on advice. I loved that article by Tom Hanks, btw. It captured perfectly the sense of disorientation you get from never being quite sure which city you're in. The important thing (and I say this as I'm about to board a plane for my UK tour) is to get rest while you can and not party too hard. That way leads to nasty viruses! And yes, prepare yourself for disappointments. There will always be those.

  7. Rae

    I am the living antithesis of traveling light. Can't do it. The only piece of travel advice I ever give people is: just because you're traveling, you don't get to look like a slob. You can be comfortable in something other than ripped jeans and your ratty college sweatshirt. I'm a firm believer that people who look more put together get treated better by hotels and airlines and others.

    Favorite Tom Hanks movie is definitely A League of Their Own.

  8. David Corbett

    My best road advice? Go to London with a fellow writer who has no compunction about putting the world's most lavish meals on her publisher's expense account.

    Other than that, I'd say you covered it.

    But … Pore Cleansing Mask?

    I think men call that shaving.

  9. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I agree that the best part of the book tour is getting to see old friends from years past.

  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Best advice: melatonin. Never fails to put me to sleep with no side effects at all, and I can't function if I don't sleep.

    Best Tom Hanks performance – absolutely anything but Forrest Gump.

    Have a wonderful time, Alafair!

  11. Rob Browne

    Travel advice? If you're in Southern California, fly out of one of the smaller airports like Burbank. Avoid LAX at all cost. If they have a low cost upgrade to first class GRAB IT. It's worth the extra cost. If at all possible, don't book a hotel, rent a small condo instead. You'll get a kitchen and possibly a washer and dryer, so you can pack light and wash your clothes. Plus you'll have more breathing room.

    Favorite Tom Hanks performance — probably BIG. Hey, Alex, what's wrong with Forrest Gump?

  12. Zoรซ Sharp

    Hi Alafair

    Congrats on how wonderfully well things are going with the new book! I always try and pack light and only buy tour clothing that squashes really well. I found a really good piece of advice was to dye my eyelashes – mine are very pale and it saves the hassle of panda eyes if you're putting a game face on every day and hate mascara.

    Likewise, a small bottle of Visine eye drops stop the 'eyes like two fried tomatoes' look after too much time in air con.

    Favourite Tom Hanks movie? APOLLO 13.

    And finally, toasted almonds keep me going when my stomach is totally out of line with whatever timezone I'm in.

  13. Alafair Burke

    Favorite Hanks movie = Big. But seriously, I do still love Bosom Buddies.

    Loving all these tips and will have to come back here to refresh my recollection next time I hit the road. Zoe, Visine – why didn't I think of that?

    Alex, I'm also a big melatonin fan. It's a miracle for time changes.

    Louise – you must eat much much less than I do if a V-8 will hold you over. Breakfast maybe…

    Rae – We are sisters by different misters, lady.

    Tess, Yes! No getting sick! Two words (one word?) here: Neti Pot. I'll speak no further on the subject.

    And David, You're right. That Denise Hamilton could really order up a meal, huh? ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Reine

    Tom Hanks: Big, definitely. And Bosom Buddies. I love that my daughter can watch these on her laptop while dialyzing.

    Travel advice? I like all of yours, Alafair. And if it's not something I missed somehow, I would add the suggestion not to sleep at a truck stop on the Autobahn – if at all possible.

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