by Zoë Sharp
It’s that time of year again. The time of year when I start to think about The Tour. Last September, with SECOND SHOT fresh out in hardcover and FIRST DROP gleaming in a brand new coat of mass market paperback, we undertook what felt like the Mother of all Tours. Andy and I covered just over 17,000 miles by land and air in 23 days, taking in twelve states, and visiting thirty libraries and bookstores for events and drop-ins, hooking up with nine other authors along the way. Including, of course, our very own JD Rhoades.
And in October, with THIRD STRIKE due out in the States, we’re contemplating doing the whole thing again. Oy vay …
Whether it’s worth doing something on quite this scale is always going to be a debatable point. Yes, FIRST DROP hit the top spot on the IMBA paperback best-seller list for September, and SECOND SHOT, from memory, placed in the top five jointly with Stephen Hunter and Kathy Reichs. But it meant 23 days away from home – and therefore work – and an enormous logistical exercise, planning hotels, flights and journey times.
Yes, there were some cock-ups along the way. Avis – who, it seems, don’t always try harder – let us down badly almost on the first day, and we ended up missing one event in Vermont. (We wrote Avis a heartfelt letter of complaint on our return, and have since had a refund on our car rental for that trip and a very nice hamper, thank you very much. But still …)
We didn’t realise we’d lose an extra hour crossing Indiana, and therefore turned up for an event at Jim Huang’s The Mystery Company with two minutes to spare, instead of the hour and two minutes we thought we had in hand. Then, climbing back into our rental car at the end of that night, the door swung back on me in the dark and I managed to dislocate a finger, though I didn’t find out that’s what I’d done to it until some weeks later. And the traffic in Chicago just sucks.
Of course, however extensive you think you’ve made such a trip, the first comment anybody makes when you post the itinerary is, "Oh, but why aren’t you coming to X?" The thing is, it would be wonderful to do the thing in fits and starts, a week on the road at a time, perhaps, followed by a few days back at home to catch up and do laundry, if nothing else. But, coming from the UK we have to travel 3000 miles just to reach the east coast, never mind any further, so we have to take an all-or-nothing, one-hit approach.
So, this time around we’re looking at possibly trying to get to thirteen states, and maybe – just maybe – a quick hop over the border into Canada. Starting after Bouchercon in October, covering the east coast from New England down to Florida, and making our way slowly westwards in a kind of broad zigzag according to the routes flown by good old cheap-but-definitely-cheerful Southwest Airlines.
I have to say that I enjoy meeting and talking to people. I like doing events and conventions, and speaking in public doesn’t faze me. I was the after-dinner speaker for the local Magistrates’ Association last week, standing up in front of a hundred dignitaries, including the local Member of Parliament and the Lady Mayoress. No problem. I even managed to find a suitable rude joke to finish off …
But sometimes it’s hard work. I mean, I know that bookstores have huge calls on their time and resources, but there were times when we travelled hundreds of miles to be met with no clues that anyone knew we were coming, and maybe half a dozen books to sign. We arrived a little early at one bookstore on the first tour a couple of years ago and were asked if we’d like a coffee while we waited. When we said yes please, they pointedly directed us to the coffee shop further down the block. We couldn’t have felt less welcome if they’d added, "And close the door on your way out …"
On the other hand, last year I seemed to be following one particularly well-known author round the country, and bookstore after bookstore told me how arrogantly rude and objectionable this author was, both to customers and staff. There is, as always, a happy medium.
Predominantly, however, last year’s tour was filled with delightful memories. That barbecue at Jim and Donna Born’s place in Florida, out by the pool in the lanai, and ‘helping’ with a bit of DIY. (Did you ever get that kitchen back in, Jim?) Having dinner with Meg Chittenden and her husband, also Jim, at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle. (So sorry to hear you’ve been so ill, Meg, and all best wishes for a speedy recovery!) Being given a whistle-stop tour of Industrial Light and Magic by John Billheimer’s son, Wayne, who just happens to be a producer there. The view from Janet Rudolph’s hilltop home in Berkeley. The lady who bought a full set of Charlie Fox hardcovers from Mystery Mike’s, including the incredibly difficult to get (and expensive) KILLER INSTINCT, spending a small fortune in the process. Bless you!
I could go on, and on.
But I won’t.
Instead, I’ll pose several questions. How do you feel about authors touring? As an author, a reader, or as a bookseller? Do you like to meet the people behind the words, or do you wish that’s exactly where they’d stay? Do you have any horror stories from your own tours, or been present at an event where it all went horribly wrong? And do you have any advice or tips to make it as painless a process as possible? I have one or two of my own.
1. If you’re taking a number of internal flights, pack so as to take carryon bags only if at all possible. We managed this and it saved us an enormous amount of time and frustration every time we landed. Of course, on an extended tour this means having to do frequent laundry, which leads me to my second tip:
2. Pack clothes that are similar colours, or that can be washed together without causing a disaster. Also, pack clothes than either dry real quick, or can be tumble-dried without something dire happening to them.
3. Take sat-nav. I have all the North American maps on my cell phone, with a cigarette-lighter charger and a stick-on bracket for the front screen. Tap in the zip code and it takes you to the door, almost without fail, regardless. The only glitch was that if you asked the system to take you to an airport, it tended to try and direct you to the freight terminal, so eventually we either keyed in the street address of the rental car return, or just let it get us close enough and then Followed The Signs. How quaint.
4. Take eye drops. Horribly early starts, airplane air-conditioning, and equally horribly late nights, do not make you bright-eyed nor bushy-tailed. The latter I can’t help you with, but the Visine certainly cured the pink eyes for me.
5. Don’t try and persuade a bookstore to have an event if that’s not their thing, or they don’t think they’ll get enough of a turnout to make it worth their while. Just dropping in, signing stock, having a cuppa and being amenable, puts far less strain on everybody concerned, and can often be just as good for you as an author.
6. If you’re planning this yourself, rather than your publisher, make sure you have it absolutely straight with your PR person – preferably in writing – who is doing what as far as publicity is concerned. It’s no good having a post mortem after the event that’s filled with, "But I thought you were going to …" It’s too late then, the opportunities have already gone by.
7. If you’re very kindly invited to stay with friends along the way, take them up on it! Not only does this save you another night in a soulless chain hotel, but it makes you feel even more welcome – particularly as strangers in another country. But, if someone says they’re remodelling their kitchen, don’t help them tear it out. You never know when Home Depot will actually turn up to refit the new one, and then you’ll feel bad for weeks afterwards. We’re still feeling guilty about that, Jim …
And finally, this week’s Word of the Week is peripatetic, meaning an itinerant; walking about; a teacher who is employed to teach at more than one establishment, travelling from one to another; an Aristotelian. Hence peripateticism, the philosophy of Aristotle, as he was said to have taught in the walks of the Lyceum at Athens.