why spouses and book tours don’t mix

by Tess Gerritsen

I believe it was the great Nora Roberts who once said: “You don’t take someone you love on book tour.” I was reminded of this quote when my husband and I had a, shall we say, spirited conversation about this topic.  He asked whether it would make my life just a little easier if he came along on my next book tour abroad.  “Don’t you want me there to carry your bags?  To share the experience and provide companionship?  Wouldn’t it make the tour a lot more fun?”

I committed one of those cardinal sins in a marriage.  I told the truth and said: “No.”

What followed was a very tense half hour as I tried to soothe his hurt feelings while explaining why I really did mean “no.”  Because what Nora Roberts said is the absolute truth.  You don’t take someone you love on book tour with you.

I’m sure there are non-writing spouses out there who think this is a terrible reflection on my marriage.  That it must mean I don’t love my husband, or we don’t get along, or we don’t like spending time together.  That’s the furthest thing from the truth.  When I travel on vacation, there’s no one I’d rather be with than my husband.  We have the same interests, love the same foods, share the same daily rhythms.

But a book tour is not a vacation. And to illustrate that point, let me describe a typical book tour schedule abroad — and where the spouse would fit in.

— After overnight flight, you arrive jet-lagged and exhausted. If you’re lucky, you get a few hours’ sleep, then it’s up for work that first evening with media interviews, cocktails with publisher, maybe even a bookstore event.  Spouse tries to participate, but without the same adrenalin you’ve got going, fades out early and vanishes off to bed.  Is sound asleep by the time you stumble back up to the room.

— The next day, time to pack up and move on to the next town.  More travel followed by more media, more bookstore events, into the evening.  Spouse is tired and dragging.  You are in “work mode” so you manage to soldier on, forcing yourself to smile, to be charming, to shake countless hands.  Lots of attention is showered on you by readers and publishing people.  Spouse feels neglected.  By the time you finally crawl into bed, you are close to collapse.  Have to spend the next sleepless hour making spouse feel better about being ignored.

— Ditto the next day, and the next, and the next.  Except that spouse is getting angrier and angrier.  Feeling like you’re not paying attention to the most important person in your life.  Meanwhile, media and publicist and bookstore folks are completely focused on you, you, you.  Spouse is standing in back of bookstore with steam coming out of ears.

— By day five, the pace is killing you. You feel the flu coming on.  Your feet hurt.  Your smile muscles hurt.  You’re trying to focus on the questions the radio host is asking you, but you’re preoccupied with your spouse, who is now giving you the silent treatment.  When you finally get back to your hotel late at night, you want to take a long hot bath and relax in complete silence.  Spouse knocks on door to have one of those deep talks about why you’re being so self-centered.

— By day seven, it’s time to board the airplane home.  Spouse has not seen any wonderful tourist sites, but instead has spent the whole seven days in bookstores, hotel lobbies, cars, train stations, and airports.  You, the media star, the celebrated author, are in the doghouse. Neither one of you has had any fun whatsoever.

Lest you think I exaggerate, a publicist told me of one author who went through something just like this while on book tour.  The author made the mistake of bringing along his rather high-maintenance wife. Instead of focusing on what he should have been doing — plugging his book and networking with publishing executives — he expended much mental energy desperately trying to soothe his wife’s tender feelings.  Nevertheless she packed up her bags halfway through the trip and flounced home in a rage while he was still struggling through that grueling book tour.  Yeah, I’m sure that did wonders for his focus. 

A book tour is not fun and games.  It’s hard work.  It’s physically and emotionally exhausting.  If you’re an introvert (as are so many writers) you need your rare downtime to be  alone, to rest and re-charge.  Then there’s the, er, practical considerations.  Hotel rooms have only one bathroom.  With all the rushing around and irregular hours and frequent travel, you will get a limited time to use that toilet.  With two people fighting for it.

For you non-writers, imagine it this way.  Imagine you work in a law practice or hospital or any other busy setting.  Imagine you’re at work while your spouse is sitting in a chair by your desk, waiting for you to pay attention to him while you rush around between clients or patients. Imagine how hard it is to focus on your job while spouse is sighing deeply beside you.

Yep, that’s what it’s like.

There are, however, certain spouses who probably do fine on book tour.  These are people who are happily independent, who are delighted to do their own thing while you work.  At every new stop, you wave goodbye to each other, and while you head off to promote the book, she’s off to the museum and lunch and shopping.  Only at night do you meet up back at the hotel.  No recriminations, no whining, no feelings of being neglected. That sort of spouse, I can see bringing along.

Otherwise?  Leave the beloved husband or wife at home.  Trust me, you’ll both be happier for it.  


16 thoughts on “why spouses and book tours don’t mix

  1. Bryon Quertermous

    I’ve learned this lesson the hard way with conferences. Three different times I thought it would be fun to bring my wife and then my kids and it always turns out to be a dismal failure for exactly the reasons above. The problem is that, in leaving behind a wife a kids for this, a new set of troubles emerges. They think daddy is off playing and having fun while mommy is stuck at home with the grueling work. It’s fine and delicate balance I find myself on the wrong side of more often than not. But I try.

  2. JD Rhoades

    Bryon, I was at one of those conferences…bringing your spouse is one thing (and your lovely bride rulez, by the way) but bringing spouse and infant is a whole ‘nother level of chaos I’ve seen one other writer manage it, and even then it was a stretch.

  3. pari noskin taichert

    It would be the death of our marriage for me to bring my husband along; he’s an introvert and would hate the entire thing. Even if he didn’t complain out loud, it’d be loud enough.

    And I’m facing that question about LCC 2011 in Santa Fe. I’ll have a large room at the hotel and my kids might be on Spring Break. If they are, I don’t quite know what I’ll do since I wouldn’t want to leave them at home while my hubby works AND I wouldn’t want to leave them alone in my room at the hotel.

    I don’t know how I’m going to run a conference if I’m not certain they’re all right and taken care of.

    Thank goodness that’s still a year away.

  4. toni mcgee causey

    My husband came along to Thrillerfest one year; he had a wonderful time, visiting with lots of people, and when he wanted a break, taking off to ramble around NYC. Still, it ended up stressing me out, because my husband doesn’t read thrillers and I was concerned for him, for how that was going to go over with a bunch of thriller writers all in one room. (grin) Also, he got to visit some of the landmarks I had always wanted to see… and I had wanted to see them *with him* — and he’d come back to the room having had a grand time. We’ve worked out a compromise, though. He’ll come with me a day or two ahead of time to the conference, we’ll enjoy the sites and then he’ll go home and I can work.

    I’m not sure I’d make it through a book tour without him, though. He’s the extrovert, and I’ve joked about this, but really, he’s my secret weapon. Whenever I want to know something and am too bashful to go ask, I point him at the person and I find out tons of information.

  5. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Tess

    I hate to be almost the only dissenting voice here, but my Other Half, Andy, has been with me on every book tour and at every convention, and he loves it. Honestly, truthfully – loves the books, loves the people. And I love having him there. He organises flights, hotels, car rental, and always finds the best restaurants.

    Usually the first question I get asked by anyone at a convention if they see me on my own: "Where’s Andy?"

    I’d have to chain him by one foot to a radiator in order to leave him behind.

    Which wouldn’t be practical – even if I wanted to – as we have underfloor heating…

    After twenty-two years, we’re still embarrassingly happy together. Soppy, isn’t it?

  6. tess gerritsen

    lucky you! Not every spouse is energetic and tolerant enough to put up with the hectic pace that a tour requires. Some spouses are really good at it. But for others, it can be torture.

  7. BCB

    Am now devising a plan, for use in the unlikely event I am ever required to do a book tour, in which Carl and Andy go on tour instead and takes turns pretending to be me, while I stay home. I think this might work.

  8. Zoë Sharp

    Thanks Tess and JD ;-]

    BCB – I can heartily recommend Jan Burke’s husband, Tim as well – he and Andy had a whale of a time on the Spouse Panel at Mayhem this year. A very funny guy.

  9. Jake Nantz

    Interesting. Tess, I’m so glad you posted this. I have a feeling if my wife and I had kids when I go on that first book tour (some time after that first agent, and that first publishing deal, and, well, you get the idea), anyway, I’d guess she would want to stay home with the kids. But my wife and I get along so well that I would have figured she’d be sitting at the back of the room beaming at me the same way she did when she did observations of me teaching. Then again, I probably look a lot more confident and in control in my classroom than I will on book tour…

    Still, if she wants to come, we’ll probably try it out the first time, and if it works like Andy and Zoe, we’ll go for it. If it turns out more like you’ve described here, well, I guess I’ll grovel to save the marriage, and then go solo from then on. Still, food for thought I never would have even considered had you not posted this. That’s why I love you guys. There’s so much you are willing to help us with that we would never know to ask about otherwise!

  10. JJ Dennis

    Thanks for the great post! I’ve often wondered how writers handle this kind of thing. It’s definitely got me thinking! Guns & bribes…

  11. Lisa McMann

    Really great post and you nailed the book tour exhaustion. I think it’s *possible* for a spouse to have a decent time on a tour as long as he knows what to expect.

    My husband has not yet had a chance to tour with me, but I have to say I’m pretty sure he’d be one of the exceptions. He’d be perfectly thrilled to go out on his own all day and explore museums and sights, and he loves bookstores and is quite content to browse around for as long as he needs to while I’m working (he’s come to my local signings and is quite helpful, taking photos and making sure I have pens that work…). Still, with the ups and downs of tour, I totally need that quiet time alone to regroup and withdraw whenever I can between events. I’m game to try having him along sometime. Maybe a short tour. But yes…it’s no vacation. Touring is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

  12. Cheryl Alldredge

    Great insight and very interesting. I’ve always been amazed by writers who take family (and often) children to writing conventions. It would have to take a very special kind of spouse to make that work. Being an introvert, I get exhausted by a simple book signing. I can’t imagine a book tour. LOL Not an immediate worry, anyway.


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