Buckling on armor
The days before a book comes out are always an interesting time in a writer’e2’80’99s life. Interesting, you understand, in the Chinese-curse sense, which is accompanied by a vague sensation of fluttering panic and a specific awareness of panic because The Book’e2’80’94and last year’e2’80’99s book, at that–is going to overwhelm life for far too long and the current book is going to disappear completely at just the wrong time, the vulnerable time, never to recover’e2’80’a6
Beginning Wednesday, I have a straight run of eleven days of events, in the Bay Area (who hours away by car, every day) and away (Houston, Seattle/Bellingham, San Diego, LA). I then have the 3rd and 4th of July off, when I get to spend some time with my daughter who has just survived MA exams at LSE in London, and then I have another run of six days. When I raise my head again in the middle of July, she will be gone and the book will be overdue.
A few years ago I was in Amsterdam doing a day’e2’80’99s series of media interviews, which is what Europeans prefer to this business of bookstore talks and signings, and by chance a friend who even then was a bestselling writer was there at the same hotel. Our handlers arranged for us all to have lunch together, on a dusty square across from large heaps of builder’e2’80’99s rubble (luxury is my middle name.) And once we’e2’80’99d caught up on family stuff, I said that I hadn’e2’80’99t thought he toured much, far less in Europe. He told me that he’e2’80’99d seen the numbers of his book sales (admittedly good to begin with) flatten out for the past three years while he’e2’80’99d refrained from touring. And with this one, for which he’e2’80’99d gone on the road again, numbers had gone up.
It’e2’80’99s a very odd thing, because even a long tour isn’e2’80’99t literally going to sell enough books to make a difference between, say, fifteenth place on the NYT list and fifth. An author can only reach so many readers in a day, and most of those, you would think, were going to buy the book anyway. So why do touring authors tend to do better than non-touring authors?
It seems to have something to do with energy. Even at the beginning of a book’e2’80’99s sales life, buzz builds, and excitement is contagious’e2’80’94from editor to house to store to reader. Without interest at one of those stages, it’e2’80’99s very unlikely to pass on to the next. Committing to a tour illustrates that the house is putting energy behind their author, in a way that a full-page ad in the New Yorker, even though it probably costs more money, somehow doesn’e2’80’99t do on its own.
So I am setting out for a spell as a road warrior, mounting my trusty ten year-old Land Rover and fighting the crowded highways to Berkeley and Corte Madera, getting home at midnight to an indignant cat and snoring humans, and setting off the next day to do it again.
I hope anyone within the potential sound of my voice stirs themselves to fight their own freeways and come to one of the events. Because having readers show up at an event is the thing that makes it all worthwhile.
See you in’e2’80’a6 wherever. And I hope you like LOCKED ROOMS.