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.

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  1. WDI on June 20, 2005 at 3:13 pm

    Many of us will be there in spirit, contributing as much energy as we can that way 🙂 I look forward to the day when talks and signings can be webcast and enjoyed by those of us remote from the event itself to participate more directly. Best of luck, and be safe on all those drives!

  2. Erin on June 20, 2005 at 4:00 pm

    I love book events! I had to beg everyone I knew before I could get a ride in to Sacramento for the Keeping Watch event there two years ago. It was midquarter and I was the only person interested in your books, but I got myself there and it was wonderful.

    Last year I was flying home to see my parents at the end of term when The Game was released and I had to talk my mom into driving to Pasadena (well over an hour and in evening traffic) to see you there.

    All efforts were well worth it, though, and I am so looking forward to Wednesday=)

    It’s interesting about the touring. I’ve heard the same thing about musicians selling albums. I suppose it could be the hype that precedes an event? The signs at the store and our excitedly telling friends about the event, which leads to synopses of earlier books? That would make an interesting economic study, I think.

  3. Anonymous on June 20, 2005 at 4:19 pm

    Loved your note, Laurie…and OF COURSE, we will love your book. Can’t wait to get it and devour it.

    Along with wdi and many others, I will be there in spirit.

    Linda in delaware

  4. 2maple on June 20, 2005 at 5:46 pm

    Fun hearing about all the buzz and behind the scenes workings of a book launch.

    I was surprised when you said Americans prefer book signings v media interviews. Really?? One way I really enjoy is via radio. There are certain programs I listen to on the way to or from work because, among other things, they frequently have good author interviews; between my husband and I, it’e2’80’99s resulted in quite a few books sales – generally for authors we’e2’80’99ve never read before’e2’80’a6and signings, well, I’e2’80’99ve yet to make it to one’e2’80’a6not because of lack of interest, just a remote corner of the world, and the authors I would go out of my way for (you included, obviously) don’e2’80’99t tend to come trooping through. Alas, thousands of miles is a bit far. Happy trooping!

    Another random thought I was wondering about book launches was timing – there has to be some strategy to when’e2’80’a6or is that driven the publisher??

  5. Mary on June 20, 2005 at 6:43 pm

    Just wish you were coming to NYC. I did get to meet you during Edgar Week, but that’s not the same as a book signing.

  6. Steph on June 20, 2005 at 8:25 pm

    Wish you were coming to Sacramento! Saw you a few years ago in Pasadena – great time. Best wishes for fun and easy commutes. 🙂

  7. Paul on June 21, 2005 at 12:28 am

    Got the notification today from Amazon that it’s coming.

    My wife will read it and I will get it on Audio from Recorded Books ASAP. I have enjoyed all of your Mary Russell books read by Jenny Sterlin at RB.

    Thank you in advance for your time, effort and artistry.

    Bring Ohio Home

  8. Becca on June 21, 2005 at 2:53 am

    Congrats to your daughter! I’m starting at LSE in September. If you don’t mind my asking, did she like it?

  9. Chris on June 21, 2005 at 10:44 am

    As before, wish I was going to be in San Francisco for book launch – my first year of NOT having a June trip over from the UK.

    I just hope that faithful old Amazon UK deliver my copy of Locked Rooms (the A&B edition!) as per schedule, I’m hoping it’s my holiday reading (in Europe this time); I depart on 4th July!

    My very best wishes for the event, and all rest of the tour, too. Come and do another event over here with val McDermid, you were a great double-act last time!

  10. myninki on June 21, 2005 at 1:05 pm

    I will make a toast at seven for Locked Rooms and for you of course, i’c2’b4m sure its going to be a great party!

  11. Julia on June 25, 2005 at 2:23 am

    Speaking as a librarian and a tremendous book reader:

    Several publications (esp. review publications) print the publisher and author’s planned publicity for forthcoming books. Whether it be tours, book-talks on tv and radio, or simple advertising campaigns. This notice of “advance buzz” strongly ifluences what and how much we pre-order, what books we post on our forthcoming boards and etc.

    We have, over the years, noticed a strong correlation between the stregnth of the publishers and author’s committment to the book and the amount of interest generated in the public. Even if they have not come in and requested it they are more likely to say to us “I’ve heard of that book – Is it any good?”

    Not that the best books necessarrily get the best publicity, but the more people you reach in the first instance the more you will eventually reach via grassroots.

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