Book tours

One of the odder sides of being a writer in modern times is the way a solitary, dreamy individual is periodically required to become a travelling salesman.

Once a year, more or less, the person who spends her working days in clothing that resembles pajamas folds up her laptop, scowls at her hair, retrieves her jackets from the dry cleaner’s, and walks out the door with her suitcase. Her eyes, fixed myopically on a screen for the past ten months, rise to take in a roomful of people. She clears her throat, long dedicated to indistinct muttering in the privacy of her writing quarters, and gives forth rational speech: She is a writer on the road.

And the really odd thing about it? The book she’s talking about to one group of readers after another is one she hasn’t thought about in months. She opens the book to read an excerpt, and wonders who wrote it. When question time comes, she has to work to recall the plot and characters, and struggles to answer questions about a writing process that has faded into the mists of time.

That’s right: she has moved on, like an adolescent with a new crush.

The new book is what’s exciting, not the old one. The characters she’s exploring, whom cruel fate and Random House has ripped her away from in order to go on this book tour—that is where her mind has been dwelling, not on last year’s tired love. It’s a wrench to have to pull away from the source of her fascination to make sensible conversation about a project that is just so last year.

Once upon a time, writers went on speaking tours, not book tours. Arthur Conan Doyle circled the globe talking about Spiritualism, and sold a lot of books along the way. Mark Twain pocketed considerable speakers’ fees in his day. And some writers still do.

Most of us, however, go on book tour, and while we are grateful for the willingness of our publishers to back the effort financially, it’s definitely a mixed feeling. If nothing else, it’s been a long time since flying has been anything like fun.

However, having recently survived a book tour, I am reminded that touring is A Good Thing. Not just for the selling of books—which is in fact highly debatable, although I’m not going to delve into that question here—but for the writer lurking within that travelling salesman.

For one thing, it forces her to make a break. Yes, there are a few writers who plug in their laptops on the plane and in their hotel rooms and pound out their daily requirement, and all I can say about these freaks of nature is that either their publishers give them a very different kind of book tour, or they’re using their writing as an escape. When a book tour means an airport and a new bed every day, regular nights of three to five hours’ sleep, strange meals, and stranger conversations, anything most writers produce during a tour is best deleted unread.

However, it does mean that when the author is home again, when her laundry is done and her jackets are back at their second home at the dry cleaner’s, when she has caught up on sleep and the mail and finally picks up her work in progress, she sees it with new eyes. Any lingering assumptions or delusions about the book that she might have had before the tour are wiped away, and she can look at her prose and her plot as coldly as if she had put it away in a drawer for a couple of years.

For giving an author a basis for a cold, clear look at what she’s been writing, there’s nothing like two or three weeks of author tour.

But the tour is helpful as well because, somewhere in the back of her exhausted mind, the new book is hanging on by its fingernails. A random question about, say, The Language of Bees makes a tiny ping in that portion of the brain where The Green Man resides. And on the way back to the hotel that night, or the next morning on the plane, that ping makes itself heard. What if, instead of approaching the problem this way, Russell comes at it that way instead? And that remark tonight by the woman in the hat, although it had been about something else entirely—doesn’t that also raise some interesting suggestions, which make one of the characters in The Green Man stir, and look for a new shape…

Of course, two weeks on a sandy beach would probably have the same result, permitting the author to turn the shape of her WIP around in her mind as she sipped from a cold glass and worked on her tan. Perhaps it might even be a more efficient way of getting there, since it wouldn’t involve submitting her to a complete cycle in the psychic tumble dryer.

However, since few publishers can be talked into providing their authors with two weeks on a sandy beach, the author tour will have to do the job.

So thanks, to everyone who came out during my recent tour and gave me someone to talk to, and cleared the ground for the next book…


  1. Laidee Marjorie on May 20, 2009 at 5:28 am

    Someone came to your talk wearing a hat??????


  2. Chris on May 20, 2009 at 6:15 am

    Oh dear – and a UK tour in August, when even more time has elapsed!!! We’ll be kind. Dark beers, is that right…?


  3. Laidee Marjorie on May 20, 2009 at 6:30 am

    Chris, If beer isn’t available, then it’s no-fat lattes!

    Laurie also seems to enjoy a nice cup cake. (I think that is what you call fairy cakes???)


  4. Chris on May 20, 2009 at 6:41 am

    We have both! Blame the creep of the international coffee stores… 🙂

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