I thought I knew what to expect, and WOW, was I wrong. I’ve learned so much along the way.
1. It’s tough to prioritize real food and good sleep.
Before I left, the book tour veterans I know told me this was crucial, and I thought it would be easy enough to carry out.Ha!
I was SHOCKED at how difficult this was to put into practice. Eating on the go is challenging, and event timing is tricky: events often run through the dinner hour and on past my bedtime. (And that’s local time—since I live in the Eastern time zone those 7:00 p.m. West Coast events started at my regular bedtime!)
My first few days of tour were eye-opening. Early on, I had a wonderful, sugar-heavy lunch (which shouldn’t have been lunch, but with the travel it worked out that way) and then didn’t eat dinner that night (I was surrounded by food, but couldn’t eat it!).
After that, I resolved to skip sugar for the rest of tour. And I began to learn how to get some dinner, even if I was at the bookstore till 10:00 p.m. We’d scope late-night takeout options in advance, or hit Trader Joe’s or Panera and stash snacks or salads in the hotel fridge. (Most of my hotels didn’t offer room service, but now I totally understand why authors on tour are big fans.)
I was surprised at how late my nights were; I didn’t think it would be so hard to get to bed before midnight! Those first few days reframed my choices for the rest of the tour: I was so excited I’d be in Denver for their annual Book Lover’s Ball. I had to go, obviously; my only concern was fitting heels in my suitcase. But then I realized that the ball would keep me out till 2am body-clock time on the first night of my West Coast trip, and that was foolishness.
2. The internet is great; face-to-face is better.
Even if occasionally that means sacrificing good sleep. On tour I got to spend time face to face with people I’d previously known only on the internet—friends, readers, and booksellers. We got to have coffee and dinner and, just once, late-night drinks. I love the internet, but it’s so worth it to turn online relationships into offline ones. (Pictured above: I finally got to meet Andrea of Browsers Bookshop and see the store in person! I’ve been looking forward to doing so since this episode of What Should I Read Next.)
3. Surprise, you’re a public speaker!
I know this sounds dumb, but … this part kind of snuck up on me.
4. It’s not “efficient” travel in the general sense of the word.
This fall I traveled to cities I’ve always wanted to visit, and of course I wanted to explore while I was there. But the purpose of book tour isn’t to see the city, it’s to meet a lot of readers in a short period of time. Thankfully, my personal and professional priorities aligned in one important way: whenever I visit a new city I want to see the bookstore, and on tour I got to see the bookstores.
I learned that in every city I typically had time for one fun (touristy) thing and one good meal. That’s it. Sometimes I got to do one BIG thing, like Asheville’s Biltmore Estate. Sometimes it was a smaller thing, like Austin’s Central Library or Denver’s Botanic Garden (pictured above). If the city was compact and walkable, it was easier to be a tourist. But sometimes there was no time or energy left to explore, and that’s okay, because seeing the sites is a bonus, not a priority.
By the time we made it to California I was exhausted, so in lieu of one fun thing I took a nap. This is NOT a choice I would have made in my regular life, but book tour is not regular life.
5. Bookstores have their own personalities.
I’ve visited a ton of bookstores over the years, but I’ve never been to so many in such a short period of time. Visiting all these stores one after another highlighted how different they are—in staff, in selection, in vibe. (Pictured above: the women of Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop.)
I learned that the thing I most appreciate in a bookstore is bookish enthusiasm. Hard to define, but you know it when you feel it, and some stores were crackling with it.
6. Nobody cares if you wear the same thing
I wore the same thing, ate the same thing, and if I could have walked everywhere, I would have.
If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that I wore some version of the same outfit (jeans, top, necklace) at every event but one, and I wore the same jewelry over and over. I know many people consider repeating outfits and statement necklaces a big no-no, but oh well.
When we ate out, I usually ordered the same thing: salads and salmon, depending on the offerings, and no sugar. This greatly minimized my decisions.
7. Don’t spend your energy on stuff. But double-check the important stuff.
There’s a lot to think about on book tour, and I wanted to conserve my brain power for the things that truly mattered. I did not want to waste time thinking about my stuff.
Before the tour, I made sure I had good gear that was ready to go. (I relied on these travel essentials.) I tried to put as much as possible on autopilot: I used the same packing checklist every time, I kept my toiletry bag packed, and I consolidated my purse before I left.
Next time I’ll build one more double-check into my departure routine, because I forget something nearly every time, including one impossible-to-replace-on-the-road supplement. I don’t want to repeat that situation.
8. Margin, margin, margin.
In my regular life, it’s not unusual for me to enter the building (the carpool line, the church service) just in the nick of time. (Let’s be honest, I was probably trying to read just one more chapter before I zoomed out the door.) But when people are coming to an event to see me, being late is not an option.
For tour I aimed to get everywhere—especially bookstores and airports—very, very early, just in case. Being late is stressful, and that was one stressor I could plan to avoid.I was surprised at how big a difference this margin made in the way I felt. Not even the miles-long security line in the Denver airport raised my heart rate, because we had all the time in the world. (Although something else I learned? Get TSA pre-check, stat.)
9. Book tour is not real life.
Or at least it’s not normal life.
During tour, my expectations and priorities looked totally different. I visited a lot of cities where people were really excited to see me; readers literally waited in line for an hour to chat for a minute or two. That’s book tour life.
It felt so good to be home again, and my family was thrilled to see me. But it took about five minutes before my kids wanted to know if dinner was ready yet, etc. You know, normal life stuff.
10. Book people are the best people.
Those authors I quizzed before I hit the road all told me that book tour would be HARD. I only kind of believed them. Now I understand they weren’t kidding when they said tour consumes enormous amounts of energy and is strangely bad for your reading life.
But to get to travel the country meeting readers, visiting bookstores, and talking about the books that bring us together? If there’s one thing I took away from book tour, it’s that book people truly are the best people—and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.