10 things I learned on book tour

10 things I learned on book tour

This fall I hit the road for I’d Rather Be Reading. I’m done with the bulk of my travel: I’ve visited 20 cities so far, and will visit the 21st on Friday. (Helllllo Cincinnati!)

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.

40 comments | Comment

40 comments

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  1. Darlene says:

    Where did you get that lovely long necklace you have on in 3 of the pictures? I would love to get one.
    You look great in all of the pictures, looks like you had a nice time.

      • Marie Braz says:

        Yes, it reminded me of my Stella and Dot one which I love. I love ALL their jewelry…I own so much of it. And other high-end pieces but do I wear them regularly? No….🤷‍♀️

  2. Katie says:

    It was so fun to meet you in person when you started book tour back in SEPTEMBER at The Novel Neighbor. You even noticed my “Rather Be Reading” Tee! =) So much fun!

  3. Talitha says:

    Thanks for posting this. I’m a picture book author/illustrator, and I’m getting close to having one of my own books published (I’ve illustrated books before, but we illustrators don’t bear the brunt of the publicity responsibility). I’ve been terrified of going on a book tour even though it hasn’t happened yet. I’m horrible at public speaking, I don’t sleep well in hotels, and I’d have to be away from my husband and daughter for much longer than I’d prefer. So you sharing your experience helped me get a little peek for what it might be like to go on a book tour. Thanks for all the great advice!

  4. Chris says:

    Oh how I LOVE following you on your travels. Thank you for ‘taking us along’! I am anxiously awaiting Christmas morning when I fully expect Santa to have slipped your book into my stocking!

  5. Virginia says:

    I loved hearing you in Ft. Worth with my daughter! I didn’t have time to tell you one of my experiences as a third grade teacher. There was a boy in my third grade class who tried to be “tough”, he would laugh at serious things, etc. One day I was reading A Dog Called Kitty to the class. When I got to an emotional part, he put his head down on his desk. At that moment, I knew he had connected with books! And especially that book by Bill Wallace.

  6. Sarah Christy says:

    Thank you for sharing! I love to travel. Your tips were spot on…I travel as a volunteer with Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camps (strokecamp.org). and have learned the food/extra toiletries bag, same clothes thing. Wish I could have attended one of your events. Love all MMD offerings. Bookish people are the best (along with stroke survivors and their caregivers)

  7. Holly says:

    I am glad that I was able to work your Asheville stop into my travels. Thank you for putting up with the tiring travel life for the sake of lots of quick connections.

  8. Angela says:

    Oh, the Denver security line! Were you down the hall and around the corner? I’m thankful we got to the airport extra early when we flew out of there, because that line was a BIG surprise!!

    I’m so glad you enjoyed your book tour! I’ll make it to one of your stops someday!

  9. It was so fun to meet you in real life at Rakestraw in Danville! I wish there would have been time to give you a tour of the SF Bay Area but I completely understand the demands of scheduling! I couldn’t agree more that book people are the best people! In addition to meeting you, I had so much fun spending the day with Janelle (who flew in from Utah), Noelle (my local best book buddy) and so many others from the area! Thanks for such a fun time!! 😀💗

  10. Liz Ekstrom says:

    TSA pre-check is everything! My husband has it and I had no idea that it includes the whole family when you travel together. My daughter and I got to go through with him without going through the background check process. Weird but wonderful!

  11. Amy says:

    I didn’t get to see you on book tour, but I like you being you. And I’m glad you like being you. Do what works, learn along the way, share with us because we enjoy coming along. 🙂

  12. Holly says:

    So appreciative of your willingness to go on tour. I was able to attend the e event in Franklin, Indiana and it was a blast. Thanks also to your family for being willing to share you with all of us!

  13. Sara says:

    Thank you so much for coming to Fort Worth! I was very excited when that tour stop popped up on one of your Instagrams. I enjoyed hearing you read from your book (love it and you read my favorite chapter!) and meeting you in person!

  14. Joan jackson says:

    We need you in the Midwest! Boswell Books in Milwaukee would be perfect. Am from Wausau WI AND KNOW KARI SWEENEY. PLEASE THINK ABOUT IT. Kari mentioned Minneapolis. That would be great as well. Never miss a podcast👍

  15. Michelle Wilson says:

    So glad that I got to meet you! I feel like some of your Anne Bogel special rubbed off on me a little bit! And you are right, TSA pre check is amazing! 🤓 Michelle

  16. Paula says:

    So glad you mentioned how bookstores have their own personalities – their own stories to tell. I love visiting different bookstores wherever I go. I have had some wonderful conversations with small bookstore owners. I get so much from all of your insights. Thank you.

  17. What a great insight!! And, by the looks of things, no one gives a stuff that you wore the same/similar clothes every time – they were just happy and grateful to get to see you! 😀 The good news is, you know all of this for next time now, so it’ll be a hundred times easier come the next book… enjoy!

  18. Leslie Einhaus says:

    I had extremely HIGH HOPES for your Book Tour [stopping in Houston] and it exceeded all my expectations! I so enjoy your weekly podcast! I am tickled to have met you!

  19. Congratulations on your book tour! Every time you go to a new city, no one there considers you have just done the same thing 15 times before (literally). You need to make it fresh every time, but that is exhausting. I bet you did a wonderful job!

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