The last question in my interview with Lincoln Paine touched on an area that is close to the heart of many a modern author, particularly the daring soul who has embarked on independent publishing.
It is becoming quite common for authors to organize their own book tours. Any suggestions for this?
The parts of my tour that were not organized by Knopf (who did a fantastic job editorially and in promotion) were of three distinct kinds:
- events organized by people who looked me up directly
- those organized by people to whom I was suggested by friends and colleagues
- a few to which I invited myself through people I knew personally.
For the first two categories especially, the obvious details to work out are how long they want you to talk and if they have anything in particular they want you to focus on.
It also behooves you to tailor your remarks to your audience, whether it's their group interest, or where they live. In my case, the Naval War College doesn't want to hear the same talk as the Sons of Norway or the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, and even the latter audience wants to be distinguished in some way from that of the Southern Yacht Clubman New Orleans.
Any other suggested preparation?
It’s simple to explain the difference between writing and promoting a book. In the one, you spend most of your time sitting at a desk talking to yourself; in the other, you spend all your time standing on a stage and talking to a room full of people. Public speaking is not my forte, but I practiced a lot and an actor friend gave me tips on speaking and stage presence. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, you have to work at it, but it is worth it, not only because people do judge a book by the author, but because you’ll be more comfortable.
Just as your hosts should do their homework about you, you should do some about them. It doesn't have to be much, but it can make all the difference between a good reception and an indifferent one.
Any questions you should ask them?
- Who will introduce you?
- Will you be in a conversation, part of a panel, or giving a solo lecture?
- Do they want you to talk about your book, about your process as a writer, or something else altogether?
- How much time do they want you to speak?
- Does your host want you to talk, or read, or both?
- Do they want a visual component like PowerPoint? (Some do, some don't, some don't care.)
- If yes, can you just bring a thumbdrive to plug in, or do they need you to bring your own laptop?
- Do they pay for travel or accommodations?
- Do they pay an honorarium (either in addition to or in lieu of travel)?
- Will they arrange for books to be sold at the event?
- Do they expect/allow you to sell books at the event?
- Will there be a reception or meal of some kind?
Whether you need any or all of these conditions to be met is up to you, and there are times when you should be happy to speak with nothing in return, such as a local school group. I admit I didn't have such a list this go-round, but I wish that I had, if only to impress on some of my hosts the fact that writing is actually a business and not an act of charity.
And finally, for the hundreds of voyagers who read this blog, what are your tips for living out of a suitcase?
Keep your expectations modest and be prepared to be both disappointed and pleasantly surprised. And have realistic expectation about what you'll need to wear, and about how much work you'll actually get done. I've basically decided that traveling is a great opportunity to catch up on back issues if the New Yorker and TLS.
And when United Airlines decides that you really want to spend the night at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, you can find a cot in Terminal 3, Concourse L. They won’t tell you, it’s a twenty-minute walk from Terminal 1, and the powers that be wake you up at 4:00 am. But it beats sleeping on the floor or between armrests.
Thank you, Lincoln. I enjoyed this interview, and have learned a great deal. You have given me and my readers a lot to think about.