(Please welcome New York Times Bestselling Author Tess Gerritsen, who is guest blogging at MurderSheWrites.com today! Please note: Tess is on the road, and thus cannot currently respond to comments, but I will make sure she sees them all when she returns.)
As I head off on my book tour for THE MEPHISTO CLUB, I’m reminded of an old saying about author tours (although I don’t remember who said it): “the only thing worse than going on book tour is not being asked to go on book tour.” And it’s true. It’s a privilege to be sent on the road to promote one’s book. It’s a privilege to be invited into bookstores to talk to readers, to be put up in nice hotels and driven around by chatty media escorts. But let’s be perfectly honest about what I’m actually doing out on the road. I’m a traveling saleswoman, and the product I’m selling is not just my latest book; I’m also selling myself: Tess the storyteller and entertainer and public personality.
Some authors (J.A. Konrath, for example) are gregarious charmers who thrive on mingling with their public. They love being on the road. But for those of us who are shy, those of us who chose this novel-writing job because we actually like being locked away in an office by ourselves, the book tour can be an ordeal. Airline travel alone these days is enough to frazzle you. Then there’s the stress of playing a role that, for most of the year, is so out of character for me. At the end of a long day of shaking hands and smiling, I want to dine by myself in a restaurant and read a book. I want to sit in a bathrobe in my hotel room and watch CNN. I don’t want to be charming or entertaining or even presentable. I want to be like Greta Garbo: left alone.
But the real stress of being on tour, the thing that makes me wake up in a cold sweat in my hotel room and causes me to jump for the ringing telephone, is all about The Book. More specifically: How is The Book doing?
I’m sure I share this anxiety with every single author who has a new book out in stores. We wait in terror for the reviews. We fret over the first-week sales figures. (“Why did we drop in Target? What’s the problem in Walmart?”) Then there’s the book tour. Drop-in signings, those little bookstore visits that mystery author J.A. Konrath manages with such aplomb, are my undoing. The tension starts to build as I pull into the bookstore parking lot. My heart’s pounding, my hands are sweating. It’s a feeling of both anticipation and dread. I walk in the front door and stare at the front table, looking — of course — for The Book. Is it displayed where it should be? Is there a huge stack of copies (meaning they aren’t selling) or only a short stack of them (meaning the store didn’t order enough)? Is it even on the front table? Is it in one of the front bookcases or has it already been banished to the Siberia of “shelved in section”?
Then there’s the ordeal of hunting down the manager. Most of them are perfectly nice people, happy to have an author drop in unannounced. But every so often I’ll meet one who really doesn’t want to bother hunting for my books. Or keeps asking what my name is, and do I write fiction or nonfiction? Or tells me, “we can’t have you sign the books because then we can’t return them.” Every so often, one will check the computer and solemnly inform you that your latest sales suck. (Which is something I always suspect anyway.)
About half the time, I walk out of the store feeling demoralized.
So why do I go on the road at all? Why do any of us do it? Why do we put ourselves through this ego-shattering ordeal of visiting bookstores, only to find out that we’re never selling well enough or displayed well enough? That we’ll never have all the readers we hoped we’d have?
Because we’re all driven and compulsive and crazy people, that’s why. We’re convinced that if we don’t do this, our careers are over. We believe that if we just got in our car and drove to every bookstore in America and shook every manager’s hand and signed every copy of every book we ever wrote, we’d achieve our dreams.
And maybe it’s true. Maybe you have to be a compulsive and crazy to make it in this business.
I’ve been at it for ten books now, and it may be true that part of my success is due to the fact that I went out on the road for almost every one of my books. But I also know about authors who spent so much time on the road promoting their books that they never got home to write the next book… and their careers tanked after that. You just can’t be touring while simultaneously writing your next novel. That is, unless your name is Nora Roberts.
What I do know is this: I wish I could just stay home and tell stories. I wish I could stop worrying about reviews and daily sales figures and what my Amazon index is doing. It’s all driving me crazy.
But now it’s time to pack my bag and hit the road.
Allison Brennan enjoys Tess’s latest book!