Book-Tour: a verb meaning to live in airports, airplanes and hotels while whisking about the country, drinking in gulps of countryside that remains beyond reach. Also: to connect with audiences across the country about a book you have written that is very close to your heart and soul and to feel each “thank you for writing this” as a deep and lasting warmth.
Three days ago, I finally sat in a chair and put my feet up in my own house and looked at my husband and my dogs and said, “Yes. I am home.” I have just completed my first book tour. It was at once a most exhilarating and excruciatingly exhausting experience. It made me realize fifty times a day that I am no longer young. It made me realize a hundred times a day that I am among the luckiest people in the world. Although sometimes, lugging suitcases up stairs, rushing across poorly marked airport terminals to make flights, or praying frantically that I would not get lost or crash my rental car on the way to a reading, the former realization crowded out the latter. A wise and experienced author, referring to Book-Touring, told me, “No good book goes unpunished.” In my darker moments, I thought I must have written an extremely good book. She also gave me many good hints for making the process easier. I was in the midst of learning the hard way everything that could be done wrong, I did. Perhaps this post will save some angst for those lucky enough to embark on a similar ritual. Below is a partial list of mistakes to avoid.
1. In the weeks before your tour starts, believe that you will have armloads of free time, so take on as many projects as you can fit on a ten-page to-do list. Let your agent talk you into sending a draft of your next novel. You have not yet completed this draft. You are not even close. Still: promise.
2. Don’t sleep. Embark on this journey as sleep-deprived as possible. You want to deepen those dark circles under your eyes that make you extremely self-conscious about your age and your appearance and require lots of concealer. You have never worn makeup before. Learning the art will involve many mistakes. Don’t cry when you stare at the clown face in the mirror; your wrongly applied mascara will run, and you will not yet have learned the secrets of removing that makeup you don’t know how to apply. Also, the stress and sleep-deprivation will ensure that you are sick before the end of your first week of Book-Touring. This, in turn, will make you sound like Mickey Mouse when you read your serious work. Sickness lingers. Honey is hard to find; don’t even think about packing it.
3. Pack the night before you leave. Of course, with all your projects, you have left no time for packing, so simply empty all your drawers into a suitcase the size of a bathtub and the largest carry-on you can find. In a fit of self-deluded optimism, take lots of workout clothes; surely, you will have plenty of time to build up a sweat in those tiny, cramped hotel fitness rooms or go for a run in the dead of winter through unfamiliar city streets at 5:00 a.m. Take hiking boots and four changes of shoes. Take seventeen books. Five heavy sweaters, even if it is summer. It will give you another workout opportunity when you have to lug two suitcases up a long, steep, flight of stairs in a quaint B&B.
4. Forget to pack the charger for your computer or something equally as indispensable.
5. It doesn’t matter how you pack all those clothes you will never wear, because there is a law of physics you neglected to learn: the one thing you want is at the bottom of the suitcase, requiring you to dump its contents onto the floor before you have to get to the airport and before you rush off to another reading. A meal? Forget it!
6. Spend your three free seconds unpacking and repacking, ignoring the law of physics you have just learned.
7. Crumple to the floor when there are a total of three people who have come to your reading, two of whom are your old high school friends.
8. Cry when you call home or check in with your publicist.
9. Do remember this every day: the tour will come to an end, and in some ways, you will even be sad when this happens.
I have learned much on my tour. Next time, I will pack lightly and efficiently. I will take a backpack and a carry-on filled with a few clothes that can be easily washed in a hotel sink and dry quickly. They will be scrunchable and wrinkle proof, and who cares if I wear the same outfit in ten different cities? I will take scarves to add variety. One pair of running shoes and one pair of comfortable Girl Shoes. I will approach the weeks before the tour as I would a taper before a race: rest, eat right, gather strength. Note: I rarely tapered, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?
But it is the spiritual growth that has made all the petty angst pale in comparison. I have reconnected with old friends who had long ago drifted from the sphere of my life. The connections have been profound, and I have learned that friendship can endure decades of separation. I have made many new friends, profound connections with people who took the time to come to my readings and who care about the same issues of social justice that drove me to write my book, that inspire me to keep writing. I have learned many new stories that have touched my soul. When one person comes up to me and says, “Thank you for writing this book,” it balances out a host of airport nervous breakdowns. When I take the long view, when I rise above the day-to-day crises, I know that it is true: I am among the luckiest people on earth.
Naomi Benaron earned an MFA from Antioch University and an MS in earth sciences from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She teaches for UCLA Writers’ Program and is a mentor for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. An advocate for African refugees in her community, she has worked extensively with genocide survivors. Her novel Running the Rift won the 2010 Bellwether Prize for a work addressing issues of social justice. She is also an Ironman triathlete.