The Old Fashioned Publisher’s Book Tour
Phil Donahue and me!
When A Gift for my Sister hit the stands in May, its marketing was done via the Internet. Traditionally published, Emily Bestler Books, an imprint of Atria, part of the Simon and Schuster publishing empire, sent out promo packets to print and Internet reviewers via email. My appearances were local. Two years ago, when The Christmas Cookie Club launched , I was told I was going on a blog tour. “What’s a blog tour?” I asked. The good news: I could do it at home in my bathrobe, at my own schedule.
They didn’t know I would miss the thrills of the old-fashioned book tour, back when radio and television had local programs, and authors journeyed from city to city promoting books and meeting fans. This was more likely for nonfiction books if the subject was interesting to the TV or listening audience. I was lucky; two of my books were on hot topics. Sex! (Keep the Home Fires Burning: How to have an Affair with your Spouse and Infidelity: a Love Story). I appeared on most of the big time and local TV shows, and many (well over 100) radio shows.
My first appearance was a baptism by fire: Donahue, the national talk show. I had given birth a few months previously, still nursing and still carrying extra baby weight. It was the first time I was away from my baby overnight.
I was both thrilled and terrified. The producer flew me in the night before and housed me in a hotel with the other guests for the next day’s program. I tossed and turned all night answering every question in the world anyone could ask and hoped my baby was sleeping through the night. I added an extra layer of pads in my bra to catch seeping milk, afraid of leaking two wet spots on my dress.
Donahue is magnetically warm, wearing jeans in the green room, prepping us for our appearance. I was made up, powdered to prevent glare. So far, no stains on my dress. I knew there would be no crying baby in the audience. I didn’t even want to think about one.
The audience, prepped to be thrilled that I was there, madly applauded as I walked across the stage and took my seat. Suddenly, I was a celebrity. I glanced down at my dress at every commercial. The pads worked. My fellow panelist’s hands visibly shook throughout the entire hour.
“Don’t be so polite,” Donahue told me. “Interrupt the other panelists when you have something you want to say.” I took his advice. By then, too, the audience asked questions during the breaks. A connection was established and a sense of exhilaration took wing. “I can do this. I am doing this,” I thought. “I’m actually loving it!”
When I watched the show, I realized that TV takes everything down a notch. The shuddering hands and arms of the man sitting next to me were not visible. My excited euphoria was dampened to cheerfulness.
Donahue and Oprah love their audience. You feel it the minute you sit on the set. It’s not about you, or even them. It’s about the people: both the live audience and the unseen millions watching. Since this focus on people is right up my alley, too, I was thoroughly thrilled being on their shows.
The publisher’s publicist books the shows, the hotels, the flights. All I had to do is be away from my kids, reschedule my psychotherapy patients, pack, take a cab to the airport, look as beautiful as possible and sound smart and enthusiastic. Difficult enough!
This is what a day is like: rise early, five-thirty or six, and shower, dress in my new TV appropriate wardrobe, do my hair, grab coffee. I throw everything in my suitcase, police the room, wait for the hotel phone to ring informing me the publisher’s representative is in the lobby. However, on my very first day, the representative is late! I had received an itinerary with all my appointments and am supposed to be picked up at six-thirty for a radio show at seven. It’s five minutes to seven. I panic. I reach the publicist at home; the representative calls and tells me that the radio show is cancelled because the host learned I’d be his competitors guest at eight-fifteen.
Sometimes the host has read the book, or skimmed through a chapter since the book and a publicity packet has been sent from the publisher with a list of suggested questions. If I’m lucky, the show accepts telephone calls from listeners. I love talking to the audience, and having a chance to answer their questions, maybe even help them. It’s why I’m a therapist.
I’m impressed by the radio hosts verbal juggling, accompanied by a finger ballet as they slide tapes or CD’s, push buttons for various music interludes, advertisements, etc. They are enthusiastic about everything, time their speech to the millisecond as they watch the clock then plug in an ad or go to the news. They’re able to BS about any topic if something falls apart.
Then a later morning radio show and drive toward the newspaper. By now it’s 10:00 and on the way, we buy bagels and coffee. We stop at a bookstore; I’m introduced to the owner and sign the available copies of my book. The print interview is a full hour. The interviewer is hilarious and has actually read the book. He gets me chuckling and the photographer snaps a picture of me laughing so hard my mouth is wide open in glee.
Look at those Glasses!
Off for a noon TV show. TV is the apex of these tours; the presumption is more people will be exposed to your book and you can hold it up for them to see the cover. Sometimes there’s an audience, but usually no televised interaction. For a noon TV show, I’d be on for fifteen to thirty minutes.
A little more about TV. I did many of the big TV shows that were popular during that time like Donahue, Sally Jesse Raphael, Sonya Freedman, and Oprah. Did Oprah two times. It helps that they have make up men to make you look spectacular. Somehow, Oprah’s make up man, Michael, gave me a full upper lip, and lectured me that my eyebrows were the frames of my soul. When you walk on the stage, the audience roars with the thrill of you. For a few seconds you almost believe you’re a star. For a moment you are. It’s quite a different sense of yourself than sitting in front of a computer in your bathrobe madly typing. Because of the breaks and the fact the audience gets to ask questions, a real dialogue develops between you and the audience. I looked forward to commercials.
After the TV show are more radio shows. Sometimes these are longer talk shows with call-ins. Each interval between the TV, radio shows are timed to the minute so that I can be driven from radio station to TV to newspaper with a few minutes to spare etc.
Then, we stop for dinner at a local restaurant. I don’t realize how famished I am.
At around seven, I hit a bookstore for a reading. A few people are already nestled in the chairs, coats draped around them. I carry my book well marked with both Post-Its as well as words underlined so I don’t read in a monotone. I meet my audience, my fans, some with personal concerns and sign the books.
Unfortunate things happen: I was supposed to appear on a big national morning TV show. The day before, doing too many push-ups and holding my breath with the strain, a blood vessel ruptured in my eye. My kids told me I looked like Satan. The doctor could do nothing to make my eye white again. I flew into NY for the express purpose of the show. That night, Siamese twins were born: the TV show would try to fit me in, they said. But they never did, and I think my blood eye was part of that. My editor, there for the interview, sags in disappointment, but pretends to be cheery.
In one day, I could do four radio shows, a print interview, two TV shows, and a book reading. I couldn’t do it with out the publisher’s rep driving, prepping me about the hosts, reminding me I need lipstick. It’s hard being ‘on’ fourteen hours a day, smiling, talking intelligently, saying the same things with renewed enthusiasm and novelty, and somehow staying well groomed. I’m drained at the end, tired of answering the same questions with fresh emotion. My cheeks are weary from smiling. I just want to read a good night story to my children and snuggle.
Then I’m off to the airport for the next city. On the plane, behind me, sits the radio jockey from my last show. We’re both going to DC. He’s commuting to his job and going home for a long weekend, missing his wife and children. He asks if I’d be willing to do more radio shows via my phone.
“Sure,” I tell him.
“Hey, I don’t know if I should tell you this, ‘cause it’s not really p.c., but at the end of every week we vote and you won the most attractive woman, well sexiest, of the week.”
“What?” Maybe I was the only woman. I would hope I’d be voted the most interesting.
“This week, it’s actually quite an honor because you beat out the playmate of the year.”
“The producer thought you were really hot. And interesting.”
And no one could see her sexiness. It was radio, I think.
Ah, Scheherazade. Talking is sexy!
When I arrive home, I drag the garbage to the curb. A book tour is thrilling and exhausting, anxiety provoking and gratifying, but then it’s over. The enormous stress and enormous fun ends. Ordinary life resumes its daily grind, excitement, and sweet domesticity.
Does that kind of tour increase sales more than the blogging/Internet tours that are common today? I don’t know.
In both, the fun for me is hearing from people. Now, your fans can easily reach you, neither they nor you need to go farther than your computer. I read their the various thoughts and feelings about A Gift for my Sister. Whether a tweet, an email message, a question or comment from the live TV audience, it’s gratifying learning the ripples your books make.
This piece first appeared as a guest blog as part of BestSeller’s Sandbox with Terri Guiliano Long. Thank you, Terri for the great fun we had!