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ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Lessons learned from book tours

Authors never quite know what to expect when they go on a book tour.
Authors never quite know what to expect when they go on a book tour. - 123RF Stock Photo

It’s that time of year again when authors who have written a new book start on their journey to promote it. We are the equivalent of tiny turtles digging out of the sand and making our way to the ocean. It’s a hazardous journey and many of us don’t make it.

Most writers are odd souls. We spend our lives sitting alone, creating worlds for other people, and have no clue how our supposed genius will be received. Who does that? It’s like standing in the middle of traffic, stark naked, and waiting for people to shout at you. What will they say? Will they like what they see?

Writing a book is scary and it takes guts to send it out into the world. It’s our baby. Please like our baby and, while you’re at it, please like us.

Thirteen years and 10 novels later, I’ve learned a lot about the perils of touring. Firstly, don’t ever try to outshout a diesel engine. My first reading was on a fishing boat in Cape Breton and none of the booksellers could hear a word I said. They were too distracted by the terrific noise, seasickness, the smell of diesel and the woman throwing frozen fish off the boat to the eagles soaring overhead.

Don’t go to a book signing at the mall when a lobster festival is going on in town. The mall’s security guy was the only soul in the place, but we had a great gab anyway.

“I like television. Is your book about television?”

And don’t be foolish like me and bring homemade peanut butter cookies to a book signing as an incentive to stop and browse. A mom whose kids were allergic to peanut butter pointed out my grave error. I stuffed 15 cookies in my mouth instantly before I killed someone. (The thought of throwing them away never occurred to me.)

I’ve been flown across the country by my publishers and had two people show up for a reading. The bookstore staff made a valiant effort to fill the remaining seats, but I wasn’t fooled. I believe it was on that jaunt when I also got stuck hanging onto a lamp pole in the middle of Portage and Main in Winnipeg, while traffic zoomed by on either side of me. I was sure I was dead.

Once, I went to a big bookstore and was told their security guard was going to watch the door. A woman had called in and said I was going to get it because I stole all her book ideas and she was coming down there to clean my clock! Turns out it was a lady from a nursing home, which was a tad disappointing.

I’ve also attended a book reading at a library and couldn’t concentrate at the lectern because I had a bird’s-eye view of three teenagers cleaning off the lunch table that had been set up for the guests. The term ‘locusts’ sprang to mind as I watched their incredible feat before someone finally noticed and sent them packing.

Then there was the time someone got in touch with me after a reading to ask if the ghost that was hovering over my head while I was reading was for me or her. I said her to cheer her up.

A lot of crazy stuff can happen, but also some delightful surprises that you’d never imagine at the start of your writing career. I’ve been asked to be a birthday gift on more than one occasion, to visit people’s homes and even call strangers on special days because they love my books so much.

I’ve had people tell me they take my books to chemotherapy because they want to laugh instead of cry. Or they were never readers, until they opened my books. It’s very humbling to hear things like that and you can’t quite believe it. Readers have chased me down to hug me. I even had a woman want me to sign her T-shirt. I felt like Mick Jagger.

And when the movie of my first novel, Relative Happiness, went to the Cannes Film Festival, it was like getting hit in the face with a codfish. I still don’t believe it happened. I wrote that book in our cold basement to get away from noisy teenagers, wearing a bathrobe, slippers and sometimes gloves, never dreaming anyone would read it. To see it win an Atlantic Film Award for Best Picture in 2015, listing me as a screenwriter, was another codfish slap!

We’ll see what happens on this book tour in September for my new novel, Beholden.

It’s really good! (That’s what they call a plug.)

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