For the last nine years, since Riding The Bus With My Sister came out, people have said to me, “Boy, your book tour is lasting a long time!” or “Don’t you get tired of being on book tour?” For the last month, since The Story of Beautiful Girl came out, people have said, “Please come to my city on your book tour.”
And over and over I have the same answer. I’m not on book tour. I’ve never been on book tour. Yes, I travel all over the country talking about my books, but I’m not on book tour.
Then I get the blank looks.
When I first got to college, every professor said the same thing: “Define your terms.” So, what is a book tour, and why am I not on one?
A book tour is when an author’s publisher schedules a series of events, usually taking the form of readings in bookstores or other author-oriented venues, in a limited number of cities over a period of two or three weeks. The timing of a book tour usually coincides with the release of a new book. The publisher pays for everything – hotels, flights, food, cabs. The publisher sets up interviews with local press. The publisher sends an editor or publicist along. The author receives no payment.
This is not what I do. I came close to it this past winter, when Grand Central Publishing, the fabulous publisher of The Story of Beautiful Girl, sent me on a “pre-sale tour.” But as those of you who’ve been following this blog know, it didn’t fit the definition above. It happened months prior to the book’s release, not after. There were no bookstore readings, just private dinners with booksellers in restaurants. (The photo to the left is the dinner in Ann Arbor, with people from Borders.) The purpose was to generate behind-the-scenes excitement to lay the groundwork for book sales, but no books were actually sold. (You can read more about this in the many posts I wrote during the pre-sale tour, starting with my first city, Washington, DC, in January.)
Pre-sale tours are very, very rare. And, contrary to popular perception, book tours are only slightly less rare.
This is because publishers almost never spend the money for book tours except for huge, huge authors. And that’s because the era when readers flocked to bookstores to hear an author do a reading is long since over, if it ever existed. For my first two books, a collection of stories, Little Nightmares, Little Dreams, in 1990, and a novel, The Magic Touch, in 1994, I traveled to bookstores – and, of course, since I was a total unknown, it was on my own dime. If the stores were local and I worked very hard at doing outreach, sending cards and letters to friends and acquaintances, I could get a sizable turnout. It helped that for those first few books, I also did my readings in costume, using actors and props, creating something I called literary performance art. (My next post, a guest blog for Uppercasewoman.com that I’ll link to here, will be about this. For now, I’ll show you a photo of my flag dress. I’ll post a photo of the candy dress and the paper dress in that guest blog.) But if the stores weren’t local, I couldn’t get anyone.
This happened once in North Carolina and once in Florida, when well-meaning friends or family set up events for me at their favorite local store and then no one came. Just about every author out there has had this happen, but that doesn’t make it any less demoralizing. And, given that most authors pay their own way, the financial incentive to avoid repeating such dispiriting occasions is very high.
As a result, I mostly stopped doing bookstore readings unless they were local. This personal policy was reinforced when I ran events for a bookstore, which I began before my third book came out in 1997. I saw then how impossible it was to get readers to attend events if the author didn’t have strong local connections or wasn’t a household name. I watched several literary writers, some who’d won prestigious awards, get horribly depressed when only three people attended their events. I knew how they felt, and I told them so. But sympathy, even with a free cup of tea, rarely stemmed their sense of despair.
Yet I’ve been on the road for Riding The Bus With My Sister since it came out in 2002, and I’ve been on the road for The Story of Beautiful Girl since it came out in May. If I’m not on book tour, what am I doing?
Back to defining one’s terms. When Riding The Bus With My Sister came out, I started getting asked to do keynote speeches at conferences, gala dinners, fund-raisers, etc. That is, big, often annual, events hosted by non-profit agencies, advocacy organizations, universities and high schools, government agencies, hospitals, trade associations, etc. The event was going to happen anyway but they needed a featured speaker whose name would help induce their members to attend the event. Since Riding The Bus With My Sister was becoming a prominent title, especially in the disability community, public transit industry, and places interested in diversity awareness, I received requests to be that speaker. These came from places all over the country, from Florida to Alaska, California to New Hampshire. I solicited none of them; they just found me. And all of them said I could bring in a bookstore to sell my books at the event – to audiences of a hundred, three hundred, maybe even seven hundred, who were already in the room, predisposed to want my work. So I could still help generate revenue for bookstores, even if my event was what’s called an “off-site.”
At first I was surprised that these requests kept coming, but then I just got used to it. I also enjoyed doing the talks enormously, and discovered I had a facility for it. And – unlike the book tour model – I got paid for it. My hosts would cover all my expenses plus a speaking fee. Indeed, my speaking fees became a substantial part of how I earned my living.
None of this was planned. I still saw myself as an author. Yet I’d inadvertently entered a new profession. I’d become a professional speaker.
Most people have never even heard about professional speakers, but there are tens or even hundreds of thousands of us. Having met a few others while on my travels, I’ve ascertained that most of us fall into this career, usually as an outgrowth of some other career that catapulted us to prominence, from business to medicine to the arts to, of course, politics. The better known the name, the higher the speaking fee. Some people book themselves, as I did for the first several years; others hook up with firms who do their booking – as I did, after the movie of Riding The Bus With My Sister aired, and I had way more requests to speak than I could possibly handle. I found a wonderful man named Marc Goldman, at Damon Brooks Associates, who handles speakers who talk about disabilities. (Some of his other clients are Geri Jewell, Temple Grandin, and Laurie Potter from Glee.) You can read about him and his firm here.
So since 2002, yes, I have traveled to forty states and done hundreds of talks, and at every one of them a bookstore has come to sell books. But I’ve done this on my own, without the involvement of a publisher. My talks are also talks, not readings. And just about every one leaves me elated. It’s an entirely different model from a book tour.
I would still do bookstore events under the right circumstances. I know from my pre-sale tour that there are incredible booksellers whose stores have strong customer loyalty, and that when they run events, the seats get filled. Some of these booksellers have asked if I’d go to their stores, and if I could find a way to do so that was financially feasible, I would. I just know it would be a wonderful experience for everyone.
But as our world undergoes many changes because of the online revolution, I increasingly think that the approach I lucked into, of writing and publishing books, then going out to talk about the book as a professional speaker with a bookstore available to sell the books right then and there, is likely to emerge as one of the more sustainable models. The publisher doesn’t put up money it doesn’t have, the author doesn’t go to events with zero people in attendance, the gala dinner has its headliner speaker, and the bookstore sells books.There are some catches. Authors have to have gregarious personalities. Their books, whether fiction or nonfiction, have to be of interest to the kinds of organizations who need speakers. Their family and job responsibilities have to be light, or at least flexible. And they have to feel reasonably comfortable with the complications, discomforts, and irrational, unpredictable nature of modern air travel. So this model is not for everyone.
But it has been for me. And I hope it continues to be. Given that I just returned from two weeks on the road to do talks about The Story of Beautiful Girl, and I have lots of requests coming in for the fall, I have to say it looks promising.
So, to get back to those questions.
How long will I be doing this? For as long as people invite me.
Have I gotten tired of it? Not in the slightest.
Will I be coming through your city? Quite possibly. One of the great advantages to being a professional speaker is that anyone at any moment could invite you to any city. As you’ll see below, in the last two weeks, I was in Stamford, CT; St. Paul, MN; National Harbor, MD; Washington, DC; Baltimore, MD; and Conshohocken, PA – and, whenever I could, I met up with friends who lived in those areas. Coming up later this summer and fall, I already know I’ll be in Kentucky; Green Bay, WI; Sioux Falls, SD; Toronto; Los Angeles; and Atlantic City. (None of which I’ve gotten onto my website just yet. Give me a few days.) And that’s just for starters.
I might not wear costumes anymore. I might not be able to make personal plans months in advance, so forget things like subscriptions to theater companies or the symphony. And I might see a lot more public art in airports than I do in museums.
But by being an author on an ongoing Not-A-Book-Tour tour, I get to see the world, and meet like-minded people, and help inspire them in their own lives. I get to share messages. I get to develop friendships all over the country. I get to sell books – long, long after those few weeks after publication.
And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to meet you.
Here’s what’s happened with The Story of Beautiful Girl in the last two weeks. I’ll give the news first, then the photos of my many events – including a rally on Capitol Hill, where I shared the stage with a senator.
The Story of Beautiful Girl received a tremendous review in the Washington Post. “This novel is the author’s gift to those who never had a chance to speak for themselves. [It is] part love story, part mystery, part social commentary….Readers are likely to emerge from ‘The Story of Beautiful Girl’ with a new level of empathy for those who were once hidden away — and for all those living with a disability.” You can read it here.
Borders launched an e-book club, choosing The Story of Beautiful Girl for their first title. As Borders says on its blog, “All you need to do is download the eBook (or use the actual book) and start reading. We will add posts (starting 6/15/11) that will add some extras about the book (inspiration, pictures, etc.) and some questions about what we’ve read so far that everyone can chime in about. At the end of the book (probably 6/30/11), we’re going to have a Facebook chat with the author that everyone is invited to join in for.” You can read their initial message about the club, and also start reading the posts with the extra material, by clicking here.The public radio show Voices In The Family, which is broadcast out of WHYY-FM in Philadelphia and is hosted by Dr. Dan Gottlieb, also launched a book club, and also chose The Story of Beautiful Girl for its first title. Readers are asked to read the book before Dr. Gottlieb interviews me live, on Mon., June 27th, at noon. This will be a call-in show, so please call in with questions. You can listen to Voices In The Family live by tuning into 90.9 FM in the Philadelphia area, or going to the website for WHYY, which you can find here.
Sun Buzz Magazine, in the United Kingdom, reviewed the book, saying, “A moving and disturbing tale of love and loyalty. And you might cry.”
There were a number of terrific blog reviews, too. Here are four.
The Betty and Boo Chronicles begins with this extraordinary comparison: “Every once in awhile, a novel comes along with the power to significantly change one’s perspective while simultaneously being a beacon of hope for people who have been forgotten, who are disenfranchised, and who remain on the fringes of society. It happened with To Kill a Mockingbird, the classic novel by Harper Lee that illuminated race relations in the Deep South. And it has the potential to happen again (as I hope and pray it does) with The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon.” You can read the full review here.
Kayla the Bookworm says, “The plot is 100% original. I don’t think I have read or heard of a book like this before, nor read something like this ever in my life. The forty years that this book covers is filled with magnificence, desolation, lightheartedness, and wonderment. You think you know what is going to happen, but you will be blown away by what is truly in store. Rachel Simon truly created a piece of magic that should be on everyone’s bookshelf.” You can read the full review here.
Thin Places: Faith, Family, and Disability, by Amy Julia Becker, discusses the spiritual aspects of the book. It begins, “I stayed up late every night this week reading The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon. It’s no great surprise that I loved it.” And it concludes, “Read this novel for a story that gives a glimpse of humanity in its basest depravity and its most glorious possibilities.” You can read the full review here.
The blog My Zen Nana has a short but superlative review that says, “an amazing heart-filled tale of love and triumph over the most challenging obstacles life can throw across our path. Without sentimentality or cliche….she gets it right — every detail, every nuance, every facial expression, grunt, punch and childlike painting….Beautifully written, I will hold this story in my heart for a long long time. It will remind me that there are always bright spots of genuine love amid the cold harsh realities of human life. The full review is here.
Lastly, I wrote a short essay that will appear nowhere but on the Amazon.com page for The Story of Beautiful Girl. In fact, it’s called an Amazon Exclusive Essay. It addresses some of the top questions people keep asking me about the book. You can read it by going to this link.
In the last two weeks, I’ve traveled up and down the East Coast, and to the Midwest and back. I’ve spoken at a range of events, from an author luncheon to disability-related conferences to a rally on Capitol Hill to a house reception. The photos below will take you through the journey – otherwise known as my Not-A-Book-Tour Tour.
The Author Luncheon – Stamford, CT – Thurs., June 2, 2011
The Friends of Ferguson Library host a lavish author luncheon every year, inviting the public and giving them the opportunity to meet major authors. It was incredible to be on a bill with Barbara Delinsky, author of nineteen New York Times bestsellers, and Oscar Andrew Hammerstein, grandson of the great lyricist Oscar Hammerstein and author of The Hammersteins. I was also lucky enough to get to Stamford the evening before the event, which gave me the time to see my old friend, Cybele Eidenschenk, and a new friend, Barbara Thomas, who has interviewed me for a podcast that will soon be available through the website of the Darien Library.
The Annual Conference of the AAIDD (American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities)
St. Paul., MN – Mon., June 6, 2011
I flew to St. Paul two days after I returned from Connecticut. The day I arrived was gorgeous, and my hotel looked right out onto the Mississippi River. My friend Greg actually flew up from Kansas City to see me (as well as his mother, who lives in St. Paul). We went out to dinner, then did a little sight-seeing. The next day I saw some old friends and made new ones at the conference. My talk was part of a double-bill with Dan Habib, a father and very talented documentary filmmaker. You might know his film Including Samuel, about inclusive education. He spoke about his follow-up film, which further explores that material. About 150 people attended our talks. I then signed books for an hour.
The Annual Conference for ANCOR (American Network of Community Options and Resources)
National Harbor, MD – Tues., June 7, 2011
Unfortunately, the AAIDD and ANCOR conferences coincided, so I, like many other people, flew between the two. In my case, I rose at 3:30 AM in St. Paul the morning after my talk, caught a cab to the airport (talking with the cab driver all the way, of course), flew to Washington, and then did a talk that afternoon for ANCOR. Incredibly, I managed to be awake! And that was very helpful, because many of the 200 people in the audience got onto the book signing line, making it last for two hours. Afterwards, I had dinner with Barbara Merrill, with the MENTOR Network, who I’d met a few weeks ago at the NASDDDS conference in Philadelphia. It was a fine day, but very demanding.
Rally for Community Living
Capitol Hill, Washington, DC – Wed., June 8, 2011
But no rest for the exhausted! Because early the next morning, I jumped into a cab and went to Capitol Hill to speak at a rally. Co-sponsored by ANCOR, the Direct Care Alliance, and the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals, the Rally for Community Living called on Congress and the White House to adopt policies that support the right of individuals with disabilities to live and receive services in their communities, instead of in institutions. Nearly 150 people attended, including agencies, direct support professionals, and self-advocates. Despite the high temperature and sauna-like humidity, it was thrilling!
Lunch with people from UCP (United Cerebral Palsy)
Washington, DC – Wed., June 8, 2011
After the rally, I zipped across town to have lunch with Mike Hill and Lauren Cozzi from United Cerebral Palsy. We discussed many ideas for how we could collaborate, since our missions overlap in so many ways. As you can see, I was dealing with hat hair by then, as well as going on adrenalin. But the air-conditioning, and more iced tea, helped.
Baltimore, MD – Wed., June 8, 2011
The meeting at UCP was so lively and fun, it invigorated me, and left me in great spirits. So I didn’t feel tired or hot at all when I then took the Metro to Union Station, where I met up with self-advocate Liz Weintraub. Together we rode the train up to Baltimore, where my friend Nancy Weiss was throwing a house reception for me. Although I kept thinking I might not get through the evening, the excitement among Nancy’s friends, and Nancy’s wonderful spread of food, ensured that I never faded. Fortunately a student from Temple University, Kelly George, attended, and when she drove back to Philadelphia late that night, she brought me home to Delaware. Unfortunately, I was so dizzy from such intense travel by then, I left my camera at Nancy’s house. I would have posted this blog much sooner, but she had to ship my camera – and all these photos – back to me.
Annual Banquet for the POTA District V (Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association)
Conshohocken, PA – Tues., June 14, 2011
But I wasn’t quite done! After a few days – when I wrote up the Exclusive Essay for Amazon and the guest blog for Uppercasewoman.com, did an interview with the News Journal, worked out the details of the e-book club with people at Borders, and did the same for the Voices In the Family book club – I drove to Conshohocken, PA for one more talk. This was for one of the most active groups of occupational therapists in Pennsylvania. My friends Marilyn Paige and Skip Decker attended, and, since my camera was still with UPS, they took these photos. These shots might be the last new pictures you see on this blog for a while – because after the intensity of these last two weeks, I need to take a break.