Forty Rules For Being On Book Tour (for The Story of Beautiful Girl) (in Wichita, mostly)
1. Pack only what you need because…
2. The more you have, the longer it takes to repack. And since you repack every day…
3. Decide at Stop #2 that you have to ship some things home. Go to the Fed Ex guy at the Hyatt in Chicago and have a friendly conversation while he boxes up things you no longer need. Walk away, feeling good that you’re just fine wearing the same 4, not 5, outfits…
4. Until you discover as you’re leaving Chicago that you still have trouble zipping your suitcases because…
5. Every time you repack, air gets captured from your hotel room so the clothes inside puff up like a pastry, making it more and more impossible to zip the bag closed, so…
6. Begin an internal debate about whether you should ask your very nice publisher to cover the cost of shipping not once but twice, then decide it won’t be so bad if you use the post office the next time. So…
7. As soon as you get to Wichita (Stop #3), ask the pretty young woman at the registration desk how to get to the nearest post office. Recognize as she stumbles through the answer that she has probably used email and Fed Ex her whole life and thinks of stamps and parcel post about as often as you think of thatched roofs. Understand that she does not walk anywhere and is confused about giving you directions that don’t involve four wheels. So just step outside and…
9. Go inside the post office. Accidentally cut in front of the line because you don’t understand the flow of traffic. Be embarrassed again. Go back in the line. Box up your clothes. Tell yourself, Who needs 4 outfits when 3 will do. So what if your blog photos reveal that you’re a fashion minimalist? Careful readers of your blog already know that. Besides, are they here with you, huffing and puffing to close your stupid suitcase every time you leave another city? What right do they have to criticize your attire anyway? And let’s face it: if your blog readers see the same outfits over and over, and think less of you for it, well, that’s the price you pay for not obeying Rule #1.
10. Laugh at the post office clerk’s really bad puns. Realize you weren’t forcing the laugh at all. You laugh a lot at your husband’s really bad puns. Decide this has prepared you well for living in the Midwest.
11. Walk around Wichita. Miss your husband. Miss your sister. Miss your father.
12. But feel lucky you are on book tour. This way when your airplane seatmate asks why you’re on your way to Wichita, you don’t have to go through a long song and dance about writing books that led you to give talks in the disability community. You can just say, “I’m on book tour,” and she smiles, content at knowing what that means. Even though she doesn’t really know what that means. It means you’ve packed too much. It means you’re eager to get to Austin (Stop #4) because you’ll have an extra day and will be able to send nine days of dirty clothes to the laundry service. It means being driven all over the place by media escorts, except for here in Wichita, where it seems there are no media escorts. You are on your own. You’ve’ve been told you need to take a cab to the bookstore. Notice as you head back to your hotel that there are no cabs on the streets.
13. But there is a woman like your sister Beth, who comes up to you when you’re a few blocks from your hotel and asks you how to get to the bus station. Feel charmed by the coincidence, but realize you can’t answer her. Feel relief that the one other pedestrian on this block knows the answer.
14. Return to your hotel. Shower fast. You have only 45 minutes before you’re meeting your next person. It is not a media escort. It is a woman named Barbara Rixtine and her husband Jim. Months ago, when you saw Barbara’s review of The Story of Beautiful Girl in the Lincoln Journal Star in Lincoln, Nebraska, you wrote and thanked her. You became Facebook friends. When she learned about the tour, she said she and Jim would make the four hour drive to see you. You are amazed and grateful. You are also embarrassed to realize that you are secretly hoping they will drive you to the bookstore.
15. Come downstairs to the lobby. Meet Barbara and Jim. Sit down and tell yourself that even though you slept only four hours last night, you will be fine with a cup of green tea. Drink green tea as you talk with Barbara, whose goal in life is to read great books and talk them up to other readers. Wish you had hours to talk with her. Realize the tea didn’t give you much of a jolt but decide you’ll be okay anyway. Carefully broach the topic of getting a ride to the bookstore. Be relieved when Barbara and Jim say yes.
16. Get in Barbara’s sporty little convertible. Stay calm when the directions Jim received at the hotel lead to a dead end. Why get nervous about showing up late? Especially when what you’re really nervous about is turnout. Aside from Barbara and Jim, and a lovely young woman, Sara, who hosted you for a talk in Wichita a few years ago, you don’t know if anyone else will come. Remember what you used to say when you ran bookstore events in Princeton, NJ: “Twenty-five is respectable.” Remember what Don, your media escort in Chicago said: “Twenty is considered a success.” Remember that Don also said, “There isn’t a writer in the world who hasn’t done an event where no one shows up at all.”
17. Get to Watermark Books a few minutes before 7 PM. See Beth, the events person at the store, who greets you with a smile. Apologize about getting there moments before the event. Feel heartened when she says, “I never worry about that.” Feel even more heartened when a doctor comes up to you, says he saw you on the PBS NewsHour a week ago, and was glad to see you’d be in town. Wonder if all doctors in Wichita are this friendly.
18. Step into the events area. Let breath out as you see your turnout is respectable.
19. Hide your astonishment and relief. Act like you never worry about turnout.
20. Notice a man with your sister’s disability is in the front row with his mother. Notice several people in the audience are smiling as they look at you. Ask how many people have already begun The Story of Beautiful Girl. Almost fall over when hands go up for half the audience.
21. Talk about your book. Take questions. Feel a sense of meaning and purpose. Know you are making a difference.
22. Sign books. Hug people. Pose for pictures.
23. Feel lucky to be here.
25. Get confused when the events person, Beth, asks you to come downstairs to “sign our wall.” Follow her down to a large employee room where the plaster walls are all covered with the signatures of famous authors. Some have even drawn cartoons. Feel in awe of all who’ve been here. Stare at the pen Beth hands you. Find it hard to believe that you’re being asked to sign the wall, too.
26. Sign the wall.
27. Enjoy Beth’s company as she drives you back to your hotel and then offers to take you to dinner. Be pleased that Beth often takes the authors to dinner. Be even more pleased that she tells you she requested you come to her store. She tells you book tours are a publisher’s gift to the booksellers. It shows they’re really in a partnership with bookstores. Decide you like that explanation.
29. Wonder if you’ll see her again. Hug goodbye.
30. Go back to your room. Repack.
31. Wonder how you could have even more air in your suitcase than when you left Chicago this morning. Wonder if you could possibly ship a third box home. Who needs 3 outfits when 2 will do? Hmm. You. Though let’s see if you feel that way by the time you leave Austin (Stop #4) or Miami (Stop #5). Will you curse any of your shipping decisions by the time you get to Madison, CT (Stop #10)?
32. Check email. See fifty new messages. Try to prioritize. Decide you’re too tired. Ignore that you’ve been to tired for nights. Ignore that you have 134 email messages on your Yahoo account, 194 on your Gmail. Not to mention Facebook and Twitter. Close the laptop.
33. Fall into bed. Look forward to doing laundry when you get to Austin. Overlook the minor detail that you’ll be there over a weekend. Never consider that when you arrive at the hotel in Austin the next night, after a day of flying, you will be told, “We don’t do laundry service on the weekend, or dry cleaning. Here are some quarters,” and you will discover your usual sunny resilience failing you, and you will get grumpy, and you will feel lonely, and you will call your husband late at night in yet another hotel room and complain to him and want to go home. But you will have another week before that can happen. And do you really need laundry service anyway? Don, the media escort in Chicago, said author tours happen for “the creme de la creme,” and even though you told yourself not to puff up like a pastry, maybe you let it get to you. But you do laundry at home, and you’ll do it on the road. Why not? You can always bring your laptop to the laundry room in the hotel in Austin and answer email there. But after you load the laundry, you decide to write this blog instead. So while your clothes are spinning behind you, you come up with rules for being on book tour. And you realize that although much of the list is specific to you, the last six items are universally applicable:
34. Make the most of every situation.
35. Smile at the sweet coincidences and forgive the unfortunate shortcomings.
36. Accept that air will swell every suitcase.
37. Remember you can ship back clothes but you can’t ship away ego. Don’t let your head swell in the first place.
38. Laugh at puns.
39. Call your family.
40. Sing whenever you feel like singing, even if no one is listening.