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The Book Tour – An Author's Dream (or Nightmare?)

by Rose Madeline Mula

So you finally finished writing your book — and even more exciting, you nailed a publisher! Congratulations!

Now comes the fun part you’ve been dreaming about: The glamorous book tour. You’ll be jetting cross-country visiting every major metropolis in every state. You’ll be met at each stop by a limousine and a solicitous PR rep who will shepherd you to all your TV appearances and signing events where eager crowds will be lined up to meet you and have you autograph your book, mountains of which are prominently displayed everywhere.

Exhausting? Sure. But each evening you can relax in a whirlpool bath in a luxurious hotel suite. Would you like a celebratory glass of champagne? Perhaps a succulent filet mignon with truffles? A masseuse to knead away your writer’s cramp from signing all those books? No problem. Just put it all on your publisher’s tab.

Or not. Unless you’re Dan Brown, James Patterson, Nora Ephron, or the latest celebrity to pen a children’s book. (Have you noticed how they’re all doing that?) If, instead, like me only your family and friends readily recognize your name, the scenario is a bit different:

About a year and a half ago, I finished writing my book, a collection of humorous essays titled, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun*. After an extensive search for a publisher (which actually began a decade before when I first hatched the book idea) I eventually found one willing to take on my project — a publishing company in New Orleans, Louisiana. Hurray! My troubles were over!

Not quite.

After fine-tuning my manuscript to conform to my publisher’s editorial requirements, I shipped it off early on the morning of August 29, 2005. A few hours later, hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans. For several weeks I lived in limbo, unable to reach my publishing company by phone or e-mail. I feared it had gone under (literally). Fortunately, however, it survived, despite losing one-third of its staff who fled Katrina and did not return. The situation was chaotic; but after several months of regrouping, rehiring and reorganizing, they finally published my book in May, 2006. Now, thought I, I can relax and wait for the royalty checks.

Silly me. I had forgotten that unless you’re famous (or, even better, infamous), your book will not sell itself. You must promote it aggressively. I’ve been doing just that for the past several months by speaking at various libraries, senior organizations and church groups, as well as participating in bookstore signing events arranged by my publisher’s tireless sales reps.

Recently, buoyed by spectacularly successful receptions at two local bookstores (to which I shamelessly corralled everyone I’ve known since grammar school), I set off for a mini book tour to upstate New York — Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo — cities chosen because I have relatives in the area and therefore would incur no hotel expenses. Except it didn’t work out quite that way. My accommodations with my niece and family in Syracuse were secure; but my cousin, who had planned to host me during my Rochester/Buffalo signings, moved away. No, not to avoid me. Unfortunately, she developed health problems and went into an assisted living facility. I felt I couldn’t cancel the signing in Rochester and two in Buffalo that my sales rep had worked hard to get for me, so I’d simply make other sleeping arrangements for that leg of the trip.

My first stop was a major bookstore in the Carousel Mall in Syracuse where ten days before, my niece had seen a large display of my book, with a poster proclaiming my upcoming appearance. I had been thrilled at the pre-publicity and had phoned the store’s events manager to thank him. He reported that they had already sold fourteen copies, just from the display, and were ordering more in anticipation of my visit. Great. This was going to be fun!

It wasn’t.

On the night of my signing, there were lots of empty spaces in the mall’s parking lot. I pulled into one adjacent to an entrance. How lucky, I thought — until I realized that empty spaces meant few people shopping that evening. Worse, once inside the bookstore, I was set up in an obscure corner, near racks of CDs in the Music Department. When I asked why, I was told that there were also many books in that area. True. But they were mainly books about football, baseball, wrestling. My primary target audience is older women. How many of them would be browsing the sports shelves? The answer was none. In fact, the only people who meandered anywhere near my table during my two-hour stint were a couple of teenagers cruising for rap CDs. I did not sell a single book.

As I was leaving the store, it didn’t help my mood to see masses of books by well-known authors ostentatiously piled near all the doors, including stacks at each cash register to insure some impulse purchases. Those writers don’t need the help. I do. It’s a vicious circle: you don’t get prime exhibit space and invitations to appear on Oprah unless you’re famous — and you can’t get famous without prime exhibit space and a nod from Oprah.

A bookstore is always a dangerous place for me to roam with my credit card. Like an alcoholic in a bar, I can’t resist in-your-face temptation. That night, upset at the injustice of the system, I was even more vulnerable and was sucked in by the very displays I begrudged — John Grisham’s latest tour de force, Mitch Albom’s new inspirational slim volume … I just had to buy them, even though no one had bought my book that evening.

Anyway, I still had hopes for Syracuse — I had one more bookstore signing at another area mall the next day, preceded by a talk to a luncheon group of women bridge players. I was confident I would wow the ladies because my audiences always enjoy my presentation. Honestly. They laugh. They clap. They ask for more stories. They even buy books. Not this bunch. They basically ignored me and kept chattering with each other as I tried to speak. I can take a hint. I cut my planned talk very short. As the women scurried back to their card tables, two of them courteously offered a smattering of applause. But neither one pulled out her wallet.

I tried to put that behind me as I headed for the book shop in the other Syracuse mall. There the staff was much more cooperative than at the previous store. They placed me at a table smack inside the door so anyone who came in would have to walk right by me — which is exactly what the few customers who entered did. Walk right by me, that is. And this time I didn’t even have the poor placement excuse. I kept smiling gamely, but I felt like a wallflower at the dance.

That night I e-mailed a report to my sales rep. He responded that these events are very unpredictable. “Even Bill Clinton once had a bad book signing,” he wrote. So I abandoned my Plan B — i.e., do something scandalous to attract attention.

Oh, well. Things were sure to improve in Rochester. But first I had to get there.

No limos, by the way, and no attentive publicity escorts. Instead I had to rely on my own wheels and maps.

Since my cousin’s former Rochester home was no longer available to me, I had booked a room at an economy hostelry in the city. No champagne. No filet mignon. No masseuse. No whirlpool bath. In fact, not even any towels. None that deserved the name, at any rate. I could have dried myself more effectively with the scratchy tushy tissue by the potty than with the sleazy pieces of fabric on the racks. But the room was clean and secure and only two miles from the local bookstore where I was scheduled to be in an hour. I found it easily and actually sold three books — to a nephew who lives nearby and was obligated to show up in order to preserve family unity. Unfortunately, no one else in town was under similar pressure, so I didn’t make any other sales. (But I did make three more purchases.)

As I drove to Buffalo the following day, I prayed for guidance. “What should I do, Lord? Give me a sign!” I begged. And suddenly there it was, right by the side of the Thruway, big and green. It said, “ Niagara Falls — 16 miles.” The Falls! A barrel! Me inside it! That would certainly generate some publicity. But I didn’t have time. I’d be late for my next signing. And wet.

As it was, I got there dry and punctually, but I needn’t have rushed. Book buyers were not lined up waiting for me. One man did stop by my table and asked, “Who are you?” I picked up my book and smiled, “I’m the author.” “Yeah, but who are you?” He repeated. “Are you anybody?” “No,” I sighed. “I’m nobody.” If I wasn’t humble before, I certainly was now.

I wanted desperately to go home. But I couldn’t before I hit the last bookstore on my list, this one in Cheektowaga, a Buffalo suburb. I had never heard of Cheektowaga, and I was positive that no one in Cheektowaga had ever heard of me. This was going to be another debacle. But I had promised to be there, so I kept the date. I’m glad I did because I actually made a sale — and not to a relative this time, but to a store employee. I think he felt sorry for me.

I felt sorry for me, too. And hungry. I had eaten only a bagel and coffee six hours before. I fled the store (after buying one more book) and made a beeline for The Olive Garden across the street where I drowned my sorrows in minestrone.

Hey! That gives me an idea. Maybe I’ll see if my publisher can line up some book signings for me in Sicily. I have a cousin I can stay with there…

She might even buy my book.

Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.

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