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Is it a Book Tour or a War of Attrition or Some Kind of Literary Circus?

[Editor's Note: Don't miss Jeff VanderMeer's reading at Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing on Saturday, November 7, 2009, at 4 p.m. Click here for more information.]

Last week, I turned to my wife Ann and said, "Look at my book tour for Finch and Booklife27 events in 35 days in 14 states, no breaks!" To which she replied, "No brains, you mean." Well, she might have a point, even though it should be a blessing, not a curse, to have two major books out at once, which is what's allowing me to do this in the first place.

Still, it does seem at times, looking at the schedule, that I might have bitten off more than I can chew.Still, it does seem at times, looking at the schedule, that I might have bitten off more than I can chew. Events include everything from traditional readings and signings like the one at Powell's (well, okay, so I'm also telling the "professional cockroach" story) to workshops, lectures, kaffeeklatches, impromptu storytelling, panel discussions, and unholy hybrids of all of the above. I'm hitting bookstores of all sizes and descriptions, colleges, comic shops, arts venues, and even a bar or two. I'm teaming up at some venues with awesome writers like Cherie Priest, David Anthony Durham, Ekaterina Sedia, and Geoff Manaugh. I'm also guest blogging, doing podcasts, print media interviews, and meeting with a lot of really cool creative people. That's a lot of prep, and a long time on the road, not to mention all the work Ann, my publicist, my publishers, and my fans had to do to set up the tour in the first place.

And now I have to actually do it, even though my brain seems to have been hiding the truth from me about this war of attrition disguised as a book tourmy brain seems to have been hiding the truth from me about this war of attrition disguised as a book tour. Some part of me apparently had been thinking I'd use Margaret Atwood's infernal claw of an invention, the distance writer, and never even leave the house. I'd lie on the couch watching football and drinking cocoa, periodically donning the cybernetic helmet, the iron glove with pen on the end, and wii-ing my fans a signature or two, perhaps with a recording of a reading sent to the event sites to stave off chronic disappointment.

But, noooooo, it's not going to work that way. This week I'm off on the book tour, and by the end of the first week or two, I'll know the true dimensions of my folly. Will it be Apocalyptic with a capital "A," with the paramedics carrying my babbling remains off to the hospital on a stretcher after getting caught in a Möbius loop during a reading, repeating the same sentence over and over? Or will I just quietly disintegrate behind a calm mask of polite professionalism? Or will it in some ways be utterly life-transforming and marvelous, despite the pace?

Probably a little bit of all three, but I really don't know because I've never attempted anything like this before. I did a seven-country book tour of Europe once, but that was at most about two events a week for five weeks.

Meanwhile, every minute of every day as I prep for this juggernaut, I'm learning something new. Like, if you think BIG in creating your book tour, think small in packing for it. I don't just mean bringing the minimum amount of clothing so your luggage doesn't dislocate your shoulder. I mean I've bought a little mini computer that's practically hand-held but as powerful as my laptop. As for other things I need, from phone to GPS, tiny, baby, tiny. If I can't hold it comfortably in my hand, I don't want to take it with me. Alas, my jeans and shirts can't be somehow vacuum-packed into a cube 2 x 2 x 2, but at least I know all of the train, plane, and automobile travel won't be nearly as cumbersome as it would be otherwise.

On a more serious note, you hear all the time that the book tour is in trouble, and maybe it is... if you don't think outside the box. The diversity of my tour arises from a recognition of that possible trend — as does the virtual element of a tour these days.The diversity of my tour arises from a recognition of that possible trend — as does the virtual element of a tour these days. Blogging here at Powells.com is part of a whole electronic book tour that supplements the physical tour but also has its own integrity. The two elements in concert not only support one another, but complement one another. For example, at one event, where there will be a discussion of fantastical cities in the context of my novel Finch, the recording will be podcast on the internet, garnering more attention for both the event and for the venue. I'm also reporting from the road for a major online site, which will allow me to also plug most of the places I'm appearing at — and let me tell you, bookstores really appreciate any extra coverage because they're the ones taking the risk that your event will be the one attended by only a couple of people snoring in the back.

But beyond even that, a well thought-out book tour positions a writer for other opportunities. I know that this 35-day adventure will spark many other things not just for my career but for my creativity, too. I'll meet amazing people, some of whom will become collaborators on my books or other projects. I'll get invites for other events because of someone seeing me on tour. I'll also get to shoot the breeze with booksellers — some of my favorite times on tour because I'll get the inside scoop on great books I don't even know are coming out.

So you can say the book tour is dying if you want, but I've lined up 27 chances to prove some of the experts wrong. Besides, I haven't even mentioned visiting a meerkat sanctuary, getting a tattoo (from Jeff Johnson in Portland, of course), or attending the National Book Awards. Who in their right mind would say "I'll pass" to all of that?

A Facebook friend even promises (or threatens) "karaoke in Baltimore." I wonder if I'll be sick of performance by the time I get there...

÷ ÷ ÷

Jeff VanderMeer is an award-winning novelist and editor. His fiction has been translated into 20 languages and has appeared in the Library of Americas American Fantastic Tales and in multiple years-best anthologies. He writes nonfiction for the Washington Post, the New York Times Book Review, the Los Angeles Times, and the Guardian, among others. He grew up in the Fiji Islands and now lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with his wife. His latest book is Annihilation.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy #1) New Trade Paper $13.00
  2. Finch Used Trade Paper $10.50
  3. Booklife: Strategies and Survival...
    New Trade Paper $14.95

Jeff VanderMeer is the author of Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy #1)

One Response to "Is it a Book Tour or a War of Attrition or Some Kind of Literary Circus?"

    Spencer November 6th, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Attrition or circus, thanks for doing it! Looking forward to tomorrow's event!

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