This is my fourth book tour and with each one some things get better and some things remain exactly that same. I don't have to take beta-blockers anymore before I go on television. But I still worry at every meal before a reading that I will spill something on my shirt.
One of the best parts of every tour is meeting and traveling in each city with a local media escort. Most publishers make sure that when their authors visit cities during a book tour they are met by an experienced author escort who can take them to media interviews and book signings, and help out in any number of ways. (It always seems like a great job to me, to get to hang out with celebrities and serious authors for the day.)
If you have been to a book reading you might have seen a media escort help out an author by asking the first question to get the Q&A session rolling.
Usually a media escort will identify themselves for the author at the airport by holding up the author's book near the baggage claim area. This usually works well, but I heard from one escort that she kept getting angry glances from other travelers when she was searching for Christopher Moore by displaying his book entitled You Suck.
Another airport story came from a female escort who told me about the moment she greeted an author who had flown in from out of the country. "He handed me a bag of dirty laundry and asked me if I could take it home and wash it."
I have heard about the handful of authors that escorts consistently call "insufferable," and about the ones like Chuck Palahniuk who always treat their fans with an enthusiastic and well-received bookstore event. (I have been told that on the rare occasion that a client is difficult it is likely they are a celebrity, athlete, or first-time author.)
Several escorts have told me that the fastest and most competent book signer is Jimmy Carter, who can sign title pages for over an hour at a rate of 3 seconds per book (and this while greeting and acknowledging every person).
But my favorite author story involves Garrison Keillor. I appreciate this tale so much because it demonstrates a worry-free attitude that I fear I will never have.
Garrison and his escort had been traveling to a speaking engagement when they drove past a custard stand that was a local favorite. Not overly concerned with the time, Garrison asked if they could stop and try some. They both enjoyed a scoop or two but when they left they noticed that Garrison had spilled some on his shirt and without extra time they had to drive directly to the event. (Just hearing this story for the first time caused me to feel a twinge of panic in my stomach.) They arrived on time at the bookstore packed with people to hear Garrison. He came out relaxed and commented upon how on his way to the bookstore he had stopped try some Leon's Custard. His audience saw the spot on his shirt and broke into warm applause as if they had all shared the exact same experience at some point during their lives. My escort went on to say that Garrison's masterful talk was an evening filled with joy that ended with them all singing a hymn together.