I'm ecstatic to be guest blogging at Powells.com this week for many reasons, but top on the list is that it's a homecoming: I grew up in Portland and went to high school not far from Powell's (well... more accurately, I didn't go to high school there: I often skipped classes and spent hours hanging out in the aisles and coffee shop at Powell's with my friends... but more on that in a later post).
Today, I write this post sitting in a coffee shop in Atlanta, exactly two months into the crazy four-month-long book tour I organized with the help of my father, Floyd Skloot. A few months ago, before The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was published, I wrote this essay for Publishers Weekly explaining why and how I planned to organize a tour for myself, starting with this:
My publisher has been hugely supportive of my book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, so I figured my tour was a given. I fantasized about driving cross country with the boyfriend, our dogs, and a herd of our closest friends in a big tour bus with bright colored cells painted all over it (yes, cells, the things in your body).
Then I went to my first publicity meeting.
The people at Crown, my publishing house, said, "We don't really do book tours anymore," and "They're just not the best investment of publicity funds." My agent agreed. They explained cost-benefit ratios and said their money was better spent on banner ads, buzz campaigns, and bookstore placement. Instead of talking about a tour bus covered with cells, they talked of blogs and satellite radio tours, of Twittering and Facebooking to interact with readers. I listened and agreed; it all made perfect sense. Then I went home and thought, but I still want to go on a book tour.
Everyone I know in publishing says book tours are dead. One friend, a bestselling novelist, e-mailed me the other day, saying she'd just finished what would be her last tour ever. She had just one word for it: "heartbreaker."
But I don't believe all tours are dead, just the old-fashioned kind, where publishers organize events and writers simply show up hoping for a room full of people. I agree that social networking and online campaigns are the most important tools in book publicity. But I don't see book tours and the online world as separate entities. Rather than replacing tours, I believe the new virtual world of book publicity can help keep them alive.
(Read the rest of the story here).
I am here to report: Book tours are not dead. The Immortal Tour has stopped in 20 cities so far. I've read to thousands of people in classrooms, churches, community centers, cafeterias, bars, chapels, and many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many independent bookstores (a list that will soon include Powell's, where I'll read on April 12th!). Those events have been standing-room-only thanks to Twitter and Facebook, where I and many people spread the word about my tour stops, and to the countless print, radio, and online interviews I've done each day by phone (like this one, in Birmingham, Alabama, where I'll be heading tomorrow, and this one in Memphis, where I'll be the next day. To see if the tour is coming to a city near you, click here).
Every time I walk into a store and see people filling all the chairs and lining the walls and aisles, I want to hop up and down for joy because I'm struck by two exhilarating facts: First, all those people came out to hear an author read when everyone said they wouldn't. And second, in the midst of a steady stream of stories about the death of bookstores (particularly independents), and the death of books in general, every store I've visited has a thriving community of readers devoted to keeping those stores, and the books in them, alive. As a writer who just spent almost 11 years of her life working on one book, going into those communities and hearing how much they care about books is a much needed contrast to the flood of bad news. I'm not delusional enough to believe that this means the future of publishing is all hunky-dory now, but it certainly does make me feel like reports of its demise are premature. As are reports of the book tour's demise: They won't work for every book (more on that another time), but they're certainly not dead.
In the coming week, I'll be posting stories and musings from the tour, and answering some of the most commonly asked questions about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. (If you have any questions you'd like to throw into the mix, see this post on my personal blog.)
For now, I leave you with this: The Immortal Book Tour Trailer, Part 1, so you can see a bit of the tour for yourself. It's a video my boyfriend, David Prete, put together of the first week of the tour, featuring, among other things, members of Henrietta Lacks's family talking with me about HeLa cells and the book (and autographing many