Book Touring: The Western Leg and a Sprinkling of Lessons

I embarked on my first book tour in March. To sound glamorous, I liked to refer to it as the “western leg”.  There hasn’t been an eastern leg planned or even a middle leg, but regardless, it made me feel a little bit like a rock star. My superlative editor, Luciana Ricciutelli from Inanna Publications and the tireless publicist, Renee Knapp, made this tour possible. They arranged everything, and I just showed up. I have a feeling that not all writers are as lucky as having their publisher place so much faith in them.

I assembled and packed my reading outfits with care – clothes that I hoped would lend me with an air of seriousness (I AM A WRITER) with a dash of whimsy (BECAUSE I AM AN ARTIST). I also packed a box of books that sat at the bottom of my luggage like a small boulder.  I was to read at 3 libraries in Vancouver and needed to bring my own books.  Not sure how many to bring, my publisher had also sent another box up to my friend, Rob, to receive.  Throughout my readings in Vancouver, Rob lugged this trove of dead weight all around the city to supply me.  Lesson number one: You need good pals in every city you visit.  Rob not only acted as my personal Sherpa, he also promoted the readings by co-sponsoring them with an organization that he was also part of.  See? This is a good pal!

Vancouver is a lovely place. All of you who have been would agree. The spring-like weather, the walks along the sea wall at Stanley Park, the crocus and daffodils peaking their heads up, sigh.  The colourful scenery chased away the polar vortex that had haunted Ontario for months.  I was gleeful! Breaks from my young child and partner and two dogs do not come around often. I took long walks in a daze and let future writing projects percolate. Lesson number two: Always splurge on room service.  I paid an exorbitant amount of money on a tiny pot of yogurt and a carafe of coffee, but what the hell? You are an author on a book tour! This is what one does! Spoil yourself, live large! Order yogurt!

The readings at the Vancouver libraries varied. One branch didn’t know I was coming and besides from tossing us a key to open a bare room, there wasn’t a lot of ceremony to it.  Rob graciously arranged the chairs for me. At another branch, the head librarian was a dream. She was an ardent supporter of Asian Canadian literature and had been active in supporting the arts all her life.  She made tea and arranged Peek Freans cookies (in the shape of maple leaves) and fortune cookies on a large tray for my audience.  The pairing pleased her, and she asked if it pleased me. I wished she would adopt me and be my great aunt.

The audience was a mixed group of what my partner called the “extended extended family” – cousins of cousins, aunts of aunts.  Mainly, the far-flung reaches of my family tree and some I had never met before, but branched off from some common root.  It was really touching that they came.  I also got to see my mother’s childhood best friend, an auntie who was our first host when we immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong.  We had made a pit stop in Vancouver before venturing further east to Toronto. (All I remember from that visit was that I had barfed up my first hamburger.)  I was also able to reconnect with friends who I rarely see.  I was thrilled that they came and spread the word about the book to their circles. It really does take a village to get a book to the right readers! Remember rule number one; you must have good pals in the cities you visit.  They will come out to your readings, spread the word, and maybe even lug your books around for you.  (Every writer would be lucky to have such a buddy like Rob!!)

After Vancouver, I took off for a whirlwind of tour of Calgary. Another stellar friend, Catherine, was there to greet me at the airport.  She kindly offered her home to stay for the next two nights and ushered me around to a radio interview and a reading.  I hit the ground running.  The interview was at the University of Calgary campus station, and I appreciated the earnestness that the interviewer displayed.  Lesson number three: Never turn down an opportunity to discuss your novel.  Not only is this a key part of promotion, but the questions that readers bring you give you even more depth of insight into your writing.

After the interview, I read at a monthly reading series with two more writers at Pages Kensington. These opportunities are gold!! In cities where you don’t know many people, reading with local authors will pull in a dedicated and loyal audience. So let’s call that lesson number four: make connections with the local writing/reading community by collaborating as much as possible!

The last day of my tour was the most interesting and underscores the glamorous/not-so-glamorous aspects of promoting a book as a newbie writer.  I was assigned to the downtown big book store (it shall remain unnamed) for an author visit.  I didn’t have to read, but I did need to sit at table of my books for 5 hours inside a mall.  Again, the staff did not know who I was or what I was doing there. After some initial confusion, they cleared off a table at the front of the store, whipped out a tablecloth and asked me to unpack the books I had brought. (Note: I no longer had Rob to do my lugging in Calgary.  And said big bookstore asked me to bring my own books for consignment.  I suppose they didn’t want to chance on ordering books in case they didn’t sell.)

So, there I sat, watching people go up and down the escalator in front of the store. I wore my best mall smile and tried to make eye contact with passerby.  Some eyed me curiously, but most walked briskly by.  I tried standing up.  This only gave me the authority of a store greeter, and incoming customers asked me for book recommendations (well, do I have a book for you!) or directions to the bathroom.  I had the company of Olivia Chow’s book at my back (because she does have my back, I think), which gave me some comfort of home.  At hour three, my friend Sharanpal kept me company, live tweeting to her friends to come and meet me.  Emboldened by Olivia and Sharanpal, I revved up my game and sold 10 books by the fifth hour. Lesson number five: Never underestimate the commitment that readers have in supporting Canadian writers. The ones who did end up picking up the novel were people who made a beeline for me without hesitation just because I made the effort to show up and meet readers.

At the end of it all, I was exhausted but so invigorated.  I loved sharing The Wondrous Woo.  I didn’t end up selling all the books, but I did make a dent in the box! More importantly, I reached dedicated readers who will tell their friends about the novel.  I also garnered a review from someone who had attended a Vancouver reading.  These are not small things.  They can ripple in unexpected ways.  Just yesterday, I received an email from a reader who had bought my book at the big book store. She let me know that she loved the book.  This is the biggest satisfaction as a writer, right? Our sometimes lonely and painstaking pursuit in creating these characters and stories find a place in the world and meet readers to continue their lives.  This is the magic! So, the last lesson is: Give yourself a pat on the back. You wrote a book!!

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