With the publication of my first book this year, anticipation was high for the whirlwind book tour that was going to take me coast to coast, border to border for a series of readings and book signings.
Know what was more powerful than anticipation? Reality.
I, for one, never harbored any illusions in this regard. National book tours aren’t usually in the cards for first-time authors, unless they’ve (prematurely and foolishly) crowned “the next big thing.” Obviously that hadn’t happened with me. And obviously I wasn’t going to be shelling out my own money to travel around the country. Even if Kensington had given me a stack of publicity money to burn on plane tickets to send me around the country, there was the small matter of my full-time job and having to pay the rent and such.
But prior to the book’s publication, Kensington did send me to the Southern Independent Booksellers Association trade show in Greenville, South Carolina last year. (You can read about that here and here.) That was aimed at getting me in front of a very important market–owners of independent bookstores in the South.
And that pretty much was the beginning and end of readings associated with independent bookstores.
But my first reading of the year was not at a bookstore, but in the apartment of Stephanie “Gold Star for Trying” Thompson. (Some of you Brooklynites may also recognize her from her apparently rage-inducing parenting columns in The Brooklyn Paper.) She threw a little party for me and I got drunk enough to put on a jingling Mardi Gras hat and do a little reading. That was fun.
Then it was on to the Barnes & Noble reading tour.
Don’t get me wrong. I like indie shops. Well, most of them. But scheduling readings, especially when one has a full-time job and does NOT have a publicist or agent, is a time-consuming pain in the ass. Know what else is probably a pain in the ass? Running a small bookstore.
At any rate, when it came time to try to schedule readings, I tried four indie bookstores: two in New Orleans, one in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan. The two in New Orleans were basically swamped with work. Not only that, my limited travel window couldn’t be accommodated. (It didn’t help that it was the same weekend that the Saints were embarrassing Brett Favre and the Vikings in the NFC championship game). I heard no reply at all from either of the New York shops and the less said about the Brooklyn one, the better. Let’s just say I don’t feel guilty about walking home with a Barnes & Noble bag or getting shipments from Amazon anymore.
So the bookstore readings I did this past year, I did in Barnes & Noble, and I was happy to do it. The fact of the matter is, B&N brings books and bookstores to large swaths of the country that had no access to such things. If you support more people reading more books, that’s a good thing. Same goes for Amazon.com. Besides, B&N was extremely easy to work with.
And in Lafayette, Louisiana, Barnes & Noble was the place to be. Lafayette was the first place I was going to read in Louisiana. So I hooked up with Herman Fuselier at that store and we set up a date. With the help of friends and family and Paul Marx over at KBON, we got the word out. (Paul Marx, by the way, was crowned King of the Basille Swine Festival, which is pretty damn awesome.) I’m not sure how many people showed up for that one, but it was one of the biggest readings of the year. I’d say 50 or more people showed up. Part high school reunion, part family gathering, part “little old ladies wandering in off the street to see why the Sibille family name had been used in a book.” The majority of people there had never been to a reading before. Indeed, someone asked me what to wear to a reading. I probably could have convinced a number of people there to wear suits and ties. Damn. Missed an opportunity. I still kick myself for not reading a better passage and for getting so nervous I forgot to open it up to questions. Especially considering that those people bought a hell of a lot of books at that reading. (Over 100 were sold, if I remember correctly.)
After that, I did the CitiPlace Barnes & Noble in Baton Rouge. That was a much smaller affair — definitely more typical of the audience sizes I’d expect for a book like mine.
The reading following that was held at the Barnes & Noble in Park Slope, Brooklyn. That was probably the toughest one by far. Not because I was nervous about literary crowds or hipsters or double-wide strollers or any of that. The reading was attended mostly by friends. And my ex-wife who’d moved out the weekend before. Somewhere in our confusion we’d decided not to tell anyone until after the readings and book parties were over. We only partly succeeded at that. (And failed spectacularly at the small book party Ad Age threw for me at Hill Country earlier that week.) So some people in attendance knew–and looked like they were attending a wake at which the body just wouldn’t quite die. And the rest didn’t–and were entirely too jovial about life in general.
And that was basically it for reading. For a long while at any rate. There was another appearance in Greenville, S.C., though. What IS it with Greenville? Actually, Joe Erwin and the gang at Food for Thought were kind enough to plug my book some while I was down there for their conference. After a fancy dinner, we retired to a room and sipped brandy and talked about my book as if it were fine literature.
Finally, this fall brought a little flurry of activity. As part of a fundraiser, I did a reading (and book raffle) at The Brazen Head. I spent a hell of a lot of time at The Brazen Head earlier this year (some might say an unhealthy amount of time), so I was psyched to be able to read there. From what I can remember, that reading went pretty well, though I’m pretty sure my signature in the raffled book was completely illegible.
Next, I went back to Louisiana. After budget cuts killed off the Louisiana Book Festival, my good friend Billy Fontenot down at Louisiana State University at Eunice was kind enough to set up not one, but two reading events — one on campus, the other at a little cafe in Eunice. This was my first campus reading and I was mildly terrified that the student would either fall asleep or have all sorts of aggressive questions about my treatment of religion in the book. Instead, they stayed awake, laughed at the appropriate moments, asked me if I ate Fudgerounds and bought all the copies I’d brought with me.
And, last but not least, I went up to Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York, where my friend Shawn Adamson is an instructor. Based on pure numbers, that was probably the biggest reading I held. Of course, it helps when the book is assigned for classes and students get credit for showing up, but I’m not complaining. If nothing else, it meant that those in the room had actually read the damn book. I got a lot of good questions out of that one, too, including some about religion and faith and even one about whether or not I was influenced by Mark Twain (my ego still hasn’t quite recovered from that question). And just to spice things up a little, Shawn and I the next day cooked up a huge vat of gumbo and a pot of red beans and rice to bring to the school. To my eternal surprise, more college students showed up for the reading than showed up for the free food. What’s UP with kids these days?
And then, I went up to … wait … that was it. Yeesh. I got tired typing this. Thank God, I didn’t do a nationwide book tour. You’d all be setting yourselves on fire like someone trapped in a row with Ted Striker.