What to Expect when You're Expecting Part 2
Being Out in the World with Your Book
I’m not a WGA member because I don’t write for television or film, but I have lots of friends who do and I stand behind them. Their fight is important for all of us. Here’s a great explainer on why the guild members are striking from my funny and smart friend Josh Gondelman, who also has a great substack.
Hello, and welcome to part 2 of the by-no-means-exhaustive look at what to expect when you’re putting out a book for the first time. There are much more thorough resources available, but my dream is that these letters can help you generate some thinking on the matter.
Since I wrote part one of this series, Jaya and Mattie came through town, and I had brunch with them and Brandy at Elizabeth’s, and we talked excitedly about Mattie’s forthcoming book, Boys Weekend, which just got a starred review in PW. We were all really excited about it, not to mention this absolutely perfect appetizer order of waffles and fried oysters.
It’s Mattie’s first time with a big publisher, which can feel different and new. I had a chapbook called Deli Life (good luck finding a copy of it) come out a few years before my first book with Crown and I can testify this is true. Just to potentially get access to way more review or press coverage feels significant, not to mention national bookstore distribution. Mattie’s book feels like it has so much possibility, and they were excited to support it, to get out on the road with it, whatever that might look like for them.
I think of this topic as being out in the world with your book. This can mean anything from visiting a book club to giving a talk at a bookstore or a library or a school to teaching a writing workshop to appearing on a panel at a literary festival. We hope doing these events will sell books, introduce us to a new readership, build relationships with bookstores and other venues, and secure us local press. But when it comes down to it, in the most idealistic way, more than anything it’s about meeting readers and having a conversation with them about your work. (And writing! And life!)
I truly believe nothing can replace in-person events, and that they can be important and inspiring for everyone involved. And I liked Mattie’s attitude, which was: anytime I go anywhere for the next year, I could do an event. We love a little hustle over here.
But, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, tours used to look vastly different, pre-pandemic. Somewhat they’re bouncing back, but when my memoir came out in 2021 I still only had a few dates out on the road. The real truth is most publicists I know would rather spend their time focused on getting you press than booking a tour for you. I have heard publicists mention booking tours can make them feel like a travel agent, and the pandemic proved that you could sell books without a tour. I would not count on a big book tour in America these days.
What you can do, though, is devise creative events in your city or in your region that won’t cost you anything beyond gas (or a train ticket) and time. If you’ve sold a book, and are feeling the need to do something, why not use the time while you wait for your book to be published to figure out some events? (Most bookstores I know are booking events six months out, to give you an idea of timing.)
First and foremost: go to other people’s events and see what they’re doing, pay attention to what’s working. Think about how that might translate to you and the subject matter of your book. Talk to your local booksellers. They’re smart. They might have some ideas.
Some brainstorming questions that might help: Do you have a dream interlocutor in your city you might send a copy of your book to? (They might say no but it doesn’t hurt to ask.) Do you belong to some kind of organization who might host an event for you? Is there a class you can teach with your book? Not even necessarily about writing itself, but some sort of instructional component tied to the themes of the book. Do you have a friend who throws the best parties in the world? Even if they’re not book-related parties, they might have interesting ideas. Ask their opinion. (And if you’re going to ask their opinion, please buy them dinner.)
When I think about going on tour for the 1000 WORDS book next January, what I really want to do is have group writing sessions in every city I visit. That feels different and special but perfectly connected to what the book is about, and what this online project is. I’ve never done this series before, but have heard that this Tables of Content reading series is great, and they seem to be approaching what it means to talk about books in a thoughtful and fresh way. These are the words I’m always reaching for when I think about events: thoughtful, fresh, interesting, new, welcoming.
I had this cocktail in Prague last night. (By the way, I’m in Prague right now.)
Of course, you don’t have to do any of this. You can just put out a book, do one reading in your hometown or on zoom, and be done with it. If you’re shy or nervous or have stage fright or traveling is not physically available to you, don’t worry, your book will truly be no worse for the wear if you don’t do multiple events or a tour. I am writing this letter mostly for people who are enthusiastic on the topic and interested in what they need to do promote their work in a public-facing way. But please remember: your art remains your art no matter what.
Alternately, I’d like to point out if you’re not connected to your community I wouldn’t be surprised if you have a low turnout at your events. I do not wish this for you! I want everyone to have a big audience always. I am merely saying you can’t just show up thinking you’ll be guaranteed to have a big exciting event if you haven’t put in at least a little work beforehand building relationships.
Also I had this one
In terms of being out in the world at a literary festival, the best parts of them, for me, are being on an interesting panel, meeting other authors, and meeting readers. I have written before about signing lines and how it is often hard to sell books at them. I would not go to a literary festival with the idea that it will change your life. Rather, it is about being part of a collective experience in a local community. And to go to a place where a lot of people who care about books are gathered tends to be pretty comforting no matter what.
I wanted to make a quick note here about literary festivals and being on panels in general: Don’t hijack the panel. For example, if the moderator says “read for five minutes” then read for five minutes or less. There is limited time on these panels. Don’t cut into anyone else’s time. Practice it and time it. (I read too fast, always, but at least I never read for too long.) And be courteous and curious about your fellow panelists' work, if you have the time to do so. You may not have time to read someone else’s book, but it doesn’t take too much to google reviews or at least read the synopsis of their book. Optimistically, if you’re on a panel together, it’s because there’s a belief that you have something worth saying to each other.
In general, in life, forever, if you can, show up prepared.
How does all of this translate to those of you out there who haven’t sold a book but would like to someday? Develop relationships with booksellers and librarians now, if you haven’t already. Go to the events of others to see what they’re doing and to support them. It’s also the fastest way to join or build a community. Sign up for some of those mailing lists. Show your face. Participate. Contribute. As grown-ups no one gets a gold star for participation anymore, but at a minimum you’ll probably get a little inspiration for your own work or at least learn one new thing just by showing up. And if you’re lucky, you might make a friend out of it.
I’m leaving the comments open today so people can post the best events they’ve ever put together or attended.
Hope you are all feeling healthy and productive,
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation went to Backstreet Cultural Museum.