Book tour’s over!

 

  tess and luann  with Luanne Rice in NYC

It was fun and it was frustrating.  In short, a typical book tour.  

On October 11, I joined a panel of six authors at the San Antonio Express-News Book & Author Luncheon and was astonished to find out how HUGE an event it is.  1200 (!) attendees sat down in a hotel banquet room to hear writers talk about books.  The event is such a hot event that tickets don’t even go on sale to the public – because reservations are snapped up a year in advance, and there are no tickets left to sell!  Joining me on the panel were Tyler Florence, Sarah Bird, Marie Arana, Denise Brennan-Nelson, and Tim Derk.  Alert to all authors: if you ever get invited to this event — do it!

  In NYC, I had the pleasure of sitting on a a different panel, this time with Nora Roberts, Walter Mosley, Jed Rubenfeld, and Sam Roberts at the New York Times Great Tea in the Park.  Beforehand, the authors got a chance to chat in the cocktail lounge (and drink champagne if we were so inclined) and I was once again blown away by Nora’s amazing energy. I’d met her and her husband several years before in Toronto, and even though she’s a mega-selling icon of 160(!) novels, she is one of the most fun, down-to-earth people you’d ever hope to meet.  Walter Mosley, as always, was natty and charming.  And it was great meeting Jed Rubenfeld, whose historical mystery, THE INTERPRETATION OF MURDER, hit the extended New York Times bestseller list — quite an achievement for a debut author. 

 I also got to spend some time with author Luanne Rice (photo above) as we strolled the streets of NYC together.  It was a gorgeous day, and Luanne’s such a good storyteller, she could keep me entertained forever.

After NY, it was on to Myrtle Beach and the South Carolina Writers Workshop, where I got the chance to mingle with a lively and enthusiastic group of writers.  I was delighted to spend time with Ted Tally, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of “Silence of the Lambs”.  

 DSCF2272MA14394707-0008.jpg  with Ted Tally at dinner

The prospect of meeting Ted was more than a little intimidating, I have to admit — after all, I’m a mere novelist.  But Ted turned out to be funny and sweet — and brilliant, too.  We sat on a panel with film veteran Kathie Fong Yoneda and discussed the uses of conflict in story telling.  All I could do was nod at everything Ted said — because he always said it better than I ever could.

At the Poisoned Pen in Phoenix, I shared a program with Robert Liparulo, a fine young writer whom I first met at Thrillerfest back in July. Then it was on to Los Angeles, and a signing at Borders in Torrance, CA.  And there I was so happy to see the familiar faces of fellow thriller writers.  That’s the really great part about  the thriller genre — the nicest people write these scary books.  Robert Gregory Browne, Brett Battles, and Vladimir Lange all came to say hello and offer support.

The Sacramento Bee Book Club evening came next, another nice event, with close to 200 people attending.  Again, if you’re a writer and you ever get invited to do this one, accept!

Finally, it was on to San Francisco.  I visited M is for Mystery in San Mateo for a stock signing, and then had a nice evening at Bay Book and Tobacco in Half Moon Bay.  Which is a town so beautiful I’d definitely think about moving there – if I ever have to leave Maine.

Those were the highlights. 

But there were also the constant reminders of just how tough a business novel-writing is.  A number of the small independent stores I dropped in on didn’t carry MEPHISTO CLUB — or any of my backlist.  Nor did they seem inclined to ever carry my books.  Their shelves were stocked instead with literary titles and trade paperbacks.  It reminded me of my earlier days trying to find respect as a romance author.  Thriller writers face the same challenges. 

And yes, there were the usual incidents that reminded me of my place in the publishing world.  Bookstore clerks who said: “What’s your name again?”  “I don’t know if we carry your books.”  “Do you write fiction or non-fiction?” 

But the incident that stands out happened on my trip home, on the very last day of tour.  I was happy to find a stack of MEPHISTO CLUB in an airport bookstore, and the clerk gave me permission to sign them.  As I was autographing the copies, a customer came up to me.

“Are you the author?” he asked.

“Why yes,” I said, hoping he’d be impressed and might even want to buy a book.

“Hey honey!” the man calls out to his wife.  “This lady wrote a book and she’s signing them.”

By this point, I was already opening a copy to the title page, ready to inscribe a personal note to my brand new reader.

Then he added: “Maybe these signed books will be worth something someday.  If she ever gets famous.”  And he laughed and walked away.

So that was the coda to my book tour.  One last reminder from the universe that the first lesson one learns as a novelist is humility.  

I’m a Miss January calendar girl!

                               January

 I’m in the middle of touring, but had to drop in and post this link to the new Sisters in Crime calendar, which is now on sale.  It’s a fundraiser for the New England chapter, and here I am on the January page, along with sisters (and brother) crime writers Kate Flora, Lea Wait, and Jeremiah Healy.  (He’s the stiff on the table.)  We had a great time shooting the photo, which was done in my local hospital morgue.  Jerry Healy was a very good sport about stripping down and lying on that icky table.

More blogging when I get home in two weeks.  Right now I’m trying to figure out how to fit two weeks’ worth of clothes, plus a ton of promotional handouts, into one medium sized suitcase.

 

“Don’t be a literary slut!”

This was something that Sue Grafton said to me years ago, but at the moment, I’m having trouble following her advice. 

Let me explain what she meant.  A literary slut is a writer who’ll say “yes” to every invitation, every request.  You want me to fly out to Kalamazoo to speak at a conference for 30 people?  Sure!  Drive eight hours to talk to 25 people at a library?  Of course!  Cut into my precious writing time to teach a week-long workshop?  Count me in!  The events we writers are invited to speak at may not even be related to books, but we’re so flattered to be asked, that we start to sound like that character from Annie Get Your Gun who sings, “I’m just a girl who cain’t say no…”

In short, we turn into literary sluts.

I’m writing this as I quietly suffer an anxiety attack over what I’m scheduled to do tonight.  Months ago, I agreed to emcee (and play fiddle in) a charity concert in my local opera house.  Now, I love to play my fiddle, and this is a terrific charity.  But this gig has required months of thought and preparation, plus rehearsals with my band.  The emcee job has forced me to come up with prepared remarks and I’ve spent a day hunting down good musician jokes.  Also, there’s just that overall  general overall stress of knowing I’m about to walk out in front of 600 people tonight and will have to keep the program running smoothly.  After it’s over, I’m sure I’ll be glad I did it. 

But in the meantime, it’s seriously cut into my writing time.  More important, it’s cut into my thinking time.

All this while I’m supposedly taking a five-day breather from promoting my book.

I look at my schedule for the next two months.  Not only am I traveling on book tour over the next three weeks to Texas, NY, California, Arizona, Georgia, and South Carolina, I also have to pop back home one day to do a quick speech for the Maine Innkeeper’s Association, and after that teach a morning class in Boston, teach a weekend workshop on Cape Cod, head to Milwaukee for a Library event, speak at a University Women’s fundraiser, speak at yet a different Women’s Club event, fly back to NYC to attend a writer’s banquet, and then head home to clean house so I can host a big fundraiser for Family Planning of Maine. 

That’s all in the next two months.  Plus there’s Thanksgiving and Christmas to prepare for.  I haven’t even told you what’s on the calendar after December.

Needless to say, there’s not much time to write.

My husband has finally told me ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.  “You’ve got to start saying no,” he tells me.  Luckily, I listened to him, because over the past two days, I’ve had phone calls inviting me to, 1) join the board of a major statewide organization and, 2) play fashion model at a local fundraiser. 

I regretfully said no to both.  I say regretfully, because both are great organizations, and I really did want to help out.

But I’ve reached the point where the writing is suffering.  I don’t have time to think about my characters.  I haven’t had time to write even a single paragraph — not in weeks.  My deadline is looming like a big black cloud on the horizon — still in the distance, but I know it’s there.

I know there are other writers who, in the midst of building their careers, feel compelled to accept every invitation, attend every conference.  And if you can manage it, that’s great.  But it’s easy to lose control of your schedule, and maybe the time has come to re-think the balance between writing and promotion.

Maybe it’s time to stop being a literary slut and stay faithful to what brought us to the party in the first place: writing our books.

 

 

 

You can’t possibly be talking about me

I might as well blog about it, because a lot of other publishing blogsites have mentioned it.   They’re talking about a recent article in the Los Angeles Times by Josh Getlin, about the glut of books by big-name authors being released this fall.  He writes:

“There are new books from bestselling “blockbuster” types such as John Grisham, making his first foray into nonfiction; John Le Carré; Stephen King; Michael Crichton; Robert Ludlum; James Patterson; Dean Koontz; Michael Connelly; Tess Gerritsen; David Baldacci; and Danielle Steel, all of whom rarely, if ever, publish a sales dud.”

I was blithely reading through the article when I came across my name in that paragraph and stopped dead.  That was my name in the list.  Included among the “blockbuster” types that “rarely, if ever, publish a sales dud”.

Um, excuse me, Mr. Getlin.  But I think you must mean some other author named Tess Gerritsen. 

It’s true that my last six books have been NYT bestsellers in hardcover and paperback.  It’s true that it’s a likely possibility my next release will also hit the list.  But I have never considered my future as a writer a sure thing. 

I haven’t had a chance to talk about this subject with other authors who’ve hit the list. Maybe I’m unique.  Or maybe they’re just like me.  Maybe we all feel as if we’re hanging on in this business by the skin of our teeth, and that every time we hit the list, we secretly think: “I squeaked through and got lucky again.”   

Or maybe they don’t.  Maybe they’ve accepted the fact they’re “blockbuster, sure-thing authors”.  Maybe I’m the only one who still has attacks of desperation and uncertainty.  Who still wonders if anyone is buyng my books.  

The insecurity is especially acute during book tour (which I’m currently on), when I walk into a bookstore and see the thousands and thousands of competing titles.  In the past, I’ve compared selling books to selling detergent, but you know what?  Competing in the detergent market is a heckuva lot easier.  There are no more than a dozen brands at the most jockeying for our attention.  But as an author, I’m up against a dozen NEW big titles each month.  Every month. 

Tide Detergent never had to struggle this hard.

So call me a blockbuster author if you want to.  It’s flattering to see my name in any list with Stephen King and Michael Connelly.  But I know I don’t belong there.  And I never will.

No matter how many books I sell.

Let me entertain you

 

   sue little     

Here I am with Sue Little at the Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport, Massachusetts

I’m home for a quick laundry change before I head out on the road again.  It’s been lovely meeting booksellers and readers, and my one regret is that I haven’t been traveling with a camera, so I have very few photos to share.  So far I’ve had bookstore events in Lexington KY, Dayton and Cincinnati, as well as stores in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine.  

Authors who’ve never been on tour probably wonder what’s expected of them when they appear at an event.  Do you talk?  Do you read?  Do you just sign books?  The answer is… it’s up to you.   One best-selling fantasy writer told me that he avoids doing a planned talk or reading.  Instead, he simply greets readers and signs books.  He thinks that readers are leery of getting “trapped” for an hour, listening to an author talk.  “They just want to drop in and get their book signed,” he said.  “They don’t want to wait around for the autograph.”  

Other authors believe that a reading is the best way to please their audience.  If you let readers have a taste of the book, they’ll be more inclined to buy it. 

I tend to avoid doing readings, because I think readers are  interested in what they can’t learn from the book, and that’s the background of the story.  Where did I get my idea?  What interesting facts did I turn up while writing it?  How did I get into writing in the first place?  But every so often, a reader will express disappointment that I didn’t read.  “I wanted to hear the story told in your voice,” one woman said.  So maybe it makes sense to read a short passage or two.  I’m still not certain.

What I’ve been doing this time on tour is talk about the historical background for MEPHISTO CLUB.  I’ve talked about demons in the Bible, about the Book of Enoch, and the Nephilim.  I’ve talked about beliefs in Armageddon and about my own childhood brushes with the paranormal.  I share some of the truly spooky stories I’ve heard over the past few weeks.  A few nights ago, I debated the nature of evil with one of my audience members, a passionately opinionated young man who disagreed with me about whether evil actually exists.  (He didn’t think it did.)  It was an interesting dialogue, and even though the rest of the audience lost patience with him , I enjoyed the debate.  (And to my surprise, despite the fact he clearly disagreed with me, he bought the book!) 

I don’t use notes.  I just stand up and start talking.  Of course I do have a pretty good idea of what I’ll be presenting ahead of time, and I know which punchlines invariably get the strongest reactions — the collective gasp or the predictable outburst of laughter.  But every presentation is just a little bit different, and that’s the fun of it.  You never know if someone will take offense and walk off in a huff.  A startling question can send your talk veering off into new directions.  I love the back-and-forth of it all, and I always hope that SOMEONE will ask a question.  Because there’s nothing worse than an audience that just sits there and doesn’t ask you anything. 

Over the years, as I’ve gained experience on the road, I’ve added bits and pieces to my repertoire so that I can expand the talk at an instant’s notice.  If someone asks about my research process, I can talk for ten or fifteen minutes about how I worked with NASA to write my book GRAVITY.  If asked about the premise for VANISH, I can talk at length about real cases of corpses waking up in morgues.  I can give off-the-cuff lectures on leprosy, or famous families who killed for a living, or mad cow disease, because these are all topics that I’ve used in my thrillers.  Stand me up at a podium, and I can talk till I’m hoarse. 

That’s what writing ten thrillers has done for me.  It’s given me a wealth of topics to talk about. 

But of course I also know when to shut up, and I try to wrap it up after half an hour, max.  Because by then, the bookseller wants to go home, people want their books signed, and I’m ready for my martini.

If you’re an author about to go on your first tour, you’ll discover what works for you.  While you’re speaking, pay attention to your audience.  If you see someone nodding off, pick up the pace of your talk.  Switch subjects or throw in a never-fail anecdote.  You’ll acquire them over time, the little stories that you know will always get a reaction. 

We’re writers, and we’re expected to entertain.  We already know how to do it on the page, but while standing up in front of an audience?  That takes practice.