Monday, August 9, 2010

So You Want To Know What It's Like To Go On A 17-Day Book Tour Across The Country?

So the post finally starts.

I'm not sure how many days, by the time you read this, I will have actually spent constructing and writing this, but after I thought about it, I figured I would keep it to the basics, the answers to questions that Kyle and myself would've wanted answers to, maybe, before we started this whole thing.

I suppose I can just go ahead and start, and we'll see what happens.



I did not win a prize for Ghost Lights.

I didn't care about winning a prize. The book was done. I just wanted to be, at the very least, with a press I believed in, and a press that believed in my book.

That happened.

But I've said all this before...

That said, this also relates to not receiving any money to buy books, not on my own dime, for the tour.

I got 20 free copies (which went out pretty quickly to reviewers and other friends who had sent me their books) and had to buy the rest myself.

Also, because Dream Horse Press is a non-profit press solely run by Bear (and I'm still not sure how he's able to have the energy to live his own life while dealing with the many projects with which he's involved, so again, thank you publicly to Bear for all he's done for his authors and the press), we didn't get any compensation from the press.

Again, that was fine, but you have to realize, then, how you're going to pretty much solely survive on book sales.

We (Kyle and I) booked the venues. We did most of the promotion. We did our best to have a place to stay that wouldn't cost us any money (more on that later).

Therefore, any money "made" by selling books, which was of course not a large amount, pretty much went toward gas every night. And gas prices, right now, even in the Midwest, are not cheap.

So, overall, I probably lost, even after selling over 100 books, about $300 to $400 for gas and other expenses.

But considering all of that, I think it's pretty good. Really good, actually.

Again: unless you win a prize, in addition to publication, of $1000 or more, you should probably plan on doing the same (unless you want to live on saltines and never go out to cool bars, in states and cities you've never been to, for a beer, which I will always take full advantage of until the day I die).

And yes, $300 to $400, for what you hopefully get to experience, if you're raising an eyebrow, is afterthought chump change...



We took my car. A 2004 Pontiac Grand Am.

It has somewhere near 65,000 miles when we started.

We put on anywhere from 4,500 to 4,750 miles on it by the time we were done.

I got an oil change, a new air filter, and filled the washer fluid. I didn't even check my tires or put air in them.

Thankfully, we had no problems with the car, and it was perfect for us the whole time.

We hardly ran into any traffic or bad weather too, so that was obviously something I was thrilled about.



My wife likes to make fun of me about this. About 6 months ago or so she bought a Garmin nuvi, and admittedly, I made fun of her.

Keep in mind: I'm awful when it comes to directions. I have no idea where I am in when it comes to spacial location. No idea.

Why did I make fun of her? I'm not sure. But without the GPS, I don't say we would've been screwed. It just would've been much tougher to actually find some of these places.

At one point, in Missouri, it was taking us across an absent road, but since we were on the road for over 200 miles, it got us back on track soon.

And in Gary, Indiana, which was one of the most movie-set-like and horrifically destroyed and crumbling places I've ever seen in real life, it was taking us a direction that didn't exist anymore. An absent exit ramp. But we just followed I-90, I think, to get to Chicago, and we were fine.

It's probably a given now, but Thank God for the GPS, and Thank God we had one with us. It was the true savior of the trip.



Do as much as you can through Facebook, email, poetry calendars, etc. Use everything that you have at your disposal, even if it seems like you're stuffing the information down folks' throats.

This also has to do with traveling across the country during the summer. I wasn't aware that most folks aren't around, at least to the degree that we were told this throughout our time on the road.

And we averaged, which I'm still insanely happy and surprised about, way more people at each venue than we ever thought would show up.



Maybe this is surprising to hear, though I don't think it is. I like to think, like my situation (for which I'm grateful), that friends and family will usually show up. Especially family, so make sure you let any family know who will be in or close to an area where you're reading.

Often, family are the only people who will buy books. Mostly because they're proud of you, and they actually care that you're doing something pretty cool, even if they have no clue what your work is about.

Without our families, at least for most of us, we wouldn't have gotten this far.

Bloodlines can be a pretty amazing thing.



Reminders are a great thing. They're good to get out a day or two before. In addition to a week before. And maybe two weeks before.

There were many folks who said they were coming to a reading and didn't. I understand that.

Some had lame excuses. Some had legitimate excuses. Some just didn't explain why.

Again: I get it.

Which means: be happy that folks came to see you at all, even if your feelings may have been hurt by a person or two; after all, you'll get over it when you have to get up early and drive for another seven hours to another state. Meaning: you'll forget all about it pretty quickly.



This was a tough one from the very beginning. I like to think I was optimistic.

After talking to some friends who are poets and who have done many more readings than I have in the past, I decided that 130 books would be a good number to bring with me.

As I said previously, Kyle and I were very lucky, at least I think, and each sold over 100 books. That's about an average of 6 books a night, and we were hoping to sell 5 a night.



Kyle had a small guitar amp he wanted to take with us. I'm glad he did.

Many venues either had some type of sound system (lectern and / or music stand, microphone, mic stand, amp) or didn't need one. But there were a few where the amp really helped, especially if it's a place where there's extraneous noise (like folks chatting in the background at a bar).

My car isn't huge, but it can carry a lot, and we put the amp, microphone, and mic stand in the back. With the sleeping bag, air mattress, luggage, etc. we had more than enough room.

Bringing it was worth it.


MONEY (1) (How Much to Accept for Books)

One of my professors at Binghamton, Joe Weil, told me a few months before the tour, "The one thing you don't want to do, as much as possible, is compete against each other." Sounds pretty simple, or at least simple enough to write off.

It's not.

We realized a day or two in that we should sell each book for $15 (the retail of each of our books is $17.95), if someone wanted just one copy of my book or Kyle's.

The other way was both books for $25. Keep in mind that's only making us a profit of $3.50 a book (if we're buying them for $9 a piece). Multiply that by 10, and that's pretty much a tank of gas, or, say, a trip from Atlanta to Brooklyn.

By the end of the trip, though, when we realized we had already lost money, and we were actually selling more than we thought, and we were exhausted, we decided that getting the books into others' hands was most important.

Therefore, for the last 3 or 4 days, we decided to get a little ridiculous and sell the books for $10 a piece.

Though that wasn't good from a profit standpoint, it was good for the real reason why we went on the tour in the first place: to get books out there, and for people to come out and hear us read.


MONEY (2) (Storing / Credit Cards?)

Ah, the cash box. I was making fun of Kyle because at one point he wanted to get a cash box so we could store the money.

Maybe I didn't think we'd sell any books, or I didn't realize at the time that it was a great idea, but like many times on the trip, he was right.

We each kept $30 in 5-dollar bills and 1-dollar bills total in there so we'd have change. At some point, someone only had a 100-dollar bill, and luckily we were able to make change.

So basically: get your money organized. It's easy enough to overlook or forget about.

Oh, and you'll get people that ask if you have a credit card machine. No joke.

We did take many checks, though, so make sure you do that.


MONEY (4) (Desposits)

What do I mean by this? Well, the last thing you need is to somehow get robbed with over $500 in your Sentry Safe Cash Box.

This was another thing I wanted to have settled before we left. My bank isn't all over the place, apparently.

Kyle's, Bank of America, is all over the place.

So he was able to deposit the money we made (minus the total $60 we left in the box for change) every few days.


MONEY / VENUES (3) (Let's Talk About the Dreaded C-word: Consignment)

I decided I wouldn't mention the bookstores that were a pain in the ass for us. There's no reason to burn bridges, and there were probably situational aspects to a few of them (or, to put it more simply, the folks that we dealt with for months prior to some of the readers were not there at the time of our arrival.)

Ah, but your response surely is, "Well, their employees knew what was going on, right?"

Answer: nope.

We learned the hard way. Ask ahead of time about consignment, if they talk about it. Make sure you have contracts and numbers worked out. Make sure if those folks who set it up for you and you spoke with know what's going on if they're not going to be there.

Consignment doesn't work for unknown poets. That's what I realized. It may work for big presses and big names, but it won't work for you if you're unknown and reading in cities you've never been to.

So my advice: stay away from consignment, or beat it like a dead horse so you know exactly what's going to happen from the time you get there until you're done reading.



This one's pretty easy, to a certain extent.

Someone asked me once, "Well, what hotel are you staying at?" I couldn't help but laugh at first, and then I realized I had to explain the money situation.

We lucked out, overall, however, by staying with either folks we read with or friends and / or family in each city. Neither one of us are allergic to animals, and that helped, since it seems like everyone and their mother at least has a cat these days.

I brought an air mattress and a sleeping bag. Everywhere there was a couch, Kyle slept on it. I blew up the air mattress, then, usually on the floor, and used the sleeping bag as an extra cushion.



We saw Cyrus in Iowa City and Inception in Cambridge.

I got my first parking ticket ever. In any city. In Cambridge. But with the damn parking meters there and the movies being so long, there was no way around it.

I didn't take any beer back with me, mainly because there was no way to keep it cool.

But there was no way I was going to to the many cool bars and brewpubs we went to without getting a beer or two. Yes, it can add up, but you have to have some fun, while also keeping funds in check.

Otherwise, it can get out of control pretty quickly.



I didn't meet Kyle until we left on Wednesday, July 14th, from Vestal, New York, to head to Woodbridge, New Jersey.

This ended up being a great thing, mostly because I think we had to be tolerant of each other.

That last part makes it sound like we're both horrible people, which I don't think we are. But if you're with, say, a good friend, you can feel comfortable being in a pissy mood, yelling at each other, flipping out over stupid things.

Kyle, God bless him, is a very tolerant person. And, thankfully, to a certain degree, so am I.

So we got along very well.

We spent 17 days together. In a row. We were apart for that time very little. And it worked out. We got lucky. I say that a lot, and have said that a lot: that we lucked out. And we did.



Would I do this again?

Not on your life.

Was it one of the best things I've ever done?


I've had people constantly tell me that the best way to promote your work is to go out and read. They're right. I think I'm a better reader of my work. I'm definitely, at the very least, a more confident reader.

I also met, which may be pretty obvious, like a lot of what I've said, many cool people along the way.

So let me say thanks to all the folks who came out to see us:

Everyone who I'm friends with on Facebook and have exchanged emails with and only first met this July.

All of our family members and friends. Some folks' generosity was more than we had hoped for when we started this, and that means a lot.

Everyone who bought a book.

All the states whose roads and highways and interstates we drove on.

Everyone who let us sleep in their living room, or had a bed for us, and let us use their shower.

It would take me too long to single everyone out, and I'd be inevitably forgetting people too.

So thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


I'm probably forgetting a lot. I probably didn't explain many things like I should.

It's tough when you're reflecting on a whirlwind 17 days where you have few times where you're able to relax.

Hope this is at least mildly interesting to some folks. Should you embark on a future journey like this, feel free to get a hold of me if you want to ask for elaboration or further information.