Some of the following was in a Pages article I had written a year or two ago on author tours
Anyone wondering about the popularity of humorist David Sedaris need only attend a stop in one of his author tours: he had close to 2,000 people at one New York book store alone last year. And he has looked forward to them all, including this summer's rounds for the paperback version of Dress Your Family in Denim and Corduroy. "My agent – I don’t know if he thinks I’m lying, or if I don’t realize how horrible it is," he says.
But even with his existing audience from his National Public Radio work, he had one dark night of the sojourn on his first tour. "Everywhere else it had gone well, but I got to Los Angeles and only four people were there," Sedaris remembers, "and two of them were friends of mine. They just thought, 'Oh, he’s a loser.' It was humiliating. Then I think what if my whole book tour was two weeks of that?"
I spoke with him as he was getting ready in Paris to leave on another tour the next day, which meant being up all night. "I always do that before I leave on a trip," he says. "I’m going to get screwed again – screwed out of an hour sleep." Well, maybe more.
He does enjoy doing tours. "My agent – I don’t know if he thinks I’m lying, or if I don’t realize how horrible it is," he says. “If you go and there are 500 people there, then it’s fun. I could be wrong, but when I started my tour last June in New York, I think they had 1800 people at the Barnes and Noble in union square. I could be wrong and maybe it was 1200." Days of almost empty stores are pretty much over. He shows up two-and-a-half to three hours in advance.
Still, there's no doubt that tours are a grind. Sedaris is flying from one city to the next, usually spending only a day. “Then so much of your life is taking place on planes and airports," he says. "So I’m writing the word flight in every story.”
Because his schedule is tight, Sedaris has no time to play tourist, so the fun must come in the stores.
“It’s nice if you have a theme or say I’m working on a story and does anyone have information on this?" he says. "For the paperback tour for Me Talk Pretty One Day, [I noticed that] everyone in America has a tip jar," he says. "I started putting one on my signing table." His best take was $180 in a night. "I said I’m spending it all on myself."
Then he started charging for the more unpleasant requests, like the one or two people an evening, thinking they are original, who ask him to sign someone else's book. "If someone came up with a telephone and said, 'Would you talk to my sister?' I'd say, 'Yes, for ten dollars.'" He's given priority signing for smokers and adults with braces and offered travel packets of pain relievers with each signature, but many people wouldn't take them. "Especially men who’d say I’m OK. I’d say do you think you’ll never get a headache?" He guesses that only 10 percent of the men took the sealed packets while 80 percent of the women did. Maybe the women knew something that the men didn't: there could be a book tour just around the corner, waiting for you.
Labels: authors, marketing, Sedaris, tours