As grateful as I am for the vast reach that the internet provides artists, every time I tour I am reminded of the value of real life human connection and interaction. Being able to travel with my art is a privilege, and I always look forward to opportunities to share a new project or book with as many people as I can.
That said, planning a book tour can feel daunting, especially if you have never done it before. Where do you start? Who should you contact? Who is going to pay for it? These are all great questions! I thought I would share what I have learned and strategies I have employed since my first book tour in 2010.
Make Your Dream List
Where would you love to take your book? What cities would you love to read in? What audiences would you like to reach? Make your dream list and then organize the list of cities geographically ie Western Canada, Eastern Canada.
Make A Budget
Determine how much you can afford to invest in a tour. Consider not only travel and accommodation costs, but also daily living costs like food and a small budget for items you forget to pack. Input all of this information into a spreadsheet.
Having a day job is largely what allows me to fund touring. But where possible, it is worth looking into grants such as The Writers’ Union of Canada’s National Public Readings program. Ask your publisher if they have a tour budget. Some writers are able to crowdfund their their tours.
Remember that touring is expensive and generally not a money-making endeavor. However, making a budget is a vital step towards at least breaking even.
Tough Love Your Dream List
Look at your dream list alongside your budget and determine how many cities you can actually afford to visit. Highlight the cities where you know people will come out to support you and where you have access to a friend’s or relative’s couch to crash on, so you won’t have to shell out for a hotel. These cities are more worth investing than places where you have no connections.
Again, touring is expensive and expenses add up quickly when you are on the road. As ambitious as I am, I always aim to be realistic when planning a tour. It is better to do three gigs with a higher possibility of a good turnout, than to tour fifteen cities where you don’t know anyone.
Choose The Right Venue
I strongly believe in supporting independent bookstores whenever possible, so once I have my revised list of cities, I start researching their local bookstores. Being queer, I also look for local queer-friendly bookstores. Turning to your online networks for suggestions is useful, as your friends in Calgary might know where all the cool book readings take place.
Bookstores are perfect venues for book tours because they will stock your book in advance ((if you book a reading at a cafe, you have to carry and sell your books yourself), and will often promote the event on their website and social media. They are also generally cozy enough that even fifteen or twenty people attending your reading can feel like a full audience, as opposed to a giant bookstore like Indigo that can be harder to fill (if you aren’t J.K. Rowling - yet). Do keep in mind that most bookstores don’t have a budget to pay writers, although some will pass around a hat at the end of a reading and give the money collected to the author.
Partner With Organizations
Aside from bookstores, do some research to find out whether the city in question has a regular reading series or festival that you could join. Or look for certain organizations or collectives that might be interested in hosting you because of your identities or because of the content of your book. For my first book tour, I ended up reading at several Pride events across Canada. For my many of the events on my recent book tour, I partnered with various people of colour collectives as the main theme of my new book is racism.
Reach out to relevant student groups at colleges and universities to see if they are interested in hosting a reading. Make sure your introductory email is short and clear, with very few attachments. Many organizations are over-worked and under-staffed, so your email should create a sense of excitement or curiosity as opposed to feeling like more work to navigate.
Because art is seldom valued as labour, asking for an honourarium will often fall on your shoulders, but remember to do so if you partner with an organization. Some organizations, especially post-secondary institutions, will be able to provide some funding which will help with your tour costs. A simple “Is there a possibility of an honourarium” works.
Partner With Authors - Pt 1
Whenever I am planning a tour, I pay attention to other local writers who are releasing new books and reach out to see if they would like to tour together. Touring can be lonely, but touring with another author means you have someone you can lesbian-process with, as Farzana Doctor and I did on our “God Loves Pavement” tour in 2012, and with whom to split driving duties and tour costs.
Touring with other writers also a wonderful way to build community. I learned so much about the Vancouver literary scene from touring with Amber Dawn and Leah Horlick in 2015, and seeing them share their poetry every day for a week inspired me to rediscover poetry for myself.
Lastly, touring with another author helps increase the draw for your gigs. When I toured with Elisha Lim in 2014, there were certain cities where people attended because they were familiar with Elisha’s work and vice versa. If we had toured separately it is unlikely that we would have had the opportunity to reach the same mix of audience members.
Partner With Authors - Pt 2
Once I have booked dates for a tour, I research (via Google and again by asking my online networks) and invite one or two local writers in each city, ideally who write in a similar genre, to join the bill. Again, this builds a sense of community. I have met so many incredible writers across North America this way, including Imani Sims, Kym Nacita, and Indira Allegra. The hope is also that these writers will each bring a couple of their friends to the event to help bolster attendance. As a small gesture of appreciation, I often gift these writers with a free copy of my book where possible.
Promote Promote Promote
Now you have an amazing tour planned - but don’t forgot to promote it! Ideally all of your events will be packed with excited audiences.
● Come up with a short, relevant and catchy name for your tour. For many of my past tours, a tour name has been created by combining the book titles of the authors I am touring with (i.e. “God Loves Pavement Book Tour” or “When The Mountains End Book Tour”)
● Create a hashtag with this name that you can use everytime you post about the tour (and when you are on tour, let your audience know what the hashtag is so when they post their selfie with you, they include the tour hashtag).
● Create a colourful poster that can be adapted for every city on the tour. If you don’t have visual arts skills yourself, hire a designer to create a poster for you. This can then be printed and displayed by the venue, and utilized in your online networks.
● Create Facebook event pages for each of your tour dates so you can invite all of your Facebook friends in each city. Facebook event pages are also easily shareable too, so your friends can readily invite their friends!
● Send a press release with all the details about the event to each city’s local press, especially their weekly / alternative newspapers. Include at least one high resolution image (such as the tour poster) just in case the outlet decides to write a story. Again, keep these emails short and clear.
● At the end of each gig, let your audience know where you are heading next as they might have friends in that area and might be inclined to let them know of your arrival.
● Build a promo squad (see this helpful how to guide from writer Farzana Doctor - pg 10).
In short, be tenacious and creative in your promotion. For our “Crushes and Mountains” tour, Elisha reached out to professors at post-secondary institutions who were teaching subjects that related to our books in each city we visited, and in Pittsburgh, a whole class attended our reading!
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Vivek Shraya is a Toronto-based artist whose body of work includes several albums, films, and books. Her first novel, She of the Mountains, was named one of The Globe and Mail’s Best Books of 2014. Her debut collection of poetry, even this page is white, was released this spring, and her first children’s picture book, The Boy & the Bindi, was published this fall. Vivek has read and performed internationally at shows, festivals and post-secondary institutions, including sharing the stage with Tegan & Sara. She is one half of the music duo Too Attached.
Vivek is a 2016 Pride Toronto Grand Marshal, a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist, a 2015 Toronto Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award finalist, and a 2015 recipient of the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Dayne Ogilvie Prize Honour of Distinction.