Writer in Residence

Poetry Tours: Planning

By Manahil Bandukwala

Planning a book tour is a lot of work, and it’s the kind of work I dread the most. Events are unpredictable. You can plan and plan, but factors like weather, health, money, and so many others can come up at any point. Despite all these fears, when MONUMENT launched, I had a number of reasonably successful events, and lots of fun!

I have two blogs on poetry tours planned: the first on ways to make planning easier, and the second on how to fund a tour. Both of these posts come with a disclaimer of my work and general life situation. My work during this time was flexible, and so I didn’t need to take time off and could instead work around my obligations. I’m also in my mid-twenties and don’t have anyone to look after except myself. So if you’re a caregiver for children or parents, or it’s difficult to take work off, not all of what’s in this post can apply.

Nonetheless, I’ll share what I learned, and hopefully it will be helpful and informative in some ways. Most of what I have to share comes down to this: the friends and connections you make in the poetry world through magazine publications, literary events, and volunteering are incredible supports in surviving a tour. 

You can have events in different cities in a number of ways, and some of these might be virtual. You can receive invitations to any kind of the following events: reading series, festivals, and university visits—there’s usually support for travel logistics with these kinds of events and they sometimes come with honoraria. These three examples are events where the logistics are all taken care of. If you’re travelling hundreds or thousands of kilometres for one of those events, it can be nice to organize others in nearby cities—when I knew I was going to Victoria for an invited event, I decided to add Vancouver to my city list.

The events you plan yourself are the most time-intensive but are so very rewarding. You choose the cities you want to read in, you invite local poets whose work you love to join you in this celebration, and you get to make the event all about you! But you do have to secure the venue yourself, find a host, contact readers, figure out transportation, find a place to stay, create event graphics, market and promote, and more.   

The following advice is what was most helpful for me in easing some of the stress:

  • Ask local poets for recommendations for venues that already host book launches and will be ready for yours with minimal work from you — bookstores especially are a great venue, because they’ll order your book to the store and handle sales.
  • Send personal messages to people you’d like to attend your launch — if there’s a poet in the city you’d love to meet, tell them!
  • Rehearse your set and make this event a space people will enjoy attending — this creates a buzz that carries forward to subsequent events.
  • Communicate the health and safety measures you have in place, including asking people to wear masks so the space is accessible to as many people as possible.

For the bulk of self-planned events, I teamed up with my friend Conyer Clayton. Together, we hit four cities in her car, laughed about cows, and split all the above-mentioned work. By teaming up, we had double the chance of finding a place to stay with a friend. We combined our networks and increase audiences in our respective cities. Travelling together was exciting enough, and the pressure of elements out of our control lessened somewhat.

So, if you can, find a tour buddy, someone with matching energy levels who also wants nothing more than to unwind in a friend’s hot tub after a reading. Or, to summarize everything I’ve shared here: alleviate yourself of some of the work involved in creating a tour.

This is by no means an exhaustive post on what you should know when planning a tour, but I hope, combined with other resources that other writers have created, that it helps make the process easier. If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and want to know more about what you should know for events, I highly recommend Leah Horlick’s blog posts as Writer-in-Residence, including her post called “Raise your shields: performance boundaries for poets” on events and personal safety. 

I have a second part of this miniseries planned, on ways to fund a tour. See you then!

Manahil Bandukwa's MONUMENT and Conyer Clayton's But the sun, and the ships, and the fish, and the waves, with a small plastic cow between the books

This small cow accompanied us on our tour

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Manahil Bandukwala is a multidisciplinary artist and writer. She is the author of Women Wide Awake (Mawenzi House, 2023) and Monument (Brick Books, 2022; shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award), and numerous chapbooks. In 2023, she was selected as a Writer's Trust Rising Star. See her work at manahilbandukwala.com.