~Guest post by Jon Jefferson
A few years ago, my dear friend (and fellow novelist) Sheila Curran gave me a copy of a great essay called “My Life in Sales,” written by Ann Patchett and published in The Atlantic. Patchett, Clyde Edgerton, and Allan Gurganus were drinking in a hotel lobby bar in Mobile, AL, and discussing the mixed blessings of book tour: the surreal experience of spending days or weeks trudging from city to city, from hotel to hotel, from bookstore to bookstore, signing copies for hundreds of strangers (if Fortune smiles) or for thousands of strangers (if the authorial lottery ticket pays off).
“We all had books that had recently been published,” Patchett writes, “or were about to be published, and now was the time for us to go out into America and sell them. None of us felt particularly energized by this prospect.” She goes on:
“You’ve got to drink plenty of water,” Clyde said, and pulled a bottle of Evian from his bag to make the point. He had decided that the reason his last tour had been so hard was that he had gotten dehydrated along the way (all that flying). He believed the lack of water had led to his prolonged post-book-tour despair. Post-book-tour despair, that surprising companion to the despair one feels during book tour, was then discussed at length. Of the three of us, only Allan was sanguine. “The only thing worse than going on book tour,” he said, “is not going on book tour.”
Patchett’s essay is on my mind because I’m just back from book tour: a dozen days and fifteen (sixteen?) events to promote and sign The Inquisitor’s Key—including a lovely event at Patchett’s own bookstore, Parnassus Books, which she and Karen Hayes opened, recently and bravely, in Nashville. Since returning home, I’ve managed to do my laundry and fumigate my running shoes—which had gotten soaked during a deluged-drenched run halfway through book tour, and smelled thereafter like an entire pack of wet dogs—but I’ve not yet tackled the stack of mail piled on my desk.
Those of us who are lucky enough to go on book tour love to whine about it. Indeed, it’s often grueling and occasionally deeply dispiriting. This tour’s most deflating event transpired 20,000 feet beneath me on Day 2, at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ: the event began, transpired, and ended while my plane circled overhead throughout, fended off by a freakish thunderstorm; I landed just in time to catch my red eye flight back to Atlanta. Disappointing, for sure, but my book-tour nadir remains the evening two (three?) years ago, in a highly regarded indie bookstore, when only two people showed up, and neither one bought the new book … because the much-ballyhooed bookstore had neglected to order the damned thing.
But for every misery-making moment, there are dozens of glorious ones. Fifteen days ago, at one of my favorite bookstores on earth, one of my favorite booksellers on earth pressed two books into my hands as gifts—important books, she said, that I absolutely must read. Fourteen days ago, more than a hundred people paid ten bucks a head for a book talk and signing—a fundraiser for one of my favorite public libraries on earth.
Libraries, and bookstores, and blogs, and book tours matter enormously, because books matter even more. And readers matter most of all. So if you’re reading this, and especially if you’re reading The Inquisitor’s Key: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Jon Jefferson is the “writer” half of the bestselling novelist Jefferson Bass (the other half being world-renowned forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Bass). The latest Jefferson Bass forensic thriller, The Inquisitor’s Key (William Morrow, May 8) debuted at #24 on the New York Times list.
Watch the trailer for The Inquisitor’s Key: