Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Touring, Part One: what you will do, what you won't, and how you can

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Okay, let’s admit it: gigging at literary events can be a strange and sometimes scary experience.

But as an author, scheduled appearances can also be some of the best experiences, whether you’re doing a reading, giving a talk, or signing books.

When you get booked for a reading you don’t always know what you’re going to be walking into. Some reading nights are long-running series that have a dedicated, built-in following that will show up no matter who’s on the bill.

Other audiences might depend more on who you’re sharing the stage with, and depending on how varied the works are of the featured readers, you could find some new fans or end up feeling totally out of your element.

And sometimes, no matter how much promotion goes out for an event, the turnout will still be slim.

When it comes to appearances, I find it’s best not to worry too much about the things you can’t control – like a crowd – and focus on what you can.

Because there are a lot of different points to cover, I'm going to break this topic up in parts. Today, let's start with the basics, which are deciding what you want to do, what you don't, and how to get there.

1. Set your opportunity parameters

When my first book came out, my publisher wasn’t sure that setting up a lot of appearances outside of southern Ontario would be the best way to promote it, since it’s mostly focused on Toronto with Hamilton and London sewn into the narrative.

There was uncertainty about whether a Toronto-centric oral history would be enough of a draw to justify traveling this country’s long, hard distances. Though I didn’t doubt the book would be of interest to people outside of my area code, a more conservative approach was taken to which cities would be best to focus on. We ended up going with Toronto, Hamilton, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Montreal. It helped to have these boundaries set because there was no wondering, “should we try Newfoundland? Manitoba? British Columbia?”

It was clear from the start and when it was over there was no feeling of, “maybe we should’ve done this…”

Before my second book came out, I started to realize that this time around, I didn’t have to be as conscious about geography. With my new book being a poetry collection, I have potential new options to pursue with it. I can take it to reading nights, open mics, and organize my own events anywhere they’ll take me.

So I set my parameters for how far I am willing to go with my new book, and what I am willing to do, which is basically anything. I decided I will take any opportunity I can, assuming I don’t have a major conflict with the date or a major budget shortfall.

Everyone’s parameters will be different. Not all authors like doing appearances, so they may decide to commit to a book signing but to decline any reading opportunities. Some people aren’t able to travel due to family, work, or other personal obligations.

Some people might have a tangible goal in mind: launch a book in three different cities, do five readings in one month, table at a small press book fair.

Whatever your situation is, and whatever you’re willing to do, write it down and start to think of how you can make it happen. Publishers sometimes help their authors get connected with some events, but not always.

Sometimes you will have to create the opportunity you want.

2. Making your own fun

After you’ve got a clear idea of what you will and will not do, you might find that you want to do something big, like a reading in New York City or a five-stop tour.

But of course, writers know best that opportunities don’t just fall in your lap. Sometimes you have to make them.

If you want to book an out of town date and don’t have anyone to help you (again, publishers may or may not be able to do this), you can look at your options.
First, you can see if there are any established reading series happening in that city. If there are, you might want to connect with the event organizer and ask if you can get booked.

Before you contact them, assume they will say yes and make sure you are leaving yourself enough time to coordinate your work schedule if you need to, save money to get there (again if you need to), and help promote it.

They will probably be booked for the next one or two shows, but you never know. Sometimes cancellations happen and you could find yourself the lucky person who asked for something at the right time.
Small bookstores also host authors and signings. Check out a store’s website to see if they have any events listed. If they do, chances are they’ll be receptive to hearing from you.

If you want to create your own event, start by checking out venue options. Art galleries, collectives, and bars that host spoken word nights are the best places to start. They tend to be friendlier to authors than clubs or concert venues. You will want to talk to their resident booker or promoter. This information will usually be on the venue’s website.

If you go this route, expect the venue to be booked at least a month in advance. Be ready to propose a few different dates to them. It’s easier to get a Monday or Tuesday night than it is a Friday or Saturday, so you might have a longer wait for a prime weekend spot.

Also expect to pay a deposit on the venue. If it’s a smaller place, the cost probably won’t be much – usually around $50. Just as you’ve set your opportunity parameters, you will also have to set your budget parameters. Take this into account when you are determined what your travel, food, and accommodation costs will be.

In my next post, I will talk about what not to forget; promoting out of town dates; and how not to be bummed when no one shows up. Stay tuned!

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: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Liz Worth 2011

Liz Worth is the Toronto-based author of Amphetamine Heart (Guernica Editions, 2011), Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond 1977-1981 (Bongo Beat/ECW, 2011) and Eleven: Eleven (Trainwreck Press, 2008), a shot of surreal punk fiction.

Go to Liz Worth 2011’s Author Page