Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Touring, Part Two: What to do, what to bring

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When I posted the first part of this topic, I didn’t expect there to be such a gap in time between part one and part two.

But what’s my excuse? I was busy with readings and book fairs in and out of town. All good practice to get this second post out to you, right?

Right.

In my last post, I’d promised to talk about getting the word out, making a checklist, and how to deal with a bad turnout.

Before I get into all that, let me tell you this: going out of town to do a reading can be both extremely time consuming and exciting. If you choose to put a show together all on your own though, from booking the venue to the lineup, be prepared for even more work and anxiety. Will it be fun anyway? Probably. It all depends on your expectations.

Getting the word out

One of the toughest things about reading in a city outside of your base city is making connection with the local community. Unless you’re returning to a hometown crowd or heading back to your old university stomping grounds, you’ll feel like it’s a tough sell to get people out when you don’t know anyone in town.

Should you promote your reading anyway? Yes, yes, yes.
If you’re booked to read at an established series or festival, chances are you won’t be alone in promoting your appearance, which puts you in a much easier position. Established events usually have a core audience, but don’t take it as a license to coast.

For one, it shows commitment and respect to the person or group that booked you. They’re championing you, and in turn, you’re willing to give them a bit of hustle. Sure, it might not be as much as you’d like to give, but it’s something.

Blog about it. Ask other people to blog about it.

Think about everyone you know: would any of your friends be up for a road trip? Maybe you can bring your own crowd.

If you’re doing your own show, ask the people you’re working with if they can help put up posters or flyers around town. Some venues handle their own promotion, others don’t. Make sure you understand the venue’s policy in advance and ask them what you can do to promote it properly.

Daily newspapers, alt-weeklies and cultural blogs usually have event listings. Send the details of your show to them to make sure your date gets listed.

Do whatever you can to promote your reading. Even great promotion doesn’t guarantee a good turnout, but at least you’ll know you did whatever you could to get the word out.

The goods

Along with your books, make sure to bring some change. Some reading nights will sell your books for you. Ask in advance if this is the case. If not, you should have a small float on hand.

Getting into town

I’m not sure how many of you out there drive, but I’m not one of them.

If you’re like me and you tend to use buses and trains to get around, make sure you give yourself enough time to get to you where you’re going. Buses and trains don’t always stick to their schedules, and can be delayed for any number of reasons like weather, traffic, signal or track problems, or even because of other passengers. You never know, so err on the side of caution and take an earlier departure.

Before you book a ticket or decide on your travel schedule, check to see how far the venue is from the train or bus station. This might also affect how early you should be there.

For me personally, I like having a two to three-hour window of time between getting off the bus and getting to a show. That way, I don’t feel rushed, and if my bus does get stuck in traffic part of the way, I won’t be sweating the time.

Remember, too, that in smaller cities, buses and cabs may not be as ample or frequent as they are in bigger cities. Bring change for the bus or some extra cash in case you need to catch a cab when you get there.

Before the show

Will you want to eat before your reading? Do some exploring? That should be taken into account, too. Not all venues have food, and you might not always have time to eat anything once you get there, so you might want to make time for that before your reading.

It never hurts to check out the local bookstores to see if your book is in stock. While you’re there, why not ask to sign whatever copies are in-store?

Getting prepped

If you’re traveling by car, you might be able to buy yourself a bit more time, but when you’re taking a train or a bus and you’re on someone else’s schedule, you never know what to expect.

If you have a preference on how you present yourself at a reading – say, with a certain style or look – come dressed for it, or bring a change of clothes in your bag.

Again, because you never know what happens along the way, be as ready as possible when you get to the venue. Also be ready for the possibility that the bathrooms may not be the types of places you want to linger too long.

At a talk I gave out of province a couple years ago, there was a single bathroom at the back of the store. I wanted to use the washroom before things got started and was pointed in the right direction, with no hesitation from the event’s organizer. When I got in there, I found a dirty, stained toilet covered in pubic hair and a single square of toilet paper. But there was no other option, so I squatted and got out of there as fast as possible. Of course, there was no soap to wash up with, either.

Luckily, I haven’t had to use too many bathrooms like that since. But I always go to a reading expecting it to be a possibility, which is why I use long-lasting makeup primer and get ready before I leave the house. That way, when I get to where I need to be, all I need to do is a quick touch-up.

Being ready to go when you get to the venue also means you’ll have more time to chat with the organizers and the other readers.

What to do if no one shows up

Okay, so it happens. But it could happen in your hometown, too. Sometimes readings just aren’t a draw.

Should it be a big deal? No, because you had fun, right?

You have to focus on the positive. Did you meet someone really interesting? Did you sell a few books? Did you connect with the people who were in the audience, even if there were only five of them?

Recently, I did an event in Kingston with author Liisa Ladouceur. We had great promotion for it: the local newspaper did a big article to hype it. So did the Queen’s Journal. It was listed. Liisa did a radio interview the night before, and we threw in a book giveaway for fun.

There were prizes at the show. There was a DJ, Bill Gillespie, and a great local poet, Barry King. We held it at an artists’ collective in an old house. We decorated the space with candles. It looked great.

Despite all our efforts, the turnout wasn’t huge, but the enthusiasm of the people in the room was enormous. Everyone who was there was genuinely interested in what we were doing, and everyone had the chance to chat and ask questions. It was a lot of fun, and afterwards, I felt really good about it. The warmth in the room meant the trip was worth it.

And if you do a show that is a total, complete bust, with absolutely no fun at all? Well, either it will be a great story for later, a learning experience, or a quality drinking night spent with everyone else on the bill.

You’re only there for a short time. Make the best of it while you can.

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