I used to be under the impression that book tours were a whirlwind of excitement for authors, most expenses paid. I thought publishers provided the means and support to help authors promote their books and while on tour they had the opportunity to explore new cities, dine at trendy local restaurants and meet and greet their fans, relaxing in the knowledge that their books have been published. However, after some investigation I discovered this romanticized view doesn’t necessarily reflect what it is truly like to go on a book tour, especially for a first-time author.
I had the chance to speak with Joy Wilson, creator of the popular blog, Joy the Baker, about her experience being on tour as a new author. After attending her signing at Seattle’s lovely bookshop, Booklarder, I can tell you that her events are big and busy. She has loyal fans and they’re showing up. Apparently at previous signings, bookstores had been selling out of her books simply because they didn’t anticipate such big turnouts. The audience consists of mostly of women clutching their Joy the Baker Cookbook and patiently waiting over an hour for Joy to sign them. Some bring baked goods to share with her. There are cell phone photos, lots of laughter, and a few cat jokes (Joy often refers to her beloved cat on the blog).
But what I really wanted to know was: behind the goodies, laughs, and cat jokes, what’s a book tour really like? First, let’s start at the beginning — who plans the darn thing? It’s a common misconception that publishers send authors out on a book tour. That doesn’t happen much these days. Joy explained how she actually approached her publisher, Hyperion, about going on a book tour. It wasn’t originally on their radar mainly because it wasn’t something they could fund, but Joy felt certain she had to go and meet her loyal blog readers in person. And it’s important for selling books, so it’s a win-win for both author and publisher. “People feel like they know me from the blog and I want to help them feel that even more. But I also want to get to know them,” Joy explains. So she gave Hyperion a list of cities she wanted to visit based solely on where she had friends and beds to sleep in. Her publisher helped arrange the logistics of venues and Joy took care of the rest: plane tickets, lodging, food and incidentals. It can be a financial burden for an author, but for Joy the expense has been worthwhile.
“I wish I could go to more cities. Austin and Boston would be great, but I don’t know people there so it would be more money out of my pocketbook,” Joy explains. It’s not for lack of the publisher wanting to send her out to more spots, it’s simply a financial constraint on both ends. It’s the reality of the publishing business these days.
But that hasn’t slowed Joy down.
“I’m most surprised by how many people spend their time and energy and money to come out to a book signing to see me. That completely blows me away. Every time I go to a signing, I think there’s probably only going to be ten people on a random Thursday night, but then these rooms fill with people. It’s humbling and surprising … I think it’s the blogger relationship now and people feel so connected to bloggers and blogs that they’ve read for 3-4 years so they’re eager to meet these people in person. It is such a new thing that I don’t think publishers or even bookstores are aware of how close people feel to bloggers they read.”
They’re one loyal bunch.
So what does an average day on the book tour look like for Joy?
“I happen to be in a different city but I’m not on vacation. I don’t have a post up for this morning and I feel terribly guilty about it. Typically I wake up and figure out where to find coffee. I don’t do a lot of cooking on the road (I cooked and photographed a lot before traveling), so I edit photos, answer emails, and tend to blog posts I need to get up. I spend the day doing that, find some hopefully good food to eat in the city I’m visiting, and get to the venue an hour early.”
A typical day is filled with work and, unfortunately, the occasional meal at a chain Mexican restaurant. When in Portland, a food-loving city through and through, her fans were asking Joy where she’s had a chance to eat. The reality? Joy found a Chevy’s close to her hotel and was pressed for time, so that’s where she ended up. Not the hottest bar or cafe, not anything particular to Portland, but sustenance all the same. And often, work and sustenance is more the focus of these quick trips.
The most difficult part of the tour for Joy is traveling to cities where she knows people but faces the time constraints of having to spend most of her energy devoted to book promotion.
“I feel like I can’t always see everyone I want to see,” she explains. “The book signing requires so much energy. I want to give every person my all; I want to have a connection and experience with every person that takes time to come out to see me. That means before the event, I have to hang out by myself and be quiet — not running around the city with friends. I have to give my energy to a bunch of people I don’t really know instead.”
I can’t speak for other cities, but in Seattle, this connection was very genuine and folks lingered even after their books were signed so as to be just a bit longer in a space shared with the writer, blogger, and personality they so admire. And truth be told, the cookbook in and of itself, is reason enough to show up, too. It’s a sweetly-designed book with original photography and chapters that are arranged in a quirky way (including “I Need a Hug or a Brownie or Maybe Both” or “I Think I Just Ate Chocolate For Dinner”). Recipes range from sweet to savory, with mouth-watering inclusions like Chocolate Cookies and Cream Pudding, Banana Rum Cake with Brown Butter Frosting, and Avocado Fries. A few food bloggers here in Seattle baked recipes from the cookbook to bring to the event, and the Chocolate Brownie Cookies with White Chocolate and Roasted Macadamia Nuts were too good not to share, book tour or no book tour.
Read Joy’s blog: Joy the Baker
Check out the Podcast: Joy the Baker Podcast with Tracy Shutterbean
Check out Joy’s book: Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes
See Joy on Tour: Book Tour Schedule
Chocolate Brownie Cookies with White Chocolate and Roasted Macadamia Nuts
Makes: 24 cookies
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chunks
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
i teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder, optional
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
3/4 cups white chocolate chips or chunks
3/4 cups macadamia nuts, roasted and salted
Note: If you buy raw macadamia nuts, toss them in 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Roast at 350 F for 8 minutes, or until the nuts are lightly golden. Allow to cool before folding into the cookie batter.
Place racks in the upper third and middle of the oven and preheat oven to 325 F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Gently simmer 2 inches of water in a medium saucepan. Place bittersweet chocolate and butter in a medium-sized bowl and place the bowl over, not touching, the simmering water, creating a double-boiler. Melt the chocolate and butter together until butter is melted. Remove from the simmering water and stir until chocolate is completely melted. Allow chocolate to cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Whisk the granulated sugar, espresso powder, and vanilla extract into the warm chocolate mixture. Whisk in the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Add the chocolate mixture, all at once, to the flour mixture. Fold to incorporate. When flour just begins to disappear into the chocolate mixture, add the white chocolate and macadamia nuts. Fold thoroughly. Batter will feel thick.
Dollop batter by the tablespoonful onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 11 minutes (The cookies are best slightly underdone). Let rest for 5 minutes on baking sheet before moving to cooling rack. Cookies will keep in an airtight container, separated in layers by a piece of wax paper, at room temperature for 5 days.
From JOY THE BAKER by Joy Wilson. Copyright © 2012 Joy Wilson. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.