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The Tragical Mystery Book Tour (Part 2)

Author and New Yorker cartoonist Bob Eckstein recently set out on a book tour of his own devising. In this four-part series, he outlines his experience, lessons learned along the way, and what up-and-coming authors might expect from their own tours.

Author and New Yorker cartoonist Bob Eckstein recently set out on a book tour of his own devising. In this four-part series, he outlines his experience, lessons learned along the way, and what up-and-coming authors might expect from their own tours. Read Part 1 here.

November 18th, Miami, Florida, Miami Book Fair

This is one sweet gig, and for an author it kind of doesn’t get any better. Perks, swag, networking, free meals… It’s all here with a team of organizers I’ve become friends with and look forward to reconnecting with each year.

It started by taking a shuttle to the Fair with former New Yorker Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff and Wallace Shawn, who is son to William Shawn, the great former editor of the New Yorker. He announced in his Princess Bride accent, “Inconceivable!”

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For those interested in being a participating author at the Miami Book Fair, here’s a couple of things to know:

You will be probably be paired with another author with a similar interest to you and you find out the nature of your program not long before you head down there. I did a panel with Mankoff. Bob’s a friend but also my former boss, something that was an extra wrinkle for me, emotionally.

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Again, there was a serious moment of panic when their computer wouldn’t make a handshake with mine, and we only had a blank screen until the show was about to begin. The prospect of describing cartoons instead of showing them, I think, aged me five years. But someone came to the rescue and all went off well. My favorite moment was after my portion and before Bob was introduced, I told the crowd that, “here today was someone who greatly inspired and influenced my work…” and I jokingly introduced my special guest cartoonist extraordinaire Mick Stevens, instead of Bob.

This was the second time I had a special guest, and I feel it adds something. I think it’s the writer’s responsibility to do everything to make an event special and entertaining. Reading from your book is maybe enough for literary stars for whom just showing up is satisfying for their fans. But two bits of advice I was given on book events were:

1) If people are going to take the time to schlepp to one of your events, try to do everything to make it worth their while (and that includes making them comfortable with refreshments, etc.),

and 2) be the best dressed person in the room.

I did get comments afterwards—“I wasn’t going to come, but now I’m glad I did.”

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I spent two days at the Fair, live drawing and soaking in the excitement. The Fair has tents selling and supporting your books, and it attracts book lovers ready to buy books.

One of the best parts of Miami Book Fair is meeting your writing heroes and making contacts. It’s here you could meet people like Colson Whitehead in the Green Room or talk to a publisher about your next project or cut a deal. Both things happened.

I spent a fair amount of time obsessing over getting an arepa for my last meal. Arepas are thick sweet corn meal pancakes stuffed with melted mozzarella cheese. $6.50. It’s about 40,000 calories and I’m still trying to work it off now.

November 28th, New York City, Author Talk, Mid-Manhattan NYPL

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“I’m afraid no one’s coming,” was how one of the librarians greeted me. They had a sign-up sheet and it was almost empty, but thankfully it wasn’t a fair indication of who was planning to come. One fear I have at library events, I’m embarrassed to admit, is that a special person with problems will attend and affect the experience for others. Libraries are frequently a shelter for the homeless, but a friend of mine had such a fellow sit in the front of his event who smelled so bad that none of his friends wouldn’t stay. That didn’t happen. The closest thing was a crazy ex-girlfriend in the front row.

The NYPL Gift Shop no longer sponsors these events, so it’s up to the author to sell his own books. My Square device for making credit card transitions had been well worth the aggravation of setting it up. But to protect themselves, they do not allow credit card sales for fear of internet hacking. At the NYPL there were a couple of people, despite my Facebook warnings, who said they wanted to pay a few copies of my book, but using a credit card, so it cost me.

I invited friend, writer and humorist Lenore Skenazy act as the moderator. The library wanted me in conversation with someone, and she’s a pro. The weekend before we meet at a Columbian restaurant in Queens for brunch and to brief each other as to what to discuss. How one imagines things will go is never what really happens. It’s like when you rehearse in your head how a break-up is going to go down and then you never get a chance to say what you were planning. The same is true with these book events it seems. There is always a curveball. But our talk went fine, and I glanced ever so often to make sure we talked for an hour. Unlike other venues that get worried you will start boring the crowd, the library gets upset if you don’t last an hour: “They came far to hear you," I was repeatedly told.

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Bookstores also don’t want you to go on too long for fear of oversharing. They told me that too frequently an author discusses enough of the book that the attendees don’t feel a need to read it. It’s a balance. You need to tease them and share something that makes your subject fascinating. I heard recently of another history book author answer each listener’s question on NPR with, “You’ll need to read the book.” By the end of the interview, the guest was, I’m sure, disliked by her whole listening audience.

I love the NYPL and they were very grateful. I highly recommend that authors pursue library events for various reasons. Often a book event’s positive effect comes long after the event through good word of mouth. This is the case with library events.

December 5th, Rockville Centre, NY, Turn of the Corkscrew Books & Wine

I wanted to do an event that was close enough to my mom that she could invite her friends. It was upsetting to learn how few independent bookstores still existed on Long Island. An author friend (who I unfortunately didn’t see at the event) had recommended this store to me for years, and I found it more receptive than the one other store.

It was a beautiful, charming store but small, and it meant moving the event downstairs in the basement—not ideal. No atmosphere and stairs. As a result the store owner didn’t see any of the presentation. A book club was conducting a meeting on the main floor, and when they finished, no one had the slightest interest in seeing what was happening. I talk about publishing in my presentation, and I have quite a bit of experience to share, but I’ve found book clubs, even the ones I’m involved in, seldom take advantage of these opportunities to learn and advance their own careers from established authors.

I wound up making an arrangement to have my books on consignment because they ran out of stock, and they said they were unable to get a reorder from the distributor. I always keep books in my trunk no matter what—I can appreciate that a store like this doesn’t make large orders.

The biggest laugh resulted in a heckler in the front row who said she was falling asleep. I snapped back, “How dare you! My mother’s here!”

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