July 26, 2012

Five Lessons from a Book Tour Newbie — Guest: Suzanne Johnson

Picture of Suzanne Johnson

I’m in Anaheim, California this week for the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Annual Conference, but I have another great guest here today. Suzanne Johnson just had her debut release a few months ago, and she’s been on fire with her stories.

Her Royal Street debut came complete with a book tour. A book tour! For a debut author! How cool is that?

I’ve been lucky enough to beta read two of her (not-yet-released) stories, so I know her success is well deserved. And today, we’re all lucky to get her inside scoop on what a book tour is really like.


Five Lessons from a Book Tour Newbie

I’m a reserved person, at least when I’m in the company of real, live humans. I don’t speak in a loud voice; in fact, I’m downright quiet. Only close friends and email acquaintances get through to the truly warped person that lives deep inside. At a party or reception where I don’t know anyone, you’ll usually find me skulking in a corner behind a potted plant, plotting my escape route.

So imagine my surprise, delight, shock, dread, and horror when my publisher decided to send me on a book tour after my debut novel, Royal Street, was released in April.

Wow, I thought! A book tour! How cool is that! How lucky I am! How incredibly supportive my publisher is! OMG. What will I say? What if nobody shows up? (And I should add here, that despite my terror, it never occurred to me to not go on said book tour. Because I have been incredibly lucky and supported.)

Ten cities, thousands of miles, a TSA baggage search, and a couple of blisters later, I come to you with my top five bits of collected wisdom.

1. Be Ready for Anything.

Every setup was different, so I finally quit trying to anticipate what the venue would be like. I stood at the ancient, scarred pulpit of an old church, talking about wizards and shapeshifters and undead pirates. I sat in a children’s section (because it had the most room for chairs), surrounded by muppets and stuffed animals, talking about wizards and shapeshifters and undead pirates.

I talked in a bookstore demonstration kitchen. I talked outside under a tent while people ate cake and a guy with a live hawk tethered to his wrist wandered around in the parking lot (why, yes, that was in Southern California). I dipped my hand in purple paint and left a handprint on a paper plate.

2. BYOB.

Most places had bottled water available, but a few didn’t. If you’re like me and you already have voice problems from allergies or dry throat or just plain old nerves, it’s good to have your own.

Tip: I lost my voice completely in one spot and was really struggling until someone handed me a cup of coffee. Hot liquid! It’s like a miracle drug! So next time I might show up with a thermos. How geeky would that be?

3. Cover Your Bases.

I went low-tech to most of my signings: I blew up some of my photos of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and had a small folding easel, so I’d set it up and read passages from Royal Street that corresponded to the photos.

For a few of the signings where they had projectors, I took a PowerPoint. On two different laptops. With a pile of different connectors. And a flash drive with my slide show on it for the worse-case scenario. I ended up using the flash drive every single time. Be prepared for technical failures if you go this route.

4. You’re Not All That (Except When You Are).

Let go of preconceived notions about venues, because you never know how people will treat you.

I expected to be a welcomed guest at one indie store that had requested me for a signing, but was met at the door (with my urban fantasy in hand) by a manager wondering “when publishers were going to stop putting out all that urban fantasy trash.” Later he told me, as I called a cab to take me back to the hotel, that my publisher “obviously didn’t think much of me,” else they would have provided a car and driver. Seriously, dude? Authors have very long memories and should I ever become rich, famous, and sought-after for book signings, rest assured I will not come back to your store.

At another bookstore, a large chain where they’d been a bit reluctant to host a debut author, I expected to be greeted like the small-potatoes author I am, but instead I was treated like visiting royalty. The manager had read the book and was able to talk about it. There was a big sign outside. They announced the signing over the loudspeakers in the megastore. It was very, very awesome. I’d go back there in a heartbeat, and send my friends.

5. People Like Free Stuff.

A lot of authors have bookmarks but since some conferences don’t accept paper “swag” anymore, I decided to pair an inexpensive gemstone bracelet (that I strung myself) with a postcard explaining how my character infuses gemstones with magic in the books. I stuffed them in sandwich bags and people practically fought over them. Each bracelet was different, so there was much pawing through baskets and fun. I’ve heard of authors bringing cupcakes, chocolate, and other inexpensive goodies as well.

There were other lessons I learned, such as that TSA will pull your suitcase out, open it, and rifle through your underwear if you board a plane carrying two bottles of bacon-maple beer (who knew?), and that there’s no way to anticipate whether you’ll have two people or fifty, and that having access to a “green room” at a book festival is kind of cool. But I’ll save those for next time. Happy touring!


Suzanne Johnson writes urban fantasy from Auburn, Alabama, on top of a career in educational publishing that has thus far spanned five states and six universities (including both Alabama and Auburn, which makes her bilingual). She grew up in Winfield, Alabama, halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis’ birthplace but was also a longtime resident of New Orleans, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football, cheap Mardi Gras trinkets, and fried gator on a stick. She can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and the website of her alter ego.

Royal Street, the first in the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series, was released in April 2010 in the U.S. by Tor Books; book two, River Road, will come out on November 13. The books will release in the UK with Headline Publishing on Sept. 22 (Royal Street) and Nov. 22 (River Road).

Royal Street is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, and Indiebound.

Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson

As the junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, Drusilla Jaco’s job involves a lot more potion-mixing and pixie-retrieval than sniffing out supernatural bad guys like rogue vampires and lethal were-creatures. DJ’s boss and mentor, Gerald St. Simon, is the wizard tasked with protecting the city from anyone or anything that might slip over from the preternatural beyond.

Then Hurricane Katrina hammers New Orleans’ fragile levees, unleashing more than just dangerous flood waters.

While winds howled and Lake Pontchartrain surged, the borders between the modern city and the Otherworld crumbled. Now, the undead and the restless are roaming the Big Easy, and a serial killer with ties to voodoo is murdering the soldiers sent to help the city recover.

To make it worse, Gerry has gone missing, the wizards’ Elders have assigned a grenade-toting assassin as DJ’s new partner, and undead pirate Jean Lafitte wants to make her walk his plank. The search for Gerry and for the serial killer turns personal when DJ learns the hard way that loyalty requires sacrifice, allies come from the unlikeliest places, and duty mixed with love creates one bitter roux.


Okay, so even though a book tour doesn’t sound as glamorous as the red carpet, it’s still pretty cool. But now Suzanne has me paranoid about my PowerPoint workshop at RWA tomorrow morning. *adds “flash drive” to list*

And who else wants to know which store was so awesome to Suzanne so we can add that location to our “wish list”? *raises hand*

Does Suzanne’s experience match what you thought book tours were like? Do you have any questions about book tours? Do you want to share details of your dream book tour experience? Do you have any questions for Suzanne, like why she went with different author names for her two publishers? Do you have any questions about her books? (*psst* Ask her about the undead pirate, my favorite character. *smile*)

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Marian Lanouette

Suzanne, I love rule #2. Good luck with your book it sounds awesome. Your excerpt pulled me right in.

Suzanne Johnson

Thanks, Marian! The book tour was a trip…in more ways than one!

Katalina Leon
Katalina Leon

You are so brave Suzanne, I’m in awe!
Shame on the indie book seller, he of all people should know how difficult it is today to compete with the big houses that do have a budget.
I’m sure you shined and the readers noticed.


Same thought as Katalina: this indie bookstore is really bad. If i had an author coming even if i don’t like his/her book i would hat least treat him/her with respect -_-

Suzanne Johnson

Thanks, Miki. I think the guy at that store was filling in for the person who normally handles their visiting authors, but I’m not sure. He certainly didn’t need to be the “face” of the store. The people who were there for the signing were lovely. It was just the store manager.

Suzanne Johnson

LOL. Thanks, Kat. I was so relieved when it was all done. And I think that guy expected me to show up in a tour bus with an entourage, as Kresley Cole had done a couple of weeks earlier. Uh, hello? Debut author here.


Thanks for the great post Suzanne, this was fun reading what you went through. And you did not even mention good or bad hotels and food! Would you go on another book tour for the second book? Or would you pass?

Suzanne Johnson

Thanks, Aurian! I had great hotels, and I should have added that I decided to eat in every city at a place that had been featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” My favorite was the Twisted Root Burger Co. in Dallas. Awesome!

And would I do it again? Absolutely.

Adriana Ryan

I love your thoughts and feedback. It’s appalling the way you were treated by the one indie bookstore (I would NEVER have guessed!). It sounds like you’ve had some awesome experiences to balance that one out, though. I would’ve loved to have seen the old church–and the hawk!! 🙂 Thank you for sharing with us!

Suzanne Johnson

Thanks, Adriana! The church was cool–it was at a book festival held in a historic district. The church had been built in the early 1800s. It’s by far the most unusual setup I had.

August McLaughlin

Great pointers! Thanks, Suzanne. 🙂

My dream book tour would involve fancy or quaint hotels with kick-butt hot tubs. LOL (Not that I’d give talks from there, or anything…) I’m also thinking of busting out my guitar if people appear sleepy.

Suzanne Johnson

Thanks, August. Darn, I had great hotels but no kick-butt hot tubs. Will have to request that next time. And the guitar is a great idea :-0

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

How fantastic, Suzanne!! A book tour as a debut author!!! I’m incredibly impressed.
I hate that that store manager was so nasty to you…but yes, as you said, you’ll never tour there again, so it’s his loss.
I’m curious, are you responsible for expenses during your book tour-gas/plane tickets, food, lodging. Always wondered about that.
My dream book tour? One that happens this year…
Best wishes to you, Suzanne. So very happy for you 🙂
Jami, don’t worry about you workshop tomorrow. You’re going to be amazing!!!!
Have a great evening,

Suzanne Johnson

Hi Tamara! All my expenses were covered, so I was very fortunate in that regard. The only time I paid my own expenses was one stop I set up myself–at the library in my little hometown.

Molly Daniels

Shame on that indie bookstore manager! But happy the chain store treated you right:)

Back in 2003 when I was trying to get my first self-pubbed book into stores, I walked into a Borders only to be told ‘We don’t have any local authors and our manager wouldn’t be interested.’ I kept calm, replied I expected to put out a book a year, and walked out. Went to the next store feeling a little kicked, and when I explained who I was, the manager came out, shook my hand, and looked me up on their computer. They couldn’t put my book in their store, due to the No Return policy, but we must have talked for a good hour about writing, books, popular genres, etc. I was so buoyed up by that, I stopped at the jewelry store and drooled over what I’d buy with any future royalties:) (Hasn’t happened yet, lol, but there’s always hope!)

Suzanne Johnson

Great story, Molly! I have had zero interest from any of the local bookstores in my town of 50,000–but a hundred miles away in Atlanta, much more. You just never know (and I think it has a lot to do with the personnel and culture of the individual bookstores).


I loved your post! Thanks for sharing your experiences. Your book sounds/looks awesome!


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