Shelf Awareness brought this New York Times Book Review essay to our attention.
In “The D.I.Y. Book Tour,” author Stephen Elliott discusses his 33-city—or should we say 33-house?—book tour. All of Elliott’s book events for his new title, The Adderall Diaries, were held at the homes of fans.
Initially, Elliott’s publisher had planned for him the usual tour of bookstores in five coastal cities. Elliott writes that the idea depressed him. He’s authored seven books and has written for The New York Times, GQ and the Believer, but he’s not famous enough to attract big audiences. “I didn’t want to travel thousands of miles to read to 10 people, sell four books, then spend the night in a cheap hotel room before flying home,” he wrote.
So Elliott set up a lending library. Anyone could receive a free review copy of his book as long as they forwarded it to another reader within a week, at their own expense. Book events would be held in readers’ homes (They had to promise 20 attendees). Elliott would sleep on their couches.
Elliott was pleased with the result. He writes of one house party given by a nurse in Richmond, Virginia: “What was most interesting to me was that none of them had ever been to a literary event. Several told me they were big readers, at least a book a week. But when I asked a few of them about their reading habits, they hadn’t heard of the authors who are famous in my world: Lorrie Moore, Roberto Bolaño, Michael Chabon. This is most of America, I thought; I’ve stepped through the door.”
Of a Seattle event, he writes: “I sat in a chair in a corner. The attendees surrounded me on a large sectional sofa with extra seats. The host had stacked my books above the mantelpiece. Nobody asked about my writing process, or how to find an agent or a publisher. Unlike at every reading I’ve done for every other book I’ve written, there were no aspiring writers in attendance. One of the guests asked about my mother — why isn’t she a bigger part of the story? I said she was very sick for five years and died when I was 13, which is when I left home.”
In the end, he sold 1,100 books at 73 events, and it sounds like he had a great time, meeting not just fans but people who might not normally have read his books. He sums it up this way: “Leaning against the kitchen counter, I thought to myself that they weren’t a standard literary audience: they were better.”
Dave Weich, formerly of Powell’s, talked about the idea on his blog : “Bookstores pride themselves on being community centers. As they should. There’s a danger, however, in interpreting the role too literally. The desired third place need not be the store, itself.”
He talks about attending a house party his neighbor in Portland gave for Kristin Hersh, founder of the bands Throwing Muses and 50-Foot-Wave. “Early one Sunday evening, we mingled with Kristin, snacked on hors d’oeuvres, drank wine…and then sat down for what must have been the most intimate musical event many people in the room would ever experience.”
Change “musical” to “author” and we like the sound of that. Readers and booksellers, as we kick off this blog, this is exactly the kind of collaboration we hope to inspire. We all love our Northwest authors and their books. Let’s celebrate them together.