Author J.C. Geiger has embarked on a 4,300-mile, 10-day interactive road trip from his hometown of Eugene, Oregon, to New York City and BookExpo to promote the release of his debut young adult novel, Wildman (Disney-Hyperion, June 6). Along the way, he will be stopping at indie bookstores, tracking the book’s sales through his website, and collecting donations to support public libraries.
Geiger plans to drive five miles for every copy of Wildman sold, and one mile for every $5 donated to the American Library Association (ALA). If Geiger raises enough money from online purchases and contributions to make it all the way to New York City, he will arrive just in time for the trade show at the Javits Convention Center (May 31 to June 2), where he is looking forward to meeting with booksellers.
Visitors can track the journey’s progress on Geiger’s site and on Facebook, where the entire trip will be live-streamed as he attempts to cross the country in his ’93 Buick Century — the same car that inspired his new book, when it broke down on the way home from a particularly dispiriting and expensive writing conference a few years ago and left Geiger stranded for several days in rural Washington State. Once his unconventional author tour is complete, Geiger also plans to donate his newer 2003 Buick to ALA along with supporters’ monetary donations.
On Sunday, May 21, Geiger, armed with a tent, plenty of water, and Wildman ARCs and swag, began his trip across America. In addition to indie bookstores, he will be stopping at libraries, dive bars, and other points of interest, periodically picking up and dropping off artists, musicians, librarians, writers, and book lovers along the trail. Traveling partners, Geiger said, may include the coordinator of New Mexico’s Teen Library Program and a group of paranormal investigators in Utah.
“I’m a huge fan of road trips from way back,” said Geiger, who also created a video trailer for his trip. “I’ve been to every state but I haven’t done this route before. I’m really excited about the trip. It’s scary but it’s a good scary.”
Geiger’s only scheduled bookstore event is at Rediscovered Books in Boise, Idaho, so the other bookstores he visits will depend on how far along the route he is at any given time. Geiger said he is amenable to any kind of interaction booksellers want: a quick conversation, a ride-along in the Buick, an impromptu Q&A with readers, or an on-the-road phone call/Skype.
“I really hope that the fun from this will come from how people engage with it and how they make it their own,” said Geiger. “It would be so great if booksellers could come up with a fun way to do that. This whole trip’s unconventional nature pushes people to be unconventional, so I hope booksellers are inspired.”
As he travels the country, Geiger’s ’93 Buick will sport a Live Buick Tracker to monitor miles earned, a GPS-enabled map to pinpoint his location, and a real-time text message system to alert him when someone makes a purchase or donation; the system also allows him to thank road trip participants in real time and respond to their messages. Geiger will also be documenting his journey on social media, including a nightly Facebook Live wrap up at the end of each day.
Visitors to Geiger’s website can make a pledge to pre-order a book or make a donation by entering how many books they will buy and how much they will donate and hitting enter; this action triggers animation of a Buick puttering along the road. The next screen directs visitors to the ALA website to make their donation, and to a text box where they can type in the name of an independent bookstore; this opens up a Google Search tab for the store so people can buy the book directly from their favorite indie. The page also includes a link to the IndieBound bookstore map. Geiger said the page will feature links to Barnes & Noble and Amazon, but the indie bookstore option will be highlighted with a giant heart button.
“The purchase of the book is essentially a pledge; at that point, I gain the miles for the road trip. In the second step of the process, I’m trusting the user to preorder from either an online retailer or indie bookstore,” said Geiger. “I did this two-step process entirely because I didn’t want to make this a buy-from-Amazon road trip.” Even though Amazon makes it easier to collect data, Geiger wants to make a special effort to support indie bookstores.
In addition to raising money for ALA, Geiger said this project is a way to stay true to the themes of the book, which follows recent high school graduate Lance, whose car breaks down on the road, stranding him in a strange town. There, he becomes immersed in the lives of the people he finds, as the freedom of anonymity opens up a new world of possibility.
Speaking with Bookselling This Week last Friday, Geiger likened the book’s message to advice from Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon: always err on the side of what would make for the best story. Through his journey, Lance comes to know what Geiger has learned through writing and travel — that things that aren’t scary are probably not worth doing.
“This trip is a really risky idea; my publishers were concerned for things like my safety, for me breaking down. There’s the possibility this could be a complete embarrassment if I don’t get more than six miles from my hometown. They had legitimate fears and concerns, but from the moment this book was written, for me, it’s been about the risk of putting yourself out there and learning from it and doing what feels authentic and what feels like the most interesting thing.”
Here’s a note Geiger has written to booksellers who would like to make contact during his trip:
If you’re open to a visit at your bookstore, I’d love to swing by and see you. I would give you a quick heads-up when I’m near your store, tour the shop during a live broadcast, drop off a few gifts, and be on my merry way. We can do some cross-promotion on social media, then cross our fingers that my ’93 Buick makes it all the way across the country.
My cell number is (773) 573-6316 — that’s the best way to reach me on the road. Texting works great, or send an e-mail to [email protected].
Thank you for keeping the indies alive and well! Please spread the word, and I hope to see you soon!
For more information or to get in touch, booksellers can contact Geiger via phone or e-mail, visit his website, or check out his social media pages (Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter). To buy a copy of Wildman and/or donate money to the ALA, visit Geiger’s website.