When I sent out my most January newsletter announcing the Best Women's Erotica of the Year Volume 2 book tour, a few people asked me, "How come you're not come to my city?" (Side note, if you're a newsletter subscriber, read it above or in your inbox and enter to win a copy of my female orgasm anthology Orgasmic by January 22nd!)
So I wanted to answer that question here. Whether I do any book readings at all, and how many I do, boils down to three main factors: time, money and people. I'll break them each down.
Especially since the middle of last year when I started working in an office again for the first time since 2011, my time is much more limited. I'm taking three unpaid days off to do this tour, and that's only four dates. If I could have scheduled them all to avoid taking days off, I would have, but I also have to accommodate the stores' available dates and the days they feel will have the best turnout, along with the availability of my readers. To my mind, there's no point in doing an event on a night that nobody shows up to readings. In addition to scheduling, there's also getting to the event and back home. The other time factor that I would imagine people don't realize is the numerous hours of promotion leading up to an event. I learned when I was running my reading series In The Flesh that you have to reach people in as many ways as possible, so for the few months leading up to my readings, I research every avenue possible to let people know. Then I add my event listings everywhere from Yelp to Craigslist to Eventful to Galleycat, send them to the local newspapers and alt weeklies and blogs, have my publisher send the book and the event details, post on message boards, etc. All of that is very time consuming, and probably not something I could do, or at least, do well, if I had 10 events at once. I would rather do 4 events where I know I did everything I could to get people to attend and, hopefully, have good turnout, than 10 events where I was too frazzled to do anything more than a half-hearted effort.
Money is directly linked with time, in that the time I'm doing all of the above, I'm not doing any paid work. Now, indirectly, hopefully, a book tour helps generate sales and visibility and publicity, which in the long run translates into more money for me, but in the short term, my book tours are huge expenses. I organize and fund my book tour myself, so in addition to the days off work I'm taking (I'm a freelancer so I only get paid for the days I'm actually working), here are some of the expenses involved: having promotional postcards made, mailing postcards, travel (airfare, hotel, taxis and Uber), meals while traveling, payment to authors (I am paying authors traveling outside of their home city $50 to help cover their travel costs). I also believe it's only right to support the stores that are supporting my work so I will likely buy one or more books at each venue. I haven't done the math yet, but I will likely have spent around $2,000 on this tour, not counting the days off I'm taking. Let's be widely generous and say I will sell 20 books at each event (that's most likely not going to happen and I'm not even sure if stores bring in that many for an event), my royalties would be $101.60, which I would receive in early August.
In other words, I'm losing money on doing this or any other book tour, in the short term. So why do I do it at all? Several reasons. For one, it's simply in my blood. I've been organizing readings since my first short story, "Monica and Me," was published way back in 2000. I believe that words don't only live on the page, and should be enjoyed live in front of people to truly gauge their impact. I also know that most bookstores stock very little to no erotica, so to have the genre take center stage alongside all the other valuable and important books being published is a sign that we don't want to be relegated to some back corner somewhere or solely read in secret on e-readers. I love that I'm getting to read at the same bookstore that Jon Hamm recently did an event in. I want more visibility not just for my books but for the genre as a whole. I subscribe to numerous bookstores' mailing lists and simply don't see a lot of erotica events listed. I'm deeply grateful to all the independent bookstores from Asheville to Anchorage who have chosen to stock Best Women's Erotica of the Year, Volume 2, amongst the hundreds of thousands of books they could have stocked, and I want to make sure everyone from casual browsers to regular customers knows that those stores have these offerings.
I believe it's also valuable for my book's word of mouth to be seen in a "coming soon" display, to appear in a bookstore's newsletter and social media, to be listed in local media (thank you, Time Out LA!), and to simply be talked about. Maybe someone will see it and not think anything of it but in a month or a year will get curious and remember, "Hey, I saw that book of erotica at ___ store. I'm going to see if it's up my alley." I'll also be sharing photos and video on Twitter and Instagram and follow the BWE Facebook page because in Boston on February 9 I'm going to do my first Facebook Live! Yes, I'm a little nervous, just as I'm always nervous before I do a reading, but I'm also excited. I also believe it's useful for my authors, many of whom are doing a public reading for the first time (for some, this is their first published erotica story, or first in print). Since I got my start organizing readings and doing them for anthologies I was published in, I want to give this opportunity back to my authors. This deserves its own post, but part of my vision for the Best Women's Erotica of the Year series is that it's one where readers come to read sexy stories but also find new to them authors to follow as their careers blossom and grow, and live readings are part of that. They can build lifelong fans who may not remember everything they read, but are far likely to remember having heard the author speak the words with their own unique way of telling a story.
To put it another way, I'm a gambler. I actually don't go to the casinos within ten minutes of my home because of that, but with my books, I'm willing to gamble my own money that they are worth the effort and expenditure, that the cumulative impact of doing several readings in a row under the guise of a "book tour" is sending the right message to the universe. I wish it were as simple an equation as, the more time and money you invest in your book, the better it does in the marketplace. Of course it's not. There's myriad factors that go into whether a book is a hit with readers and book buyers, but I want to position this series, which is the culmination of my 17 years in the erotica genre, to do the best it possibly can. The better this book sells, the more resources I have for the next two volumes and, hopefully, my publisher will be happy with the series' progress and ask me to edit more of them.
While time and money determine how many cities I can visit and how much I can spend on these events, the determining factor in which cities I actually book events in is people. For instance, I love feminist bookstore Book Woman in Austin (shop there! It's a treasure trove for book lovers), but I don't think there are any authors in Best Women's Erotica of the Year 1 or 2 anywhere in Texas. Ditto for many other locations I'd love to visit. It doesn't make sense for just the editor of an anthology to do an appearance. So I scan each volume and see where the largest concentration of authors are located, see if they are interested, and make my plans around that. I have authors in each volume who live outside the United States, which I think makes the books stronger and more varied, but it leaves more limited options for events. I love that we get insight into dating culture in the Philippines, but I obviously can't afford to go there for a reading.
In this case, two of my authors are traveling from northern California for our Los Angeles reading at Skylight Books on January 31, and several are traveling for the others. That to me is an incredible honor, that someone would give up their own time and effort to take part in a reading I organized. That makes me all the more determined that they get a big crowd to hear their dirty words! I don't believe in unpaid labor or exploiting authors, so this year I offered that extra payment to my authors who are traveling to readings.
One of the great aspects of editing a series like this, though, is that as the years go by, I have a larger pool of readers to choose from, so even if there weren't enough people the first time, there may be next time. While this tour is mainly focused on Volume 2, Jade A. Waters and D.R. Slaten from Volume 1 are also reading with us, and I will probably read selections from each volume.
So that is my very long-winded way of describing how my book tours operate. Obviously, authors with big publishers likely have a very different setup that doesn't involve out of pocket costs (though it may). I'll end by saying that I would greatly appreciate you helping to spread the word about these four events. I always poll attendees after events to see where they heard about them, and amazingly, I get a wide range of response; it's rare that 80% heard about it from one source. So you telling your friend in LA or Baltimore or New York or Jersey City about this event is extremely valuable and helpful. Below are the links to the individual venues and the Facebook event pages if you want to spread the word that way. We're also doing Q&As after each event so you can ask me and the authors anything about erotica, writing, publishing or whatever else you're curious about. The better this tour does, the more likely it is that I'll do it again next year in new cities!
Best Women's Erotica of the Year book tour, 2017
January 31, 7:30 pm, Skylight Books, Los Angeles, Facebook event page
February 9, 6:30 pm, Sugar, Baltimore (Hampden), Facebook event page
February 11, 7 pm, Bluestockings, New York City (Lower East Side), Facebook event page
February 13, 7:30 pm, WORD, Jersey City (half block from Grove Street PATH Station), Facebook event page