I had 25 readings for my second novel, Richard Yates, September 7 to November 4 (exact dates/venues here here at bottom) in 2010. Melville House, who published Richard Yates, paid for all travel (plane, bus, inter-city travel) and offered to help find places for me to sleep at night (I mostly already knew people in most cities from previous book tours or from the internet) and I asked if they could pay for hotels in 1 or 2 or 3 cities if I couldn’t find any place to stay for free and they said yes (I gave them receipts later for, I think, 2 stays in hotels; they reimbursed me). ~20 events were just me reading; the others included other readers, for example RADAR in San Francisco, and one event was a panel discussion on the topic of “hipsters” at UCLA.
My favorite event was maybe at The Booksmith in San Francisco because I’d ingested a medium-large amount of psilocybin mushrooms before it and it was livestreamed and it was scary, I think, at the time, for the ~80 minutes of the event (which included a Q&A and signing) but has remained amusing and interesting (to me, to think about) for weeks and months and maybe years. It’s also been a source of productivity, in that Flaunt published an account by me of it (later republished by Thought Catalog) and there’s video of it online, which I embedded on my blog in a post (*contest* discern what drug I’m ‘on’ *contest*) I enjoyed creating and monitoring. My most uncomfortable reading was in Toronto because I had no drugs and didn’t know anyone in the audience (which stood almost in a half-circle around me; there weren’t chairs, I think) and was sitting, “completely exposed,” on a stool. I think I stuttered, at times, and said “I don’t know” to almost every question during the Q&A and felt like I had an openly scared expression sometimes.
I think author events may be most helpful, in terms of selling books, by generating local coverage, which is most likely to happen, I feel, if either  the author is already known or  the author is reading at a known, independent bookstore (that the media is attentive toward) such as The Elliott Bay Book Company, Atomic Books, McNally Jackson, St. Mark’s Bookshop and also, maybe most importantly,  the author’s publisher works hard on contacting the alt-weeklies, newspapers, magazines, websites (Bostonist, Gothamist, Austinist, etc.) of each city, knowing which places to contact how far in advance, to say the author will be in the city for an event, in an effort to, at the least, get the event listed but more with a focus on getting someone to write about the event or interview the author. I’ve felt surprised by how some local websites or alt-weeklies will want to interview me or cover an event after learning about it the same day or, like, that week.
The least helpful author events, in my experience, are ones in suburbs or non-major cities or, unless the author is extremely famous, Barnes & Noble (because the media is more attentive to readings in known, independent bookstores, I think). I had a reading in a suburb outside San Francisco, I think, that 2 or 4 (2 arrived, like, after it began) people were at and a reading in [non-major city, but still a city, that I'm not remembering currently] that, like, 6 people were at. Feel like just typing “AVOID SUBURBS.”
I prefer to read in a quiet, steady monotone. I don’t like when people attend a concert or a reading and say the musician or author is a bad performer because of low energy levels or lack of inflection. I like attending concerts where the musicians barely move and are afraid to look at the audience, in part because I can then focus on the music instead of feeling pressure to also move or to look at things. Feel like just typing “AVOID MY READINGS IF YOU DISLIKE HEARING PROSE READ IN A QUIET, STEADY MONOTONE.”
I try to read things least conducive to “zoning out,” for example, parts of a book that are mostly dialogue or don’t have very long sentences and, based on experience, seem most likely to cause people to laugh. Or I try to read some other thing, like poems or an essay or something, that isn’t the book that is currently being promoted for sale at the reading. It seems bleak to me a little to read a book to an audience that has come to buy the book, has already read the book, or will (after the reading) be perusing the book to discern if they want to buy it. I like Q&As. I would rather there only be Q&As instead of readings, both in terms of my events and me attending other people’s events. Something I don’t like about Q&As is when someone asks a question like “what did you eat today?” or some other question with a concrete, unique, as-yet-unknown answer and there’s a group of people who view that person (or that question) as bad or “silly” or something. Feel like just typing “I LIKE QUESTIONS THAT MAY ELICIT CONCRETE ANSWERS, IN PART BECAUSE THE ANSWER WILL LIKELY BE SOMETHING NO ONE KNOWS YET, WHEREAS MOST QUESTIONS THAT ELICIT ABSTRACT ANSWERS HAVE ALREADY BEEN ANSWERED AND CAN BE READ AT ANY TIME IN MORE ACCURATE FORM ON THE INTERNET OR IN ONE OF THE AUTHOR’S BOOKS.”
Tao Lin is the author of 6 books of fiction/poetry and can be followed on Twitter here. His 3rd novel will be published by Vintage in 2013.
Next: Publicist Brian Ulicky describes the best book tour mix.