26 Pickup, the Half-ton
I saw the mammoth tour you have coming up and was just wondering how your tours have changed over the years with your success?
When I first started out with The Cold Dish eighteen years ago the publisher set me up with a limited tour of local events befitting a debut cowboy author from a town of twenty-five… It was January. In Wyoming. I explained to them that flying in and out of Wyoming at that time of year was going to leave me stranded either here or there. I finally convinced them to let me drive my truck up through Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Utah and Colorado.
The funniest stop in the tour was during a blizzard in Missoula where only one guy showed up an the two of us and the bookstore owner sat there and drank a Rainier and discussing the book. Later, it turned out he was the programmer for the Montana Book Festival, and I found myself a year later sitting between James Lee Burke and James Crumley.
Viking/Penguin was great about supporting me with tours, but it took a while before I started selling enough books to make it worth it for them. In the meantime, they had moved me into the late Spring, and I had this hairbrained idea of taking an old motorcycle that I’d had that got about eighty miles to the gallon and doing the Great Northwest on my own, relieving the publisher of the responsibility of a quarter of the country.
When I first started doing the Outlaw Motorcycle Tour, I think I had about six bookstores lined up. Things started happening with bestseller lists and the TV show and by the time I got through doing that five-thousand mile loop each year I was hitting about twenty-five bookstores and with the national tour it was turning into five weeks on the road each year.
As the national tour expanded, I had to stop doing the motorcycle tour, but I may do it again someday.
I think a lot of people get the wrong idea about touring in that it’s glamorous and really high-flying, but it’s really not—well, mostly. Let’s look at the average day with a touring writer.
Generally, you must grab the earliest flights to ensure that you get to your next stop and also lessen the possibility of cancellations, which means five or six o’clock flights, which means you have to be there at 4 or 5. So, no sleeping in or breakfast—maybe a cup of coffee. Most of the time you get to the location, snag a rental car, and then zoom over to the hotel, grab a late lunch and then shower, shave and get dressed for the event. There isn’t much time, so you drive to the event and sign stock for the bookstore and then do the event. My events are usually telling a few stories, reading from the new book, Q&A and then signing. Now, back when I was only pulling in a couple of folks per event, I was out the door and Judy and I were eating dinner by eight o’clock.
Did I mention that my wife goes on tour with me? She does, and it’s a blessing. I foot the bill for that, but I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have somebody to travel, eat and generally be with on tour.
But I digress. Now that I’m on the bestseller lists and Longmire is on Netflix, I’m lucky enough to pull in a couple of hundred readers in per event, and I like talking to folks—all of them. We usually get out of the bookstore at around ten and the only things open by that time are fast-food joints. I remember when I first made the New York Times Bestseller’s List we had drive-through at Jack-In-The-Box, and I sent a photo of it back to the publisher to show them I was being frugal with their money.
Then you go back to the hotel and go to bed and get up in five hours and start all over again. Repeat. About twenty-five times.
Viking/Penguin usually gives me a day or two off but when they do, I just sneak more events in.
If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. Plenty of authors have the opportunity to not do big tours and take it and even more authors never get the chance, so I’m thankful for the prospect and seeing all my friends that read my books every year. An interviewer once asked me about my fans, and I corrected him and told him I didn’t have fans—I have friends who read my books.
I’ve gotta tell you, I’m looking forward to introducing my friends to Hell And Back.
See you on the trail, soon.