By DOROTHEA BENTON FRANK
For Montclair Local
“Dot’s Desk” looks at the writing life from the point-of-view of a bestselling author. Dorothea Benton Frank has written 18 books that have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. Her first novel, “Sullivan’s Island,” published in 2000, debuted on the New York Times list at number nine and went back to press over 25 times. This is her first column for Montclair Local, which will appear monthly.
Frank was born and raised on Sullivans Island, SC. She divides her time between the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Montclair. Past board service includes The Montclair Art Museum, Whole Theater Company, The Drumthwacket Foundation, The NJ State Council on the Arts and The NJ Cultural Trust.
To tour or not to tour, one of the burning questions in publishing today. With the advent of social media that brings you face-to-face with your readers, the immediacy of Amazon Prime and the rising costs of traveling, an author may ask, is a book tour really necessary?
That’s an emphatic yes, for several really good reasons. First and foremost, special events in bookstores drive business. People come to see their favorite author, buy a signed book and wind up buying other things. I’ve signed books in the frozen food aisle at a Kroger’s and next to the hot water heaters in a Costco, because it’s all part of the glamour. But nothing compares to getting to know real booksellers who live and breathe books. Sometimes it’s an event in their store. Sometimes the local bookstore is the bookseller for the local library’s special event or other non-profits like the Susan G. Komen Foundation at a lunch. Or my personal favorite, a lunch, brunch or dinner where my new book is included with the cost of the ticket. Then it’s a win/win. In any case, showing up and saying thank you to the booksellers is some powerful good will. And if you behave yourself these stalwart soldiers in the army of the written word will continue to sell your book after you’ve left for Peoria.
Speaking of Peoria, which I’m sure is a really nice place with a funny sounding name to my ear, when a publisher sends an author out into the world they are not giving that author a paid vacation. It is a highly calculated exercise in squeezing the last bit of life out of you. In the first two weeks, I work seven days a week with a minimum of two events a day. These events are often three hours apart by car. By the time the day is over I’m going for a vending machine or a peanut butter sandwich and a mini bottle of Tito’s. And yes, I tour with peanut butter. The third and fourth weeks are usually new places where I go to try to develop new readers or again, just to thank booksellers. The challenge is staying neat and tidy and unwrinkled, with hair reasonable, along with being super nice all the time. That last part gets to be a challenge around the end of week two when I’m bone tired. By the time I get home to Montclair, I want to burn my suitcase and all my clothes. And I sleep for a week. But again, you do this because it helps stores sell books and in turn you are helping your publisher by being an ambassador for the house.
But what’s it really like out there when you’re in a different town every day for a month? What goes on? I can only speak from personal experience, although a dear friend of mine who writes thrillers? He was arrested in Dallas in a case of mistaken identity. He was handcuffed and taken to the police station! He was horrified. We laugh about it now, but then? Not so funny.
For me? I’ve driven through hurricanes, been mistaken for Aretha Franklin because of the similarities in our names, mistaken for Nora Roberts when my hair was super short, Ina Garten when it’s long. I’ve been asked to move on a plane for weight distribution and shown up when no one knew I was coming. I’ve had flat tires, lost luggage, cancelled flights and cancelled rooms. I’ve been lost due to not updating the OS on my phone and I’ve been lost due to just, well, making a wrong turn.
So, if book tour is so much trouble, why am I still doing this after 19 years? Well, we think it actually moves the needle on the list because I hand sell so many books. But the real reason I do it is because it’s the best part of my job. I get to spend a whole month talking to booksellers about what they’re reading and what they’re selling. And most importantly, I get to connect with the actual people who read my books and hear what they’re thinking. Sure, every once in a while, some nut will show up and announce loudly that they didn’t like my last book. Honestly, I wish those people would just stay home. But it seems like good manners have taken a holiday these days, no matter where you look. But I digress. The time-honored tradition of book tours ought to continue because they are good for business and they’re good for the soul. That’s it for now from Dot’s Desk.