A few months after I got my book deal, I found out that the publisher was sending me out on a pre-book tour, and I was thrilled.
“I’m going on tour,” I told friends and colleagues — and the bank teller and my massage therapist and the checker at the grocery store and anyone else I encountered.
I said on tour like Brits say they’re going on holiday. Like snobby people say they’re going to be traveling on the Continent this year. It sounded extravagant and romantic and exciting. After writing for more than a decade, my dream of publishing a book had finally come true and I was going on tour to tell the world the story of The Invisible Girls.
Before the book came out, my publisher sent me on a pre-book tour. They flew me to Orlando to speak at a conference. Then I flew to Cincinnati and met up with a NYT best-selling novelist, and he and I began touring together. After arriving in Ohio, we went to dinner that evening with book buyers for major bookstores in the region. The following morning, the publisher paid for us to be driven to Lexington, KY. We did the same thing – checked into the hotel, got ready, went to a beautiful dinner with higher-ups in the local book industry. The morning after that, we were driven to Nashville where we did the same thing again. Checked into the hotel, got ready, went to a nice dinner.
By the third dinner I was disoriented and exhausted. My literary agent showed up at that dinner and sat down next to me at the banquet table. He put his arm around my chair and asked how I was doing. I spent the remainder of that dinner relieved that I had a safe, familiar person sitting next to me, checking in to see how Sarah the person, not the author, was doing.
The book was released a few months later. I did a few local in-person appearances, but mostly newspaper, magazine and radio interviews. And then, for most of the summer, I relaxed.
The book tour amped up again at the end of the summer. Friends asked how the book was doing and I said, with the same air as before, that I was going back on tour.
The first stop was at a small town in Washington state about 3 hours away from my home. My publisher reserved a rental car for me and sent me a well-planned itinerary. I showed up at the rental car place to pick up my car, only to find that they were out of cars. Out. Of.Cars. There wasn’t a single available car in the lot. The waiting time for people with existing reservations was at least an hour, and there were 9 other people ahead of me.
I began to panic at the thought of lots of people sitting at the event waiting for me to show up while I was stranded at the rental car counter. They’d write me off like I’d write off a guy who stood me up on a first date. They’d hate my book – not because it was badly written but because they’d been jilted.
The crowd at the rental counter was getting ugly. People waiting, babies crying, and one angry man who kept going up to the counter yelling at the agent. “You should be ashamed of yourself!” he yelled. “If I were you, I’d quit and find another job!”
The manager came out from behind swinging double doors. “Sir, please lower your voice,” she said.
“You’re a terrible manager!” the man yelled at her. “I have a reservation, and I don’t want to wait here for another [bleeping] hour for a car.”
He sat back down on the bench, then jumped up and approached the counter again. “This is the worst customer service I’ve seen in my life. You’re a horrible manager. You aren’t doing your g-d job.”
The manager was a woman in her late 50’s with wrinkled work clothes and coral lipstick that looked like it was bleeding from the edges of her lips. Her eyeliner wasn’t faring much better. “Sir, I am doing my job,” she said. “I’m managing this counter.”
I wanted to tell her that the formica-covered monstrosity of a counter was doing fine, so maybe she should go clean some cars and get these angry people on their way. But I resisted the urge to be snarky.
I waited for a long time and then I couldn’t wait any more. I rented a car from the company next door and cancelled my reservation at the previous rental car agency, whose customers were screaming so loudly that the manager was picking up the phone to call the police as I was leaving to claim my car.
I drove to the town where I was doing a book reading and decided to get dinner before I spoke at the event. I parked and had to use 3 different pay-to-park machines before I could get a pass to stick on my dashboard so I didn’t get a ticket. Once that was settled, I walked down the street and realized my dinner options were either McDonalds or a western-themed restaurant. I picked the western.
It was a warm evening, and the server seated me at a table on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. I ordered the shrimp special and an iced tea. I’d expected sauteed shrimp with a side of vegetables to show up, but instead she brought me a tin bucket, which looked like a mini milking pail, with unpeeled shrimp on a bed of ice.
As I was waiting for her to bring my iced tea, I went inside to use the bathroom. On my way, I encountered a huge mechanical bull — which I’d never seen up close before. The top of it looked like a real bull. But where a normal hide was supposed to curve in towards the underbelly, this hide hung in shreds. And instead of four legs, the “bull” was held upright by a single metal pole. It looked like the animal had had a horrible industrial accident.
This wasn’t a one-horse town. At best, it was a half-a-bull town.
I went to the bathroom and then returned to my table to eat. Ten minutes into the meal, fruit flies appeared on the table. Then a family of black flies. And then I was swarmed by bees. I hate bees. I jumped up from the table and started swatting the air. The table next to me was filled with a dozen or so businessmen in suits who started watching me, as if they were at dinner show and I was the entertainment.
My server came back to the table and set the check down in the middle of a cluster of bees. She was completely oblivious to the insects, and to the fact that I was dancing around the table, swatting the air in an attempt to get them off of me, looking like I had some kind of advanced neuromuscular disease.
“I’ll take that check whenever you’re ready,” she said casually as she walked away. I nodded as I swatted away bees that were climbing through my hair. After she left, I danced around some more, swatting away bees that had landed on my neck and my shirt.
And then the bees flew up my skirt and I was so over it. As I delicately tried to swat away bees from under my skirt in front of the businessmen onlookers, I thought to myself, If those f-ing bees sting my vajayjay, I’m done. I’m getting in that overpriced rental car and I’m driving home.
The bees didn’t sting me. I managed to pay my check. I parked my car as close to the event as I could, but it was quite a few blocks away, and I forgot that I had a blister on my heel and no Band-Aid. I arrived at the event limping with a bleeding heel. I went to the bathroom to stuff my shoe with toilet paper to alleviate my sore heel. And then I realized, 5 minutes before the event, that I hadn’t picked out the chapters for the book reading yet. Before I left the stall, I dog-eared a few options.
Then I limped into the event — which was great. Intelligent, caring people showed up and listened to my talk, and then during the Q&A they asked insightful questions. Afterwards I did a book signing, and then I climbed into my car to drive home.
It was late at night, and it was mostly just me and 18-wheelers on the highway. When I reached the half-way point, there were no streetlights and the road was pitch-black, so I turned on the radio and blared mind-numbing pop music on the radio just to keep myself awake.
As I pulled up to my house, I thought about how blessed I am to be able to tell an important story like The Invisible Girls. But the whole on tour experience has lost it’s false rosy glow, and I recognize it for the exhausting, unpredictable adventure it really is. And now I am doubly thankful for friends who hug me, pour me a drink, and for at least the first ten minutes, let me talk about something — anything — other than the tour.
If you haven’t had a chance to read The Invisible Girls yet, you can pick up a copy here.