Monday, June 2, 2014

On The Road Again

I met Jenny last year at the Book House, Albany's great independent bookstore when she was promoting her first novel, Cover of Snow, in the company of a bunch of mystery authors doing the same. I had no inkling that when she left the store, she, her husband and two children were getting in their SUV and heading West on her self-plotted and self-financed National Book Tour. On this April 26th, Jenny was back at the Book House solo to read from her second suspense thriller, Ruin Falls, now a member of Sisters In Crime/Upstate Chapter, having relocated with her family from New Jersey to Phoenicia, NY. Afterward, they all piled into their SUV again and headed out for Seattle on the Milchman National Book Tour, with her publisher Random House's blessings.

Robert Knightly

Last year when my debut novel came out, my husband and I did the only logical thing. We rented out our house, traded in two cars for an SUV that could handle Denver in February, and withdrew the kids from first and third grades in order to car-school them.

OK, maybe it wasn’t all that logical.

But when you finally get published, after a thirteen year journey/struggle/battle, and you know that the only thing harder than breaking in is building a lasting career as an author, then you might just figure that you have to give this thing your all.

And given a certain amount of flexibility—i.e., your husband works in IT and is the most supportive guy in the world, and your children are still young enough to find it cool to spend 24/7 with their parents—you might also figure that grassroots efforts have helped launch businesses for ages, and why not get out there, introducing yourself and your work, one bookstore, one library, one reader at a time?

There was an event I did in Goshen, Indiana when exactly one person showed up. And he didn’t buy a copy of my book—something that always makes me upset for the bookseller who is going to all the trouble of hosting an event. But it turned out okay. The attendee bought a novel by a different author, which I recommended. And he told me that he wasn’t buying my book because he’d already read it, which was what led him to drive three hours to meet me in Goshen.

That evening became what I call a moment of the heart.

Did it make economical cents to drive to Goshen? Of course not. But it made a different kind of sense. The kind that says we write books because we want to connect with people. Getting to meet them face-to-face is a privilege and an honor.

Of course we also meet people in other ways these days. Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn have expanded my world in ways I couldn’t have envisioned. Especially not back when I began trying to get published…and there wasn’t any such thing as Facebook.

It was queries on cotton resume paper and ream boxes for mailing manuscripts. Last month I gave a talk at a college and when I used the phrase ream box I was met with blank faces.

I’ve aged out of something, I guess. But I also wonder if a new age might be coming.

An awareness that we all hurry too fast and try to do too much at one time. There’s slow food now, and maybe there should be slow reading. Slow book tours anyway. Something is lost when we cease investing in the moment and the development of relationships. Lost in our connections, and maybe lost in our writing, too.

I don’t want to be too blithe about any of this. There are only so many hours in a day, and writers are tasked with doing so much now that it can be impossible to keep up. Not everyone—not anyone really—can take seven months out of their lives to try to start a career.

But you don’t have to. In fact, I think seven days of this approach can add a dimension to your career, and even your life.

The first question I am usually asked when I speak about “the world’s longest book tour” is whether it was worth it. I answer that it depends on what worth it means. Judging a book tour by book sales makes little sense. By the time you’ve paid for gas, accommodations in some cases, and a bite to eat, you’d be hard-pressed to sell enough books to recoup expenses.

I could point again to the moment of the heart, but there’s another more tangible gain, which I call the ripple effect. What if I meet a bookseller who continues to hand-sell my books for months after I am there? What if there’s an attendee who doesn’t read what I write, but has a friend who does? Or one who’s a columnist for a major newspaper? What if a book club shows up just for fun? All of these things and more happened while I was out on the road.

As writers we are casting the stones of our stories into a massive sea. The more ripples we can get started, the bigger our chances for success.

My debut novel landed on multiple regional bestseller lists, and exceeded publisher expectations in other ways. When my second novel came out, my publisher decided to set up the first leg of the tour. That’s right—I’m now doing it all over again.

This time a fellow author decided to come along for the first 1000 miles of the ride, in the backseat with the kids sleeping against her. If Bob Knightly is kind enough to have me back to the blog, I will describe just what that was like.

Is all of this worth it? Please continue to follow along. Let me know what you think.

Jenny Milchman

Jenny Milchman is a suspense novelist from New York State. Her debut novel, Cover of Snow, published by Ballantine in 2013, was chosen as an Indie Next and Target Emerging Authors Pick, won the Mary Higgins Clark award and has been nominated for a Barry. Her second novel, Ruin Falls, came out in April.


  1. Sounds exhausting, but fun. Good luck with the next tour.

  2. Bob, you and I and countless others have taken this younger author into our hearts and souls, as we admire what she has done and her wonderful openness with people! I am in your corner, Jenny, not only because you are a very apt writer of suspense, my own love in the reading field, but that you are such a sharing person. Lots of us are clapping for your continued success. Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  3. First, thanks to Bob, Kate, Thelma, Sheila, Stephanie, & Annamaria, for letting me share Updates from the Road (and this crazy writing life...or my particular brand of it). It's a pleasure to be with the Crime Writers.

    Margaret mentioned this tour sounding exhausting. In some ways, it's much *less* exhausting for me than regular everyday life. I traded school and scouts and soccer for one, pinpointed attempt at a dream. Every evening I meet women and men who are juggling...and I admire them greatly. We decided to condense life in a way, to strip off the things that would've pulled me away. And the truth is, I still don't know if that will prove the right thing to do. I hope it will give as much as it far, I can say that it has.

  4. Thelma, thank you for feeling that way. You and others in the suspense and writing world are a big part of why I want to be out here. It builds connection that I treasure.