What to pack for book tour

On my first book tour, I wore high heels. 

For a gal who spends most of her days in bare feet, wearing high-heeled shoes is the ultimate torture.  But it was my first big book, and I wanted to look the part of the “successful”? author, so I decided to go all out with an expensive knit skirt suit and nylons and high heels.  In aching feet, I trudged through airport after airport, looking like – well, like a California realtor.  I came home with blisters.  I promptly shoved the suit and heels in my closet and climbed back into my blue jeans.

As the years went by, and I headed out on successive book tours, I began to shed the business attire.  First to go were the nylons and the high heels, replaced with comfortable, if clunky, black walking shoes.  I ditched the knit skirt suit and instead wore black slacks.  I love black because it goes with everything.  Plus, it hides grease stains, a big plus if you’re as addicted to French fries as I am.

I started paying attention to what other authors were wearing.  I noticed that most male thriller writers were wearing leather and black turtlenecks.  I noticed that the female authors were adopting the black leather look as well.  I was briefly possessed by leather envy, so I bought myself a leather jacket — a stupid affectation, since my tours are usually in September, and I ended up sweltering in my jacket while trying so hard to look cool.

So I ditched the leather jacket.

The ordeals of airport security eventually forced me to leave the clunky walking shoes behind, in favor of slip-on shoes.  Too often I’d come out of security screening and find nowhere to sit.  It felt undignified to plop down on the floor and tie my shoes, so I’d end up performing a stork dance as I struggled to pull on my shoes while hanging onto purse, reading materials, and laptop. I don’t know how elderly passengers with bad knees and hips manage. 

The “author look” has certainly changed over the years.  Tom Wolfe, in his elegant white suits, is now the exception, not the rule.  Authors, in short, have become slobs.  They show up for book events unshaven and rumpled, in tattered blue jeans and tee shirts.  They’re artists, and the public almost expects them to look unconventional.  Nowadays, when an author wears a business suit to a booksigning, you can be pretty sure he’s either:

1) written a business book or

2) on his first book tour, and still under the impression that he should look as elegant as Tom Wolfe. 

Let’s take a look at what I’m wearing for this, my twelfth tour.

 — Blue jeans.  Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have dared to wear them on tour.  But then I noticed that Stephen King lives in blue jeans when he’s on tour.   And all those rich, high-powered computer geeks wear them everywhere as well.  If jeans are good enough for them, then they’re good enough for me.

— A travel blazer from the mail-order company Travelsmith, because it has lots of zippered pockets in which to stuff airline tickets, reading glasses, peanuts, you name it.

— Mule-style boat shoes.  To whisk through airline security.

— White cotton shirts.  Because they’re comfortable and can be used to dress up or dress down.  The downside: they get wrinkly. But that’s what hotel room ironing boards are for.  Or you can accept the wrinkles and just adopt the always fashionable “rumpled author look.”

— And, of course, enough underwear. I hear that some authors consider this almost an optional item.  Instead, they simply locate the closest department store or Victoria’s Secret and buy new underwear while on the road.  And either dispose of, or mail home, their dirty laundry.

I’ve pared down my travel wardrobe to fit into a single carry-on bag because one thing I’ve learned after eleven book tours is to never, ever check in your luggage at the airport.  Since you’re in a different city every day, your suitcase will never catch up with you. 

Besides clothing and toiletries, what else do I pack?

— Bookmarks, to give away at signing events.

— A roll of “Signed by Author” stickers, to slap onto book covers when I see my books in airport stores.

— A simple wind-up alarm clock.  Because I’m too stupid to figure out how to use those clock radios in the Hilton Hotels chain.  (Does anyone know how to set the alarm on those things?)

— Electronic gear (Blackberry charger, computer charger, laptop, camera.)

Although I seem to pack less and less clothing every year, my suitcase is heavier than ever because of all the gizmos.  Other authors also seem to be lugging along more electronics while paring down their wardrobes. 

This trend could point the way to the new “author look”.  Naked, but with Blackberries fully charged.


17 replies
  1. ec
    ec says:

    Oh dear god. Naked, but fully charged. Not a good look for most of us.

    On the other hand, it’s not a bad book title….

  2. tuttle
    tuttle says:

    Lady- you show up naked on the next book tour you’ll leap to number one on all the big time booklists the following week
    (not to mention have your picture all over the internet)

    You may not sell anymore books than you usually do but you’ll sure gain a somewhat larger male readership (and I doubt there was any other way to say that without any double meaning- which was not the intent believe it or not (big grin))

  3. Abe
    Abe says:

    Hi Tess,

    One question – if you showed up naked, where would you keep your pen? Never mind!
    But thanks for the image. That should last me the rest of my days. I can just see the headlines now: Naked author causes riot at book signing. Sales skyrocket. Other authors to follow.
    Again, thanks for the image………

  4. joliehale
    joliehale says:

    This is good advice. I’d like to say a special thank you for pointing out Travelsmith, the newest addition to my bookmarks.

    So, airport booksellers usually respond well if you offer to sign your books? I’d be too shy to ask, for fear of some stupid rule prohibiting it. But it would be good for them and for you, since those copies will sell more quickly.

  5. JD Rhoades
    JD Rhoades says:

    I always go back and forth on this. If I pack a suit or even a sport coat and khakis, it usually means checking luggage rather than relying exclusively on my carryon.

    Problem is, I barely trust the airline to get ME there, let alone my luggage (this is why I’m so rarely disappointed in air travel–I expect so little).

    Plus, I’m a noir kinda guy, so I feel like people expect a certain degree of scruffy. And since black’s my favorite color (of course), I have a lot of black jeans and shirts.

    OTOH, there’s that voice in the back of my head that tells me “dress up! These people are coming to see you and you look like a hobo!” This voice, for some reason, sounds a lot like my mom. So I end up packing the blazer anyway and cursing at baggage claim.

    I am definitely checking out this Travelsmith thing. Do they make stuff in men’s sizes?

  6. Tess
    Tess says:

    Travelsmith has clothes for both men and women. They specialize in clothes that don’t wrinkle — a big boon for people who live out of suitcases.

  7. Kyle K.
    Kyle K. says:

    OMG, YAY! YOU’RE BACK! I always kept faith, and didn’t delete you from my RSS feed… I’ve been away from it for a couple of days, and I come back to YOU! What a fabulous surprise!

    How long are the traveling stints? Are you away for a few days, then home, and then back on the road again? Or is it nonstop for a few weeks?

    LOL… I love the buying new underwear along the way and mailing the dirty ones home!

    I hate dressing up, it makes me feel stuffy. Even on job interviews, I’d rather show up in khakis and a polo, forget the button-down and tie!

    Hope you have fun when you finally get on the road!

  8. therese
    therese says:

    I require washed and soft underwear, especially on the road. Can’t stand that crisp freshly bought stuff, no matter how pretty.

    Crushable fabrics are my choice for travel and I never check luggage. I’ve ditched the white cotton shirts for colored tank tops and shells. All-over patterns work best to hide drips and stains. With jeans, or black pants and blazer, that peak of bright color makes me feel better. Plus, I grew up around nuns and priests so the black and white uniform (habit?) is one I avoid at all costs.

    I do know that nuns, when in the privacy of their convents, wore colored Keds.

  9. codymc
    codymc says:

    My first ever book tour in the UK, I showed up at a Borders in my new, tailored suit, pressed shirt, and tie. The manager looked at me, kind of crinkled her nose and said: “You look like management.”

    I’ve stuck to jeans, dress shirt and jacket ever since.

  10. drosdelnoch
    drosdelnoch says:

    LOL, to be honest I’d have rung various stops before heading off and asking about laundry service, ie lead time to getting it back. Some can do it pretty quick and if you’re checking in the day before they can have it ready before you leave the next morning. That way you’ll always have clean underwear.

    I do completely understand the logic on buying new underwear however as everyone knows once it starts to look a little past its best is when youve just broken it in on the comfort level. LOL

    Likewise I do understand about doing things in comfort, however when I head out on my first tour, I’ll be packing my leather jacket (3/4 length) a number of comfy shirts and as you said, comfy trousers. Tess, depending on your shoes size you might want to look at some of those shoes that they do for kids (airators (they let the sweat out so your feet can breathe.) They also make them so its just velcro fastening so its ultimate comfort.

  11. Jude Hardin
    Jude Hardin says:

    I just happened to walk into my local BAM recently while Brad Thor was there for a signing. Also, Steve Berry had driven down from Georgia and was hanging out in support of Brad. Both were dressed in what I would call “business casual,” Dockers with long-sleeve button-down shirts. Brad also wore a blazer.

    Business casual is all right, I guess, but if I’m ever lucky enough to have a book signing I’m going all out. Lime green tux with matching patent leather shoes, and a pink puffy shirt. Nothing but the best, baby.

  12. Jude Hardin
    Jude Hardin says:

    Ah but are you including the faux tiger fur waistcoat with matching tie, Jude?

    Pffft. I won’t sell any books wearing that. I’ll look like an idiot.

  13. lwidmer
    lwidmer says:

    I saw this nifty little laptop at Best Buy the other day – it was the size of my daughter’s portable DVD player. Could be much lighter to tote around….

    Or you could bite the bullet and get an iPhone. I hear they connect you to everything. One item, one charger. Once I get a book deal, I’m going for simplicity!

    And no, no way those hotel alarms can be used by the average person over 12. What I hate is when some putz who had the room before you doesn’t turn it off. Really nice to sit bolt upright at 4 am wondering where that noise is coming from.

  14. wendy roberts
    wendy roberts says:

    Oh I’ll definitely be trying the ‘Tess’ look for my next signing LOL! Jeans are the way to go.

    Oh and I’m with you on the Hilton clocks. What’s up with that?! On my month-long journey through Europe this summer I didn’t stay at a single hotel with a clock in the room and I forgot my travel clock. Very disconcerting for a control freak like me LOL! Best of luck on your tour!

  15. mikaela_l
    mikaela_l says:

    Here cames my advice on setting an alarm: Check if your Blackberry has an alarm function, and use that one. I always do that on my cell phone 🙂

    Good luck with the book tour

  16. Rose-Marie
    Rose-Marie says:

    I won’t disagree with any of you about Tess’s effect should she show up for a signing as indicated. But I gotta tell you I know a number of writers and if most of them showed up naked I’m afraid book signings and readings would fall off precipitously. Trust me on this.

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