Read This! Bus Tour

on September 25, 2008

Sunday night–late–I returned from the Levy Home Entertainment Read This! Author Bus Tour. That’s a mouthful. This was my second time on “the bus” and I can’t decide which trip I liked more! Both the 2006 Kmart tour and the 2008 Meijer tour had great authors and I’ve made good friends on each. This year, I had more people bringing in my backlist to sign, which always makes me happy.

Oh–so I’m really sorry I missed Thursday. I really thought I could get a blog posted Wednesday night, but as it was I went to bed at 1 am and had to wake up at 3 am to leave at 4 am for my 6 am flight. Then, I thought okay, I’ll write a quick blog at the airport but there was a HUGE line, and I barely had time to pick up Starbucks and board my flight. I arrived at 2:30 east coast time . . . but then Brenda Novak and I learned that our baggage was still in Denver and we were in Detroit. Needless to say, blogging was the furthest thing from my mind . . .

And after the orientation and welcome dinner I retired early . . . not to sleep (though the Westin Hotel beds are TOO DIE FOR) . . . but to finish the revisions of SUDDEN DEATH and get them to my editor so they weren’t hanging over my head for the entire bus tour. I was already nearly a week late from when I said I’d have them, and I wanted them DONE. So . . . I wrote until 2 am.

I know I’m going to miss some authors in this post, but that’s not on purpose. I can honestly say that I genuinely liked everyone on the bus. I regret not getting pictures of everyone, so I’m stealing from Roxanne St. Claire and any other blogs I come across . . .

So first, why a bus tour?

Levy is a major distributor of books, primarily mass market, to mass merchandisers and groceries like Walmart, Target and Meijer (which is like Target but bigger with an extensive grocery section.) They do stores big and small and are the primary book distributor in the midwest, though they have many accounts in the west as well. They’re not as big in the NE and the south (the south is pretty dominated by Andersen, which is the big Walmart distributor.) But Levy has about a third of all Walmarts, which as you know is a major venue for mass market books. Many mass market authors will see a huge percentage of their initial print run (like 25-30%) sent to Walmart. So the first reason to participate in the bus tour is to get to know the Levy people (all fabulous) and understand their part of the business. What they do, how they do it, and what unique challenges they face.

One thing I learned–well, I sort of KNEW it, but I didn’t quite understand how it worked practically–was the Plan-o-gram. This is the master list of books that are shelved for an extended period of time. One of the Levy staff who handles some of the Meijer stores explained that when you’re on the Plan-o-gram, your book is replenished when it is sold. So, you sell a copy, they order a copy. This is similar to how traditional bookstores operate as well–some authors are reordered only in their first month or two of release, then the books “sell out.” Others they shelve 1-2 copies at all times, so when one sells, it’s an automatic re-order.

You can see how this is important for authors! The longer you stay on the shelf, the more copies you sell. But to get there, you have to hit a certain sales level. No, I don’t know what it is. Yes, some of my books are on the Plan-o-gram. Remember, though that the books on the Plan-o-gram are dependent on the size of the book displays. I was truly impressed with the large Meijer book section. Twice the size of any Target I’ve been in, and 3-4 times bigger than any Walmart–though I’ve heard that many Walmarts are expanding their book sections. Can’t confirm it, but it would be very nice if it’s in fact true!

In addition to the career benefit of participating on the tour, there’s also the networking benefit. I hesitate to use the word “networking” because it sounds like it’s all business, which it sure ain’t! Being able to sit down and talk to other authors in a business AND social setting–everything from books, covers, kids, careers, past careers, family, future books, and basically anything you can think of . . . well, it’s like being a grown-up. So often, the only time we authors have to be with other authors is at conferences, which we attend once or twice a year, if that. Many authors never attend conference. Or they’re so busy they don’t have time to socialize. Flat out, there’s no one who understands writers except fellow writers. The challenges we face raising family while trying to grow our career. Most of us are women on the tour and in RWA, and professional female writers have unique challenges that only other professional female writers can truly understand. It’s not that it’s a sisterhood and boo! down with men, it’s more knowing that there are people out there with the same fears and struggles you have. Since writing is a very private and isolated occupation–except for Cie and Cat, of course, who write together (and I’ll admit I was getting them confused not so much because they look alike but because their mannerisms are so much alike . . . I marvel at collaborators. My husband once suggested we write a book together. I’d kill him. I know it. I don’t want to go to prison and leave my children without a father and a mother. So it’s best that I write alone.) Anyway, I digress . . .

Private and isolated . . . right! Writers write alone. We live in our heads so much of the time that to come out and play is a joy, even when it involves hard work, getting up to an alarm clock instead of a 4 year old, working long days riding the bus and signing for 1.5 hours in three stores a day. The Levy people fed us well, both box lunches for the bus and nice dinners after our work was done.


Though Kathleen and Renee and Sarah were ALL fabulous and I wouldn’t trade them for anything, I missed Pam Nelson who retired. If only because she’s been in the business for a long, long time (hence, the retirement thing) and always a wealth of knowledge couched in wisdom. Pam if you’re around, we’re all thinking and praying for you and your family!

So now, what you REALLY want to know . . . gossip.

Okay, I’m not a big gossip person. You’d have to get me really drunk and in one of “those moods” to get me talking shit (whoops, can I say potty words on Murder She Writes?) about anyone. Honestly, I don’t remember the bad stuff, an instead focus on the positives. There were a lot of positives on this trip–and not just selling books.


Yep, there were three MEN on this bus tour. Last time? The only man was our driver DeVar who had a hand clapper and referred to us as, “Oh, Ladies!”

Tom Grace writes thrillers, lives in Michigan, and is an architect by day. Reminding me that if I still had a day job, I wouldn’t be able to write three books a year. Tom is one smart guy–much smarter than me–and I was really lucky to get to know him. Ok, he’s Irish. And he speaks Gaelic. What’s not to like?

Robert Liparulo. He’s everything I expect in a thriller writer. Laid back, smart, funny. I read his 2006 (or 2007, I can’t remember now) novel GERM and he’s fantastic. He has strong characters and great pacing. I was tickled to meet him, especially now that he was a YA series out! Yeah, more books for my kids.

And then there’s Chip St. Clair. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of one of the two non-fiction writers on the bus. Why? Because instantly I felt guilty. Why, you might ask. Because I write crime fiction and he lived through crime. At the age of 22 he learned that his dad was one of America’s Most Wanted. And he turned him in. Chip lived a live on the run and now, settled in Michigan, is a motivational and inspirational speaker on not living the life your parents lived, but making your own path. He relates it to a butterfly, and the metaphor is profound and simple at the same time. I’ve been reading his book and I’m humbled by what he lived through and what he has become. And, on top of it all, he’s a nice guy who’s writing a historical thriller! What’s not to love?


Okay, this post is way too long . . . you don’t need to know anything about the girls. You don’t need to know how we almost crossed the border on a research trip. Or how incredibly smart and surprisingly risque the not-as-demur-as-I-thought Sherry Thomas is! Don’t let her sweet demeanor fool you–you, too, will want to go drinking with Sherry! And really, why Gena Showalter is dressed as Little Red Riding Hood is simply not important . . .

And no one needs to know that Cherry Adair is not only a terrific storyteller, compassionate (which she’ll probably deny, but don’t listen), beautiful, and poised, but studious as well . . . here she is reading Chip’s memoir.

And we certainly can’t talk about Gena and Kresley and how jealous we all were of their love affair. (Okay, I’ll admit, I was jealous :mrgreen: of their single digits, and no, there’s nothing dirty about that so get your mind out of the gutter Karin. Geez.) But I’ll spill the beans on something the way-too-savvy and far-too-busy Brenda Novak said, “Wow, Kresley looked so sweet and innocent, like the girl next door . . . ”

Just saying, looks can be deceiving . . . 😉 Of course, I’d met the infamous, fabulous, Rita Award winning author before. We wore the same nail polish to the 2007 Ritas (Not Really A Waitress Red.) And I want her computer. Except it’s not a Mac. And no matter what threats she imparted with her eyes, Mac will do it better. Just saying . . . (Yes, I stole this photo from Roxanne St. Claire, who kicks ass and if you haven’t read her latest Bullet Catcher, why not?)

There were 27 authors on this tour, and I can’t do them all justice. Kathryn Caskie is a class act and Sophia Nash is elegant and really does drink tea. I don’t normally read historicals, but I started Sophia’s A DANGEROUS BEAUTY while sitting with her and Chip at one of the Meijers (the one where Mrs. Frushour sent all her students to buy it and read it for extra credit, so Sophia and I were relegated to the proverbial “back of the bus”) and I had to buy it because I had to find out what happened . . . talk about a great opening chapter! (Damn her. Just what I need, to add historicals to my TBR pile . . . ) And Deeanne Gist is a gracious and smart woman who writes American-set historicals. Turn of the century, I believe . . . I bought them for my daughter who loves historicals . . . here Deeanne is with Tom . . .

And Jade Lee brought her masseuse with her. Wow, Beth has hands . . . okay, I wish she were here right now! I’ve been in pain for months. Okay, just for one store . . . but still . . . and Jade/Kathy is down-to-earth and genuine.

I can’t pick a favorite, and I didn’t mention everyone . . . but that doesn’t mean I don’t love them. (Angela Knight–sincere and kind; Jessica Anderson–funny and down to earth; Monica McInenery — all the way from Dublin!!!–gorgeous and sweet and well-dressed; Colleen Coble–sweet and generous and gorgeous in blue; Elizabeth Hoyt–funny and honest and check her out on her featured Romantic Times Q&A this month!; and Leslie Langtry — OMG, I love Leslie and had to buy all her books because if she’s half as witty in print as she is in person. AND she knows how to shoot a gun. No wonder she writes about a family of assassins . . . and Susan Mallery–poised and professional, don’t let her shy demeanor detour you . . . and of course Deborah Raleigh, can’t forget her! Polite, kind, generous. And Jordan Dane! Jordan knows I love her 🙂 . . . and Jordan is one of a kind. A fantastic writer and a kind heart. I adore her 🙂 Victoria Rowell was our literary extraordinaire–you know, the writer most likely to get on Oprah. This woman kicks butt, knows how to communicate, and is a natural born leader. Amazing.

But sometimes you meet someone you hope is who you think they are, but fear they might be a bitch. I’m so glad that Kristan Higgins was as funny and genuine and sweet as I pictured her and I’m so happy I got to know her on the bus. And happy she won the Rita (pat myself on the back) . . . And she saved my butt and future career . . . honestly . . . but that’s another story . . .

All in all, I was lucky and humbled to be with such an award winning cast of authors. All that creative talent together reminds me that storytellers will never die, it’s a much needed escape no matter how good–or bad–things are.


Robert Liparulo and Susan Mallery at their respective corners . . .


And ME between the gorgeous duo of GENA SHOWALTER and CHERRY ADAIR:

AND, last but not least . . . the PLAYING DEAD book trailer. In case you haven’t seen it . . . if you weren’t already planning on buying this book, would this trailer push you to seek it out? Just curious . . . And remember, it goes on sale Tuesday, September 30th. If you see it before Sunday the 28th (the first day that counts toward the NYT list week), don’t buy it. Ha ha. What do you think? I think my designer did a great job. And I would love if anyone wants to put it on their blog or spread the word . . . R-Day is coming (Release Day) and I’m getting very, very nervous . . .