The TRACER bookshop tour – and why meeting booksellers is awesome

I live at my desk.

It’s the part I like least about being a writer. Most of it is pretty awesome, but spending six to eight hours at a desk every day is no fun. Even in my other career, as a freelance journalist, I spend far more time at my desk than I’d like. Used to be that journalism was about shoe leather and getting out of the office to meet sources; that’s a little tricky when my sources can just as easily be from six time zones away, and when interviews are conducted by Skype. Most walking I do is between desk and kitchen, to get more coffee.

Over the years, I’ve become very used to working by myself. So when Gemma (Orbit’s publicist) suggested we head out on tour in support of TRACER, visiting various bookshops across the UK to meet staff and sign copies, part of me was like, “You mean talk to people? In person? Do I have to wear real clothes, and not just boxer shorts?”

Fortunately, my brain leapt in before I said something stupid, and told her this would be a great idea. So she and I set off from Kings Cross in London on a seriously epic tour, bracketing the book’s UK release date: seven bookshops, six cities, three days.

Rob Boffard with copies of Tracer
This was the first time I saw TRACER on sale, ready to go. It was our first stop of the tour – Leeds, where we swung by the local Waterstones. It was…weird. Good weird, but still weird. Gemma took this photo while Joe from Waterstones watched me like, “Am I gonna have to call security?”

I wasn’t kidding when I said I sometimes get antsy about meeting people. I get tongue-tied and nervous, and my default mode is to crack stupid jokes which nobody but me find funny. And so much communication with the people who read books is done digitally now. Reviewers post their comments online. Fans tweet you. It’s getting increasingly rare to actually talk about your book with someone, face to face.

Rob Boffard signing copies of Tracer
Signing copies in the back room of Waterstones Arndale in Manchester.
Waterstones Deansgate
This is the front wall of Manchester Deansgate Waterstones, which is one of the coolest bookstores I’ve ever been into.

What I wasn’t thinking about, right around the time my brain was cogitating the whole in-public-actual-clothes-not-boxers thing, was that these were people like me. They loved books, and scifi, and geeky shit. We were already on the level. So despite the breakneck pace of the trip, there were some genuinely fun moments. The Manchester bookseller grilling me about the sequel, desperate to know what was going to happen next. The one in Southampton, asking me to sign her copy and telling me the store had already sold out its initial run of stock. The folks at Forbidden Planet, unperturbed by the fact that I was forty-five minutes late, hanging out with me and passing me books to sign.

I’m lucky in that I have a publicity department at Orbit who is on the ball and organises things like this with skill and flare, but even if you don’t, I can’t recommend this approach highly enough. If you’re a writer, don’t just sit at your desk. Get out. Go to bookstores. Talk to the people who run them.

While you’re at it, two pieces of advice. One: always wear clothes. Two: get booze for the train ride home.

Rob Boffard talking tats
Matt Weir from Waterstones Deansgate, hanging out with us. I think at this point we were speaking tats, but it might have been the point where he was going “GOOD GOD MAN TELL ME ABOUT THE SEQUEL TO TRACER THIS INSTANT.”
rob Boffard with copies of Tracer Liverpool
Hanging out with the legendary Glyn Morgan from Waterstones Liverpool. By this point I was shattered, but Gemma spotted that and took up the conversational reins. Glyn was far too polite to point out that I could barely string a sentence together.
The most copies of TRACER I have ever seen in one place. Forbidden Planet in London – I was super late but they were still awesome. Just getting my shit into this store is one of my life goals ticked.
Rob Boffard's Tracer
The guys at Waterstones Southampton went above and beyond. Not only did they put TRACER next to Andy Weir’s The Martian (which is a truly incredible book, and one of my favourites) but they mocked up a sign.