May 1, 2012

She said/She said: Glimpses from the Magical Mystery Bus Tour

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 1:05 pm

I have been developing a hunch. This could easily turn out to be wrong, of course, but I do have something of a track record with hunches. (No, really. I predicted cupcakes were going to be the next thing when all anybody was eating was big ole slices! And don’t get me started on small plates. Or dim sum. OK, so a lot of my hunches do seem to be food-based).

This one isn’t.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that in the next few years, book events are going to become more important than they ever have been before. Author readings and signings. Multi-author panel discussions. Schmooze over coffee chats. You name it–and get creative. Because the authors and their publicists sure will be.

We live in a world with so much cyber noise that we’re all going deaf. Some days I feel that if I get one more tweet, I’m going to fly away myself. Forget your latest 5 star review. You could tell me in 140 characters that the New York Times raved and I might fail to parse it. There is just. Too. Much. Noise.

But if we’re sitting down together? If I’m settled in a chair, amidst a crowd of fellow book lovers, about to hear a great tale, or share a laugh? And afterwards I might get to shake your hand and have a book signed? Well, then I’m all yours. Instead of staring dumbly at a screen, I’m connected at the human level–and in the end I think that’s what all the cyber noise is aimed at.

Recently Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster, came up with a unique angle on human interaction and enlisted four of their top mystery and suspense authors for it. Take one cool looking bus, put four writers in it, give them a driver and some roadies, and send them from New York to Missouri with stops at some of the best bookstores in the country, and what do you get?

Possibly the future of book-selling.

MJ Rose, who explored the self-publishing frontier the way the first astronauts ventured into space, only to break out with enormous mainstream success, and Liza Marklund, the only Swedish author besides Stiegg Larsson to reach #1 on the NYT list, were kind enough to answer a few questions about their experiences.


What’s the hardest part about spending your days on a bus with three other super-talented authors? (Another way of asking this might be, What’s the hardest part about spending your days on a bus with three other folks who kill people for recreation?)
MJ Rose
MJ Rose: Trying to avoid getting killed is the hardest parts. No, seriously, suspense writers get their aggressions out on paper. And this trip proves that yet again. No hostility or creepiness. These guys are wonderful, funny and smart. The company is the best part of the bus ride.

Liza Marklund: These English speakers are behaving at their very best – at least verbally. Do not know what they are writing on their endless sessions on their computers, though (we have wireless on the bus, which worked everywhere but in Iowa). Me, on the other hand–I am the only one able to say anything without anyone else knowing the true meaning (I just switch to my native Swedish, hee hee…)

Is McDonalds selling its trillionth burger thanks to this tour, or what are you eating?

MJ Rose: What we do is drive to a bookstore, disembark, go inside, speak for a forty minutes or so, answer questions and then sign books and then step back on the bus. We get lunch on the bus while we drive to our next store where we rinse and repeat, then get back on the bus, drive for a while more, have dinner on the bus and then eventually get to a hotel where we sleep overnight, and then in then in the morning drive to the next store and do it all over again. Some stretches between stores are 2 hours. Some 6. It’s a lot of road.

Sort of like being in a pneumatic tube that’s gone from NYC to Madison CT, to Framingham MA, to Brattleboro VT… you get the idea.

The tour organizers pick chains that are close to the stores so we’ve been getting a lot of menus to pick from places like Cheesecake factory and Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Liza Marklund: Nope. Didn’t see anyone eating a single burger on the bus. Lots of chicken salads, though…

In all seriousness, does this tour seem to be more fun and entertaining than going it alone on a regular tour? For you, the bookstore attendees, or both?

MJ Rose: Being with four other writers is more fun that going alone for sure – the pressure isn’t all on me when we get to the stores. And for sure it’s more entertaining for the attendees.

Liza Marklund
Liza Marklund: We usually don’t tour alone in Europe, at least I don’t. In Sweden, we always go as a whole group of authors from my publishing house, just like we did on the bus. In Germany, there’s normally an actress, a moderator and someone from the PR department along. Normally, we fly or go by train or limousines, but there’s been an occasional bus as well…

I have to say I prefer to go with a whole gang of people, like the bus!

Who first presented this idea to you? The publicist at Atria, your editor, your agent? And how did you react?

MJ Rose: The publicity dept at Atria wrote me and my first reaction was that if the bus didn’t have Wi-Fi, no way would I even consider it. But they did:)

Liza Marklund: I don’t remember, frankly. My agent, I think, and I probably just asked “Can we squeeze it in?”. So we could, and we did, and I’m perfectly happy about it.

How did your families and friends–the people you’ll miss–react?

MJ Rose: With a combo of horror and warnings about what traveling long distances on a bus is like.

Liza Marklund: Well, I’ve done 20 of these in Germany alone the last 13 years, so nobody really gasped…

Can each of you give a brief thumbnail of the career trajectory that got you to this point? Maybe some details your readers wouldn’t already know?

MJ Rose: I don’t think I can get anyone to do that – sorry – at this point we’re all open books!

Liza Marklund: Nobody knows me in the US, so everything about me is probably details they wouldn’t know… What about this one: I’m the only Scandinavian author, except for Stieg Larsson, who’s been no. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list…

Quick–what’s the most embarrassing thing to have happened so far on the bus?

MJ Rose: Well, nothing embarrassing so far but the worst part is we ran out of toilet paper after leaving Vermont and all the places to get more were closed up for the night. Now all the women are carrying emergency rolls.

Liza Marklund: Oh jeez, I’m blushing away here… To use a quote from the bus: I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you…

Thank you, MJ & Liza, and if you get a chance to see these talented authors or buy their latest releases, I highly recommend you do so! (Next year they’ll probably be on a spaceship).


  1. I’ve read all but 1 of the books they are promoting.

    Who were the others on the bus with them?

    I was surprised that they didn’t sleep on the bus, it was certainly big enough.


    Comment by Marilyn Meredith — May 1, 2012 @ 1:40 pm

  2. Book events are necssary to create a buzz for authors and books. My building is attached to a big bookstore, and every month we have 7-10 book events wher I meet authors and their new books. Many of these authors were unknown to me, just like I never heard befor about MJ and Lisa. But if they came with their bus to the bookstore near me, I will definetly go to meet them. Good idea to put a few authors together to share the costs. I just wonder why they need a bus, and not just a big car. I thought that they need a bus to sleep overnight inside the bus, but they sleep in hotel. I also wonder if the walls of the bus are covered with the names of the books and the authors like the picture in the middle of the post .. being a big advertisement while the bus is moving on the road. Best wishes to you Jeeny to have your bus tour next year with your favourite authors.

    Comment by Giora — May 1, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

  3. Looked roomy to me, too, Marilyn! The others on the bus were William Kent Krueger, whom I love, and John Connolly, whom I was so happy to discover.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Comment by jenny — May 1, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

  4. Giora–that’s exactly how they did the bus! You clearly have the right instincts.

    And your last line gave me a big Awwww moment–thank you. Hope to see you in person at something before too long!

    Comment by jenny — May 1, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

  5. When I saw this I have to admit to flashbacks of my bad old days, touring with a busload of musicians and roadies, but this sounds much more civilized (toilet paper episode, not withstanding). What a great way to meet your readers and make new ones. Slipping over to Atria to take the tour…

    Comment by Eloise Hill — May 1, 2012 @ 2:40 pm

  6. I agree wholeheartedly on the white noise of social media feeds. It becomes to much and we crave personal one-on-one contact with something more than an avatar. Bus sounds amazing…and fun…when are you booking yours Jenny?

    Comment by Johanna — May 1, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

  7. This was fascinating, and quite surprising, given the rise of ebooks and self-publishing.

    Comment by Jody — May 1, 2012 @ 3:40 pm

  8. Great comments–flashbacks notwithstanding–and I wanted to say in response to Jody’s note…

    I was commenting on this on another thread

    I have much respect for self-publishing, and give its advantages–speed, control, democratization of who can publish–their due. But those in the self-pub “camp” (I wish it were not divided into sides) tend to speak more rabidly than those who are traditionally published, which has the effect of making the view from over there seem subdued.

    But the truth is that while there’s certainly a huge rise in self-pubbed titles (300,000 in 2003, 3,000,000 in 2011, and 15,000,000 projected for 2012) this doesn’t mean things are cooking along any differently for the big house, who are, if anything, enjoying increased sales, successes from the indie side of things (Amanda Hocking), and very few departures for even Amazon’s traditional arms. The question becomes why. What is traditional publishing offering, if not trumpeting about? And I think the answer is they are offering a lot. That’s for another blog post :)

    Great that there are alternatives now. I’ve discovered many authors I wouldn’t have otherwise. But it’s good to celebrate and acknowledge the advantages on both sides, I think.

    Comment by jenny — May 1, 2012 @ 4:11 pm

  9. About the bus .We couldn’t sleep on the bus because it wasn’t a “living on the bus” bus. And while it looked big from the outside there were 8 of us traveling – a driver, two people from the tour company, a publicist from Atria and four authors. Also it wasn’t set up for any privacy – there were chairs and two couches a sink/microvave and a bathroom that had one toilet (only liquid – no toilet paper or waste could be flushed – as in any kind) no shower etc.) As for why we didn’t have a car. The point was the bookcovers on the sides of the bus were driving ads for the bus – so even when we were just driving through a town – we were getting eyeballs on the books.

    Comment by M.J. Rose — May 1, 2012 @ 4:24 pm

  10. M.J. – Sounds like fun. Arduous, but fun.

    Jenny – thanks for another interesting blog. Absolutely being traditionally published has many wonderful perks.

    As much as I’d like a foot in both publishing camps, that isn’t happening yet. Being self-published, or published by a small press, too often feels like you’re the kid who isn’t asked to the Prom. (No signings at book stores for you Missy.)

    However, I am grateful that I no longer have to wait for someone else to decide if or when I can publish.


    Comment by Pamela DuMond — May 1, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

  11. What a delightful article & such interesting comments!

    FWIW & probably TMI, but I already take an emergency toilet paper in my tote any time I am out of town, even to the family reunion, and we have a gazillion bathrooms in the place we have it in.

    Comment by Brenda — May 1, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

  12. So many pros and cons. I truly think that it’s something to weigh now–the kind of deal you are offered, the kind of book you have, and the kind of author you are–and that’s saying something. No more is one way clearly the Best way. Pam, I think you are doing great–everyone, check out Pam’s THE MESSENGER’S HANDBOOK for a YA read with history and mystery–but as a girl who didn’t get asked to the prom myself back in 19whatever, I hope you get asked. Then you can decide if you want to go ;)

    I am so bringing emergency TP with me now, Brenda!

    Comment by jenny — May 1, 2012 @ 10:12 pm

  13. I’m almost ready to do some public reading in bookstores. I’m excited and nervious. I have been thinking about what I’m going to say. I have a lot to say. Birchbark, Louise Erdrich’s bookstore has invited me. Garrison Keilor has a bookstore in my neighborhood, University Club and Barnes and Noble. I have sold 250 copies of paperback for “Last Kiss In Tiananmen Square” in APril. It is well received.

    Comment by Lisa Zhang Wharton — May 2, 2012 @ 12:04 am

  14. Thanks Jenny!

    You are such a lovey and so incredibly supportive.

    You too with the Prom thing, for real? I would have sworn you were Prom Queen!

    I went to Mysterious Galaxy tonight in Redondo Beach, CA for Lisa Brackmann’s new book signing – Getaway. Lisa writes literary thrillers. Her sister Dana Fredsti also signed – she writes zombie novels. The sister act was hilarious. Who knows, maybe some day I’ll go to Prom – if it’s the right match.


    Comment by Pamela DuMond — May 2, 2012 @ 12:47 am

  15. Oh, I loved Lisa Brackmann’s first book! I didn’t realize her second was out. Have to get it. I wish I could’ve seen the sister act with you, Pam. And yes, for real on the prom, although I am laughing about your thinking I was queen. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Seriously, I didn’t have anyone to go with. My best friend and I stayed home and watched The Cosby Show. All told we might’ve had more fun. At the very least we didn’t give up our innocence, smash our car, and end up paralyzed.

    (OK–I may still be a tad bitter over my woeful high school experience. Everyone has issues, right? ;)

    Lisa, I would love to come to one of your readings! GOOD luck! I really wish this could work. Any chance you will plan a trip east again?

    Comment by jenny — May 2, 2012 @ 8:39 am

  16. This looks so fun!! Jenny, in a couple years, let’s set one up for ourselves! Hahaha! :)

    Seriously – I couldn’t agree more about internet noise – I’m just learning to navigate it all, and it still gives me headaches. I love the idea of writers meeting their readers, and it sounds like this trip was a success. Great interview, great responses. Great post.

    Comment by Leah Rhyne — May 2, 2012 @ 8:46 am

  17. This sounds like a novel in the making! On the tour bus sounds like a LOT of fun. Great interview (and great questions, Jenny! Love the one about the trillionth burger!)

    Comment by Alison DeLuca — May 2, 2012 @ 8:48 am

  18. Howdy, Jenny & Pamela!

    Re: East coast, not sure. I will be in Houston, for sure, and I will be at Bouchercon — you’re going to Bouchercon, right???

    Comment by Lisa — May 7, 2012 @ 7:28 pm

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