It’s quite the big deal: 18 authors, 12 days, 11 cities. Kicking off on September 13 in Austin, Tex., and wrapping up on September 25 in Brampton, Ontario, the Smart Chicks Kick It Tour is entirely organized and funded by the participating paranormal romance writers. The grassroots tour was masterminded by Melissa Marr (Wicked Lovely series) with the help of Kelley Armstrong (Women of the Otherworld series), both of whom will appear at every event, as will a third headliner, Alyson Noël (the Immortals series). Aside from this trio, the author lineup will change at each venue, with six to nine Chicks in attendance. Here’s how it all came together.
The seeds of the tour—so titled to emphasize the strong, capable heroines in the authors’ fiction—were planted in June 2009, when Marr was slated to take part in several group author events for her publisher, HarperCollins. “In addition to that, on my own I had set up group signings during the RT Booklovers Convention in April and during BEA in May,” Marr says. “And my friend Kelley Armstrong and I were also signing together during RWA. So the idea of group touring was on my mind.”
During that BEA, Marr mentioned the idea of doing a multi-author tour to Holly Black, who Marr recalls “indicated that she thought it sounded like fun.” From there, Marr broached the subject with Armstrong, who says, “I jumped right in. Melissa and I then came up with a wish list of who, besides Holly, we wanted to be with us on the tour and where we wanted to go. Our wish list was so long that we didn’t get nearly down to the bottom of it before we had a full lineup.”
The criteria for making that list were quite simple. “We included authors whose books Kelley and I have enjoyed because of their strong female protags, and then we read books by some debut and up-and-coming authors,” Marr says. We then started sending out invitations, and in short order had even more authors than we expected. Almost everyone said yes.”
Bookseller response to the tour was equally enthusiastic, leading Marr and Armstrong to expand the tour from the originally planned six or eight cities to 11 (there will be two events in Houston). The authors publicized the tour on Facebook, and Marr sent an e-mail to booksellers she knows. “I wrote, ‘I know you do good events and I’m wondering if you’re interested.’ They all said ‘yes!’ Then booksellers I didn’t already know reached out, and readers requested we visit their cities, so we added a few more stops.”
The organizers then sent out a questionnaire to the authors to help them decide who would attend which events and eventually devised the schedule, taking into account authors’ preferences and some stores’ specific requests for authors. “In some instances, we scheduled authors to appear at events near their hometowns, since they prefer less travel,” says Armstrong. “But some authors told us to send them anywhere except close to where they live.”
The authors hired Media Masters Publicity to help with the tour’s rather daunting logistics. Karen Wadsworth, a partner in the firm, eagerly tackled the organizational challenge. “Making sure the 12 hosting booksellers and 18 participating Chicks stay informed and organized is priority number one for us,” she says. “Spreadsheets, detailed itineraries, and open lines of communication have been key.”
As the launch of the tour approaches, Wadsworth notes, “We are now immersed in the details, like making sure the Chicks, who are coming from all corners of the country as well as overseas, are wherethey are supposed to be whenthey are supposed to be there.” To promote the tour, Media Masters is sending participating bookstores posters, t-shirts, and swag baskets to give away, and has been contacting local press and librarians to help spread the word. “This has been a terrific experience,” says Wadsworth. “We can’t wait to tackle Smart Chicks Kick It Tour 2.0!”
Also upbeat about the tour is Suzanne Dupree, young adult program coordinator for Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego. The bookstore is hosting nine authors (Mary Pearson, Rachel Caine, Rachel Vincent, Margie Stohl, Kami Garcia, and Carrie Ryan, in addition to the headliners) at a September 21 event at Encinitas County Library. “This is the first time we’ve had this many authors at one venue,” she says. “Our store provides the books for publishers’ booths at Comic-Con, and we’ve been joking that this is our mini Comic-Con.”
The bookseller, who began organizing the event in March and expects some 300 fans to attend, has ordered copies of nearly 60 different novels for the signing. “A lot of these authors are big favorites of our staff, and we’re thrilled to be a part of the tour,” she remarks. “I think these authors are the smartest chicks in the world to do this on their own—it’s a great idea.”
Barbara Hudson, PR and events coordinator for Joseph-Beth in Cincinnati, will host six Chicks on September 24. She anticipates between 150 and 300 attendees, and has ordered a significant number of books for the event. “I tend to go heavier with the buying when there are multiple authors, since people are often being introduced to new authors they decide they’d like to read,” she says. “These are big-name authors, and with this group it’s going to be electric. Hearing their conversation will be the biggest and best part of the evening.”
Indeed, the authors hope that the tour events will engender lively conversations among them and their audiences. At each venue, the participants will briefly introduce themselves and their books, and then a Q&A session will take place before the authors sign books. “We will encourage people to ask us broader questions about writing and books in general rather than about specific books or series, so that all of us can answer and take part in the conversation,” Armstrong says. “When readers come up to us during the signing, we’ll be happy to answer questions about individual books.”
Marr understandably has high expectations for the Smart Chicks Kick It Tour. “It is an excuse to spend time with some great women, to visit booksellers and librarians, to chat with readers, and in all, have fun,” she says. And she hopes that fans, too, will enjoy the events. “Ideally, we’ll all walk away thinking, smiling, and glad we spent some time together. It’s no different than time with friends or family: it should nourish our spirits in some way.”
In addition to the authors mentioned above, tour participants are Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Jessica Verday, Kimberly Derting, Melissa de la Cruz, Jennifer Barnes, Jackson Pearce, and Jeri Smith-Ready.