Three spring book tours sport fresh twists on the road trip, incorporating labyrinths, church auditoriums and RVs.

With Anchor's March 1 release of Desire of the Everlasting Hills in trade paperback, author Thomas Cahill hit the marketing trail—but with a difference. Because of Cahill's broad appeal, Anchor linked him with churches, synagogues and interfaith organizations—as well as bookstores—across the nation. And the marriage has proved successful. Each of the 14 bookstores signed up for his whistle-stop tour partnered with a local religious organization to present a brief talk on Cahill's Hinges of History series and a book signing. All or a portion of event proceeds were earmarked for the co-sponsoring organization or other local charities.

"Since the spring is when people think about religion, we decided to tour Tom during Lent," Jen Marshall, associate director of publicity, told PW. "Regardless of where we sent him, we knew there would be a religious organization he could connect with—Baptist churches, Episcopalian churches and synagogues, to name just a few. What's been wonderful about this wide range of religious organizations is how thrilled they were to host Tom. Two bookstore owners told me their local ministers have been asking for him for years."

Little Professor Book Center in Charlotte, N.C, kicked off the tour March 1 at a local Lutheran church—not surprising when one learns that the store's owner, John Barringer, is himself a former Lutheran minister. "It was a very good and a very enthusiastic crowd," reported store buyer Sally Brewster, "and we attracted a lot of new business."

Another of the tour's earliest events was sidelined under unusual circumstances—the Seattle earthquake at the beginning of March necessitated a change in venue for Cahill's appearance at a downtown Baptist church (in conjunction with the University Bookstore). The church was partially destroyed in the quake, explained events director Kim Ricketts, and a nearby church was pressed into service. "It was still a very good turnout," said Ricketts, "especially considering the situation."

Anchor plans a 125,000-copy first printing of Desire of the Everlasting Hills, book three of the Hinges of History series, following How the Irish Saved Civilization and The Gifts of the Jews— both PW and New York Times bestsellers.

A Crowning RV Tour

What started as a conventional six-city tour got turned on its ear when Laurie Beth Jones, author of Jesus, Inc., decided to have a little fun—behind the wheel of an RV. Best known for her 1995 blockbuster Jesus CEO (Hyperion), Jones has teamed with Crown Business for her latest offering, which pubbed April 10.

"Laurie Beth said she'd love to do something unconventional, maybe get an RV and drive all the way through the South and end up in New York," said Will Weisser, director of publicity for Crown Business. "She priced it out and realized that for just a little more than we'd spend on a traditional tour, she could hit 11 or 12 cities." The six-week tour gets underway May 7 in Midland, Tex.

Though the tour was still in the planning stage at press time, PW talked to at least one bookseller on the itinerary. Brian Lapidus, communications director for Chapter 11 in Atlanta, said the local chain will host Jones on May 22 for a 15-minute talk and q&a, followed by a book signing.

When asked about projected sales, Weisser said the initial print run of 75,000 copies is a "ballpark" for the first wave. "We don't know what the possible upside is, because once she gets in the heart of the country, we're expecting to get some great media coverage. Frankly, if we had infinite time and she had infinite patience, I think she'd drive the whole country."

Circular Paths

SkyLight Paths plans to cover 40 cities with its national Labyrinth Tour, a marketing campaign in support of the March paperback release of Labyrinths from the Outside In: Walking to Spiritual Insight by Donna Schaper and Carole Ann Camp. The book centers on the ancient spiritual practice of labyrinth walking—a circuitous path people have walked in prayer and meditation for thousands of years.

As part of the tour, a 20-by-20-foot canvas labyrinth will travel the country, along with a journal for recording experiences and a Polaroid camera to chronicle the event at each bookstore, every weekend through October. Participating stores need only a parking lot, basement or grassy area large enough to contain the labyrinth before shipping it to the next store on the itinerary.

"We've very deliberately made this an independent bookstore tour," said associate publisher Jon Sweeney. The SkyLight team even managed to interest ABA's Carl Lennertz, who promoted the unique tour in a January open letter to ABA booksellers.

The authors were on hand at the first event on March 2 at Town Center Books in Pleasanton, Calif., which drew about 50 labyrinth-walkers. Since then, the labyrinth has been on its own. "We're a small publishing company, and we weren't really looking to pay to send the authors to 40 cities," Sweeney said. "But this is an event that goes on easily without authors because the focus is the labyrinth, rather than just another book signing."

Marian Fleischman, manager of Sedalia Book & Toy in Sedalia, Mo., wasn't sure what to expect in terms of customer turnout, but she was intrigued enough to get her store's name on the list. Fleischman said, "I'm just thrilled SkyLight is doing this—it's not the same old, same old." In the end, the April 7 event was rained out, yet 50 people still showed up.

And the booksellers' journal?

"Who knows?" Sweeney mused. "We may turn it into a book when this is all over."