Practical magic

Michelle Tea shares hard-won wisdom on writing and touring

* Stay focused: Tea considers caffeine a requisite for writing. It also helps to have a buddy. “I meet weekly with the writer Marcus Ewert,” she said. “We write together, mainly keeping to ourselves but asking for help or feedback when needed. We call ourselves Floral Prints.”

* Create community: Tea has hosted open-mics, shows and spoken-word tours—including the legendary Sister Spit shows—in the Bay Area for more than a decade. “I try to help other writers out by putting them in readings or hooking them up with other events or referring them to publishers,” Tea explained. “Also, because I tour so much, I’m connected to a national writing community and bring a lot of out-of-towners to read, which is fun for everyone.”

* Book your own book tour: “Fund-raise in your community for about a year, so you can buy a van, rent a van or have an emergency fund,” Tea recommended. “I start booking six months in advance, though a lot of spaces won’t actually book you that early. I like to have the route planned and start putting the bugs in bookers’ ears. I’ve gotten contacts for venues from friends, other artists, Web searching, looking in queer travel guides, seeing who runs poetry slams—I really scavenge.”

* Get paid on the road: “Don’t agree to take less than 60 percent of the door if you’re touring,” Tea insisted. “If you get a good promoter, it is totally worth it to pay them 10 percent to promote your show. I do try to find venues that are happy with bar sales and let you keep the whole door. I’ve always had to do shows that charge money on tours; otherwise, how does it get funded? But if you have a press supporting you, it’s good to bring your readings to indie bookstores and support them.”

* Don’t forget bribery: To encourage interaction at her Radar Reading Series, held in the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library, Tea doles out homemade cookies to audience members who participate in the post-reading question-and-answer session. “I find myself returning again and again to chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies,” she said. “They’re classics and not too fancy to prepare.”