* "Going Rogue" book tour starts next week
* Kicks off with Oprah interview, Michigan stop
* Chance for fresh start after tough year
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, Nov 11 Get ready, America. Like her or not, Sarah Palin is coming to a city near you.
Last year's Republican vice presidential nominee is starting a book tour next week to promote her memoir, "Going Rogue: An American Life."
Is it a thinly-veiled bid to test the waters for a possible 2012 Republican presidential bid, or simply an effort to make money and cement her celebrity status?
Only time will tell. For now, the opening stops of her tour in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama and Florida, could be valuable if she later decides to run.
So far she is steering clear of major cities, going to smaller places like Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of one of the biggest military bases in the country.
"From Michigan, the 'Going Rogue' tour will cover as much of the country as possible," Palin said this week on her Facebook page. "I've decided to stop in cities that are not usually included in a typical book tour."
The first week of the the tour covers the eastern United States. After Thanksgiving, she will hit the West. Palin received an advance of at least $1.25 million from publishers Harper Collins.
Palin remains as controversial as ever, beloved by grassroots conservatives and derided by liberals, a year after bursting onto the national stage with her run at high office with Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
Yet there is no denying her star status in the Republican Party, where she is often mentioned alongside possible Republican candidates in 2012, such as Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee.
"I don't think anybody knows whether she is going to run for president, including her, but she does have a huge following in the country and her book and the book tour I'm sure will enhance her prominence," said Republican strategist Charlie Black, a McCain campaign adviser.
ALREADY A BESTSELLER
The book, written with help from ghostwriter Lynn Vincent, has been high on Amazon.com's bestseller list for weeks, long before the Nov. 17 release of a reported 1.5 million copies.
"It certainly has the feel of somebody maintaining their national visibility, which will allow her to keep her options open for 2012," said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.
The media blitz kicks off next Monday with an interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Two days later comes the first stop in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
"Obviously she is going to be a major player for some time to come," said Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. "The book tour is a natural extension of what many national political leaders do from a strategic standpoint."
The tour is a chance at a fresh start for Palin who resigned as governor of Alaska last summer after growing tired of fending off ethics violations accusations from critics.
She has also been caught up in public battles with Levi Johnston, who fathered a child out-of-wedlock with Palin's daughter, Bristol. That relationship broke up and Johnston has traded his own negative stories of family life with the Palins to the media.
A CNN poll reported last month that more than seven in 10 Americans think Palin is not qualified to be president. Republicans were split, with 52 percent saying she's qualified and 47 percent disagreeing.
Regardless of her political aspirations, the self-styled hockey mom stands to gain a financial bonanza from her tale of how she rose from small-town Wasilla, Alaska.
Aside from some paid speeches, Palin has largely communicated via her Facebook page.
"Those of us who love freedom and believe in open and transparent government can only be dismayed by midnight action on a Saturday," she commented on the House of Representatives vote last weekend to pass a healthcare reform bill. (Editing by Alan Elsner)