Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Book Tours and Signings

A client of mine recently let me know that the MWA (Mystery Writers of America) listserve has been having an active discussion about the value of book tours and signings, and she thought my opinion might make an interesting blog post. I’ll let you decide whether or not she’s right.

The legendary book tour. It’s what most writers aspire to, right? Being flown around by your publisher, staying in posh hotels, being wined and dined by publicists, reporters, and booksellers, all while meeting with hundreds of adoring fans. Well, in truth, most book tours are usually done from behind the wheel of your own car, staying with friends and family (even if it means on the couch), wining and dining on caffeine and Big Macs, and meeting and greeting sometimes no more than eight fans.

So what is the benefit of a book tour? Truthfully, sometimes there isn’t one. Unless you do it right. While authors often look to a book tour to meet and greet fans, in truth the real success of a book tour is meeting and greeting booksellers—those people who are going to handsell your book to hundreds of future fans. Is this worth setting up a tour for? Not necessarily, but it is worth making the effort to do. Whenever you pass by a new bookstore, whether it’s in your neighborhood or one across the country, take a few minutes to go in and introduce yourself to the manager, clerk, and whoever else might be around. Offer to autograph any books they might have on their shelves and, if you find you have a fan, buy a book for her and autograph it. These are the people who are asked recommendations for new authors and these are the people who can get your books into the hands of readers everywhere.

Book tours can be incredibly costly for little reward, and while there are authors who will tell you that it worked wonders for them, I bet there are twice as many with tales of sitting for hours in a dark corner of the bookstore only to sell one book . . . to their mothers.

—Jessica

7 comments:

Maria said...

This post pretty much matches what author J.A. Konrath has to say on his blog about touring. He recently visited 500 bookstores--mostly on his own dime. But he knew from the get-go that it was to meet the booksellers. If you read the posts from about midsummer on, there's valuable info in there about how to go about talking to the booksellers, etc.

I think the advice is dead-on in this post. You have to get out and talk to people that talk to people.

2readornot said...

Thanks so much for sharing these tips...I'm not published yet, but when I am, using these gems will certainly help!

spy scribbler said...

In the fall issue, Spinetingler followed Barry Eisler and J.A. Konrath on a day of book touring. It's a great article! And Maria's right about his blog; it's a fantastic information source!

Anonymous said...

I read the Konrath report, too. I can't believe some of the bookstore clerks wouldn't let him sign the books. I'm not published yet, either, but I'm already thinking about places and ways to sell books when I am.

jolinn said...

I used to be a bookseller, and from the perspective of the "other" side...booksignings are expensive. Please think about labor. Before you even walk in to the store, it takes a person to set up your table, utilize precious retail footage for your event, promote your signing, order in your books, (and for some reason authors always think they should have stacks and stacks of books)and get you your drink. You are essentially asking for a donation of time and money. Unless you're a big name, or heavily promoted, you're coming in with no expectations of selling more than a handful of books. The bookstores (the ones that do) do it as a labor of love. Not out of any expectation of financial reward. I have handled and seen more "sad" booksignings than I ever want to see again. These poor people sit there, out of the way, all alone, with no one to talk to, and every one ignores them. If they're in a group, they talk amongst themselves, and it automatically excludes people who would otherwise approach them. If they're alone, they practice bad body language.

Unless you can sell something, please, don't autograph. You are selling YOURSELF, and if you aren't comfortable talking with strangers, can't stand (sitting fosters an "uncaring" image) for the time of your signing, and aren't BIG name. At least think about getting a book on salesmanship. As a former "sunshine artist", my pocketbook knows that an artist who walks around her area, talks and says "hi" to the passersby, makes eye contact and initiates conversation, makes money. Introverts don't.

The best way to sell is to write a good book. Listen to Bookends. Go visit your booksellers, give them a copy of your book. Give em some little trinkets. Chocolate is always good. Don't think that just because you sit behind a mall table with your books in front of you, you'll automatically morph to Nora Roberts.

*er* climbing off my soapbox.

Kate Douglas said...

Excellent comments, Jolinn! I've been to all kinds of book signings and can honestly say that I think stock signings are more effective. I stop in at bookstores and offer to sign my books, meet the employees and chat awhile. Sometimes they're interested, sometimes they're not, but at least I feel as if I'm putting my face and personality to my books. I've made some pretty good friends among booksellers in the past year and count those contacts as not only good for my career, they're good for the soul, too.

jolinn said...

you're right, Kate. I met so many wonderful authors who simply stopped in. Writers on a whole are great people, they're just not people oriented. It's such a solitary field. When I was at RWA nationals, in a room of hundreds, only a handful actually had lines. The rest simply didn't have the name recognition, or reader base to draw a steady crowd. Although to be fair...I did see three fabulous authors who talked to everyone that passed, handed out bookmarks and candy and chatted up their books. And those are the ones I remember.