On the Road: Face-to-Face in a Virtual World

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Photo by Jeff S. PhotoArt

Today, we’re thrilled to have Jenny Milchman with us. Her journey to publication took thirteen years, after which she hit the road for seven months with her family on what Shelf Awareness called “the world’s longest book tour.”

Jenny’s debut novel, COVER OF SNOW, was chosen as an Indie Next and Target Pick, and was nominated for a Mary Higgins Clark award. She is also the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day and chair of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors Program. Jenny’s second novel, RUIN FALLS (Ballantine, 2014), also an Indie Next Pick, just came out and received starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal. She and her family are already back on the road.

Says Library Journal:

Essential for psychological thriller fanatics, Milchman’s second novel trumps her acclaimed debut, Cover of Snow. Extreme heart pounding action follows this determined mother as she risks everything to save her children.

Follow Jenny on her blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

On the Road: Face-to-Face in a Virtual World

Every day I get an email from a writer asking me, “Do I have to do X?” X could be any number of things. Tweet. Blog. Pin things on…what’s that site again?

And my answer is always, “No.” Writers don’t have to do the latest Next Big Thing; they don’t have to do any one thing at all. But that’s not to say they shouldn’t do anything.

The way to cope with the barrage of possibilities is to find those you do enjoy so that when you do them, your enjoyment will be infectious.

My joy is live, in-person events. I am a passionate fan of bookstores—in 2010 I started a holiday called Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day—and appearances at them is for me a little piece of paradise.

Think about it. You arrive at the bookstore to a lovely stack of your very own books, a picture taken of you when you looked your best—or at least had makeup on. The bookseller greets you with cookies or a glass of wine, and then you get to meet the one or one hundred people who have come to chat with you about the writing life.

Did I say one or one hundred people?

Yes, I did. We’ll get to that.

When my first novel was due to come out, after a thirteen year journey/struggle/battle to publication, my husband and I knew that we would have to give this thing our all. So, like any other logical people, we rented out our house, traded in two cars for an SUV that could handle Denver in February, and withdrew our first and third graders from school.

We then hit the road on a 7 month/35,000 mile book tour. The question I get asked most often is whether it was worth it.

It’s a difficult question to answer because it comes down to what worth it means in terms of launching a writing career. Did we sell a lot of books at every stop? No, definitely not. Remember I mentioned the one-person event? Well, I had some of those. (I was also lucky enough to have some where the bookstores had such well-established followings that I got to walk into a crowed room.)

But we knew from the outset that this wasn’t going to be about selling books on any one particular day, but about building relationships. Booksellers receive hundreds or thousands of Advance Reading Copies. They can’t possibly read them all. By going to the bookstore, I added to the wonderful work my publisher’s reps did of putting a book by an unknown author on the radar. 60-70% of the reading public love to browse in bookstores. That’s a lot of potential fans. And no matter how an event went, I would hear from booksellers weeks and even months later about a copy they had just hand sold to a person they knew would enjoy it.

The other question I hear is “But what if I don’t have 7 months? Or 7 weeks for that matter?” My answer to that is: Don’t worry. The power of the face-to-face can be mined in 7 days. Or in a weekend. What I love about doing events is that it’s additive, and you can start with one.

Plan an event at your local bookstore, which won’t even require missing a day of work. Take a weekend road trip, making it a working vacation. Draw a radius around your hometown, and identify bookstores within it. If setting up the events seems difficult, consider working with an independent publicity firm. This was the way I was able to get booked at places that had big and established attendee lists.

Another factor to consider is the power of meeting your readers face-to-face. I found that as much as I enjoy communing with people by email or on FB or Twitter—or blogs like this one—there’s a powerful connection when that relationship is lifted to real time. I met people on the road whom I now consider friends. I can’t wait to meet them next time.

That’s right, I did say next time. Perhaps the best answer to the worth it question is that with my second novel about to come out, we are set to hit the road all over again.

 

Do Try This at Home: Tips for Touring

  • Start building relationships with bookstores early. Frequent your local bookstore, go into bookstores on vacation. Shop, attend author events. One day, booksellers will be some of the first people to get your book into readers’ hands.
  • Consider a specialty that would lend itself to public speaking. Is your book a cozy and do you cook or knit? Gourmet or craft shops often have groups. Interested in genealogy and you’ve written a multi-generational saga? Is there a religious theme whereby appearances at a house of worship may be applicable? Do you have experience talking to kids? Schools are always looking for educational programs. Plumb the depths of your day job or outside interests for creative ways to get out there face to face.
  • If you’re self-published, work this into your planning. If you like the idea of appearing at bookstores, you will want to have a print book, and you won’t want it published by CreateSpace, but there are other options. If you do use CreateSpace, consider the non-bookstore event site possibilities.
  • Start out slowly. Some authors feel energized by events, some regard them as a slog. If you hate what you’re doing, you’ll burn out, and the events won’t do much good. There’s nothing wrong with a trial run.
  • Consider working with an independent publicity firm to get the most dense and focused tour possible, with media outreach to increase attendance at events.
  • Keep your expectations realistic. A tour is probably not going to turn you into a blockbuster author—at least not at first. What it will do is add a whole new dimension to your audience, and lay a foundation for a growing career.

Have you used any of these tips before? Do you have any to add? Jump into the conversation below!

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Comments

  1. says

    Some great tips here…

    I’d never seriously considered doing a bookstore tour to help promote my ebooks.

    Although, I had wondered about maybe attending a few book/writing festivals (and renting an authors stall).

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    • says

      Katherine, If you want to include bookstore events with an e book, I think it can add a very special dimension. I would make sure your e books are available on Kobo (the e reader independent bookstores have gotten behind). I am doing an event at Annie Bloom’s in Portland, OR with an indie author, talking about our two different publishing paths. Her books are available digitally only…I think it’s going to be a fascinating conversation!

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  2. says

    Why not use Createspace for paperbacks? I do and I do bookstore events. With extended distribution, or simply taking books to sell on consignment, it works fine.

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    • says

      Ed, it really depends on the bookstore and bookseller. Some will be open to having CreateSpace volumes in their store and on their shelves; for many it is like waving a red flag. If you are having success with it, that is terrific, though.

      If an author has built a relationship with a particular bookstore, the bookseller may be willing to loosen the CreateSpace ban. But for any author hoping to approach bookstores widely–out of their personal circle–a better bet is to use a printing method that doesn’t benefit Amazon, at least at this stage of things.

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    • says

      Sheila, thank you on both fronts, and I am coming to NC again! Not the coast this time, though…the Triangle and also Asheville and Charlotte. Any chance you could come to one of those?? July 6th and third week in August?

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  3. says

    I haven’t needed these tips yet, Jenny, but plan to file your post away for future reference. HOWEVER! I agree 100% about the energy of face-to-face. I’m actually in Colorado Springs right now @ the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference and am in HEAVEN. I knew zero people walking into this, but am leaving with several new friends. :)

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  4. says

    The adventure of being out on the open road for seven months sounds so romantic. And I know it probably often was exactly that. But I also know, from my days on the road in business, that the romance soon cools. I think I’d still be up for a mini version of this, though.

    I’m in year ten of my pursuit for publication, so it’s fun to hear how exciting the years ahead might still be. Congrats on your success, Jenny, and safe travels! If I see you appearing anywhere nearby, I’ll certainly go to be among the crowd!

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    • says

      Vaughn, I appreciate your sharing your perspective–and would love to meet you on the road! I hope you will check out my tour page if you get a chance (http://jennymilchman.com/tour/over-the-falls-2014)

      But mostly I want to address your being on year ten of your publication journey! For me that meant I was one year away from getting an offer. My sincere hope is that wherever yours goes from here, you get to experience all the peaks that come from having worked so hard. Please share them when you do!

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  5. Denise Willson says

    I wish your next road trip to be everything you ever hoped for, Jenny. Go get’em, Girl!

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth and GOT

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  6. says

    Gumption pays off! And what a wonderful family to band together for THE BOOK!
    My dog is devoted to my manuscript (having pronounced it delicious on several occasions) and has graciously accepted my road trip invitation, once the agent is secured, once the deal is done, once publication is achieved! Lots of great suggestions for those of us itching to make the journey!
    Congratulations on the success! And I’ll look for the “Jenny Milchman Tour” coming to my neck of the woods!

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/mara-buck/the-puppy-discusses-earth-day/714768228565712?comment_id=6829778&offset=0&total_comments=3

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    • says

      Mara, lucky you having such a dog in your life. Personally, I think a world’s longest book tour WITH dog would make for a wonderful story–and some wonderful times! Good luck. Please keep me posted.

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  7. says

    Fantastic article, Jenny. Good advice about these efforts being additive–it makes it all sound far less daunting that way.

    I’m so thrilled your tour is going to lead you to Ann Arbor in July. Does this mean I get to meet the whole family? :)

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  8. says

    Nice blog today, Jenny, and I love the idea of building relationships with readers compared to building sales. I’ve not toured, yet, but I’m just learning about getting in touch with my readership now. My book was on ShelfAwareness recently, and I offered a free book contest by contacting me at my author email. Wow, so many people emailed me, expressing not only their interest in my book but also with some very personal comments about a range of subjects. I’ve answered all of them back. It’s lovely to be able to actually speak to your readers directly about your story, and bookshops, blogs, libraries, and reading. As writers we tend to get over focused on sales, reviews, and rankings. But contact with readers (even through email) seems to be a very valuable aspect of being a writer.

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  9. says

    Jenny, I just started giving hour talks at our local B&N for aspiring writers along with my indie publisher. The writers found it extremely helpful and B&N is hosting three more. Hope we can take it on the road as there’s nothing like communicating with readers/writers up close and personal.

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    • says

      That sounds like a lot of fun, and valuable as well, Tony. Let me know if there’s ever a chance we could team up for one of those. I would love to.

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  10. says

    Interesting and cool article with some great ideas.

    As a reader, I’ve met authors that I hadn’t previously known, and ended up buying their book because of our interaction. Not only that, but in some cases I’ve talked up the book to other people.

    As a writer, one particular line you put down really resonates with me: “There’s nothing wrong with a trial run.”

    Great personal example is Twitter – I thought I would hate it, but I actually enjoy it. Sometimes we are averse to things without having a direct experience of it, we have our fears and assumptions. But really, we need to just try some things out and see how it goes.

    I like the idea of cultivating relationships with bookstores early, and I think we all need to be involved with and support bookstores.

    Anyways, thanks!

    — Arley

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  11. says

    Thanks for the tips, Julie. My novel “Deep Winter” was a recent Penguin debut novel and I found that in addition to what you mention, complementing in-person appearances with promotion on facebook and GoodReads was very helpful in terms of getting a lot more people to the bookstore events. (You can list book events on GoodReads & Amazon). I’ve also connected with Mystery Writers of America, The International Thriller Writers, and a few other groups who are great at helping an author network. I’ll be posting more writing & publishing advice on facebook and my blog soon.

    Best to everyone,

    Samuel

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    • says

      Samuel, yes! When the virtual world meets face-to-face, real magic can happen, and the ideas you suggest are all excellent ways. Online writers groups and book clubs can be found as well, and often love to come out for a real “live chat”. Thanks for adding this!

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  12. Ellen Prager says

    Hi Jenny

    Great advice. I very much enjoyed meeting you in Miami and although the crowd was not huge, you were engaging and all in (which can be tough when just a few people show). Are you coming back to Florida/Miami on your new tour. So fun to hear about your travels and tribulations! Your perseverance should be inspiring to so many struggling writers.

    And by the way, my MG fiction book, The Shark Whisperer, official publication date is this week. Young readers love it, some of the literary reviewers not so much – but I expected that. I wrote it as a fun, easy adventure read for kids, especially those that like the oceans and sea creatures. Want it to be a book they want to read, not that they are told they should read. And by lucky coincidence I am now an NBC on-air expert (missing plane search) and looks like I will get a book spot on The Today Show!!!!!

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    • says

      Ellen, so great to see you here!! What am I doing, saying that, before I say…CONGRATS!!!! Happy, happy pub week. Please send me info about your book so I can spread the word to moms I know. I remember hearing about it and am so glad it found a home.

      I am thrilled that I will be back at the magisterial Books And Books on this tour. If you are free, I would love to see you. The date is in July–I will find an invite asap.

      Again, great to hear from you!

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  13. Poeticus says

    I hit a bucket list milestone back in 2000: write, design, layout, print, bind, sell an entirely self-produced book. I flogged that small chapbook anywhere in a hundred-mile radius that would accept it on consignment. More bait and tackle shops put it on their display shelves than bookstores, seven of the former, two of the latter, both mom and pop boutique bookstores.

    The bookstore that was most supportive, the wife ran the bookselling arm, the husband ran a publishing arm. He used Lulu as book manufacturer, many of the books his own creations, and also offered publishing services to community clientele, both under the bookstore’s publisher ISBN block.

    My modest creative nonfiction chapbook didn’t have an ISBN assignment. Chain bookstores and retailers refused it for that reason alone. Nonetheless, I sold low four figures copies priced at twice total cost and hand signed every one. More than half I signed in person again with personal dedication at the point of sale. Bright faces and glowing praise in person were a delight.

    When I grew weary of the slog, I donated the text to a public school system that keeps it in electronic print as a study source for regional history courses, and enjoyed by readers around the world, many who e-mailed me with praise. The chapbook has been cited numerous times, a few times in federal documents, and many times on personal and professional websites.

    I was also invited to speak at numerous civic functions because of the local celebrity garnered from publishing the chapbook.

    I’ve dress rehearsed CreateSpace and Lulu for book publishing, favoring Lulu for its independence from and independent distribution through online booksellers, and its access to Ingram, largest U.S. book distributor to independent bookstores, libraries, and univerisity booksellers. Dress hearsal in a few instances has been for guiding other self-publishers from manuscript to book through the maze of Standard Book Publishing Format and online book manufacturing.

    Both CreateSpace and Lulu books can be produced without their name branding. Many self-publishers are becoming savvy to the self-publishing stigma and actively refusing CreateSpace and Lulu proprietary name branding. I feel Lulu is most straightforward and least aggressive in that regard, though. Lulu publishing stripped of its proprietary name branding is little different from independent publishing. Lulu offers trade hardcover with slip cover. huzzah! CreateSpace doesn’t. A book formatted for trade paperback and trade hardback only needs each have separate ISBN and CIP data. Electronic publishing is, again, only a matter of minor adjustments. Copyright registration need only be separate if content is substantively different.

    Next on my writing and publishing bucket list is, of course, self-independent-publishing prose and writing craft. It’s been a long, hopefully productive, slog developing craft, reasearching and developing new writing theory insights, and such since my first committed, awkward foray into self-reliant print expression. I have strong and fresh marketing plans and a lot of work to do to get there. Burning the midnight candle has been more than worth the effort and expense, though, at least for ever more meaningful reading experiences.

    The approval and passionate interest of a live audience is for me the greater reward. Why I write. Money is ephemeral, impersonal approval, though financial independence wouldn’t hurt my feelings.

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    • says

      Poeticus, your last line made me laugh out loud! Forgive me if I am misunderstanding your comment, but my sense is that even if it’s not clear who produced a book, using an outlet that is bookstore-friendly (like Lightning Source, your own micro press, etc.) can send an important message. It’s a worthy topic of discussion on its own–perhaps one we can have at WU!

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      • Poeticus says

        Jenny Milchman,

        Yeah, there’s a lot going on in publishing technology and culture ripe for discussion. Bookstore-friendly publisher branding for the self-publishing marketplace does indeed express a strong message. For example, many self-publishers regurgitate their wordprocessor default manuscript settings, which scream vanity-hobby self-published, which as much as signals the writing caliber is equally indifferent, and have no clue about meta data associated with an ISBN assignment. A self-publisher operating as a micro press through, say bookmaker/distributor Lulu, who attentively navigates publishing format standard details, though, signals that the narrative has been detailed thoroughly as well.

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  14. says

    Jenny, congratulations on the new book, and on the MH Clark nomination!

    Great tips, of course, but I think what’s most important is your focus on building relationships.

    Looks like this year’s tour won’t take you through Montana, and we won’t be in Seattle at the same time — maybe next year! But let’s connect at Malice Domestic next weekend!

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    • says

      Leslie, I’m so glad we’ll get to see each other at Malice! You’re right that we’re missing Montana (as well as the Dakotas), which makes me sad, not least because I would love to do an event with you.

      Building relationships. Them’s wise words. You put your finger on what I love most about this whole crazy adventure.

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  15. says

    How timely! I have done many events and am now planning what I like to call the Booktouranniversarypalooza. My husband and I celebrate our 45th anniversary this summer and are going to 12 cities with Amtrak railpasses. Since my book BLUSH, a memoir, is about growing up Mennonite, I’m speaking in Mennonite churches and also reaching out to writer friends along the way.

    I love what you have done, Jenny, and I wish you every continued success.

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  16. says

    Katharine, so much of what you wrote really resonates with me. It took me 17 years (seventeen!) from the time I began writing for an audience to the time I had my first book published. And I’m right there with you… on the road talking and interacting with people. As my sister once said before I had my book published: “I can just imagine that when you get up in front of an audience, you are going to be in your element.” She was right… I am! I find social media a chore and a bore… and I’ve been doing it anyway. Except for Pin the Rest, or pin TER ist or whatever you call it. And I don’t text. After all, one has to draw the line somewhere!

    How do you go about finding the right publicity person for you?

    I noticed that you did not mention library talks. Do you do any of those? I have been doing book tours, focusing mostly on libraries. I find because of the subject matter (memoirs about growing up Amish and leaving) that I get larger crowds there than in bookstores. And some of the libraries will help pay travel costs, so I don’t have to pay out of pocket from the personal fortune I don’t have.

    I am trying to imagine doing a long book tour with my two boys when they were children. My mind cannot go there… just the memories of the constant bickering from the back seat on road trips sets my teeth on edge. How DO you manage that? I have to hand it to you… I could not be going in that many directions. Now that our sons are grown, it’s just my husband and me on the road, and it’s heavenly. In fact, he wrote part of the second book, and he co-presents. Audiences love his perspective in our story.

    Thank you so much for sharing this post about your writing and marketing journey. It reinforces my own bias for in-person interactions.

    All the best to you on your next journey!

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  17. says

    This is often one of my warm-up writing prompts…”Imagine your third book is being published and you are asked to go on a book tour…” I hear they are exhausting but if I ever do get one, I’ve bookmarked your article. Thanks.

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