Book tours are a sort of mythical, magical unicorn for most of us. Perhaps that’s because we all have this vision of paid hotels and airfare and hordes of readers flocking to the bookstores in any city we travel to, wearing tee shirts with our names on them. We all see ourselves as Neil Gaiman or Ann Patchett or Elizabeth Gilbert, being greeted by the mass with glee. Our perception is a funny thing. I read an interview once with John Grisham where he talked about traveling to a Barnes & Noble in a mall in a town across the country. He sat a table stacked high with his books and a pile of sharpies. Staff stood by to assist him should he need to beat off the crowds. But only one woman came, the entire span of his signing—and only because the store clerk sent her to Grisham’s table. She’d never heard of the guy.
Oh, the humiliation.
I’ve done a few book tours and sadly, this scenario isn’t unfamiliar. Ask any author. We all have a treasure trove of embarrassing stories like this one. In fact, currently this is a publishers’ favorite line: tours don’t sell books. So why do authors some continue to go on tour? We’ve all seen the photos and the memes.
Are they worth it? It depends on who you ask.
As I mentioned, publishers don’t want to pay for tours for the vast majority of their list. They’re pricey and they see it as not worth the money to send authors to a store where they may sell one book or even thirty. There may be loads of buzz around your book online, but it doesn’t necessarily correlate to packed book tours. Which means, pubs don’t like to spend the time setting the tours up for you either. Yes, authors are now often responsible for setting up their own tour, should they choose to do one. Publicists will assist, absolutely, but since they don’t find them all that helpful, you’re mostly left to your own devices. All of this is true unless you’re one of the anointed ones—the top tier author who will be given the VIP treatment. You can’t plan for this. You may as well not really hope for it either, I hate to say. Instead, embrace the happiness and pride with being published and paid for your work and reaching readers. That’s what it’s all about anyway.
Another argument against tours beyond the expense (and it adds up fast—hotels, flights, gas, meals), is that the data points to paid advertisements placed at strategic sites, online tours on various social media (especially at Instagram and Facebook), a variety of media exposure, and Goodreads giveaways as the most effective ways to reach readers.
On the other hand, some authors argue that tours can be worth it. In the end, photos and joint events with other authors draw out the press and bloggers and Instagrammers, which in turn, creates more buzz. You’re also making relationships with booksellers—who are responsible for choosing the Indie Next List. Another bonus is that some booksellers are extraordinarily good at hand-selling (pitching your book to customers they know would enjoy it). So if you decide to give a tour a try, how do you put one together that makes sense?
Reach out to Bookstores where you spend good money
Be friendly, make yourself known, buy books. Help advertise and attend their events. Remember this isn’t just networking, it’s also supporting the industry of which you’d like to be a part. I’m always appalled by how few authors actually buy books, whether it be at actual bookstores or at conferences. The booksellers are a lot more likely to entertain the idea of hosting you for an event if you make the effort to support their store.
Visit towns where you know people
One of the ways to get people into the store is to visit places where you may either a.) rally book clubs you’ve connected to, or b.) contact friends and family, who will then contact their friends and neighbors or book clubs, to come on out to the event. Do not visit bookstores (even if it’s a really great indie) where you know no one. Chances are, you’ll waste your money flying or driving there, and you’ll have the distinct pleasure of speaking to a crowd of three.
Put your ear to the ground
Investigate. Check out other authors’ event pages and take a look at the various stores and locations where they’ve been. Reach out to those stores if your book is in the same genre or a similar vein, etc.
Choose stores that host events in your genre
Some stores are very particular about who they will host as they’re catering to a specific reader audience. The Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan, for example, mostly hosts authors who write thrillers, suspense, and mysteries, or any books that crossover into that category in some way. It’s a wonderful store with a nuanced category. Don’t waste your time reaching out to them if you write romance.
Add a unique element to the event
Since my novel features Grace Kelly, my co-author and I will be attending a Grace Kelly-themed party put on by two book clubs that will be held at a restaurant/bar. We worked with them to pick out a cocktail Princess Grace would have liked, and everyone is encouraged to dress like Grace! HOW FUN IS THIS! We’re getting our hair done in the 1950s Old Hollywood glamour style, wearing our scarves and pearls. Find an element of your book that might lend itself to a fun twist. Trivia or raffles or themed parties. Be creative. It’ll draw more people in and be a ton of fun for you.
Joint Events May Be Just the Thing
Two heads are better than one is a motto that often works for a signing. When you plan an event with two authors, or possibly three, you tap two to three times the number of potential audience members. Now, this isn’t always true but statistically it’s a better bet. I’ve attended an event with seven authors that had an audience of, wait for it,…zero. So that happens, too. But I refer back to my first point of choosing locations where you and the authors know people or have some sort of connection to the press.
And with that, I’m embarking on a three-week tour, and though I’ve been informed some of the events are sold out (hooray!!!!!), I fully expect at least a few to be a chorus of crickets. That’s the breaks of taking a risk—and being an author. Most of all, I plan to have a ton of fun celebrating a novel I’ve worked hard on and that I hope will make readers happy. In the end, that’s what a tour is all about.
What’s an author event you’ve attended in the past in which the writer was a terrific speaker or one that featured a fun and interesting element?