Book Tours – Analyzed

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The post that appeared immediately prior to this one included a video in which the author was performing a video substitute for a physical book tour. When PG posted the video from YouTube, it had received 2,594 views.

PG is of the gigantically, perennially and irrefutably humble opinion that traditional book tours where a publisher sends an author out to visit a number of bookstores for an event in the bookstore to which anyone who learns about the event can attend.

Typically, the bookstore staff sets up some chairs for the audience, has several stacks of the book being promoted spread around the store and provides the author a table and a chair.

Thereafter, the author makes a short speech about her/his book designed (almost always by the author) to induce members of the audience to buy a copy of the author’s book. After completing the pitch, the author sits at the table and autographs books that members of the audience have purchased, often with a trite phrase, “I hope you enjoy my book!” or something the purchaser requests, “For Lurlene from her loving granddaughter, MaryJoJean.”

After chatting with strangers and signing all the books that are purchased, the author packs up, thanks the bookstore staff (perhaps leaving them some candy) and exits the store to travel to the next bookstore on the tour schedule. On a large tour across the US, airplane travel and hotels are involved.

For a really, really, really bestselling author, the publisher might send a minder to help schlep the author around from place to place.

To PG, this sounds like a mid-Twentieth-Century marketing strategy. (“Housewives! Have we got something new to brighten your humdrum day! The latest scientific innovation in kitchen cleaners!”)

Let’s break the thinking behind what passes for the marketing strategy behind a book tour.

  1. The author’s time costs the publisher nothing.
  2. We will send one of our authors to a physical bookstore. We’ll have the bookstore create some sort of poster announcing a book signing by Arthur Author for his latest book.
  3. If the publisher is feeling really generous, it might pay to have some cheap promotional brochures printed and shipped to the bookstore so the store will have something for an employee to sprinkle around for most of its customers to ignore. If it’s colorful, children might pick up a brochure to leave in the back seat of the car when they get home.
  4. The bookstore will have its employees set up chairs and a signing table, unpack a couple of boxes of books, place a few books around the store and stack a bunch on the signing table.
  5. In advance of the designated time, the author will leave an inexpensive hotel room, drive a rental car to the store after cruising around a strange city for awhile, walk into the store and start meeting total strangers.
  6. The introverted author who hates speaking to groups of people will thereafter speak to a crowd of strangers which will always be smaller than the author expected to show up.
  7. After trying to be interesting and entertaining for 15-20 minutes, the introverted author will then have to talk to a stream of strangers for about 60 seconds each, try to appear to be enjoying the process of acting like a homecoming queen, and write something trite in each copy of the book.
  8. Emotionally exhausted, after the last customer has left, the author will then effusively thank the book store manager and staff for their efforts, glance at the large stack of unsold books, and stumble out to their means of transportation and try to remember where the next book-signing is scheduled and when she’s supposed to be there.
  9. If the author is sufficiently depressed, she may estimate how many copies of her book were sold at the book-signing, calculate the royalties she will receive from those sales and realize that each of the store employees earned more on a per-hour basis than the author did for the time she put into preparation, travel, getting dressed up, undergoing the introvert’s torture of talking to a bunch of strange people (including some who were stranger than others) in the store, then more travel.

Perhaps PG is missing some giant financial or psychological benefit that accrues to a typical author as a result of a traditional book-signing or series of book-signings, but he doesn’t think so.

Then, let’s consider that Amazon sells more books than any bookstore or chain of bookstores in the world.

And, the author earns a higher royalty when Amazon sells an ebook than when Joe’s Books and Bait Shop sells a paperback.

But, as always, PG could be wrong.

11 thoughts on “Book Tours – Analyzed”

  1. After observing this over several decades, this shark finds that PG is being much too generous to the “bookstore tour meme”… with one class of exceptions.

    The fundamental problem with the meme is that it is based upon the joined assumptions that:
    (a) There are no other opportunities for those of a mind to meet the author to meet the author; and
    (b) There are no other reasonably convenient venues from which interested readers can purchase the author’s latest (or earlier) books than the bookstores participating in the tour; and
    (c) The author is well-socialized enough, and presents him/her/theirself well enough off the written page, that the book tour will not prove, umm, counterproductive.

    Since none of these assumptions reflects reality off the island of Manhattan, it’s a Problem.

    This shark recalls, from a number of years ago, the literary lion who was sent on a book tour with his/her/their first book in several years. Unfortunately item (c) above was a multiple-aspects fail and resulted in breakage bills from drunken revelry in several cities and at least two quietly resolved sexual harassment complaints (that is, at least two for which this shark has seen paper confirming them and the resolutions).

    The fundamental problem is that bookstores are seldom set up to (and frequently wouldn’t allow the author if they were) allow the author to turn an appearance into an Appearance, with other merchandise and opportunities. Neither the publishers nor the bookstores are willing to admit that the most-recent printed release probably is not all that a potential audience might be interested in purchasing, especially when there have been media adaptations of the author’s earlier works. (Just try getting a bookstore to stock DVDs or Blu-Rays — even when they’re orderable on a returnable basis from a “traditional” book distributor — of a years-old adaptation for an author’s tour. Or letting the author bring in his/her/their own stock.) Admittedly, some of this is driven by sales-tax/VAT reporting requirements and rapacious landlord “percentage of receipts” rent demands, but that’s actually easy to solve if there’s a will to do so.

    The class of exceptions is when the publisher isn’t allowed to stick its east-of-the-Hudson nose into planning the book tour. Every truly successful book tour that I’ve seen that was actually profitable to the author resulted from the author/author’s representatives or assistants doing most or all of the planning, including venue selection.

    • Excellent additional points, CE.

      The basic facts are that, unless an author is Stephen King, a great many publicity and planning activities at many publishers get passed off to recent hires or interns.

      Plus, if you have a real talent for publicity (there is such a thing and it can make a huge difference in the results), you’re going to be working for a New York PR agency or a big-time talent-management group, not a publisher.

      As I’ve mentioned before, most publishers, even large ones, are a long way from the top of any list of potential employers that a talented professional – lawyer, accountant, MBA, masters of advertising from a decent school, etc., is going to consider.

      Based upon your long history of commenting on TPV, I can say without reservation that you’re miles smarter than any attorney working for a major or minor NY publisher that I’ve dealt with.

      • Thanks, but I’m not sure how much of a compliment that last line was — “miles smarter than Yogi Bear” isn’t a very difficult standard. Even Congresscritters can generally meet it <vbeg>.

        • I understand, CE.

          “The smartest kid in the remedial reading class.”

          FWIW, I think you’d be smart in any group of lawyers with which I am acquainted.

          (Not another tongue-in-cheek compliment. I really do know some very smart groups of lawyers.)

    • Typically, the publisher does if the publisher sets up the book tour.

      However, most (all?) traditional publishers also encourage their authors to schedule their own book signings in local bookstores. If the author goes on vacation, what could be more relaxing than squeezing in a couple of book signings at the vacation destination(s)?

      • The publisher does to an extent. The publisher won’t pay for author needs (whether they’re “wants” or “needs” is another time; one author-client had serious trouble about five years back because the publisher wouldn’t pay the difference between “standard” transport and “wheelchair-friendly” transport) that are much beyond the 42-year-old unaccompanied male who doesn’t mind subsisting on junk food and cheap salad bars for the duration of the tour, has no health issues (like, say, requiring a pre-appearance place and time to take insulin), and lives within an easy drive of a hub airport.

        And don’t even think about the problems when Author’s most-popular/famous works were several years ago from Publisher H, and Author is now with Publisher V. I’ve seen some… interesting… correspondence between the publishers demanding “contributions” while the author was left fronting the upgrade from a McDouble to a Quarter Pounder With Cheese Meal. It’s admittedly somewhat unusual, but it reflects the very real problems with the model and with author compensation.

        Plus, meanwhile, the author is probably falling behind on the next book.

        • Exceptions noted, CE.

          There is no end of ways in which a publisher can be snotty to an author who has fallen the slightest bit out of favor.

          But, some authors continue to put up with it, despite available alternatives.

        • I don’t know what the total spending on tours is, but I wonder if they are done so the publisher can talk about the tour. Lots of people have seen them in movies and TV. There must be some reason they keep doing it.

          The only time I hear about a tour is when the author is being interviewed on NPR and mentions the tour he just finished, and what a wonderful experience it was.

  2. PG is of the gigantically, perennially and irrefutably humble opinion that traditional book tours where a publisher sends an author out to visit a number of bookstores for an event in the bookstore to which anyone who learns about the event can attend.

    Apologies – it could be the lack of AM coffee, but I can’t parse this sentence. What’s the opinion here?

  3. I know a few (just a few) authors who make bank at book signings and, especially, at conventions. These authors have built a fan base up over the years, have a solid fan base online, and are personable. None are big name authors like Stephen King. If you haven’t built up a solid fan base that’s willing to come out and see you, of course a book signing will “fail.” But there are authors who make it work and those folks shouldn’t be discounted just because most authors haven’t the foggiest clue how to make it work for them.

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