Book Tours Are More Than Just Showing Up

From Publishers Weekly:

In the abstract, a book tour looks like it might be tremendous fun: packed houses of adoring fans, expense-account dinners in fancy far-flung restaurants. I’ve now promoted three books across a couple dozen states and 10 countries, and my experience has looked much more like bleary-eyed airport breakfasts at one end of the day and modest register tallies at the other, which begs the question, was this worth it?

But that depends on the answer to a different question: what’s the goal?

A dozen years ago, before I’d started writing books and was still publishing them, I asked my brilliant boss, Peter Workman: Why do we expend such a huge effort producing seasonal catalogues? Why do we run around like lunatics to finalize covers, on-sale dates, point-of-sale promotions, and everything else—such a frenetic outburst of redesigning, numbers crunching, consensus building, and decision making—all just to produce this printed marketing item? Who cares?

Peter put things into perspective. All that work, all those decisions—that was the real point; the catalogue was the impetus to get it all done.

I look at going out on the road through a similar lens. I do, of course, want to achieve the obvious immediate goal of selling units of the new title, just as we did, of course, need to get the catalogue to sales conference. But selling those hardcovers is just one component of my goal and my publisher’s too, and the booksellers’ too—we all have bigger long-term priorities: the next book, the one after, all the future books in all the years ahead, keeping the lights on.

For my part, I want to write better and better books, published better and better, making for a satisfying and successful career. And I think it’s the lessons learned, the experiences had, and the people met on the road that can make this achievable. On book tours, I go places I’d otherwise never have visited, I’m introduced to readers I’d never have met, and I make friends and fans and important contacts who’d otherwise be strangers.

I’ve learned about contemporary bookselling over dinners in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Austin, Tex.; about the evolving roles of libraries in Stamford, Conn., and Rockport, Mass.; about the terrific mystery conferences in Albany, N.Y., and Toronto; and about honing elevator pitches for radio in Amsterdam and Dublin.

. . . .

Touring has been my MFA plus my MBA, too—establishing a professional network, understanding the marketplace, polishing creative output, and even inspiring me to generate an entire book.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

As PG has mentioned before, with respect to the value of book tours by authors, he believes it’s no longer 1972.

Do book tours sell some books? Undoubtedly.

But what is the cost per book sold, particularly if an author values his/her time? Had the author not gone on a book tour, could he/she have spent the time and energy doing something that was ultimately more profitable with that time and energy (particularly considering that a great many authors are committed introverts)?

If publishers really believe that face-to-face contact between an interesting and persuasive salesperson and a reader who is willing to come to a bookstore to listen, why not hire a skilled salesperson to do the book tour?

Just like writing talent, the talent for selling products or services, particularly on a face-to-face basis, is not evenly distributed throughout humanity. If you have ever been in the presence of someone who is skilled in face-to-face sales, you will immediately notice the difference between a talented salesperson and a typical author squirming at a book signing.

PG has often thought that James Patterson’s success in selling a lot of books derives in significant part from his pre-writing experience of twenty-odd years as an executive working at the largest advertising agency in the world (where he ended up as CEO). Patterson knows far more about how to advertise and sell products than any employee at any publisher and has used his talent to sell far, far more books than he would have had he permitted his publishers to handle all his book promotion and advertising.

In response to the question, “Who better to sell a book than the person who wrote it?”, PG suggests the rational answer is, “Someone who earns his/her living by selling things.”

21 thoughts on “Book Tours Are More Than Just Showing Up”

  1. For my part, I want to write better and better books… And I think it’s the lessons learned, the experiences had, and the people met on the road that can make this achievable.

    So he finds that going on book tours helps him to write better books? Well…more power to him, but I think that analyzing books in my genre that I loved, learning from writers who are ahead of me on the road, and doing lots of writing every day are better ways to improve my craft.

    • You have to remember to consider the source, Publishers Weekly is speaking for the publishers that wish the author do all the promotions, without being paid anything extra for their efforts of course …

      (And your way of improvement sounds way better than theirs! 😉 )

      • I must admit that the OP seemed rather as though he were just spinning reasons that sounded good, so as to be able to justify all the time, energy, resources, and aggro that are part and parcel of a book tour.

      • Thanks, USAF!

        I’ve been writing up a storm lately.

        I started off the current novel by doing a thorough analysis of the openings of two books I love by authors I admire. Then I dove into my own story. I’ve written 1,000 – 2,000 words every day since. And now I’m closing in on the finish.

        When it is published, this will be my 24th title since I went indie in 2011. 😀

  2. People keep asking me if I’m going to have a signing at B&N or some such thing. They seem to get really annoyed when I tell them it’s not worth my time. They get even more annoyed when I say that’s 20th century marketing.

    It’s amazing how many non-writers know better than we do what will sell our books.

    Mind you, I love meeting people and I really enjoy the book signing at cons, even though I’m still an unknown and sell very few books. But that’s because I’m a guest at the con. I no longer go out of my way to hand sell my books. I just spent the afternoon digging a bunch of short stories out and editing them so I can put a freebie up on KU with my name on it. Now that should get people more interested in my writing than sitting at a table at my local B&N.

    • “It’s amazing how many non-writers know better than we do what will sell our books.”

      It’s that way with most everything it seems. Those that have no idea on a subject just can’t understand why it might be hard – or why some things may not be worth doing.

      My mother made a lot of ceramics decades ago and one of my sister-in-laws couldn’t believe we were giving it to Good Will instead of selling it. She still couldn’t understand after we pointed out it wasn’t worth the time and effort – we can’t sell them for much because China does ceramics cheaper (one of the reasons mom’s business went nowhere) and the time/risks (bad checks/reversed charges/claims of breakage/lose/theft) just aren’t worth it.

      Heh, a bit like a no name trying to publish a book, far easier to just upload it to Amazon and others than to fight the agent/publisher gauntlet in the hopes of not getting a crap contract – or winning a rejection slip. (And if it does take off the agents/publishers will come to you.)

    • meryl im rooting for you

      when you sign think of ways to stay in touch

      we never know who’s who and how they might support
      you in addl ways

  3. Expecting book tours to sell books is like expecting to sell books on Twitter. That’s not what book tours are for, just like that’s not what Twitter is for. Both are social events by which authors and readers connect, and in the case of book tours, you’re reaching readers who otherwise wouldn’t see your book because they purchase primarily through physical bookstores or are heavy library users.

    Book tours are just as valid a means of connecting with readers as social media. If you think it’s a waste of time because you’re not directly making a profit, then you’re missing the point.

    • Thank you for voicing my thoughts. As a reader, I treasure the times I’ve met some of my favorite authors.

      When I lived south of Boston, I always made a point of going to see Robert B. Parker at the Borders or B&N store when he came to talk about his new release. That’s not generally what he talked about, though. I found out about “Double Play,” his story about Jackie Robinson’s bodyguard, which he was writing at the time, at a signing. The way he lit up about that book, I knew it was a book of the heart and that I had to read it.

      I also remember Dennis Lehane going all fanboy about meeting Clint Eastwood when Mystic River was being filmed.

      And getting totally tongue-tied when I presented her latest book to Nevada Barr to be signed at that bookstore in Scottsdale because I was in awe of her writing.

      Nowadays, I mostly hear authors talk at the Tucson Festival of Books, but sitting in a ballroom with hundreds of people isn’t quite the same as a bookstore. Except for Craig Johnson. He’s a natural entertainer and his presence fills a room of that size. I always make sure to go to one of the indie bookstore booths to get a book signed by him, though, because the lines are shorter. And he’s as personable one on one as he is in front of a crowd. It takes a while for your turn to come up because he chats with almost everyone who hands him a book.

  4. For book tours, and as a corollary to “Wibbow”(“Would I be better off Writing”), I would like to propose “Cimmdep”(“Could I make more money delivering pizza?”)

  5. I suspect that it is a long time since such tours have been worthwhile. I suspect more useful contacts, fans etc. are to be found on the internet than on these tours.

  6. I think Elise has it right when she says “As a reader, I treasure the times I’ve met some of my favorite author.”

    Meeting an author, hearing them read in person (especially if they are introverts) can make a lifelong impression on a reader.

    There are many effective ways of promoting books, but there’s no replacement for the personal experience, whether you choose to do tours or not.

    What’s a fan for life worth?

    • Depends on the number of titles and price, no? 😀
      (Okay. Some people enjoy personal engagement and fawning. But not everybody. And the travel can be a challenge. Pricey, too.)

    • Since only paper can be signed, and only traditionally published authors go on book tours…

      Future books x cover price x (royalty rate – agent rate)

      Published Paper: 10 books x $20 x (.15 – .015) = $27

      So, we might ask how many fans for life are generated by a book tour, and contrast that with the dollar cost and time expended. Then determine how else that time and dollar cost could be expended and how many book sales it might generate.

      • But a fan for life doesn’t just buy a copy of each of your books, he gifts your books to friends and touts them to acquaintances.

  7. as a ‘book tour’ person, it is, true, grueling and you do get the equiv of gruel twice a day. But over the decades the readers I’ve met have been outstanding and/or funny, and or charmingly peculiar, or extremely accomplished in their own art that is not writing, or is. Many connections made that still hold these years later. Some readers are not only reading, they are on some kind of silk road, carrying the works far and wide.

    Yes, the tradpublishers and our own in house road trips have several points: to sell, to meet and be in cordial relationship with those readers who have questions, or comments or want to discuss the work, and we ask for all business cards of those who have them to be put to various good purposes.

    Yes, facebook, twitter, instagram… however one of the most ubiquitous comments online where we are, is “I hope I can meet you in person someday.”

    I think writers can and do think way beyond the brackets trad pubs put forth, even when trad pubs are paying for the multi-states tour.

    Just my .02; it is true it takes time and energy and also taking good care of your health while on hard tack tour. But if youre willing, you can make your own tour and gather info to have further contact with your readers after, which is a golden oppty in more than one way.

  8. I feel like book tours are sort of like, gifts to the readers, more than a process to sell a book. I don’t go to see a writer on tour because I’m trying to buy the book, I go because I love that writer and want to let them see the person who is receiving their work. I go to ask questions and give gifts because the book has meant a lot to me. Conventions have become a better method of this because there is more time to see, interact, and connect than a 1-3 hour even in a busy store.

    • I feel like book tours are sort of like, gifts to the readers…

      Oh, nicely put!

      And, yes, a lovely thing to do for one’s readers. But not necessarily a way to “write better books” as the OP avers.

      Since a book tour can cost thousands of dollars, as well as taking a toll on the writer’s health, I think it needs not to be engaged upon without careful thought. YMMV. 😀

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