The Skinny on Book Tours
The days of a publisher-sponsored book tour ended over a decade ago. And yet, writers still dream of signing with a publisher so they can go on book tour. We get it. After getting a contract with a publisher, a book tour seems like the next logical step. But let's look at a few of the realities around book tours.
Publishers don't pay for book tours.
Just because a publisher doesn't pay for a book tour, doesn't mean you can't. We advise writers to set aside 10-20% of their advance to use toward promotion. Self-publishing? Determine how much you can afford to spend on your book tour.
Getting on the calendar for a bookstore event is tough!
Bookstore calendars book out months in advance. And some bookstores find booking events for an unknown author is not worth their time. Getting on a bookstore's calendar and having them host an event is hard to do, even for the most tenacious and determined author. It is even tougher for self-published authors. Before adding an author to their calendar, many bookstores want to know if you can sell fifty copies of your book. Fifty is a lot of books to sell in one pop.
While a book tour seems glamorous, it can be a grueling experience.
What could be more fun than showing up at a bookstore and talking about your book? There is nothing more exciting than that first author talk. Or an author talk for an enthusiastic crowd. But what about the more often than not times an author shows up at a bookstore to find one or two people waiting to hear them speak? Or no one there because of bad weather, a lack of promotion by the bookstore, or other unforeseen factors. Going from town to town, living out of a suitcase for weeks on end, going to bookstore after bookstore, hoping a few people will show up to hear you talk and maybe, possibly buy your book can be a grueling and demoralizing experience. The internet is littered with articles by authors lamenting the horrors of their book tour. Book tours aren't for everyone. Before you embark on one, be sure it is something you want and are prepared to do.
Okay so no book tour for me! Wait, not so fast!
Read on before you throw in the book tour dream. In 2010, Rebecca Skloot's first book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, jumped onto the New York Times bestseller list and stayed there for 75 weeks. It won numerous book awards and was added to the common reading lists at hundreds of colleges and high schools. Rebecca's publisher did not give her money for a book tour, and yet, she spoke across the country. How did she manage to do a book tour and create the buzz needed for a bestseller on her own?
PLANNING, ORGANIZING, AND SUPPORTING AN AUTHOR BOOK TOUR
Doing anything well requires planning, organizing, and support. The author book tour is no exception. Begin with the basics -- by identifying the who, what, where, when and hows for your tour.
There are three distinct WHOs you need to define for your tour.
Make a list of the people who will help you along the way, your book launch and book tour team. Create a staff of paid, volunteer, and family who will help you with all the tasks required for a successful book tour. Can't afford to pay anyone? Think about everyone you know in terms of their skills.
Do you have a husband, daughter, or a friend who is a brilliant outreach person? Are they willing to write emails and contact group and organizations to pitch your talks?
Do you have a friend who is a savvy traveler who could travel with you and keep you on time and schedule?
Do you know someone who can build a website and populate your events calendar as events start to build up?
Do you know someone who can help you create a poster for your book and any of the giveaways you might want for your audience?
Having help in each of the areas needed to launch and conduct your book tour will help make the tour seem much less daunting and allow you to focus on the main point of the tour, your book.
Take your author talk and story to your audience. Think about who will be interested in your story. Make a list of all the potential audiences for your book.
Is your book about sailing? You could talk to sailing clubs.
Have a memoir about skiing around the world and setting a world record for the most vertical feet skied in a year (Unbound by Steph Jagger)? Talk to ski clubs and outdoor adventure groups. Fun Fact about Steph Jagger, she ended up as a speaker for REI.
Does your book have paranormal elements? Speak to ghost hunting groups or team up with a psychic and offer readings to groups.
Does your story have gardening as a major theme? Speak to gardening groups.
See how it works? Think about all the themes, groups, people, or organizations you can speak to about your book and offer to speak. Create a tailor-made talk for each group, and you'll create an avid audience for your book.
Think about all the people you know. Do you know someone who works in or is a member of one of the audience groups you defined? Do you know someone in one of the cities you might be visiting? Make a list of all the people you know and where they live and how they might help with your book. List relatives, friends, business contacts and interest group contacts. You'll be surprised at how many people you know who may be able to help you promote your book.
Once you have identified your potential audiences and the places you'd like to speak, reach out to the people on your contact list. For example, let's say you've identified a potential audience in Nashville. Scroll through your list and see if you have a friend or contact who lives there? Reach out and see if they might host you during your book tour. Hotels are expensive and add up quickly over the course of a book tour. Leverage your contacts to see if there are people willing to help you defray the costs of your book tour. You never know until you ask.
Once you've identified your audiences, you need to determine what type of event works best for each group you'll be talking to, what you will say, and the format you will use. For example, when we set up the Southern book tour for Steph's book Unbound, we identified three groups for her to speak to -- readers, writers, and skiers. Steph created three very different talks for each group. Yes, the talks shared elements, but they offered different audiences different aspects of her story. Skiers wanted to know about the equipment she used and the conditions at the locations she skied. She did a brief talk and a much longer Q&A to allow plenty of time to answer all their ski-related questions. Readers were more interested in the personal aspects of her story -- what it was like to travel alone as a woman, what was her favorite country, and did she met anyone on her trip. (Spoiler alert: She met her husband Chris.) And, writer's want to know about her writing and publishing journey. So, her talk to readers featured more about her personal journey and what she learned along the way. And writers were more interested in how she wrote her book, signed with an agent, and got a book deal.
Before you reach out to the audience or bookstores on your list, develop the WHAT of your talks
What will your presentation or event focus on? What do you think your audience(s) want to know, and what do you bring to the table other authors or speakers don't?
Give group organizers a reason to book your talk. Go beyond I wrote a book about beer and I want to share it with your brewing club. Develop topics such as I'd love to talk to your group about why beer tastes different in England, Germany, and America and how to develop international flavors in your brews.
Give organizers a range of possible topics and be sure to ask organizers if there is a special topic they would like you to talk about.
Determine what types of formats you are comfortable with -- readings, talks, question and answer, demonstrations, games. Play to your strengths and know your weaknesses. Don't plan to do a reading if you hate reading in public. There are many ways to structure an author talk. You don't have to stand behind a podium and read. Audiences will appreciate whatever you do as long as it isn't dead boring.
Before you decided where you'll go on your book tour, think about where your audiences and contacts are clustered. When we were planning the Southern swing for Kathleen Murray Moran's book Life Detonated, it made sense for her to come to the South because Sandra could combine her contacts with Kathleen's and create a successful tour. Kathleen had few contacts in the Midwest. So, we didn't plan any tour events in that area of the country.
Determine the areas of the country where your contacts are located. Are your biggest contact/audience clusters in the northeast? The south? The west coast? Are most of your contacts in the mid-west and Florida? Begin your planning with those areas.
Get a map and map out the major cities where you have contacts. We used Google maps to set up Kathleen's tour.
Next, add the location of all the bookstores.
And, add the location of any groups or organizations in the region.
By determining the audience in advance and reaching out to the potential interest groups, we were able to build a tour that included, but didn't rely on bookstores. Kathleen spoke to writers, first responders, the FBI, ATF, and other terrorism experts, and at bookstores. At one talk, we sold 83 copies of Kathleen's book. The night of one of the bookstore events, the weather was terrible, and no one showed. Because we didn't depend on talks at bookstores to promote her book, the book tour was a resounding success, and the time and money spent on the book tour were worth the effort.
Okay! Now you know where you will be heading on book tour. How do you decide when you should go? You will need at least three months to contact and schedule your events before you can begin your book tour. You can't simple call a bookstore and say I'd like to have an author event at your story next month. Chances are, the store is book months in advance. Same for the organizations you might want to speak to. Book tours take a lot of advanced planning and notification. If you want your book tour to be successful, gives yourself plenty of lead time to set up events.
Look at upcoming events in each of the cities you are targeting and see if there was a way to piggyback on any events. For example are there upcoming literary festivals you could speak at? Click here for a link to the Literary Festivals in the US. Or, are the annual meetings or conferences for one of the groups on your list in one of your targeted regions? If you haven't finished your book, but are dreaming of the day you do, start planning now. Begin making a list of the types of events that you can speak at for your book. Put the dates for conferences and conventions on your planning calendar even if the dates are a year or two out. You'll be ahead of the game when the time to plan your tour rolls around.
Reach out to bookstores along your planned route(s) and the groups and organizations identified in audiences well in advance of your planned dates. Include your media kit in your pitch.
Give bookstores and groups a range of dates you will be available.
Follow up with the groups, organizations, and bookstores letting them know you are booking up and provide a list of your narrowed dates.
Determine the type of presentation you're comfortable doing.
Limited format -- 20-minute talk about your story and your author journey, followed by Q&A.
Open format -- straight Q&A -- Ask me anything talk. One of the best examples of this the Greg Isles event I recently attended. If you ever have the opportunity to hear Greg Iles speak, go! He plays guitar, sings, and takes questions from the audience before signing books. He taught more about writing and being a writer in 45 minutes than I thought was possible.
Workshop -- This type of presentation works best if your book is a how-to or has a theme or topic that lends itself to a workshop style presentation.
Think now about how you will organize all the tour information. How will you reach out on social media? How will you pay for your tour? Before you begin gathering contacts, potential audiences, and event dates you need to establish a system for tracking all the information you will need to keep track of to keep your book tour running smoothly and efficiently. We use Airtable. Airtable is a brilliant tool that allows you to track literally anything. We use Airtable for every aspect of our business -- to track expenses, queries, and query responses. We use it to manage our to-do lists, social media schedules, and queries we send to editors. We use it to plot story. And, we use it to plan, organize, and execute book tours. Here's an example of the Airtable we use for book tours.
For everything else, from how to transport your books, to making sure you have a table cloth when you need one, and what to pack in your book tour survival kit, jump over and read Stephanie Steinberg's article 20 Things Every Author Should Know Before Starting a Book Tour.