by Madeline Meehan
Upon publication of a book, many authors begin to fantasize about the wildly successful book tour they wish to embark on, envisioning miles of lines of eager readers and hours of engaging conversation. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case in most scenarios. We generally advise authors that a book tour should not be on a top ten to-do list when it comes to marketing a book. For those authors with large platforms and extra resources, however, a book tour can still make a lot of sense.
Especially if it’s done right. Having frequented more than my fair share of bookstores, I can say from personal experience that author tours are evolving. A 30-minute reading followed by a signing just won’t cut it anymore. And for good reason.
While working at a bookstore, I witnessed quite a few of these old-school book signings. One particular author started her reading with a small, mildly interested audience. When she was done she only had three audience members, none of whom were from the original group, and they seemed more excited about finding available chairs than listening to her reading. Afterwards she sat at a table for almost three hours and sold only one book—to the store manager.
Needless to say, the author didn’t reap any benefit from her reading and it’s unlikely that the bookstore will agree to host her a second time. An author’s worst-case scenario.
On the other hand, here’s a best-case scenario that hasn’t even happened yet, but that I’m already excited about. Sci-fi and fantasy author Neil Gaiman and his wife, musician Amanda Palmer, are going on tour together. They created a vague, goofy and charming video to build awareness and raise funds to help them book larger venues and print merchandise in advance. (Side note: There are posters and they look amazing.)
Gaiman and Palmer’s Kickstarter campaign not only fueled buzz about their tour, but it convinced 3,873 people to donate a combined total of $133,341. Now, even if you aren’t a well-established, multi award-winning writer who is married to a rock star, you can take a few lessons away from Gaiman and Palmer’s tour strategy.
1. Do your own promotions. Hopefully the bookstore will advertise for your event by putting signs in the store and notices on their website, but there’s no guarantee this will happen. So advertise on your own website, your blog, Twitter, Facebook and anything else you have access to. Make sure everyone who likes you knows what’s going on, where and when the event will take place. No one wants to or should ever bank on opportunity sales – sales that just stumble by and decide they want a book. Attracting random shoppers is possible, but those readers will be much more likely to join a crowd of entertained people than to sit in an empty group of chairs.
2. Plan something truly interesting for your audience. Come prepared with a presentation, speech, or something else that will keep your audience captivated. While you can do a brief reading, that should never comprise the bulk of your time. Similarly, Q&As are great, but don’t rely on them. What’s interesting to readers is the information authors can provide that we can’t get anywhere else. If you want to try something new, come with questions for your audience. What did they like (and, if you’re brave and thick-skinned, what did they not like)? Are there things they want to know more about? What made them pick up your book in the first place? Their answers will provide some of the most insightful and accurate market research on your book, and it will keep the audience interested and engaged.
3. Have the basic Q&A answers ready beforehand. Where did you get your inspiration? How hard was it to get published? Did you meet with a lot of resistance? Who are your characters based on? How did you get started in your field? All of these are common questions at author readings, so be ready with the answers so you can keep the event moving at a swift pace.
4. Bring back-up in the form of a colleague or talented acquaintance. Gaiman’s event won’t just involve him reading an excerpt. He’s bringing someone with him who will draw her own audience. If you have a friend, colleague or acquaintance who can reach a different crowd and even slightly relate to your topic, bring him and make sure he advertises to all of his fans as well. This is also helpful because it attracts additional business to the event, making the venue more likely to host you again and support you in the future.
Much like publishing a book, going on a book tour is a marathon, not a sprint. In order to have a successful event you need to take the time to promote your appearance, prepare in advance, and wow your audience. Don’t be afraid to get creative and start a Kickstarter or IndieGoGo campaign, if appropriate. The most important thing to remember is to make your reading more than a reading. Give people a reason to show up, stay, and, hopefully, become lifelong fans of your work.