Book tours have gotten a bad rap lately. Publishers seldom sponsor them except for their A-list authors in A-list venues in large cities.
In fact, back in 2011 Anne R. Allen advised authors to celebrate their demise in a post titled RIP the Author Book Tour. She preferred BLOG tours and social media, which, three years ago, were all the rage. Later, some authors questioned this method also, but most found them worthwhile. Here’s author Madeline Sharples in 2012 explaining the benefits on Examiner.com.
My own response? Do both: travel and use social media!
So here are five tips extracted from my recent trip to Kansas City and two small towns: Hesston and North Newton, Kansas. I spoke to more than 600 people in mostly packed venues. I sold and signed at least 88 books. My email list grew by more than 100 names. I had a whole team of people helping me.
1. Define success before you begin.
What makes any endeavor in life successful? Clear goals in advance help. For example: are you going to go strictly by cost/benefit analysis? Cost of tour versus income from book sales?
If so, the only way to go is having the ability to charge for public speaking. Even then, your fee will need to be hefty if your costs are high. It’s almost impossible to fly, rent a car, pay hotels and restaurants, without having someone at the other end who wants you enough to pay expenses plus at least $500 in honoraria. If you have this, the book sales become the icing on the cake instead of the cake itself.
On the other hand, you may have the luxury of having a “bucket list” of places to visit and people to see. You may be willing to make that the “cake” and everything else the icing.
Most authors fall somewhere between the two extremes above.
My own goals for this tour were to sell two boxes (88 copies) of books sent in advance by my publisher, renew ties with friends in the area, listen to and engage with readers, hone my abilities as a speaker, and generate buzz in the community about my book Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.
These goals are linked to my overall goal as an author to leave a legacy, to promote values such as simplicity, peace, and kindness, and to prepare for my own death by living one good day at a time. I also want to learn as much as possible about writing well. And I can only learn that by engaging with other writers, coaches and critics, and my readers.
It’s important to note that BLUSH is nearly six months old. That’s past the shelf life of the average book. BLUSH is now in its third printing, which means it’s on track to exceed the publisher’s minimum sales goals, but now is a critical time.
It’s also important to note that most authors don’t make a living from sales of their books. I never expected to do so. I place the writing and marketing of this book into the category in my budget called education and travel. I am fortunate enough to not depend on sales for success, but I’m both frugal and still have an inner child’s voice inside, the voice that opened BLUSH with these words:
So, I am very actively involved in promotion for this book. For my own learning and enjoyment, for the benefit of my chosen charity, and for FUN!
2. Start about five months before the actual tour.
Here’s a checklist of both “real” and “virtual” activities:
- examine your calendar for potential “anchor events and locations.” Then reach out to people you know in the area. (My anchor event was a conference my husband was already attending in Kansas City. His expenses were paid, which reduced mine.)
- ask for help from people who have reasons of their own to want to help. Fans of your book. Other writers, friends, former students and colleagues, online friends. You can ask for suggestions of contacts for bookstores, libraries, churches, colleges, and retirement communities. I found all my venues through this avenue.
- Social media. Use FB friend search to locate both current friends and friends of friends you may know.
- As time gets closer to events, consider using your author page on FB to reach a new audience. I coughed up $50 to advertise just to Kansans. My number of “likes” expanded by about the same number.
3. Select topics that meet local needs/interests and show your interest in their area.
I spoke to five different audiences and did not duplicate any topic. I worked with the sponsors of each event to listen to their needs and craft titles that they could promote with zest, which they did.
Time to introduce my red shoes. They are a whole story in themselves. Here’s the quick and dirty version. I posted the picture above on my author page and asked,
So, if you go to Kansas, what item of apparel do you get to haul out of the closet? Do I dare wear these? To a Mennonite Church??
More than 640 people saw this post (about the number of “likes” I had on the page) and about 30 people commented. Since FB usually makes you pay to get that many eyeballs, I knew the shoes would make a great conversation piece. I was truly uncertain in asking about them in the first place, but people loved making multiple connections to Dorothy, the wizard of Oz, Kansas, tornados, fashion, Mennonites, and feminism. 🙂
One of my amazing Tour Team members just happened to be a professional photographer, Jon Friesen, who, without my requesting it, took a whole storehouse of excellent pictures. Then Kathleen Foster Friesen, one of my first contacts in the area, put up the photos online, reporting on three of the five events which she and Jon attended. Without prompting, Jon posted this companion picture of my feet under the table where I was signing books at Schowalter Villa.
A wonderful gentleman in the audience of my last talk, which happened to be about humor: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Memoir,” opened the Q & A session with the question:
“I notice you are wearing red shoes. Can you tell us why?”
Tweet: All I had to say was, “I’m in Kansas! @shirleyhs
He brought the house down.
4. Keep the conversation going online before, during, and after the events. But, offline, be absolutely present to each person.
Here are two Friesen photos that tell a story I love. The first is a photo of the audience at the last event. The woman in blue is asking a question. Look at the expression on those faces as she reaches deep into her soul to pull out words.
Kathleen herself takes wonderful pictures. She captured the exchange below at the Kauffman Museum. When it was shared on Facebook, one of my friends said, “This is my favorite.” I think you can see how and why exchanges like these fuel me as an author whose mission is social and spiritual.
5. Never stop saying Thank You!
I tried to thank my hosts Jim Juhnke and Miriam Nofsinger, Kathleen and Jon Friesen, Clif and Karen Hostetler, Rachel Pannabecker, Wendy Miller, Nathan Bartel, Sue Stuckey, and Bethany Martin (as well as many other staff members of Bethel College, Schowalter Villa, Faith and Life Bookstore, Hesston Mennonite Church, and the Kauffman Museum) when I was there. My publisher was also very helpful. Jerilyn Schrock at Herald Press arranged to have the books shipped to Kansas City and helped me with logistics of connecting them to Faith and Life Bookstore in North Newton. She also supplied book cover posters and book plates for any venue that used them in publicity.
Yesterday, I spent three hours sending thank-you cards. This blog post is another way of saying thanks.
Now, what else would you like to know, authors? And what else fascinates you as you look at the behind-the-scenes life of an author, readers? Your comments below will make this post much more valuable to all of us.