Hamming it up with Maxine in Kansas City

Hamming it up with Maxine in Kansas City. Photo credit: Shirley Yoder. I got to be a tourist and had a blast at the Hallmark Visitors Center.

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.

Tweet: “Your book tour goals should be linked to the reasons you wrote your book in the first place.” @shirleyhs

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.

Tweet: “For books, as for all other living things, the rule is: grow or die.” @shirleyhs

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:

Tweet: “Ever since I was little, I wanted to be big. Not just big as in tall, but big as in important, successful, influential.” @shirleyhs

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.

Tweet: “Humor is the engine that lifts a tour from duty to delight” @shirleyhs.

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.

the red shoes

"Dorothy"'s red shoes were a subject of pre-tour conversation on my FB author page and on the FB event page

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.

red shoes under the table in Kansas

Red shoes under the table in Kansas. Photo credit: Jon Friesen.

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.

An audience member asks a question

An audience member asks a question. Photo credit: Jon Friesen.

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.


listening one-on-one to a question

Listening one-on-one to a question. Photo credit: Kathleen Foster Friesen. Taken at the Kauffman Museum.

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.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Melanie Z. on March 12, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    The “woman in blue” asking the question is Laurie Oswald Robinson and the man to her left is her father, Paul Oswald. The photo reflects both of them well!

    • shirleyhs on March 12, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      Thanks, Melanie. I was going to ask Laurie’s permission before putting her name here, but I’m hoping she will be happy to be noted by you. 🙂 I was not aware her father was the one beside her. Makes the photo even more special. This photo reminds me of the Norman Rockwell painting called Freedom of Speech:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_Speech_%28painting%29

  2. Linda Austin on March 12, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Excellent tips, Shirley! I was curious to hear about your experiences since I know plenty of new and even mid-list authors who have had very low turnout for their events. Congratulations on what I would call a very successful (and fun) book tour.

    • shirleyhs on March 12, 2014 at 1:47 pm

      Thanks, Linda. I’ve heard the same thing, which is why I decided to share these ideas. I happen to be blessed by a religious community in which, even though I had very few close friends living in it before I traveled there, is tied together through institutions that have an interest in Mennonite stories. Many writers don’t have such interconnected institutions. And if I went to Las Vegas, I wouldn’t have them either. 🙂 But we all have friends. Some are librarians, college personnel, bookstore owners, church members, book club members. These are the author’s best friends and can be amazingly helpful.

  3. Saloma Furlong on March 12, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Shirley, this is a great post! I’m right there with you on that trip to Kansas. That was gutsy, wearing the red shoes. Good for you!

    You are so adept at both the social media and the book talks. I wish I could be that way. I love the in-person interactions, and I think of social media as a “chore.” Except for my blog, which gives me a chance to explore thoughts in much more depth than Twitter or Facebook allow. I have gotten some really amazing comments on Facebook, but the ones I remember most are the ones people tell me in person. Their facial expressions, their body language, and their verbal expressions all convey the enthusiasm they feel as they tell me their own stories. I thrive on them, because I come away feeling valued, and that gives me energy to keep going.

    Maya Angelou wrote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” By sharing the photos and details of your trip, you have just made me feel hopeful about book tours in general. Thank you!

    • shirleyhs on March 12, 2014 at 2:23 pm

      I’m so glad this post made you feel hopeful about touring, Saloma! You should be. You are a natural at a book talk.

      As for the social media dimension of this kind of touring, just a few notes. First, I’ve been on FB since 2009 or earlier. It takes a while to get comfortable there. I’m not really savvy on Twitter yet!

      Also, every author has her own style. And there are in-person ways to accomplish many of the objectives of your own version of success. I’d love to read how you and Heidi are planning and what you are learning! Maybe a future blog post?

  4. Joan on March 12, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Shirley, A great post filled with helpful information. Every day I get just a tad closer to such an event and found your words inspiring as well as informative. You go girl, in your red slippers!

    • shirleyhs on March 12, 2014 at 5:16 pm

      Thanks, Joan. I hope you will find one or two ideas here that you can use also. Thanks for your comment. I’m eager to read your book.

  5. Kathleen Pooler on March 12, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Shirley, what a fantastic experience–both successful and fun! Thank you for sharing these valuable tips on preparing for and delivering on a book tour. I have good friends in Mo, where I used to live and Kansas City is a big part of their lives so you’ve got me thinking…. Now I have a checklist to get me started. Love the photos and, of course, those ruby red slippers. 🙂

    • shirleyhs on March 12, 2014 at 5:53 pm

      Kathy, thanks so much for your response. I’d be delighted if you found your own Team in Kansas City. In many ways, every book tour is a new launch and needs most of the same things a launch needs. Especially a team! Glad you mentioned the photos. Those were a complete surprise and an amazing gift.

  6. Janet Givens on March 12, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Hi Shirley,

    Thank you for the Tweet reminder of the reasons I wrote my book in the first place. Of course. That helps with how I’ll measure success. I’m wondering two things. First, the energy level needed. Did you build in time to just put up your feet, or did you pack your three days, then collapse at the end?

    Secondly, is there anything you might do differently were you to start your book tour tomorrow?

    • shirleyhs on March 12, 2014 at 6:02 pm

      Janet, it does take a lot of energy. I’m still recovering and probably will be for a few days. However, here’s what helped mightily. I had only one speaking engagement the first two days. One friend picked me up at the hotel and took me to lunch. I actually had time to play (see the picture of Maxine above taken at the Hallmark Visitors Center). I also had time in the hotel to prepare for the more intense part of the trip Saturday-Monday. Our hosts in North Newton understood my need for down time and practice/prep time and planned just enough of that to go with meals and performances.

      What might I do differently? I have often wished for one of those crackerjack administrative assistants I was fortunate enough to have as a college president and foundation executive. 🙂 But I really don’t think I would have done anything differently.

      My dear husband’s willingness to drive, and sometimes sell books, and take pictures is an amazing gift also. Without him, I would just do specific events when called upon. With him, life itself is an adventure.

  7. Barbara McDowell Whitt on March 12, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Shirley, thank you for sharing your tips on your book tour in Missouri and Kansas. I’m glad it was so successful for you. I love the question about the red shoes, your answer, and that together, you brought down the house. And it wasn’t a planted question, right?

    I have a question for you. How was Bill Moyers’ endorsement of your book obtained? I have begun saying “Bill Moyers compared Blush to Kathleen Norris’s Dakota: A Spiritual Geography.”

    I have a spiritual story for you. In 1995 I was driving to a funeral at one of the largest Methodist churches in Kansas City and passed near a small Christian bookstore from which I had ordered a copy of Dakota. I thought to myself that it was probably in and I would stop for it on my way home. The sanctuary was filled to capacity for the memorial service. When the minister began to speak, his first words were, “In Kathleen Norris’s book Dakota….”

  8. shirleyhs on March 12, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    No. The question wasn’t planted! The man was a resident of the retirement community. I’m pretty sure he had not seen my social media postings. That’s one of the things that really made the exchange fun. People love feeling that they are part of an inside joke, and everyone loves a sign that you care about their special places and points of pride.

    As for Bill Moyers, I was fortunate enough to work with him when I was at the Fetzer Institute. I can tell you I floated on air for a few days after he wrote the word you cite. I remember reading Dakota at about the same time you did, and it immediately became one of my favorite books. We have much in common.

    I tipped my hat to you when we passed the sign for Park University. Thank you so much for your help and encouragement even though you were in Virginia last week.

  9. Angela Carter on March 12, 2014 at 7:10 pm


    I’m going to take your last point on board, and say thank you! With my book being published in the near future, you have been a wonderful hub of advice and tips. It’s so gracious that you share the information, when some might use their time to only promote their own book. I will definitely repay the favor to someone else in the future.


  10. shirleyhs on March 12, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    Angela, I am sure you will go on many book tours yourself. You already are! And thanks for this comment. Authors who have other author friends online, who read and comment, and help promote other authors will be very glad they did come launch time! All best to you on yours. Can’t wait.

  11. Laurie Buchanan on March 12, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    Shirley – I am bowled over at the wonderful, detailed, comprehensive post. All I can say is a great big WOW! You can bet your bottom dollar I’ve earmarked this fantastic information!

    I love the way you rocked those sassy red shoes under the desk!

  12. shirleyhs on March 12, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Thanks, Laurie. If anyone is sassy, it’s you. I hope we get to do book tours in each others territory one of these days. I just know we would have a great time. Thanks for your tweets and constant good cheer. Can’t wait for the next Tuesdays with Laurie. Gotta go check on the one I missed while in the air!

  13. Richard Gilbert on March 12, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Shirley, you have done this right. It is so wise to recommend defining success for YOU in advance! At any rate, your efforts show how important it is for an author to be active, out there trying—and having fun!

    • Shirley on March 12, 2014 at 10:38 pm

      Thanks, Richard. Soon it will be your turn! I hope there’s a male equivalent of ruby red slippers. Maybe for you it will be a shepherd’s crook?

    • Richard Gilbert on March 14, 2014 at 6:56 am

      That’s the one thing I kept, my blue crook!

  14. Melodie Davis on March 13, 2014 at 5:44 am

    Jon Friesen’s lens focus on Laurie’s face is awesome in that context and neat that her dad is next to her. Indeed, very Rockwellian. Will tweet and share this (I love the Tweet suggestions inserted; just read how that’s a great idea too for busy tweeters looking for quotable excerpts.)

  15. shirleyhs on March 13, 2014 at 8:43 am

    Thanks, Melodie! You found the tweets! I’m retrying them after having been taught how to find Click to Tweet online. I wonder though if I’m doing them right, because I’m not sure they take the tweep back to either my Twitter handle or this post. If you tweet one, let me know. Do you have to insert the connection, or is it made automatically?

    These photos are indeed extraordinary, not just in depth perception and clarity, but also composition. I will be sending the post to the Friesens and directing them to your comment.

    • Janet Givens on March 13, 2014 at 9:53 am

      Shirley, I Tweeted one of them yesterday, but when I went to add your @ShirleyShowalter, I suddenly wasn’t sure of your Twitter name. So, if you didn’t see it, it may not have gone through. But I love the idea. And the quotes you chose.

    • melodie davis on March 14, 2014 at 2:01 pm

      I first tried to cut and paste but it wouldn’t let me, so I just retyped them. Glad to know others have bugs when trying new technology. But the pullouts were great to have a handle to go on. I also had to look up and insert your twitter handle. Anyway … you asked!

  16. shirleyhs on March 13, 2014 at 10:38 am

    My twitter handle is @shirleyhs. (I would choose @ShirleyShowalter now). Not sure how to get this inserted in the Click to Tweet. Will ask my guru. 🙂 Thanks for the feedback, Janet.

  17. Carol Bodensteiner on March 13, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Good work, Shirley. I particularly admire that you created five different speeches. Would you say more on that, please? Was there a core speech you worked around but personalized open and close? Or were they substantially different? I’ve found that in talking about my memoir, I have a general outline and then go with where audience questions take me. I don’t know how talking about my novel will go, but I have to figure that out soon! Thanks for sharing.

    • shirleyhs on March 13, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      Carol, Here’s the itinerary. These are all variations on themes I have already spoken about. Except for the Bethel College Convocation Powerpoint presentation. I spoke to 300 college students. It went well, but I sweated that one. 🙂

      Kansas City, Kansas:

      1. “Why Your Own Life Story Matters and Five Tips for How to Tell It,” South Branch of Kansas City (Kansas) Public Library, Friday, March 7, 3 p.m.

      2. Blush will also be available for sale at Mennonite Health Assembly meeting March 6-8 in Kansas City (MO) at the Marriott downtown hotel; Shirley Showalter will be available from 5-6 p.m. at a book table at the conference on March 7.

      Hesston and Newton, Kansas:

      3. “His Story, Her Story, and Our Story” with Stuart W. Showalter, Sunday School class at Hesston Mennonite Church. Sunday, March 9 9 a.m.

      4. “Finding Gold in Our Attics and Basements: How to Find, Use and Share the Artifacts that Prompt Our Stories,” book talk and signing, Kauffman Museum, North Newton, organized by Rachel Pannabecker, director of the museum, Sunday, March 9, 3:30 p.m.

      5. Chapel at Bethel College, Newton, “If I Knew Then What I Know Now: Five Tips for Making the Most of Your College Investment,” Monday, March 10, 11 a.m., organized through Nathan Bartel.

      6. Faith and Life Bookstore, book signing, Monday, March 10, 3-5 p.m.

      7. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Memoir,” Schowalter Villa, Monday, March 10, 7 p.m., open to the community

  18. Janet Givens on March 13, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    These would all make fascinating blog posts, Shirley. Or, do you hope to use them again as your tour continues?

    Do let me know what you learn about changing your Twitter handle (or whatever it’s called). I know when I took out mine, JanetGivens was already taken. so I just inverted the names. Turns out there’s another author named Janet L Givens (my middle initial too) out there. Wonder what the odds are of that. And 12 of us on Facebook. Have you ever Searched your name on FB? Fascinating. I’ve contacted most of them, actually. Seemed prudent.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on March 14, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      They all sound interesting, Shirley. Thanks for sharing. It must have been fun to co-present with your husband. I bet the students were fun. I’ve found their main interest is in how they can publish themselves.

  19. Kathleen Friesen on March 13, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    It was an honor and wonderfully fun to be a part of your book tour experience. I heard your stories in a new way as you read them aloud, appreciated the opportunity to observe the intense, focused listening to audience members’ questions and at the signing tables, and happily watched relationships being renewed and created. Thank you for coming to Kansas!

    • shirleyhs on March 13, 2014 at 9:33 pm

      Thanks so much, Kathleen. Jim Juhnke said the same thing about the reading making a difference in how he experienced the stories. That’s interesting to me.

      I enjoyed the dinner where we three couples shared how we met. I thank the book for giving me the reason to explore other lives in more depth.

      Every time I look at these photos, I will remember the two of you.

  20. Mary Gottschalk on March 15, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Shirley … LOVED THIS! In part my delight at how much fun you are having, in part all the good tips now that I have transitioned from writing to marketing. I thought the red shoes were terrific … you are model to emulate.

    • shirleyhs on March 15, 2014 at 10:43 pm

      Thanks, Mary! I am having fun indeed. I hope you find something you can use in this narrative. Some authors hate the marketing part of contemporary writing. I love the people contact and (usually) love social media interactions (although I confess to being overwhelmed sometimes also). All best to you on your own touring.

  21. Elfrieda Schroeder on March 16, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Shirley, on Saturday I spent an afternoon at the McNally bookstore here in Winnipeg with my daughter and grand-daughter to redeem a gift card I got for Christmas and I saw a stack of your “Blush” books waiting to be sold! They would sell in a jiffy if you came here and did a book talk! Maybe wear mukluks instead of the red shoes though, it’s still blowing and snowing here!

  22. shirleyhs on March 16, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Hahaha, Elfrieda! I have to wear mukluks here today too. Even though the poor crocuses are (were) in full bloom, we are getting another night of snowfall here in Virginia. I’m choosing to call this Winter’s Last Gasp.

    How exciting to know that my book is being sold in one of Canada’s best bookstores! Thanks for letting me know.

    I would love to come to Winnipeg sometime. If you have ideas for how that could happen, please email me.

  23. […] I go on the road, I love having fun with fashion. I tell about wearing sparkling red high heels when I went to Kansas recently, for […]

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