For the past couple of months, I’ve been setting up events for the new release of Forgetting English, and probably the best thing I’ve learned, not only from this time around but from the events I did when the book was first released in 2009, is that The Book Tour comes in so many shapes and forms. And the most important thing for any author to know is which type of tour will work best, for both the writer and the book.
The old days of publisher-sponsored, multi-city book tours are, for the most part, long gone. These days, authors must plan, pay for, and promote their own book tours — which is no small task. And for writers who don’t have a background in publishing, publicity, or marketing, it can seem even more intimidating — I’ve heard countless authors say that their book promotion turned out to be even more challenging than writing the book.
But the challenges are well worth it, as the rewards can be great. As you keep in mind the nature of your book, your schedule, and your budget, here are a few tips to help you plan a tour that will best fit your needs:
– Team up with a fellow writer. In my upcoming tour, I’m teaming up for many events with my friend and colleague Wendy Call, author of No Word for Welcome. Because our books have similar themes (both are about foreign locales, though mine is fiction and Wendy’s is nonfiction), we thought it would be great to offer joint events, with something for all readers, and the reception has been very positive. (You can check out our schedule here.) Best of all, we share the workload and the fun, and we commiserate over the not-so-fun stuff. I’m also teaming up for a couple of presentations with my husband, John Yunker, author and co-founder of Ashland Creek Press. So if your book is a good fit with another writer’s, joint events are a great way to broaden your audience.
– Think outside the bookstore. Certain times of year (such as summer in the Pacific Northwest) can be impossible for scheduling bookstore events. And sometimes, no matter what the time of year, a bookstore will be booked already, or your schedules won’t align. So think beyond the bookstore — most libraries are very open to author events, particularly if there’s an educational component. Also think of community centers or literary centers such as Grub Street, Richard Hugo House, or San Diego Writers Ink.
– Offer a little something more. Unless you’re a writer whose mere presence in a bookstore will guarantee a line out the door, think about offering a little more than a traditional reading/signing. You want the event to be a win-win (so you’ll be invited back when you publish your next book), so think beyond your book to what else you can offer. Often when I do an event for Forgetting English, I offer a travel-writing workshop, which brings in readers, writers, and travelers. So even if no one’s ever heard of me or my writing (which is most people), those who love to travel or write will show up to learn something … and one of the things they learn is what my book is all about. Wendy and I have mini-workshops planned during our New England book tour this fall, and John and I will be talking about publishing and Ashland Creek Press. Even if an event isn’t specifically about your book, you’re giving participants an opportunity to get to know you, which in turn will build interest in your work.
– Get creative. Again, a book tour needn’t be limited to bookstores or libraries. In this New York Times article, Stephen Elliott writes about his D.I.Y. book tour for The Adderall Diaries, in which he bravely embarks on a different kind of book tour. Not wanting to “travel thousands of miles to read to 10 people, sell four books, then spend the night in a cheap hotel room before flying home,” Elliott decided to let his readers host his events. His salon-style events would take place in readers’ homes, have at least 20 attendees, and Elliott would sleep on the host’s couch. Check out the article for details, including what the author learned in the process.
– Host (or ask someone to host) a literary salon. This is a version of what Stephen Elliott did, but with friends, not strangers. Literary salons are a great way to find new readers and talk about your book in a more private setting. Ask a friend (even better if it’s someone in another city/state, where you’ll be reaching out to new readers) to host a salon for you at his/her home. Bring copies of the book to sell; provide whatever food/wine/etc. you’d like at the event. Then simply plan a casual gathering around your book, which might include a brief reading, discussion, Q&A, etc.
– Learn from each event, and from others. Susan Rich returned from her book tour for The Alchemist’s Kitchen with new wisdom and some great tips, which she offers in this blog post.
– If you don’t have the time or budget to do a traditional book tour, try a Virtual Book Tour. You do many of the same things — can create buzz for your book, find new readers, and chat about your book — on a Virtual Book Tour. Keep in mind that, while virtual, this type of book tour takes a lot of planning: you need to connect with host bloggers, come up with original topics to write about, and promote your tour. See my original post on virtual book tours, and search virtual book tour on this blog for examples of where my tour took me.
– Plan in advance! Bookstores usually schedule events 4-6 months in advance, and libraries schedule 3-5 months in advance. There’s always a chance you can get in at a later date, especially if you’re a local author, but I definitely recommend advance planning, especially if you have certain venues in mind.
– Promote, promote, promote. Once your events are set up, the real work begins! Again, a happy experience for all is when you have a nice crowd, and when you sell books. Use social media to promote your events; create postcards, bookmarks, and/or flyers to offer to the venue so that they can promote it as well. List your events on your web site as well as on BookTour.com (which will automatically post them on your Amazon author page). This excellent post by Randy Susan Meyers offers advice for how to be self-promote with dignity.
– Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Remember that this is fun. (Really, it is.) The process of setting up all these events is exhilarating yet exhausting — and running around to all of them can be even more so. So this is when it’s important to remember why you’re doing it all: You’ve published your book. You’re getting it out there in the world. And you’re meeting your readers. For a writer, what could be better than that?
– Give thanks to all. Don’t forget to thank everyone who made your tour possible, from the independent bookstores to your salon hosts to the readers who showed up to support your book. And hold on to this spirit of gratitude — it’ll make your entire book tour lots of fun, even in the challenging moments.