Wednesday, November 07, 2007

author tours

The Writers' Group posted on author tours awhile back and I meant to put in my two cents a long time ago. I was reminded of my intentions today at my lunch with my author, who on every single count fits the dream author profile. Like, she's unrealistically dreamy--great writer, huge platform, level head, well spoken, tons of media experience, extremely hard-working on the publicity end.

But anyway, back to the subject at hand. Which was supposed to be author tours.

First, please read everything they've said at Writers' Group--it's really smart and shows you the many facets of something that I think seems a heck of a lot more glamorous than it is.

My press is rather old-fashioned in that we still like to do author tours whenever we can. Usually, it makes the author happy to know it's in our plans. A lot of authors feel like if a publishing company is putting money behind them for a tour, that means they are more important and taken more seriously.

Alas, the actual tour doesn't always put authors in a great mood at all. Tours have become horribly daunting and competitive. I've been to some really huge author events that drew really substantial crowds and sold a lot of copies--Jasper Fforde, Diana Gabaldon, and Orhan Pamuk spring immediately to mind, and all three are huge names with already existing fan contingents.

Tours for new authors or even known authors of a slightly lower profile, however, are not easy at all. They really are a different animal. One of our frontlist authors has very negative feelings toward our publicity department because he feels that we embarrassed him during his tour, which had hideously tiny turnouts and sold only a handful of books. The problem is that you can't generate fans, and the numbers of people who are wandering through a given bookstore and happen into an event they didn't know about before but are willing to sit through despite the fact that they had never heard of the author? Actually a lot lower than you might be inclined to guess. There are of course elements that contribute to better or worse turnout, but some authors feel mortified or self-conscious if turnout is too low, and when things aren't everything you've hoped they'll be not only does the publishing company lose any money they spent booking the venue and getting stock there (never mind travel, accommodation, food, etc), but sometimes angst is generated among parties. So no matter how good OUR publicity is, bookstore tours can be tricky affairs.

Some bookstores do what they can to prevent these embarrassments by requesting invite lists from authors. The fact is, most of the people who show up at a book tour for recently published John/Jane Smith (as opposed to Jasper Fforde, who is now in his 86th book or something) are going to be John/Jane's friends, relatives, media contacts, acquaintances. You know, people who think it's cool that John/Jane has gotten published and who want to show their support.

So you can help your publicist book events and draw a crowd by working on your personal invite list. Publishing companies are weak animals in that we don't have fans (not really, anyway). Authors, however, have fans. Anyone who's reading this is a step ahead of a lot of authors because you all are already working on your online presence, which helps generate fanship in a huge way. For example, if any of my frequent reader/commenters were to have an event in my area, I would totally put a bag over my head and go and buy a book (well, maybe I'd just make up a fake name). But one of my authors in particular has what is by any measure of the term a midlist series of books, and yet she gets really fantastic turnout at signings because of her Web presence and loyal blog traffickers.

The author I met with today offered a different approach. She's very realistic about her potential outreach and she likes to tour her book via "touring" an issue on which she is a recognized expert. Let's say she's an expert in flaxseed, for the sake of anonymity. She and the publicist are working together to target dietary/nutrition conventions, health related media spots, etc--that way, she appears much less self-serving and is more likely to get neutral booking, since she has something to offer even people who haven't read her book. The book pretends to come in as an afterthought.

Anyway, I wanted to thank the ladies at Writers' Group for posing the other side of the coin, and say that not all publishers are against author tours. We just like them a lot better when they work. So some things to ponder as you build your platform and work on connections and networking.


cyn said...

i haven't clicked the link yet but very interesting post, MR. the conf i went to is headed by a publicist, so there were a lot of sessions on how to promote your small first time published piddly book no one knows about. she said altho signings may be discouraging due to (lack of) people showing, most book stores will give you valuable "real estate" in the front windows and on the tables because you are going to talk soon. so for that, it's all worth it. if i ever have a one person turn out at a signing, i won't complain cause HELL I'M AT MY OWN SIGNING! WOOOOOOT!

The Writers' Group said...

Thanks for the nod, Moonie.

Though I've yet to have a signing, I'm with Cyn. Go there content with the knowledge that several people made an effort on your behalf: your publicist, the bookseller, the woman who made her husband come home early to watch the kids so she could hear you speak. Be grateful for whatever manna comes your way. It's a lot more pleasant than kvetching.

angelle said...

i'm an expert on flaxseed. can i do that tour?

it's a good thing i'm a friendwhore right? can i put that on my letter? "friendwhore, so can produce decent turnout at midsized reading."

i mean my bday party evite list was over 150 strong. i just need to tell everyone that i'll buy them a beer afterwards and i'm set.

angelle said...

p.s. im a tiny bit tipsy and also i found us a new member of our karaoke club.

pacatrue said...

Do I have to write anything to go on an author tour? Or can I go just by visiting writer / publishing blogs? I'll find something to sell while I'm there. Oh, here's a can of chicken chili in my office that I keep forgetting to eat.

I'm good now, right?

Leigh Russell said...

Hi there, old blogbuddy and thank you for the advice.

My clever plan is to have one faithful relative or friend accompany me to all my book signings so I have someone to talk to, plus maybe a glass of wine in hand. That way, I hope not to look like a complete lemon as I watch people's eyes glaze over when they walk past me. Without someone to talk to, it will be too painful a reminder of parties where I propped up the wall as a teenager, while everyone else seemed busy socialising.

Keep in touch.

writtenwyrdd said...

I now feel guilty for not stopping to talk to this poor Canadian mystery author sitting all alone in the middle of this huge bookstore in Fredericton. I said hello, asked about his book, said good luck (without even looking at said book, which truly sounded boring) and left him, a landed fish, stranded next to a mound of his book.

Anonymous said...

Question: What if you really can't go on book tours because of your job? I literally cannot go anyplace for much of the year. How does that get handled? I am not unwilling; just not willing to compromise the job that allows me to write instead of work a second job to pay the bills.

moonrat said...

written--don't feel guilty!! it's american cultural guilt that causes us to slink away from the author, anyway, since we're afraid that if we listen to him talk we'll have to buy a book. only do what you're interested in!!

anon--your publisher will love you. most publishers hate sponsoring author tours and feel guilty and anxious when authors pressure them about setting one up (since it really is a lot of money and often does go terribly wrong). but there are a lot of other things you can do to contribute to the publicity of your book. these days, availability/accessibility is as much a digital concept as a real-life one.

Lisa said...

Is it my imagination or are there a whole lot more author events now than there used to be? The first time I went to a reading several years ago, it was Natalie Goldberg and I was so nervous, I just about peed myself when I got up to her in line to have her sign my books. Now, I often see and hear about pretty poorly attended events, but even in a cowtown like Denver, there are book signings every night of the week somewhere. Now because of blogging, I realize how nervous the authors really are and I try to make it to book signings for new authors, especially -- just for that reason. So my fellow blogging writers, if you're scheduled to hit Denver on your book tour, shoot me an email and I promise to try to make it and bring friends :)