Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Horrible Truth About Book Tours

One of the things about being an intelligence analyst is that you get sort of hard-wired to tell the truth, which I’m finding out (now that I’m living more in the real world) is a huge disadvantage. Because most people lie. They lie big, they tell white lies, they fudge, they embellish, they lie a little around the edges but the bottom line is, very few people will tell you the absolute truth. Especially in the book business.


You may have noticed that I have the tendency to tell the truth. It’s not a good practice in the book business, I warn you. You’re bound to hurt someone’s feelings or put your publisher’s nose out of joint. But—since I can’t help myself—I’m back with another installment of truth, this time having to do with book tours. There are some new things happening in regard to book tours. Interesting virtual book event tools are popping up because—in case you haven’t heard this yet—live book events are dying.

I don’t mean to hurt my bookseller friends but they already know this is happening. Whether it’s because people are too busy, have too many options in their lives, or because traffic sucks and people are tired of fighting traffic, it’s really hard to get a decent turnout at a book event unless you’re Stephen King or the latest overhyped media star.

That’s not to say an in-store event never works. Some stores put a huge effort into their live events (though, even so, it’s very hard to get people to turn out for an unknown author). Authors are pressed to ruthlessly work their networks to get family, friends and coworkers to support them. But after the first one or two events, it’s hard to get even the stalwarts out to see you for the third or fourth time.

For authors, book tours aren’t about making a profit by selling books at an event. Oh, maybe that was the case for a big-name author where you could count on selling at least a hundred copies. For the average author—especially the debut author—the in-store event was about name recognition. It was about getting your name out there. There are hundreds of thousands of books published every year, and clerks in bookstores as well as the reading public only learn about a handful of them. So getting to speak at a store meant the owners and employees were a little more likely to recognize your name. Your name might show up in newspaper event calendars. It might be on a poster in the store, seen by people who had no intention of coming back for the event itself. Suffering through a poorly attended event was worth it, if only for the exposure.

Some bookstores hate putting on a poorly attended event, of course. A poorly attended event looks bad, it costs them money because effort = time = money.  I don’t blame them, I completely see it from their point of view and god bless the stores who continue to do it anyway. Other stores continue to want authors to come in because with an event there’s still the possibility of bringing in more customers, or new ones.

But increasingly, book stores are not interested in in-store events—unless it’s for a ginormously famous author, or offers something new, a twist (I’ll get to that—how to hold a different kind of event—in a future post).

Some people are trying to look for alternatives to the tradition book tour, events that will help get your name and new book’s title in front of people who haven’t heard of you yet.

There are blog tours, but they’re really a different kettle of fish, something like half-review, half-live event (and, if they interview you, half-Q&A, but that makes three halves.) No, here I’m talking alternatives to the live reading with Q&A period.

One of these new platforms is Shindig. It’s kind of a live event, only done with your web camera over the Internet. Think of an auditorium where you can see the speaker at the podium, and the speaker can see the heads of the people in the audience (if they choose to enable their webcam).  It’s being used for all kinds of events, not just book-related ones.

Author Guild has just launched BookTalkNation. It’s a live event hosted in a store in which an author is interviewed—usually by another author—and viewers can watch from the comfort of their own home, with the option to phone in questions if they wish. It just launched, with events running through early December. You can check it out here.

Of course, you can arrange your own interview, tape it, and put it up on YouTube, and send the link to your fans (via your mailing list, or on your Facebook page, via Twitter, etc.) The trick here is getting it seen outside the circle of people who already follow you.

Okay, I’m going to leave you with a couple links on this subject:

Some tips from uber-publicist Lauren Cerand on making an event less sucky.

Shane James give the low-down on what it’s like to be on book tour when you’re not a famous author.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting about this. I love in store events, but generally I have less time to attend them with a little one running around, so I have to pick and choose. I do like the idea of Shindig events and would love to put one together for an author, but participants must all have a camera and microphone to attend and participate, which is very limiting for some who can't afford new computers.

    I'll have to check out the other stuff you mentioned.

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