Monday, January 12, 2009

Book tours

This photo of tumbleweed caught under a truck inspires me to begin the requested discussion about book tours, hee. Tumbleweed = author. Truck = book tour. Amount of control most authors have over most book tours= zero to not much. How you feel at the end of a long one: like a tumbleweed caught under a truck. On the other hand, if you didn't have to pay for it, you also feel very very lucky.

First thing to say: "book tour" is a misleading term, because there are several kinds of book tours. When I use this term, I am talking only about tours that take you out of town. I am not discussing what you do in your own home area.

When I use the term "book tour," I will mean one of the following types:

1. Planned and paid for by a publisher. This can happen sooner than you might think--or used to before this economy--and it can happen for more modest sellers than you might think--or used to, before this economy. I don't know what publishers are doing now. I don't know if I'll have a tour for my next novel. Publishers started paying for and planning my tours pretty early in my career.

2. Planned and paid for by a writer. Sometimes a publisher will kick in a little help, but for the most part these are all on the writer, and so these are the ones where you really have to weigh the cost:benefit ratio. Sometimes several writers will join forces and tour together to save $ and to try to attract more people to their appearances. Sometimes these author-financed tours are worth it, sometimes they are not, and it's hard to predict which it will be. The only time I did this in a big way ("big" being relative), it cost me a lot (also relative) and brought no benefits that I could detect. I was still paying for it several years later.

3. Special cases. My current tour is one of these, because it's related to a special, one-time event--KansasReads '09, and because the libraries I visit are picking up lodging and paying honorariums to help cover my other expenses like food and my rental car. My publisher is also helping by providing books at cut-rate so the libraries can buy more than they usually would, and my pub is also buying my gas, up to a limit. I think they may also have provided some publicity gee-gaws.

Now. . .tell me what you want to know about those three types and I'll answer as well as I can, given that the whole issue is in a state of flux due to the economy and its dramatic effects on publishing. . .not to mention its effects on the budgets of writers.

(The previous thread for today is still open, so don't feel you have to post here.)


Dina said...

Hi, all. Been fighting a cold and not much on line, but as a reader, I would say that a book tour is wonderful to see a favorite author but doesn't really introduce me to authors.

Conventions are much more likely to do that. I go to a panel and see someone who interests me, then go buy the book.

Hope that helps.

Maria Lima said...

Nancy, I've done #2 (because with small presses, one doesn't get much of an option). For these types of tours, what would you say made the most impact on sales? (if you know)

Was there anything you would have done differently? (20/20 hindsight)

Nancy P said...

Dina, is that because you're not likely to go see a new author whose on a tour? Do you need to already like their work, or know them? It's good to hear from reader, because you're the person authors are trying to reach.

Nancy P said...

Great questions, Maria.

For the self-tours, I don't know what works, but when I think of ones that *seem* to have worked, I always think of the group tours that Joan Hess, Sharyn McCrumb, Dorothy Cannell, and a few others went on. The thing is, though, that was a group of particularly vivacious and hilarious writers, and not every group is like that, of course. Also, each of them was getting attention in other ways--awards, conventions, etc. I remember a simmilarly brilliant group of Brit mystery writers who toured together, and I think they drew nice sized crowds, but I never got the impression that all that travel/expense/effort paid off in big ways. On the other hand, maybe it helped them merely to maintain their standing and sales--and that's no small thing.

Being a brand new writer and touring alone? That's a hard thing to do, unless the writer has a gimmick, or something especially fascinating to talk about, or a remarkable personal history, etc.

These are strictly my own personal observations. Not science. :)

Nancy P said...

Maria, as to what I'd do different--I wouldn't do that one expensive tour on my own, that's for sure. I hired a publicity person--worthless and expensive. I spent more than I could afford on lodging and airfare. I've hired to pr people in my career, and neither was worth the money. I hear that kind of story a lot. I'm sure there are good pr people out there, and to be fair, novelists--esp. midlist or new ones--are a tough sell to tv, radio, papers, etc.

I'm not sure I'd do anything else different if I were doing it all again. Mainly, because I don't know how to do it any better. Tours are tough to figure out.

Nancy P said...

That was supposed to be "two pr people," not "to pr people."

Maria Lima said...

I'll have to agree with you, Nancy on all your points. I hired a publicity person last year who set me up with several signings, all in the peak of summer and the dearth of attendees. Not at all successful.

I find that as a new author, I feel like I get more out of conventions, and/or group events. No need to spend $$ on touring oneself if no one knows who you are. "Virtual" touring - e.g., via blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. helps to build readership and costs nothing but time.

FARfetched said...

Presumably, any expenses you incur yourself can be written off on your taxes. Save receipts, keep a mileage log, anything else? Basically, you just want to have a paper trail so you can show the IRS that these expenses were actually related to your income as an author.

My mom was a real estate agent, then broker, before retiring; she told me she could (if she chose) go into any RE office wherever she went, pick up listings, then use those as "proof" that it was a business expense (and thus could be written off). But she also told me she never did that.

Better to let the publisher eat (then write off) those expenses; they have people to keep track of that stuff. I think if I were a publisher, I'd continue sending authors out… in this economy, people will be staying home more and maybe reading more books. They might be trading their books around, or getting them from libraries, but more books bought is better than less. :-P

Nancy P said...

Maria, I agree with what you're saying about large events. Do you agree that it's imperative to get placed on at least one panel? Can a writer get anything out of a convention if he/she's not on a panel? Lately, it seems harder for new writers to get on them.

Whether on tours or at conventions, it is also imperative to be charming. I'm not kidding. It helps to be funny. Helps to not be a microphone hog on panels--people hate that and the writers who do it. Helps to be modest but confident in equal, attractive measure.

Conventions, etc., must also be considered in terms of cost:benefit, cause they can cost a lot of money and they're emotionallly draining sometimes.

Good reviews are great pr, but we have no control over that. They don't always produce many sales, but they do give us something to put on our next book jacket.

Nancy P said...

Tax deductions may not make up for the big expense of a tour. Plus, most new writers don't have much money for pr or touring and may not make enough to even be allowed to take deductions.
So, yeah, deductions are great, and we should take every bitty bit of them :) , but even with them a tour may be prohibitive.

Nancy P said...

Tomorrow, or soonish, I'll post part two of this in which I'll talk about little-known aspects of touring.

FARfetched said...

LOL… I just noticed — it looks like a dog left some p-mail on your truck tire!

Kelly McCullough said...

I haven't done a book tour and am unlikely to any time in the near future. I'm unconvinced of their efficacy for anything short of a big name as a form of fan maintenance. I do like conventions and I'd say three is the minimum number of panels if you can possibly swing it. More is better. I typically do something between 5-8. But even though I like them, I have my doubts about the cost-benefit ratio in terms of publicity. I think they're much more important in terms of building and maintaining a professional network. But mostly I got because I enjoy them.

Nancy P said...

Lol, Far!! You're right!

Kelly, mystery writers would kill for that much "panel opportunity"! Newbies are lucky to get one; oldies can often swing two or three. I definitely agree about the network aspects. I also think they increase the likelihood of winning fan awards, or at least getting nominated.

bono said...

How can a reader persuade the powers that be to have an author come to their town? How do authors get chosen to visit certain bookstores/towns?

Nancy P said...

bono, great questions, some of which I can't answer, lol. But I'll address some of that in the next chapter.

Just talked to a lovely group at the Liberal, Ks. library. Lots of fun.

Dina said...

Hi, all. Nancy, when the Black Orchid was in business, I would sometimes go to hear an author even if I didn't read them, because Bonnie and Joe were worried about attendance. But I really went to authors that I knew and loved and would buy their books anyway. It is great to have them.

The best thing would, I think, be if a writer I didn't know was with one I did and that way I got to meet a new author. And it then helps if they give a talk. That has happened and I have bought the book, but it is much more likely to happen at conventions.

Nancy P said...

Dina, you just hit on one of the great advantages of being a mystery writer. Some readers will attend signings just to support the bookstore owners. We wuvs that, we does.

Janet said...

That's what I meant in another post about not seeing KMc or Nancy or others at Powells. I didn't mean their books. I meant them, the person. The AUTHOR. :)

Goodness knows I've requested most all of your books to be readily available at Powells and In Other Words. :)

Tumbleweeds: They have them near Pullman, Washington. We "sawr" one. :)

Tours: My brother goes to support the indy bookstores. That's how he met Sarah Vowell and Chuck P., RFK and a few dozen others he got to sign a book for me and him. It's his way of 1. getting a book signed but 2. Also saying THANKS FOR SUPPORTING THIS LOCALLY OWNED STORE instead of a big box.

Kelly McCullough said...

Huh, didn't know that. Y'all ought to come to more f&sf conventions. There's a fair number of crossover readers and if you've got big New York house publishing credits it's more a matter of limiting how many panels you're on than begging to be on them (with the exceptions of about four of the biggest cons).

If any of you mystery folks ever feel like doing a whole bunch of panels on writing and literary topics for an appreciative audience, go to an SF Con. If it's one of my regulars I can even hook you up with the con com.

Kelly McCullough said...

P.S. Thank you, Janet!

Nancy P said...

Hey, Janet, you and your bro are good to authors and bookstores. ((hugs J and bro))

Kelly, that's very generous of you.
Maria, you do some science fiction and/or fantasy cons, yes?

Maria Lima said...

Nancy, yup, I do SF/F cons as well as mystery cons.

This year, I'll be going to World Fantasy and to Fencon (Fencon just invited me as a guest author).

Mystery-wise, I'll be at Malice for a day, but that's it.

Kelly, the mystery cons are very different in that they usually limit panel participation. I think it's because for those cons, panel schedules usually end by dinner time and don't go until late night hours. ::g::

Nicola Slade said...

Book tour? Crumbs, I wish... What I do is talks. I'll talk to any group and have done reading groups, writing circles, women's groups, social groups,library groups. I used to offer and did it free, always selling a few books (I mean a few, average is 8!) but it's publicity and the word gets out. Now I'm getting bookings on word of mouth and am getting paid - which is both fabulous and terrifying when told:'I heard you were very entertaining and funny'. Yikes, no pressure then.

For someone who is very shy (what did we call it? High Functioning Introvert?)I've found I have no nerves about the talks. The secret is that it's not Nicky the wimp doing the talk; it's Nicola the writer, and she's been invited!

Maria Lima said...

it's not Nicky the wimp doing the talk; it's Nicola the writer, and she's been invited!

Nicola, you totally hit the nail on the head. I realize that I'm "on stage" so to speak at events and that person is not the introverted Lima. It's a whole other persona that comes forth. Sometimes, I hear she's pretty amusing. ;-)

Nancy P said...

Yeah, Nicky. There's The Author and there's the (small voice) writer. They dress different, too. :) One of them wears lipstick. Somebody--was it Sharyn McCrumb--called it "Sparkling." We go out and sparkle. Afterward we turn down the rheostat.

Paul Lamb said...

I'm not sure I'd wear lipstick if I was out on a tour.

Maria Lima said...

No lipstick, Paul? Surely perhaps a little eyeliner... ::g::

The main diff between the Lima and Maria Lima, author person is ML, author tends to wear better clothing. No makeup, but I do wear suits. All black. (I hate dressing up!)

Nancy P said...

lol, Paul. But you would get a really interesting crowd.

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