Some people will tell you that book tours aren’t worth the effort. They’ll say the cost is prohibitive, people won’t show up; you’d be lucky to address an audience of two, and you can reach many more readers online. Social media is cheaper, easier, and a bigger bang for your buck. This may be true, but there’s nothing like real-life face time, connecting with people in person.
Since my memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, was released in May, I’ve had successful events in Los Angeles, San Diego, Northern California, New York, Virginia, and elsewhere. My three primary criteria for success include (1) Event Attendance, which ranged from 20-60; (2) Audience Interest and Engagement During the Event; and (3) My Enjoyment and Satisfaction. Let’s look at these more closely, along with a few other factors.
Event Attendance. Make no mistake about it: you (the author) are responsible for bringing people through the door. Even if you were reading at a bookstore that has a mailing list of ten thousand people, you’d be lucky to get one or two people from a mass mailing. The people who attend book signings of unknown authors come because they know the author or someone connected to the author. They come to show support. They come because you’ve appeared on their radar. They come because of personal connections. One or two might show up because your online platform and book description resonated with them. So the questions to consider when planning a book tour are: Who do I know? Where are my friends? Who might be willing to lobby on my behalf? How can I get people into the bookstore or other venue? If you’d like to visit a city where your contacts are few, consider planning an event with another author who lives in that city and whose following is larger than yours. Or invite two or three authors to join you. Or create a panel of authors to discuss a particular theme.
Venues. Five of my eight events were bookstores. One was held in a Marriott conference room, the weekend I attended my 40th high school reunion there. One was held in a private home, and one at Scripps College, my alma mater, where I was invited to speak about my book to my classmates at our 35th reunion. (This was a more intimate group of about fifteen women and I turned it into a workshop, which was spontaneous, effective, and fun.) Don’t limit yourself to bookstores. There are many venues to choose from. I’ve known authors who have held events in clothing stores, health food markets, and restaurants. Be creative. Think outside the box. If you’re a She Writes Press or SparkPress author, you keep 100% of your proceeds from your book sales if you choose a nontraditional venue, though you may need to pay a small fee to use the space. Many bookstores don’t charge a fee, but they sell your book for you—and therefore you don’t pocket any direct profits. (Note that bookstores automatically buy your books from your distributor for 50%, or if you’re a self-published author and you opt to sell your books on consignment, bookstores take 40%-50%.) Ask yourself what kind of experience you’d like to create and think about your audience. It’s like hosting a party. Consider what your guests would enjoy, then deliver the goods. For me, in many but not all cases, this meant: Feed them. Give them a glass of wine. Inspire their minds and nourish their souls.
Approaching Venues. Reach out (or have your publicist do it) to event coordinators at bookstores. You can send an email or go in person, but be prepared to provide written info if you choose the latter. The info should include your book description, bio, and your connection to that venue or city. In other words, your plan for bringing in an audience. Offer the venue a complimentary copy of your book, or an Advanced Reader Copy.
Get the Word Out. Be personal. Facebook events are a good start, but private Facebook messages are better. A Paperless Post invitation is elegant and inviting, but maintaining communication with the people on your list is good form, and also feels wonderful. Old-fashioned phone calls can also be effective. They key is to reach out. Connect. And keep following up. Post about your events on social media and ask friends and family to share your posts. Ask your publicist (if you have one) to pitch local media in conjunction with your event. Have memes, posters, invitations, and flyers designed and printed. If you design them yourself, make sure they look professional (and if you don’t know, get an opinion from a professional).
Audience Interest and Engagement. When they’re nodding their heads as you speak, jotting down notes, and asking questions, when they flock to you after your presentation, you know you’ve engaged your audience. I used to be afraid of public speaking. Years ago, during a residency at Scripps College, I had to give a talk to an audience that included some of my old college professors. I was totally intimidated and worked on that talk for months, writing and rewriting. I thought I had to show up a certain way and was scared I’d blow it. I’ve since learned that it’s perfectly fine to be myself—warts and all— and there’s not much to prepare for when it comes to talking about my book and my life’s journey. All I have to do is show up and speak from my heart. Spontaneous speaking is its own art form, and as powerful as spontaneous (journal) writing. Speaking this way challenges me to be open, honest, vulnerable, and available, which allows for something larger to come through than what I might have planned. I’m more attuned to the moment. More relaxed. When I trust myself in this way, wisdom surfaces in surprising ways.
If your audience appears sleepy, fidgety, or otherwise unengaged, change your plan. Try something different. Walk out from behind the podium. Tell a personal story. Imagine you’re talking to your best friend(s). And be gentle with yourself. Your presentations will improve with practice. Most authors are enthusiastic about their books and enthusiasm is contagious. The root of the word enthusiasm means “with God.” I like to think of it as sharing the loving energy of the universe within me with others. As the Sanskrit greeting “Namaste” suggests, I see the light in every audience member, and perhaps they see mine, too. We are all the same. All sacred beings looking for love and connection. If you come from your heart, rather than your head, you will succeed.
My Level of Enjoyment and Satisfaction. What struck me most about my book events was how much love I felt. The people who showed up were there to support me or another author. For my solo events they were there for me. In Virginia many came to support my sister, who took on the task of planning that event and inviting all her friends. She was tenacious and devoted in her approach to this event, as if she were throwing me a party. Giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin. Both feel wonderful when the offering is authentic and heartfelt. I am grateful for my sister’s support and also for the support of my extended family and friends. And for all the people who showed up and bought my book. And for those who wanted to come but couldn’t make it. While it may have been fine to do a virtual book tour, the gifts I gave and received by being present with readers in person were absolutely worth my time, money, and energy. These “gifts” are in no way limited to book sales. For me it’s about getting out there, overcoming fears, trusting that the universe has my back, challenging myself, nudging myself toward the edges of my comfort zone, and reconnecting with old friends and making new ones.
Are you planning a book tour? Do you have questions or concerns? Or anything you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you.
Book Tour Video and Photos