|An onstage event: (left to right) Beth Hill, Seth Kantner, Peggy Shumaker, Joan Kane, and me.|
I don’t mind telling you: I’m a tad exhausted, coming off two weeks of author appearances centered around my latest novel Cold Spell. For us author types, that much meet-and-greet can be grueling.
A friend of mine who has worked as a publicist asked if my publisher had arranged the events. Nope. I did that myself, though I had a lot of help from gallery owners and booksellers and college folks and a local writers organization. There was the launch, of course, and there were signings. But there was also a ticketed dinner event (sold out!), plus two “onstage” conversations and a workshop. At each appearance, I enjoyed the company of other authors, which made every event more enjoyable and better attended than it would have been had I gone solo.
A few tips for planning author appearances:
· Venues: Although a few of my recent events were out of town, they were all within driving distance, which was a big relief to me. I enjoy travel, and if there’s a chance to connect it with books, so much the better. But as most authors will tell you, the traditional book tour is not nearly as glamorous as you might think, and it’s not especially good at getting books sold, either. For the most part, I chose local venues based on relationships I’d already built with the owners and managers.
· Costs: The traditional book tour has two main objectives: to build relationships between authors and readers (including key readers, like booksellers) and to keep an author’s name out in front of audiences during the launch period. Is it cost-effective? Not really. From a publisher’s point of view, it’s more of a long-tail investment, getting their most popular authors out to meet and make fans. Regardless of how they’re published, some authors front the costs for their own book tours, but I haven’t run across any who’ve found it, dollar for dollar, to be a good investment. If there are places you’d love to visit or places you’re visiting anyway and you’re able to arrange author appearances there, great—you’ll enjoy the journey, and your expenses may even be tax-deductible, if your writing efforts qualify as a legitimate business with the IRS.
· Occasion: Author appearances don’t have to be launch-related. It’s always a good idea to get out and meet readers at book signings, readings, and other events if you’re good at that sort of thing and you actively promote those events through your friends-and-fans network. My recent events were launch-related, but they also tied in with an annual event, Alaska Book Week, which I helped start a few years ago.
· Audience: Don’t just expect people to show up. They’re busy, and even though you’re an author, that doesn’t make you famous. Line up your events well in advance (six months, at least, if they’re out of town), and think beyond the traditional reading/signing. Look for groups that might have an interest in your book or in your journey as an author. Or maybe there are workshops you could teach. If your appearances are value-added for the audience, with book sales taking second billing, you’re more likely to find interest.
· Partners: Another way to expand your audience is to participate in well-conceived events featuring multiple authors. It’s more fun, too.
· Preparation: If you’re reading, practice and—extremely important—time yourself. Any reading that lasts more than ten minutes, including the introduction, is probably too much. If you have more time to fill, engage your audience with slides, anecdotes, and the like. Your knees might be shaking, your onstage persona should exude charisma and confidence. Relax and have fun, and your audience will follow suit.
· Numbers: You may not sell lots of books. But simply spreading the word about your appearances increases your visibility and draws attention to your book.
· Blog tours: Because of the costs involved, many publishers now favor blog tours in which the publicist arranges guest blogs, interviews, and book reviews at well-read blogs and then turns the author loose to fulfill the assignments. No hotels, taxis, or airfare are required—only the author’s time. Lots of it. One friend of mine had to cover 100 blog stops for the launch of her book. Are blog tours effective? In theory, anything that gets you and your book in front of readers is helpful, and anything online has the advantage of creating a permanent presence for you and your book in the ever-expanding internet archives. If your publisher arranges one, you’re obviously going to participate, time suck or no; to refuse would be bad form. If you’re publishing on your own, consider whether the potential benefits are worth the time you invest. You can use the online service Alexa to make sure the blogs you’re touring are at least as well-trafficked as your own blog (assuming you have a blog). And as with most everything in publishing, be prepared for a lot of rejection (mostly in the form of silence) when you email bloggers asking for them to host a stop on your blog tour. I generally approach only those with whom I’ve developed some sort of personal connection, through social media or my fan base.
· Party on: A new darling of the traditional publishing industry is the book launch party. But unless you’re a big, big name with a blockbuster title, they’re not offering to throw the party on your behalf; they want you to host a party and invite all your friends and sell a few books. All well and good—especially for the publisher, since they’ve invested nothing other than the suggestion—as long as you have the resources and enjoy that sort of thing. I like a party as well as the next person, but I agree with an author friend who points out, hey, we’re the writers—shouldn’t they be buying us drinks? If you want to celebrate your launch without breaking the bank, look for a no-host venue where your guests can buy their own food and drinks, preferably one that will allow you to sell and autograph books without charging you a percentage. Some authors even throw launch parties online, though to me that seems a stretch of what you can do with a keyboard. Maybe once someone invents virtual cocktails, the online launch party will catch on.