“Henceforth I ask not good-fortune—I myself am good fortune…”
Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road
Ah, the book tour…. Arriving at a swanky hotel to find champagne and chocolates laid out...A personal assistant ready with notes…Thunderous applause from a packed ballroom …
OK, that’s the Lifetime movie version. The reality for the “indie” writer is that if you have "dead tree" versions of your books, you have to set up and manage your own book tour. In the words of leadership gurus, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”
My third novel, Blood Clay, launched last March with a small reception at Press 53. For weeks before, I’d been emailing potential reviewers and reading hosts. I packed a lot of books and fewer clothes (just like when I ran away from home at age 6), took inspiration from Walt Whitman, and began my tour with a smile and a good attitude.
WHAT I DID (PRETTY WELL)
- Plan, plan, plan. I created an e-press kit with photos and PDFs: a press release, print ad, “praise sheet,” bio, and tour dates.
- Network, network, network. Let friends, colleagues, teachers, former students, know about the book. If it is a nonfiction book with a specific audience, develop or buy a mailing list. But be conservative on the email blasts and online postings - your don't want to be the person who only talks about her book!
- Make friends with bookstores! They are profit-making ventures and you must position your book to be attractive to them. A book signing may not attract many buyers – so offer to do a workshop, or meet with the book club.
- Connect with readers with chats, teas, and other social events - be yourself, and be honest about the joys and struggles of creating a book out of the thin vapors of imagination.
- Try schools, libraries, retirement villages, churches, community centers as well as bookstores.
- Take chances – some of the most interesting events were a little different, maybe a bit intimidating. WriterHouse invited Marjorie Hudson and I to do a workshop, then return for a “salon” – we were (pleasantly) on the spot for two hours of inquiry from an informed audience.
- Think local. Walk down Main Street, eat lunch, buy a jar of honey. You’ll make new friends and new readers.
- Team up – Marjorie and I created a dual reading based on the similar themes in our books on strangers in the New South.
- Get on calendars – the state arts council, independent booksellers such as SIBA, SheWrites, Eventful.
- Pack strategically. No one will know that you’re wearing the same black slacks for the third day. But find room for a rain poncho, extra shoes, a first-aid kit.
- Get a page on Author Central and keep all your online information up to date.
- Ask. You can deal with rejection, right? I had an open date while in my longtime home state of West Virginia, so I contacted a state park resort about getting a reduced room rate in exchange for a reading.
- Know where you are most likely to find your readers. We all dream about wowing them in New York, but as Dorothy said, it’s best to look in your own backyard.
- Package events away from home. Once a college asked me to make a visit in October, I started lining up other events. I covered a thousand miles, but booked numerous events and organized them in a circuit.
- Carve out time for book promotions. See if you can take personal days, swap with co-workers, or trade holidays.
- Keep receipts and mileage records for tax purposes.
- Have fun! Enjoy some side trips (I finally saw Monticello), gallery visits and the like - to recharge your batteries and maybe gt new ideas for your work.
- Don’t let it book promotion consume your writing. One of the best things I did to get back on track was a retreat at Weymouth Center for the Arts – find a similar writers space, look for residencies in Poets and Writers, or book a cabin.
“Listening to others, and considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating…”
WHAT TO DO (BETTER)
- Start earlier.
- Take responsibility for your success. Be persistent. I needed to push my publisher to get Advance Reading Copies ready, and missed deadlines for Library Journal and Kirkus because I assumed ARCs had been sent out.
- Widen the (social) net. I should have had my website and Facebook book page up sooner, and needed to be more active on Twitter and Goodreads. Blog if you can – Cliff Garstang’s blog and Susan Woodring’s are great examples.
- Learn to make a book trailer, or pay to have one made – try Animoto.
- Be realistic about costs – hotels, meals, and gas. Friends may have a room. Some people use networks such as Couchsurfing to find a place to “crash.” Ask if the college can put you up or has a special deal with a hotel.
- Get some good business cards – Vistaprint is one inexpensive source.
- Always give yourself a time cushion – there will be road construction, lunch will run later than you’d hoped, parking will be nonexistent – don’t be flustered, or late.
- Be willing, but also be selective. Are you comfortable doing a panel discussion? If you pay for a booth at a large festival, does your book have the “curb appeal” to attract buyers?
- Involve your family as much as possible, with special outings to compensate for the days you’ll be on the road.
Though I hope (of course!) to be with a major literary/commercial house when my next novel debuts, the truth of publishing today is that you still do a lot of the work yourself. Even if you have marketing support, you will do 100 percent of the sitting in bookstores, talking over lunch, doing interviews, participating in blog tours, driving to festivals, etc. It can be wearying, and you’ll need some downtime – but then get back on that horse. I started again in mid-January, and I’m already lining up book clubs for fall.
“Allons! whoever you are! come forth!
You must not stay sleeping and dallying there in the house, though you built it…”