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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Do Book tours really help?

   
Author Topic: Do Book tours really help?
rstegman
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I just thought of something. ON another subject, they were mentioning going on book tours.
My question was, do they really help?
I have been to a few signings for some smaller authors and never saw more than three or four dozen people at them. Is that enough promotion to really help a book, when you take into travel costs?
do you do book signing in several book stores in the same city each time, or just one?
How much does a book tour cost, and how much more might one gain from it?

Would it be better to sit and pump out another, better, book?


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MartinV
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I think that people that show up on these signings are either already aware of your work and don't need to be advertized or some random bystanders.

Of course, if people who liked your book meet you in the flesh, perhaps they might remember you and buy your second book when it comes out. Other than that, I really don't see the reason.

I saw Terry Pratchett's documentary where he sat in a chair for six hours, signing his latest book. Does he need to do that for publicity? People already know who he is. My guess is he did that just to cement the relationship with his fans.


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Kitti
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I went to a book signing by David Baldacci when he was just publishing his third book (The Winner). I had no idea who he was but he was such an engaging speaker and his book sounded so interesting that I bought it in hardcover.

He is the only author I have ever bought in hardcover and I continue to collect all of his books to this day (though The Winner is still my favorite). Because I'm mildly compulsive about my books, I make all my purchases in hardcover, spending a lot more money on him than I do on any other author. I also go to his book signings whenever they're in my area, so I can hear him talk and get his latest novel signed.

None of that would have ever happened if he hadn't been doing book signings early in his career.

I think the key is to 1) be good at speaking in public and 2) choose your target audience wisely. Baldacci writes books that are almost always set in Virginia, so he began his career by doing lots of book tours in that state. Even now that he does tours world-wide, he still does a disproportionate number in VA.


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JamieFord
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Book tours that are sponsored by publishing houses usually have a lot of PR muscle behind them. It's a weird, symbiotic thing. When a publisher announces that writer-X is going on a 15-city tour, that generates interest in press--radio interviews, tv interviews, print media, online stuff, etc. The PR might drive people to the signing, but that press is ultimately worth far more than the books sold at the events.

Authors that tour themselves often don't sell enough books to make it worth their time and travel costs.


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Dark Warrior
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Here is a success story many of us are familiar with.

At 15 Christopher Paolini wrote Eragon. At 16 his family edited and self published it. (1500 copies)

They then did a family book tour and by chance an author, whose stepson had read the book, brought the book to the attention of his publisher...and here we are three best sellers and a very bad movie adaptation later.

http://www.alagaesia.com/christopherpaolini.htm


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aspirit
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I don't know how this fits with Jamie's experience or if the genre changes the situation, but at 2008's MileHiCon, Roc Senior Editor Anne Sowards said signings aren't particularly useful for new authors. When they're done, they're more effective locally. She indicated that a strong online presence is much more helpful.
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johnbrown
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I just finished a book tour as a first-time author. Here's what I can tell you.

First, product matters most. Getting great stories out quickly is the most important thing.

Second, on the other hand, if nobody knows about your stories, you're never going to get word-of-mouth, which is the biggest factor for people new to an author http://johndbrown.com/2009/05/how-readers-select-books/ and is an important factor to library sales, although not the top factor http://johndbrown.com/2009/09/how-libraries-select-books/.

So you have to get your book noticed. Publishers have a lot to do with this. They get you in front of booksellers, get you interviews, do all sorts of stuff. When they pay you $750,000 for three books (Stephenie Meyer), you can bet they're going to go all out with various PR & Marketing programs because they're hoping to make a lot more than $750,000 back. That's just the author's royalty which is a small part of total revenues.

What about when you get the average for a new SFF author http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2005/02/07/how-much-does-a-science-fiction-or-fantasy-writer-make/? Well, they're not going to placing radio ads, I can tell you that.

But large or small, how does a book tour affect sales? Well, look at what it takes to become a best-seller: http://johndbrown.com/2009/04/how-many-copies-makes-a-best-seller/. Sarah Palin draws huge crowds and might squeak up to the bottom of the list driving sales with book tours. But this is a woman who ALREADY has platform. What about a tour as a marketing tool for someone with zero platform?

As a new, unknown author I did not pull in Sarah Palin sized lines of readers, hearts thumping to shake my hand. Why would they come? At the best signings I had maybe ten people show up to see me specifically. So this wasn't about getting people to buy my book because it was so awesome that I stopped by.

So if it wasn't about selling books, then what was it about? Well, it was about selling books.

After visiting over 60 book stores in 6 states and doing 11 offical signings, I saw that hand-selling, by booksellers, e.g. "psst Author X is great," CAN make a difference. And so stopping to do driveby signings as well as regular signings, briefly introducing myself to the staff, AND giving a promo copy of the book to the big fantasy reader on staff can make a difference in that store. But it can't be the only method.

As a brand spanking new author you're not trying to move 100,000 copies, although that would be nice. Look at the advance numbers. You're trying to earn out that advance, first of all. Anything above that is gravy. Let's say you get a $6,000 advance and they're going to print it in paperback. They give you a 10% royalty on each book. At $7.99 that's 79 cents per book. Which means you have to sell about 7,500 to earn your advance back.

Let's say you go to 60 book stores. Half of them get turned onto your book and sell 2 extra copies. Hummm. What if they sold four extra copies. Still not a significant change. But what if one book seller goes nuts and sells 20 copies? What if you get 6-10 that do that? Well, it's still a small seed.

This happened to Larry, Dave, & I. At one store in Phoenix we saw a huge display of a fantasy author's books. Why was it there? The fantasy reader on staff loved it and turned the rest of the staff on to it as well. That wasn't the only store. One store put 20+ copies of my book on its octagon (the display right as you enter the doors) because of this. All total, I think the tour itself induced 12-13 stores to order 20+ copies right off the bat (normally they stock only 2-4 of a title). I don't know what the result may be with the other 45+ stores.

Was it worth the cost? I certainly didn't make the cost of the trip back. But it's a seed. I don't know how it might pay off. But this is a business. Like any other business I have to build up my brand. And while it would be nice to start with a huge promo budget, I don't have it. So I have to start where I am. And I try to use a variety of methods to build it. I'm not going to cast all my seeds in one spot of ground. Book tours are one method. I'll do some book tour stuff next year. I wish I could track the effectiveness of the dollars. I can't. But as a new author with a small group of readers, I figure doing something is better than nothing.

[This message has been edited by johnbrown (edited December 27, 2009).]


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MartinV
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Nice web page, johnbrown. I was thinking of making one myself but I have nothing really interesting to say and there's no point in paying for the web page.

I wonder how I would go into book-signing business since I'm living on the eastern side of Atlantic and I will most likely be publishing in USA.


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johnbrown
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If you can get a cheap airfare, then you could do a city or two on the east coast of the USA. Otherwise, I'd try to make sure they release in the UK and the US and focus on the UK bookstores.
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