Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Perpetual Touring

The traditional book tour, whether publisher-financed or author-financed, usually begins when the new title is released, and lasts a few weeks or maybe even months. Then, traditionally, the author takes a break from promoting and writes their next book.

This is an archaic, and ineffective, way to tour. Before I get into why, let's pinpoint the reasons for touring.

  1. To meet booksellers. A bookseller you schmooze is a bookseller who will potentially handsell you.
  2. To reinforce media exposure. And vice versa. You get reviews, interviews, and local newspaper/radio/tv coverage when you have a new book out, as the new book is the hook/spin/platform for the publicity.
  3. To announce a new book to your old fans. A book tour is a way to meet your fanbase, remind them you have a new title out, and encourage them to meet you in person.
  4. To make new fans. You'll sell books to people who have never heard of you before, and might not have ever heard of you had it not been for your tour.
  5. Signed books sell better than unsigned books. An autograph is a perceived value, and the signed copies will often be face-out on the shelf, which is more exposure.

In essence, a book tour is all about spreading the word. As I've mentioned many times before, it's doubtful your tour will pay for itself in books sold, even if you're a bestseller. But it still remains the most effective way to inform the world about your books, because you are your book's best salesperson, whether you like it or not. The more people you can reach, the better your book will do.

Which brings us to the current book tour model. Touring for two months, then disappearing for ten months.

Considering how important book sales are to your career, isn't it odd that you're only spending 1/5 of your professional time meeting people? And that this time is all bunched together, rather than spread out? Wouldn't it make more sense to do as much touring as possible, even as late as six, eight, or ten months after your book has been released?

Now, I know what you're thinking.

JA, if I tour all year, when will I have time to write?

JA, I can't afford to tour all year.

JA, won't I get overexposed if I tour all year?

JA, I have a family/fulltime job and don't have that much time to travel.

JA, isn't this just me doing my publisher's job?

JA, you're damn sexy.

Let's address these thoughts.

JA, if I tour all year, when will I have time to write?

If your books don't sell, you'll have all the time in the world to write, because you'll no longer be able to get a contract.

Writing a good book is the most important thing you can do for your career. But if no one knows about your books, it doesn't matter how good it is--it will flop. I spend about 90% of my professional time promoting. But I write pretty fast, and writing is my fulltime gig.

So how much time should you spend? I say, half your time.

Is that too much? Give up TV, surfing the Internet, and 1 hour of sleep per night, and that gives you an extra 1200 hours a year.

Everyone has something they can give up or cut back on to make more time. It's just a question of wanting it bad enough. If you don't want it bad enough, why are you reading my blog?

JA, I can't afford to tour all year.

No kidding. Not only is it financially draining, but it's incredibly hard. But you don't have to. Perpetual touring isn't about being on the road 365 days a year. Perpetual touring is about making sure you have a continuous bookstore presence. This can be done by:

  • Visiting bookstores on your vacation.
  • Visiting every bookstore within 100 miles of your home.
  • Taking weekends to visit nearby states.
  • Visiting bookstores when you are at conferences and traveling.
  • Not ever dismissing opportunities.

I'm guessing that there are many stores within driving distance you haven't visited yet. Why haven't you? And why haven't you visited your local stores more than once?

The holidays are almost upon us. Why don't you have a local signing for the day after Thanksgiving, or the weekends before X-mas?

There are always opportunities to visit bookstores, and they don't have to involve spending a lot of money. Out of all the mystery writers who went to Bouchercon, how many signed at the 7 bookstores stores in Madison? I did. Out of all the thriller writers who visited Thrillerfest, how many signed at the 25 stores in Phoenix? I did. You can too. Pull yourself away from the bar, stop going to panels that won't teach you anything, and work the town.

JA, won't I get overexposed if I tour all year?

The more exposure you get, the more exposure you get. I don't know of a single author who became overexposed by visiting bookstores.

JA, I have a family/fulltime job and don't have that much time to travel.

Make the time. Or don't. No one is forcing you.

You don't have to do any bookstore visits at all, and you still may become successful.

And that knocking sound in your engine may correct itself without you doing anything.

And that growth on your lung may just disappear on its own.

And a rich uncle you never knew you had may die and bequeath you his fortune.

But it's probably smarter to be a little proactive.

The more bookstores you visit, the more books you'll sell. Guaranteed.

JA, isn't this just me doing my publisher's job?

Of course. Writers do all the work, and Big New York Publishing exploits us and makes zillions of dollars from our efforts, and we should be grateful for the opportunity to be exploited. Every time a book is successful is because the writer is brilliant, and every time a book flops is because the publisher didn't do anything to promote it.

Or not.

Look, it's really very simple. Every book you sell, you make more money. The more money you make, the more your publisher will continue to sell your books. How hard is that to understand?

You can bemoan the hard work all you want, but what job isn't hard? You thought all you had to do was write and that was enough? Well, you were wrong. There's no Santa Claus either. Welcome to real life.

JA, you're damn sexy.

I know. It's a curse.

Can you define Perpetual Touring again?

Perpetual Touring is continuing to visit bookstores year round, not just after a new book is released. For example, this year alone I've visited 68 bookstores after my 500 bookstore tour ended, and several dozen before my tour began. I'm also planning on visiting 30 more before the end of the year.

Why should authors Perpetually Tour?

  1. Your backlist may be even more important than selling your current title, because your backlist is what grows your audience.
  2. It is potentially more valuable to visit bookstores after the coop has ended, because signed books will be moved to an endcap, giving you free coop space.
  3. If you limit your publicity to 2 months a year, you're missing 10 months of opportunity to find new readers.
  4. Visiting the same bookstore more than once will give you the chance to meet new employees, and touch base with old friends.
  5. Touring year round means there is never any time for the booksellers to fully forget about you, and that you'll have constant spikes in sales.
  6. Selling the book is almost as important as writing the book, and deserves a large amount of your time.

The bottom line: if there's a bookstore nearby, there's no reason you shouldn't stop in. And if it's been several weeks since you've been in a bookstore, you need to correct that right now. Even if it's a bookstore you've been in already. Even if it's a bookstore that doesn't normally carry your books. Even if you don't have the time or the money or the energy or the desire.

Get thee to a bookstore. You'll thank me for it later.