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.


  1. JA, what if I live in the Middle of Nowhere and the only bookstore within 100 miles of me is the East Podunk Store of Books (And Fishing Tackle)?

    JA, you're damn sexy. :-)

  2. You have a choice, SW. You can travel more, or move to the big bad city. You wouldn't be the first person in history to move because of your job.

    My local bookstores have sold thousands of my books, because I've visited them so often. I consider it time well spent.

    As for finding me sexy, I recommend cold showers. You'll still find me sexy after a cold shower, but at least you'll save on your gas bill.

  3. JA, you're so sexy you're distracting me when I should be working.

    Two bookstores in my home town that didn't normally carry my books now stock them as a result of my visits. So I guess that means you're not only sexy, you have a brain in that pretty head, too.

  4. Perpetual Touring.
    Can I get an "Amen!"?

    JA Sexy?
    Oh, hey, make it two.

  5. What? No men find me sexy?

  6. Jeff Shelby finds you sexy.

  7. Sorry, Joe. Even with your new earring and all, I've never been THAT drunk. :)

  8. Shelby may find me sexy, but in his eyes I'm no James O. Born.

  9. Perhaps you doth protest too much, Jude?

  10. I am a committed heteroesexual but I'll tell you this--I once watched Konrath eat fried chicken with his fingers and it was, I have to admit, sort of sexy.

    Maybe it was the chicken, though.

  11. I admire your honesty, Tom. And I still appreciate your offer to lick my fingers clean when I was finished.

    You had said 'fingers' right?

  12. I don't remember that...

    wait, I do remember getting a little foggy after they brought the drinks...then...everything was sort of swimming...and talking in slow motion...

    and then you were there opening a Handi-Wipe...

    maybe those pills you showed me weren't for your reflux...

  13. Good post, but I'm not touchin' that JA is sexy thing with a, uh...

    Never mind.

    Mark Terry

  14. Just peeked in here and boy am I sorry. It's like some freaky geeky Halloween initiation party for lonely pirates… nice earring there, Joe… arrrrr.

  15. Anonymous5:22 PM

    I had the pleasure of meeting Stacy Cochran at Bouchercon, and watched him distinguish himself as a true gentleman under the most trying circumstances. And trust me, they WERE trying, Stacy gets MY vote for Sexiest Man in Madison.

    Perpetual Tour? So THAT's what Julia does...I was wondering what it's called. We live slightly north of the Middle of Nowhere, but that never stops her. Julia stays in touch virtually, sends publicity pieces regularly (many inspired by JAK...)and when she has no news, helps spread the word about OTHER terrific authors whom, indies might support. Generally, she makes a nuisance of herself. And she calls indies at the weirdest hours...something about free minutes.
    Best spooky regards,
    Ross Alexander from Maine

  16. When travelling, don't forget to stop in airport bookstores.

    I'll also stop in used bookstores if I see them. I don't go out of my way to visit used bookstores, but if one is nearby I check it out and sign stock. Someone may buy it used for the signature, then graduate to buying me new.

  17. Ross,

    In the Bleak Midwinter rocks. Please tell Julia I said so. I can't believe I just found out about this novel as a result of Bouchercon. I'm serious. It's one of those where I say to myself, "That is what a mystery novel can do!"

    It's actually inspiring. I've been telling everybody in my family about it (in no small part because so many of them are in the clergy).

    I can't believe I had dinner with you and got to meet your wife.


  18. Anonymous6:04 AM

    Damn sexy. Look at that wide smile, the big blue eyes, the whisky tumbler nose ... oh, wait.

  19. Anonymous8:40 AM

    I can't do - once again - what Joe does at all.

    I can't think about promoting a book all the time. Or even half the year.

    I can't go in bookstores all the time. Or even every other weekend.

    I need to take real time to write - where I am immmersed in the world of the book and my characters. I need to hibernate and disappear.

    I'm not arguing - I just think its important that authors know there is more than one way to skin this cat.

    My most successful books have been those where I did the smartest marketing/pr not necessarily the most marketing/pr. And in every case - as much as I wish it was otherwise - it was not visiting bookstores that made big differences.

    Maybe I'm just not sexy enough when I go in those stores - gotta say - Joe's got me beat in that dept.

  20. I could never protesteth to mucheth about thateth, Konratheth.

  21. I agree with MJ--there are more ways to promote. I like going to bookstores, but with my writing schedule I can't travel. I've been to all those locally, because I think it's very important to meet your local booksellers (this also landed me a very well-publicized event for next year that I'm thrilled about!) But in addition to my writing schedule, I have five kids, all under 13, and I can't be away from home for days at a time.

    I did pretty well with my first couple books without doing lots of bookstore visits. This isn't to say someone SHOULDN'T do them if they have the time and they enjoy them (or, rather, don't HATE them). I wish I could get out more because I love meeting booksellers, especially those who really love books. But remember that if you don't meet your deadline, your publisher will not be happy.

  22. I agree that publishing often is great promotion. Writing many books per year (I'll have five released within an eleven month period) gets your name out there like nothing else. But getting multiple publishing slots per year is the exception in everything other than the romance genre, so that avenue isn't open to all authors. We have to tailor our promo to our situation, and we all have different situations.

    Like Allison, I generally limit visits to local bookstores, although I only have two young kids. And I need to immerse myself in order to write. But I have to buy books to read anyway, so why not chat with the bookseller while doing so?

    It's not much, but in my situation my time is better spent writing. That's not everyone's situation.

    You have to what gives you the most bang for your time/buck. That might mean we're not as sexy as Joe, but then who is?

  23. Anonymous9:43 AM

    Joe, I took a survey among my friends and we grandmas all agree: you are sexy. I think the earring put you over the top! So forget about whether or not the men find you sexy. Grandmothers are where the real action is! (Now there's an image everyone will have a hard time shaking out of their heads!) Terrie Moran

  24. There are indeed many ways to skin a cat, MJ.

    It's important to try many things, and do what works for you.

    I think visiting bookstores is smart marketing because it is within the author's control, is cheap, and it will sell books.

    Perhaps it will only sell a handful of books. But multiply a handful by a dozen, a hundred, a thousand. And realize that in some cases, it will sell many more than a handful.

    Even with marketing campaigns that sell a million copies, books are still sold one at a time.

    I recently had the pleasure of being the keynote speaker at a regional manager meeting for one of the chains. That was a great and helpful experience. Not every author has that opportunity. But every author can do it on a local level, visiting stores.

    If the goal is to destroy a city, you can drop a huge nuclear weapon on it and blow it up in a milisecond.

    But you can also destroy a city by starting a thousand tiny fires. Some will fizzle out. Some will stay contained. But a few will grow larger and join others, and eventually the city is ashes.

    Authors don't have the money or power to attain nukes. But we all can get our hands on a Bic.

    There will always be cases where authors succeed without doing all of the things I recommend. And cases of authors who fail doing everything I recommend.

    Allison Brennan hit the NYT list for her first three books. I haven't. Yet I do more self-promotion than she does.

    It has nothing to do with the quality of our books, or how much we promote. That's just the way the ball bounces.

    Yesterday, I talked to two close friends whose books were released last year.

    The first just found out their trade paperback will be on the Borders buy 2 get 1 free table. This is a huge promotion, and huge for the author.

    The second just found out that thier publisher dropped them because of lackluster sales.

    Of the two, the one who was dropped does a lot more self promotion, and is savvier about the business.

    Does that make sense? No. But, for whatever reason, the publishing gods smiled on the first author, and crapped on the second author.

    The bottom line is: visiting bookstores will help you sell books. You still may not sell enough to hit the NYT list, or even get another contract. But you will sell more than if you don't visit bookstores.

    I don't have control over my print run size, or the current publishing climate, or the amount of promotional money my publisher spends, or the forces that create bestsellers.

    But I can sell my books, one at a time, to as many people as I possibly can.

    Will it be enough? We'll see.

  25. You're scaring me with your arson metaphors, Joe. :)

    Very interesting comment thread here. For a yet-to-be published writer like me, it's nice to know that there are a variety of ways to succeed in publishing. No right or wrong way, really, just whatever works for you. For me, it's all about balancing career and private life, and having some fun along the way. It's all good.

  26. Joe: Telling authors to visit bookstores is good advice. I'd go one step further, however. Give them something while you're there. A couple of signed ARCS, 100 signed bookmarks to set on the counter, etc. I do book signings almost every Saturday. The first thing I tell the CRM or manager is that I have a signed ARC for everyone who works in the store who wants one. All they have to do is come over and get it. Someone almost always makes the book a staff recommendation, which gets the book displayed longer, which sells more books, which generates re-orders, etc.

  27. There is very much a "wild west" mentality to publishing and the business of selling books. I'm still relatively young, but I've learned that if I'm not doing something publicity-wise that makes at least one person go "He can't do that!" then I'm not doing my job.

    You have to push the envelope. Otherwise, you're boring.

    The goal with publicity when you're starting out is to make people talk, and if people aren't at least thinking "He can't do that, can he?" than they're probably not going to be talking about you.

    For example, see any controversial novel that's become a bestseller. Boring novels don't become bestsellers. Usually.


  28. See, that's why you're so sexy, JA. You tell it like it is. :-)

    Move to the big bad city -- hmm, you know, I never thought about that. I came from there to here. Going back never even crossed my mind.

    It's crossing it now, though. If the conference I'm headed for in December gets me close to where I wanna go, I just might do that.


    (Oh, and right now cold showers are the only kind I can take. My hot water heater done blowed itself up. :-)

  29. Anonymous1:40 PM

    I had an unpleasant conversation with a CRM yesterday. She said my book was too old for a signing, and anyway, she only schedules launches because A.) she wants the author to bring in their friends and family (i.e. NEW customers to her store), and B.) if you've done more than one signing, the market is saturated and no one will be interested in your signing or your book. Mind you, this is a big chain store, and the largest in our area.

    I think part of the reason she blew me off is because my book is from a small press. When I told her I had a paperback deal coming up she was a little nicer, but still told me she would only do a launch.

    With that kind of attitude, I'm surprised they sell any books in that store. (BTW, I'm doing 5 other holiday signings; I'm glad not all CRMs think like her.)

  30. Anonymous5:00 PM

    Just wondering if you have seen an increase in sales that you can attribute to your 500 store tour. I'm an unpublished writer still trying to get educated on the business. I didn't know if there was a way to track sales by region and if you had seen spikes in numbers of sales in ares where you toured this summer.

  31. Anonymous11:36 PM

    Great post. As always, you're an inspiration.

    And I wanna see you with the earring. I've always had a thing for guys with earrings.


  32. I went back and looked at JA's tour. I live in the Northeast and several hundred bookstores are accessible by car on day trips.

    Just by driving I could do a smaller version of the 500 tour.

    Will my publisher (Midnight Ink) give me a few hundred ARCs to give out? Could a buy some at a reduced rate?--I have to find out.

    (just happy to posting without a reference to the chicken grease on Joe's fingers.)

  33. Anonymous6:57 AM

    Joe, just finished reading Rusty Nail. Damn good read. I was getting a little tired of Herb's future wife, but what a twist and it sucked me right in.

  34. Yes, Jude, I agree with you. And even when others disagree with Joe, it doesn't matter. I just appreciate the fact the he's firing up conversation about these issues. As a yet-to-be-published author, it's all great information.

    So, Joe, you could be singing the lyrics from the Beatle song:
    So, it really doesn't matter
    When I'm wrong I'm right
    Where I belong I'm right
    Where I belong.

  35. Anonymous12:20 PM

    I plan to try hospital gift shops as soon as I can buy a dozen copies or so of my own book. Since my book of humor essays is about injuries and broken bones, I figure it'd be perfect - LOL!

  36. Ann, you make an excellent point that I had honestly never thought about before--that romance writers often published 2 or more books per year while other genres don't. Hmm.

    Joe, I wasn't disagreeing with you or trying to get anyone to not self-promote. I think we agree everyone needs to do what they are comfortable with--and sometimes go outside their comfort zone--to get noticed. And I bought all your books for my mom and she liked them, so I know they're great. (And anyone who knows my mom knows she's the best at word of mouth :)

    Publishing is a combination of so many variables, many completely out of our control. Believe me, I don't take my small successes for granted. I'm just as paranoid about my upcoming releases (and, BTW, doing more speaking engagements and events than last time) as I was about my first book. NOTHING is a sure thing.

  37. What I've been doing is trying to create a buzz about me before I get published. I have a web presence, and I go to as many book signings as I can to meet other writers, buy their books (gotta help the industry and the writers) and receive advice. Bookfests, and conferences have helped too. Even when I was on vacation I went to a book signing, and met a writer that is currently touring in Europe and we are still in touch . . . and as always, Joe, your wisdom is impeccable . . . but I'm sexier.

  38. Anonymous8:05 PM

    At what point does the quality of the work start to suffer? Book 2? Book 3?

    You can do all the self-promotion in the world, but it has to be in support of a quality product.

    There's a reason most authors take 6 months off to write the next book. Sometimes it's necessary.

    I'm not saying it's necessary for Joe. Maybe he's the exception. Maybe he can write a great book in a month.

    But then again, how many of us can be that exception in the long run?


Thanks for the comment! Joe will get back to you eventually. :)