{Between the Lines}

The Agents of Books & Such Literary Management Muse About Books, Publishing, and Life

Reality Check: Author Tours

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

I’m packing my bags once again to accompany Lauraine Snelling on her Faith Words Book Tour for the launch of The Second Half.  I wrote the first part of this blog last year after Lauraine’s tour. I thought I’d repeat it in advance, so that you’ll be keeping us in your prayers and maybe be able to stop and visit us on the way.

A multi-state book tour sounds like a dream come true to those just embarking on a writing career, right? A whistle stop trip through the countryside, stopping at stores, book clubs, libraries and literary venues along the way. Rooms crowded with readers all hoping to get their books signed and listen to their favorite author.  Food, laughs, fascinating people to meet along the way. What could be better?

Reality Check #1: I’ve been on a number of tours with clients and friends. All those things can be true but there is a far different side to the author tour as well. Debbie Macomber undertook a twenty-day, twenty-city tour to celebrate the release of her book, Twenty Wishes. I talked to her near the end of the tour. She was exhausted. Each day would find her signing books long after the store should have closed for the night. Trying to find something to eat at 11:00 P.M. Falling into bed after midnight only to have the alarm go off at 4:00 A.M. in order to catch the flight to the next city. Doing rounds of drive-time media first thing in the morning. As Debbie said with her trademark humor, “If I knew how grueling this would be, I’d have called the book Five Wishes.”

dreamstime_xs_40439628Lauraine Snelling’s ten-day, twelve-event Someday Home tour was equally challenging even though it was a road trip– no airports  thankfully. One particular day we had three events. The first session was a forty participant writer’s workshop sponsored by a bookstore. The next event was a talk and signing at the bookstore adjacent to the writers’ event. Then driving to a new city a couple of hours away, followed by dinner, a talk and book signing at a Sons of Norway lodge.  That’s a lot of people to talk to in one day. And don’t forget, packing, changing hotels and unpacking more times than one cares to count.

Reality Check #2. Both Debbie and Lauraine invariably have successful tours– standing room only crowds at most stops and book signings that last long past the allotted hours. Will that be the case for most authors? No. In fact, few authors can even get a respectable crowd at a local book signing. So what does it take to have a successful author tour?

  • An outgoing author who loves meeting readers and considers this more fun than anything else he or she can imagine. If the author is just going through the motions, it shows. Readers are simply not willing to drop everything in their busy lives to come meet an author who is not as interested in them as they are in her. Most successful author tours see many loyal readers who’ve attended other events in the past.
  • An experienced venue. The store, library or literary gathering needs to understand how to host a successful event. It takes work and planning. We’ve observed that it is nearly impossible to hold a successful appearance in a big city. Chicago, San Francisco, New York– there’s just too much going on to allow for the kind of crowd that builds synergy. Small towns are the best. Lauraine visited Ulen, Minnesota. The tiny town of 549 souls combined Lauraine’s talk and book signing with a silent auction and wine tasting fundraiser for their historical society. (The wine tasting offered two different wines to try– Sutter Home Red and Sutter Home White.) 105 townspeople came. That’s 20% of the whole town. One of Lauraine’s readers couldn’t believe the success of the event. I scribbled down her words so I wouldn’t forget them. She shook her head in wonder, saying, “This is the biggest thing to happen to Ulen. Authors don’t come to Ulen. And a wine tasting! We’ve never had wine.” I love small towns. An author event in a small town can generate excitement.
  • An author with enough books published to have made a blip on the screen of the reading public. Debbie has written more than a hundred books with 170 million books in print. Lauraine has eighty-nine books under her belt and also tallies copies in the multiple millions. This is a big country. Too few books spread out over too large an area and it will be impossible to gather enough potential readers in any one area to create the crowd that is needed for an exciting event.
  • A regional or special interest following. One of the reasons Lauraine has been so successful with tours and events is that she knows who her readers are. Most of her books are set in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. A good portion of her novels are about Norwegian immigrants. Lauraine’s readers are easy to find in large numbers. Give her a Sons of Norway lodge or a Scandinavian festival, and she will pack a room. Every year at North Dakota’s famous Norsk Høstfest, Lauraine sets up a whole bookstore and sells and signs more than a thousand books. Julie Klassen, who writes hugely popular historical regencies, has long been involved in all things Jane Austen. Fellow Jane-ites support her and flock to her events. Julie always packs out a Barnes & Noble Store for the launch of a new book. I accompanied her on her author tour to Utah, and we were delighted with the fellow regency aficionados who came to see her– a great special interest following.
  • Something to say. Both Lauraine Snelling and Julie Klassen speak at each event. Julie has done some interesting behind-the-scenes presentations on things like how the covers came to be. At her launch last year she even brought the cover models with her. Lauraine speaks for about an hour at each event, telling the stories behind the books. She generally has her readers laughing and connecting with the antics of her Norwegian characters. Book sales are always brisk for the books highlighted in a talk.

Reality Check #3: Unless the author has a significant mailing list that can be separated regionally, there is no way to easily connect the author’s readers to the specific events. This is one of the reasons we stress that our clients religiously maintain their reader database. If this is the kind of career you hope to build, a vigorous reader database is a must.

Reality Check #4: Few publishers are sending authors on tour these days unless they meet the criteria above. It’s just too expensive and uses up way too much of the marketing budget. Unless there is a significant return on that investment, it’s not a good use of resources. On this last Lauraine Snelling tour, just the airfare and car rental with gas came close to $3000.00. Then add in food and ten hotel nights. Happily, when it’s a success, the lift it gives the book and the author’s career is more than worth the expense.

And, you might ask, why does an agent accompany an author on tour? I have a number of reasons. Let me quickly jot them for you:

  • Lauraine and I have been friends since long before I became her agent. Same with Julie Klassen. Before I became her agent I had read every single book she’d written. So, in part, it’s about the relationship.
  • While the author is busy signing and talking to her readers, I’m often talking to the front liners– those salespeople in the store– walking through the stacks with them telling them all about my great authors… sharing inside stories. I know that they sell what they love. I want to help them fall in love.
  • Many other writers come to signings in their area. It gives me the opportunity to meet them and talk with them. The first time I met Gabrielle Meyer was at a Snelling signing in tiny Upsala, MN. I met Lori, from our blog community in… was it Ohio? I’m posting our itinerary here with an invitation to come see us. I’d love to meet you and talk about your writing.
  • An agent needs to get out in the bookstores and see what is on the shelves, what is selling and what readers are saying. If we stay cloistered in our offices, it’s too easy to become out of touch.

So, here’s where we’ll be:

July 28  (7pm)  Barnes & Noble • 1201 12th St SW #425 • Rochester, MN 55902 • (507) 281-7950

July 29  (7pm) • Books a Million • 4030 Commonwealth Ave • Eau Claire, WI 54701 • (715) 831-4431

July 30 (9am-11am, 12pm-3pm) Nordic Fest-Vesterheim Museum • 523 West Water Street • Decorah, IA 52101 • (563) 382-9681

July 31 (7pm) Barnes and Noble- Madison West • 7433 Mineral Point Road • Madison, WI • (608) 827-0809

August 1 (7pm) Stoughton Library @ Stoughton Village Players • 255 E Main St • Stoughton, WI 53589 • (608) 873-6281

August 2  (5pm-7pm) Annie’s Fountain City Café • 72 S Main St • Fond du Lac, WI 54935 • (920) 933-5337

August 3 (6pm-7:30) Appleton Public Library • 225 N. Oneida St. • Appleton, WI  54911 • (920) 832-6173

August 4 (6pm-8pm) Stephenson Public Library • 1700 Hall Ave • Marinette, WI 54143 • (715) 732-7570

August 5 (2pm-4pm) Unalaska PL • 741 Oak Ave S • Onalaska, WI 54650 • (608) 781-9568

August 6  (12pm-3pm) Fair Trade Books • 320 Bush St • Red Wing, MN 55066 • (651) 800-2030

I’ve only scratched the surface but this may well be the longest blog in Books & Such history. It’s your turn to chime in. What have you observed in successful author events you’ve attended? Do you have other questions? Got any ideas for the perfect event? Coming to see us?

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Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

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