Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Last week I promised I’d write more about the multi-stop author tour. It 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.”
Lauraine 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 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.
I’ve only scratched the surface. 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?
So what makes a successful author tour? Lit agent @wendylawton breaks it down. Click to Tweet
Road trip! Who wouldn’t like to take a multi-city author tour? Click to Tweet
Ja, Wendy, mange takk for the tales from my Midwest Scandinavia homeland. The pace of a Sons of Norway lodge is far from the pace of O’Hare airport. Kudos to Lauraine (and you) for graciously navigating the transition.
I have some of the same Scandinavian roots– only Swedish. What Lauraine has been able to tap into is a powerful community that identifies with her books. I can’t count the number of times readers said they see their own family in Lauraine’s Bjorklund family.
I live close to Lexington, KY. Joseph Beth Bookstore has frequent author signings. Before the big day, Joseph Beth sends out emails and usually follow-up emails. They have banners and flyers they give out when you shop at their store before the big day. So the author gets quite a bit of publicity before they even show up for the signing.
Thanks for sharing about your trip!
That’s a great bookstore, Jackie. That’s what it takes along with using the author’s own database.
Anne Martin Fletcher
I just got off a steamboat river cruise to places I had been before and that were not on my list to revisit — but after seeing the crowds gather to see the boat and reading this post, I think the steamboat would make great tour transportation. Among the stops: Jackie’s Lexington, KY, Paducah, Henderson, and Brandenburg KY (or was Brandenburg in IN?).
At other venues, associated with workshops or libraries here in FL, the turn outs have been very small, maybe a dozen people who just happened to be in the library. Not much incentive for doing book signings. I think that if I’m ever published, I’ll try for speaking engagements with monthly pilot, feminist, or military organizations, and bring my book along.
Wendy, When I was first embarking on this road to writing, I read glowing tweets and blog posts, complete with smiling pictures, from a multi-author, multi-city tour. My reaction, of course, was “someday that will be me.” But the more I learn about these tours (matter of fact, the more I learn about publishing), the more I say “that will never be me.” Thanks for this first-hand report from someone who’s actually been on one of these tours and survived. As always, I appreciate you and your colleagues, and the information you provide.
You are welcome, Richard. It’s hard to figure out what is going to work promotionally for each author.
That’s real dedication on your part, Wendy. She’s lucky to have you as an agent.
* My experience is limited to a drive-time radio interview, a library multi-author meet-n-greet, and several signings (including two that were good enough that I was asked back for an encore). So, for what they may be worth, here are my thoughts…
* For an interview, follow your interviewer’s lead. They know their audience, and will work to keep the audience’s attention. Remember that it’s not so much about WHAT you say as it is about using that ten minutes to make an impression, and the interviewer is the expert.
* Have water handy, and sip on it when you can. It’s amazing how fast one’s mouth can dry out. Don’t gulp, because it can cause an unexpected belch when you’re talking. Please don’t ask how I know this.
* At a multi-author event, circulate when you can; be sociable, try to get some sense of what the other writers are offering, and when you engage passers-by at your table, try to direct them to your fellow authors appropriate to their interests.
* At bookstore signings, first and foremost, remember that you are there to help the store have good sales. You are their ambassador-for-a-day; it’s not really about you.
* Ask ahead of time if the manager who will be there during your signing has any suggestions to make the event a success. Usually you’ll get a table, a chair or two, and that’s it. They will try to place you in a high-traffic place.
* Dress appropriately; most customers are casual, so be just a little ways above casual, and wear comfortable shoes. Business formal is intimidating. (But follow the store’s guidelines – ask!)
* Prepare and deliver fliers ahead of time, that the store can post in the windows (unless they have a policy of doing their own).
* Arrive early.
” Make sure your display signage for the table is neat, readable, and visible. Bring a tablecloth – you may not be provided one.
* Bring extra copies of your books; you may need to deliver them a few days ahead of time, so they can be logged in as inventory. A table with few available copies is uninviting.
* Stand, and make eye contact with passers-by. It’s important to be at eye-level to engage them. Greet them; “Hi, how are you today?” is fine.
* Have freebies; a bowl of candy is great.
* Have push cards prepared, and give them out; if you have a helper, let him or her circulate, and give them out, letting people know that there’s a signing going on.
* On the push cards, have contact information clearly visible, and offer freebies, like a coupon for SP’d short stories on Smashwords on something similar.
* Have a signup sheet for your newsletter. Invite people to sign in; don’t just assume they’ll see it.
* Keep standing. Your feet are probably hurting by now, so good footwear is a must. Did I mention this already?
* Don’t get monopolized by one visitor. It does happen.
* Bring good pens. Folks like to see their inscription being done with a heavy high-quality pen rather than a Bic disposable.
* Thank the manager and staff when the event is over…and if they ask you if you’d like to stay past the scheduled time, accept if you can. They are asking for a reason – you’ve increased traffic.
* Sorry for the length of this comment. I enjoyed these events immensely (and they were among the last public outings I could do). I wanted to pass on what I could to help make them fun for others.
So many great tips, Andrew. Thank you!
I was in my hometown a couple of months ago for a memorial service for my dad, and we drove around a bit to show the children my old stomping grounds. We ended up at the bookstore in the mall where I spent many hours browsing in high school. My husband (my biggest marketer!) told the manager there that I have a Love Inspired Suspense coming out in February. Since I’m a hometown gal, she was eager to give me her information to set up a signing. She shared a lot of great information and said she would order the extra books, but I’m definitely going to use a lot of your tips as well.
Oh Megan, that’s going to be so much fun. And in your hometown.
What an exciting event to look forward to!
Wow, Andrew. What great tips you’ve shared! I love how you make the idea of book signings with other authors a collaborative affair. What better thing can we do than to share the good offering of fellow authors? Being relational draws others and makes them feel comfortable.
And that collaboration– taking the reader over to introduce her to another author– makes it easier to create a fun atmosphere, a kind of bookish community within the event.
One thing I forgot to mention – it does pay to have a helper or two, and to be set up with a clear view of the main entrance (most managers do this anyway, in my limited experience). That way, you can log the number of people who come in, the number of people who stop to talk, and the number who ultimately buy. Giving a copy of this information to the manager will help in optimizing future signings for others, and perhaps for your return engagement.
This is great info, Andrew. When the time comes, I will use most of your suggestions. Thanks!
I hope it’s soon for you, Carol! 🙂
Great tips, Andrew. I agree with all of them. Getting to know the manager and the salespeople is one of the most important things we can do.
Most important tip? Sign up sheet. Get those names for your database. This is pure gold– the one thing that always makes publishers drool is a vigorous reader list.
What a dream come true! And there can only be so many Debbie Macomber’s, right? I’ve been watching the series Cedar Cove, and Debbie was in one scene. I recognized her immediately because of you, Wendy. My husband was surely impressed with my knowledge … that’s Debbie! That’s Debbie! 🙂 I know one thing … it’s sweet to have friends who brag about you! I don’t have anything to add, but I admire them so … they dangle a worthy goal.
But Debbie started out a much-rejected writer hopeful who hardly stood a chance of being noticed.
Years ago I did one book signing in a Barnes & Noble in suburban Chicago, for a nonfiction book I cowrote (an local-history book). I was dressed in full historical costume complete with hoopskirt. It was one of those absolutely gorgeous October Saturdays, and the store was empty of customers. Who hangs out in a bookstore on a glorious sunny day? (Well, I do, but I digress…). I wandered up and down the aisles to speak to the few customers there were, my hoopskirt brushing volumes off the endcaps. Being October, one man asked me if I was supposed to be a ghost. Believe me, I felt like one.
That experience turned me off of book signings as an effective marketing method unless, as Wendy said, you’ve already got a loyal and geographically advantageous readership. OTOH, it was an author event with a still-early-days Jan Karon that lit the fire in my heart to write fiction. So there’s definitely a place for them in the bookselling universe–just not in my little orbit.
But the time you spent getting to know the store owner and frontrunners is invaluable. The “Oh, I know her” factor is big.
But yes, too many book signings are like that. Good that you got up and walked the stacks– an author sitting alone at a table is almost intimidating for a reader. That’s why we bring friends– so they can swarm the table and make it look like something is happening. 🙂
Kristen Joy Wilks
Wow, I just realized something that is perhaps telling concerning author events. I am a voracious reader, I read adult and YA and middle grade fiction continually and have since I was in second grade. But I have never been to an author event. I have heard author’s speak at writer’s conferences…but no where else. Strange but true. I wonder if I am the exception or the rule?
I think most readers wouldn’t go out of their way to go to an author signing unless it is a favorite author. There are a number of authors I wish I could have met. I went to St. John the Divine in NYC when Madeleine L’Engle was writer-in-residence there– so hoping to see her. (I didn’t realize then that writer-in-residence is a honorific term. It doesn’t mean the author is there.) I sat on Emily Dickinson’s porch if that counts.
I wrote Madeleine L’Engle a letter once, telling her I’d thought to look her up at the library at St. John the Divine while passing through, but chickened out.
She kindly responded!!!!!! and said, “next time you’re in New York, please stop by!”
Of course I never did–I wouldn’t dare interrupt her! 🙂
I met Madeleine L’Engle when she spoke at an RBTE (Religious Booksellers Trade Exhibit…it was sort of the Catholic/Episcopal/Jewish version of CBA. Don’t know if it still exists). It was not long before her death and I will always cherish the experience.
I’ve been looking forward to this post since last week, Wendy. Thank you!
My introduction to author events was over fifteen years ago when Dr. Robert Schuller came to Indianapolis for a signing. The line was out the door! I stood there thinking, “Wow! What a great gig to be an author with all these adoring fans.” Hmmm. Reality check: I’m not in exactly the same position as the Reverend. 🙂 Still, though, I’ll be grateful for any event I can host and hope to treat each one there as if I came just for them (which would be true).
You may be surprised…on one of my signings, the fact that there was a real live writer in the store had the table surrounded, and my wife had to keep people marshaled so as not to block access to part of the store.
* We didn’t expect that, and were unprepared to know how to deal with it – fortunately, the bookstore had ordered extra copies, and we’d brought some of our own…just in case. It was cool while it lasted, but very tiring.
* I think the trick was in how to be approachable…friendly, but not familiar…and speak with a slightly more formal vocabulary than most of the people there. Readers expect authors to be on something of a pedestal, I think, but not one so high that they’re intimidated.
What a nice surprise. I think that’s the exception rather than the rule.
I wanted to make the point that it takes time to build an author’s career to that Robert Schuller-type place. It takes many connections– through books, speaking, meetings, etc.– before an author builds a big enough base to create excitement at an event.
Wendy, I’ve been waiting for this post. It truly is an eye-opening reality check. 🙂 You and your clients work hard to make each of those author events go well. I can see why your four checkpoints are necessary. As I read, I thought about what impact an author book tour has on families. 🙂
It sounds like an author needs to be in the right mindset before embarking on a tour like the ones you described. Ready to work hard, pour yourself out daily, be gracious and patient, and ready to flex if things don’t go as planned. And being as physically ready and prepared as possible for long days and a scattered meal schedule.
I have only been to a few author events. Two friends have made their book releases true celebrations and fun for the people who attended. Of course, these are different from book tours.
Both had drawings for fun prizes. Both themed their release parties around the themes in their books. One with a wedding gown on display, along with other accoutrements from their book. The other had dancing that fit the era with her book. She also had era-consistent music playing. Both authors made it fun to be there. They each engaged with the attendees as they were able.
I think the key to what made it fun for the attendees was the general atmosphere of their party and the way they engaged with people.
That’s the key– to make it an event. And of course, a book launch is another kind of animal. It’s a party peopled by friends, readers and family. Great fun.
One thought on taking names for the mailing list…which I assume will be used in email form…have a dedicated author email, set it up through a provider that provides the best possible anti-hacking filters, and let people know as they sign up that their email is secure. Nothing will kill an email relationship quicker than having yours hacked and used to deliver messages hawking cheap vacations and other, less savoury things.
Absolutely. And don’t just collect those names thinking you’ll enter them in the database later. It can get away from you so fast. It becomes a huge task the longer you put it off.
I was at Lauraine’s book tour in 2013 when she came through near where I live in Ohio. I met both you and Lauraine which I thought was great! The whole presentation was great! Because Lauraine has written so many books there was only a fraction of her books available for purchase.
I agree that Lauraine is very outgoing and a very good speaker. You would of thought this was the first and only stop on her tour which I knew it wasn’t.
What a nice compliment. I have to say, that’s Lauraine. Each stop is her favorite and those people are the only ones that exist for her while she’s with them. So many become friends that it’s hard to separate loyal readers from friends. Each writer is different but Lauraine loves doing this.
I’ve done three bookstore events, one bombed (although there was a spike in sales AROUND the event), one was so-so, and the third was saved only by the fact that I WORKED it. Other types of events have been much better–my book launch at a church, being the special guest at a WV farm dinner, teaching at a workshop . . . In my experience there either needs to be another compelling reason to come OR I need to be able to count on people I personally invite to attend.
From my admittedly limited experience, really working it is the key. If you’re positioned near the main entrance, you really have to be a ‘greeter’. It does not come naturally to me, but knowing that I was working against ‘type’ seemed to help.
* There was another event that was weird, fun, and ultimately successful – doing a workshop for kids whose parents are coming home from combat deployments. I was asked to do it as ‘Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart’ is about a veteran dealing with PTSD. It was part talk, part role-playing, and then I had the kids work in groups on a writing exercise, on how their parents might feel walking in the door to home…asking them to put themselves in their parents’ shoes.
* The ‘at home’ parents came, as well, and it was surprising how many questions they had. There was a definite need, which brings to mind this suggestion –
* If your book addresses broader issues, find a forum in which you can connect with people in that situation. By virtue of having a book out there, you have an assumed place of authority, and it can not only be good for sales, it can be a wonderful and needed ministry. If you’re effective, you’ll generate a lot of word-of-mouth publicity which, I am told, is the best kind you can have.
That’s why doing an event is a great draw. One of the things that works well is offering a workshop pre-signing. How to Get Published or How to v
Create a Writing Group are topics that always gather a group since we know that everyone wants to write a book “someday.”
Wendy, I’d like to ask a question, if I may – if “Emerald Isle” ever sees the light of day, it does center around the “abortion to save the mother’s life” question and I’ve been told by Beta readers that my view is balanced (though ultimately pro-life).
* The question – would this be too controversial a topic for an event? Or would the controversial nature spark interest? (Or would it be dead in the starting gate, event-wise, having been written by a man?)
Wow. very interesting. I would have thought bigger cities would be better for author tours.
It’s easy to see why you would have to be a big author to garner a book tour. I attended a signing event for Dr. Ben Carson when his new book came out, and there was a line down the block, but unless you have a big following like that, it couldn’t be worth the expense.
What is the best way to maintain a “reader database”? Are these people who have signed up for a newsletter or something of that sort?
You need to find a “contact” app for your database or a database program– one that can call up the names by several different fields. Especially by location so you can send an invite to a local group of names when you are doing an appearance in their area.
You collect reader contact information on your website and at your events. Many writers do promotions to get readers to sign up. Door prize slips also work to collect the info.
Writers who only collect email addresses are missing some of the most important data. Ask your readers if you can have their snail mail address for one mailing a year (and send out bookmarks, etc.) and their email address for your email newsletter. Promise them you will not share their contact information or inundate them with emails.
Thanks for the suggestions, Wendy!
This post is rich in information, Wendy, including the comments. I have to agree with the small-town approach, especially since I live in one. Our book store owner provides food and live background musicians for my book signings — things she has come up with on her own. I post a flyer on her door a couple of weeks in advance, send a press release to local and area papers, and announce the signing on Facebook and via my newsletter. But the owner and I have become friends. We’ve developed that magic word: relationship. Andrew’s suggestion to stay on one’s feet is key. I don’t like a table separating me from people, so I stand in front of the display that offers candy, fitting decor, a sign-up sheet, and the basket I’ll be giving away to one of the signers. After the event, I sign any remaining books the store owner has (sometimes none) and people invariably come in the next day regretting that they missed the event. This way the store owner gets ‘points’ for having signed copies available. Yes, these small-town events are so sweet. Of course doing one, two, or three is a whole lot easier than 12 or 20! Wendy, you may need to do a follow-up post on how to pack.
Great suggestions, Davalynn. Especially the press releases you send out. When the writer creates a great press release that highlights the book along with the store at which the signing will be held, you become the store owner’s new best friend. Stores need media coverage and it takes an event to get that coverage. If you do the hard job of writing the press release, you are gold!
Anne Martin Fletcher
What wonderful tips! Thank you to all the comment posters. After attending some disappointing events for friends, I now feel armed to make the best of any opportunity.
Great suggestions. I’ve been to several book signings of local authors hosted by a local bookstore (just closed its doors). They were well attended because the authors had 1. a good topic, or 2. had name recognition in the community. There was a short talk, a reading from the book, Q &A, and bakery cookies from a local eatery. The book store proprietor also featured a Christmas 3-day event featuring local authors. She would send us an email and we went from there. I participated in this venue and found it very interesting to rub shoulders with other local authors. Good suggestions.
Wendy, I hope you read yesterday about my brain changing, that I plan to have an appointment with you, and see Janet September 18 in Dallas! Truly looking forward to seeing you both.
Describing your tours, y’all should come to our small town, Clifton. It’s the Norwegian Capital of Texas, which was formed in 1853 by Cleng Peerson, the Farther of Norwegian Immigration to America, who lived until he died here.
One of my books started is over WWI Norwegian/American letters written to my grandmother in 1918. Currently over 7,000 Norwegians live/work in Houston, and come often to Clifton. I am thrilled for Lauraine’s Norwegian stories, and encourage her to bring herself down in central and south Texas!