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.”
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 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?
Stoughton! I was born there, marched the Syttende Mai parade every year I was in high school (17th of May – Norway’s Constitution Day). I just sent my mom a message about the event – she faithfully reads Lauraine’s books. But she doesn’t drive out of town at night. She’ll have to find a fellow Snelling fan to go with her. Shouldn’t be a problem in that neck of the woods!
If only you were coming to Connecticut!!
*I love that your authors know their audience so well that they even know where they live! I love the idea of only traveling to small towns and making meaningful connections with readers.
Few things will help a new author stay humble quite like doing a signing at a major bookstore. At my first B&N signing it was just me and a table of books. The #1 question was–are these your books? I felt like a Girl Scout with stale cookies. At my second B&N visit we did an event in combination with the local literacy council. They invited their list and I invited mine which didn’t exactly pack out the space, but we did have a respectable gathering that drew the attention of passers by and sold some books.
I’ve definitely learned that merely having a couple of books in print doesn’t attract a crowd. Without some “hook” I’m just another salesperson sitting behind a table. My BEST signings have been back home in WV where I’ve participated in farm-to-table dinners hosted by a local chef. I talk and read while people eat amazing food. I connect my stories to the hills and hollers all around us. And people buy my books. You’re so right, Wendy. You have to find your audience and then love on them.
“Hills and hollers” … I love that, Sarah. 🙂 Yes, there definitely has to be a hook … and bookstores should offer something amazing and fun for people who show up, because it just helps them, too. I got tickled thinking about a funny show I saw recently … how a person started attracting attention just by looking up, acting like they were looking at something interesting … people stopped what they were doing to investigate what the person was viewing. It was hilarious. I’m not entirely sure the full lesson in that … but it has to be something like–showing excitement about our works and confidence (even when we lack it) that we have something great to offer might just be attractive. 🙂 And a lesson in “looking up” is in there, too … it’s amazing what God can do for us. Because sales and marketing take me way out of my comfort zone. 🙂
Kristen Joy Wilks
Wow, that does sound exciting. But I’m an introvert who has infrequent wild bursts of social energy followed by hiding with a book and some chocolate to recover. I could see really enjoying one or two stops maybe three, but would really need a lot of chocolate for more. Although, put me in a Bible Camp setting and my social energy lasts longer. I love camp! I can handle skits, crowdbreakers (can you say digging gummy worms out of pudding with your feet and feeding them to a friend!) and singing Pharaoh Pharaoh with all the hand motions just fine. I’ve been taking photos for our little Bible Camp’s facebook page this summer and it is a good reminder to me that your energy lasts longer when it is something you truly love.
Kristen, it’s good to know your limits, and to know what energizes you (chocolate can only go so far, after all . . . 😉 )
Wish I could be there to meet you, but it’s a bit of a drive from New Mexico.
* I never did a tour, but quite a few signings (and the publisher wants to set up more, but I’m really not well enough), and I loved them. Meeting readers was fun.
* It was just me (and Barbara, as she always came along) and a table with a stack of books, but things always seemed to hum along, and we never left until there were no more copies to sell.
* There were some things I learned –
1) Bring along something to drink, because you’ll be talking. A lot.
2) Remain standing, and make eye contact with people as they come up. It makes you more approachable.
3) Don’t let anyone monopolize you, even someone whom you’d like to talk to longer. It’s not why you’re there, and sets up a sort of ‘inner circle’ ambience that puts others off.
4) Breath mints or Binaca.
5) Wear comfortable clothing, especially shoes.
6) Offer freebies that work for you over time, like bookmarks, key-rings, and refrigerator magnets.
* If I were going to do a book tour, I’d add these –
A) Build in spiritual time, whether you pray or meditate. Time spent with the Almighty is doubly necessary under these circumstances…and far too easy to misplace.
B) Don’t drink, smoke, or eat spicy foods during the tour, as stress will force waste byproducts through your pores. Even a good time can be stressful.
C) Exercise if at all possible, even if it just means choosing to walk to a meal rather than drive.
D) Try to attend a church service at least once during the trip. Many Catholic churches still offer daily Mass, usually in the early morning, and priests are usually delighted to have visitors. Conducting daily Mass is part of the office (they do it alone if no one’s around), and the weekday Mass is usually short and delightfully informal.
* When I gave history lectures at American Concrete Institute conferences, they were usually standing-room-only; I had a reputation for giving a good talk, and enjoyed the subject. The one thing I learned, quickly, was not to alter my conversational style. Don’t freeze yourself to the podium; if you move around and talk with your hands, do it. just talk like you’re with a small group, or even one person. Don’t try to be extra-precise or highfalutin’ in your speech, and if you, like, say, like, you know, ‘like’ a lot, let it flow. No one’s counting, and if you become a puppet you’ll just be stilted and boring.
* Sorry for the long comment – it brought back memories of other times, and was kind of fun to write. Wish I could do this kind of thing, again and for the first time.
This is a great list, Andrew. I can’t eat AT ALL before speaking. No. Just no. So afterwards, I’m starving. And yes, have water handy. That time I spoke just 2-1/2 weeks after my appendectomy … I was so weak, y’all. I had never been thirstier in my life. I could see the water … I just couldn’t reach it. Thank goodness the thirst passed and didn’t bother me anymore … but for a minute, I thought I might faint. Now, I would just ask someone to get the water for me … probably my mother, since she always likes to be there with me. 🙂
My husband is a huge fan of Craig Johnson (Longmire) We have been to a couple of his signings. One was held in a library with several authors on the roster, another was a luncheon held in a Western Museum. Craig is a natural story teller and entertaining speaker. Good crowds at both events.
*Wendy, your story about the small town of Ulen made me
Sounds so wonderful! Praying for your events and wishing I could attend one.
*A few years ago, I would never have been able to say touring & speaking sounds appealing. Speaking is one of my greatest fears. So I sort of have a love/hate relationship with speaking. But after a few years of speaking and sharing my personal testimony, I’d love this opportunity. I don’t know why God has been allowing this in my life and pushing me out of my comfort zone. Maybe just to show me that I can do all things through Him. But speaking is getting easier for me. That’s a “Yay, God!”
*One thing that really helped at my last speaking engagement–the group met me when I arrived and unloaded my vehicle, even set my stage for me. I was so grateful to them … they saved my energy. And one thing I always do because I’m not a techy person–I always make a techy connection beforehand. I want to ensure my equipment will work, that I’ll be able to use my PowerPoint. And when you speak in small city old churches, that can be a challenge. 🙂
*And I love that Gabrielle Meyer. I so enjoyed meeting her at the ACFW Conference last year. She is a gracious, loving person, y’all. The person who is agented loving on the person who isn’t agented … it just melts your heart. And at the gala, she asked to take a picture with me. I can’t tell you how that blessed me. That’s what I love about the B&S clients and the people here in this blog community. I’m so blessed to be reading Gabrielle’s published book–A Mother in the Making–and it’s so sweet.
I chuckled at the wine-tasting-silent-auction-booksigning event. That sounds perfect! But I suppose it would be difficult to recreate, outside of Ulen. 🙂
But the next time you come to Glendale, Arizona (preferably sometime between October 31st and April 30th), plan a stop at Crossroads Books & Coffee. Their booksigning for Mona Hodgson boasted homemade lemon bars and recipes!
Wendy,I wish lived near one of those towns! It would be so fun to come and see you and meet Lauraine!
*I appreciate your reality checks with author tours. It seems to make a lot of sense to have something else tied to the event. As in an author talk, or a wine tasting, or as Sarah mentioned, something that appeals to the locals in the area. I love the idea of a farm-to-table meal. Maybe that’s just my stomach speaking. 🙂 Having a “hook” to draw in more people seems important if you are going to draw people to an author event.
*One thing I’m hearing through your post and the comments is that connecting the readers to your book is key . . . Whether it’s through tying in the theme or what the local readers are interested in/will relate well to. Sorry about my terrible grammar. I’m processing my thoughts and trying to put them into words. 🙂
I’ve already told you about my one dismal, hoopskirted appearance at a B&N, so I won’t go there again. For my novel releasing this fall, I have three appearances scheduled so far: a launch party at a Christian-owned coffee shop where I’m a regular, in my town where I know lots of people; a writers’ conference where I’m speaking; and a multi-author appearance at my local library. In everything but the launch party, I’m joining with other authors, which I think is the way to go for an unknown like me.
At an appearance for one of her WWII novels, Sarah Sundin held swing-dance lessons. I thought that was a great idea, because it offered something other than just the book. People could come to swing-dance, and learn about the book and author along the way. If they were browsing in the store, the music would have drawn them over to the signing. Plus there were great photo-opps to share on social media afterward.
Thank you Wendy! This has been a wonderful reality check. I had just started thinking about setting up local venues to promote my first book, Sketchy Tacos, which comes out next year. Your post has been great for helping me set up realistic expectations. I wish you all the best on your upcoming tour!
Kathy Sheldon Davis
Really, there is such a thing as Unalaska Place and Onalaska, Wisconsin? Fascinating! My dad grew up in Onalaska, Washington, so that stop on your tour caught my eye.
It’s clear you love your work, Wendy, which makes you a delight to read.