Unless you’re super famous or your publisher has big dreams for your book, you probably won’t be given your own, paid-for book tour. If you’re self-published, you don’t even have a chance of having someone pay you to tour. Not getting an all expense paid book tour isn’t a necessarily a reflection of your writing, but more if you have established yourself as a writer. If you want a book tour, what do you do, then?
You go it alone and set up your own tour. Before you decide to go on the road, though, you must decide whether the expense is worth it. Will you generate enough exposure and sales to offset the costs of the tour, or would you be better served by finding some other ways to promote your work? If you’re still set on going on tour, here are some tips for organizing your own tour.
Establish a budget
It’s important to establish a budget and to look for ways to cut costs. Figure out how much you can spend and allocate that money most effectively. You probably won’t be able to visit every city you want to visit, so choose which places will give you the most bang for your buck. Also, look into staying with friends or family to cut costs, or doing a tour of places that are within driving distance of your home to avoid expensive airfare.
Send out copies
Don’t just show up somewhere and hope they’ll let you read. Send out copies to bookstores and other places beforehand to gauge interest. If someone writes back and says, “This book isn’t for us,” you can mark that off your list and not waste money going there. If they are interested, you can follow up and add them to your list of places to visit.
Consider teaming with another writer
If you know another writer in your field or whose work is similar to yours, consider teaming up. A bookstore may be more willing to have two of you appear rather than just taking a chance on one unknown author. If your teammate has some credibility already, so much the better. If you trust and are friendly with the other writer, you may be able to share hotel rooms and rental cars, reducing the costs for you both.
Don’t limit yourself to bookstores
Bookstores aren’t the only places where you can appear. Conventions and conferences that are about your field or tied to your book’s theme are good choices. If your book is set in a certain location you might try tourism boards or similar places. There are also libraries, community centers, senior centers, book clubs, and schools/universities if your material is applicable.
Think beyond a standard reading
If you can teach a class in something or speak about your topic, pitch yourself as a speaker rather than just a reader or book signer If a store can bill your event as a learning opportunity they may be more willing to have you visit than if you simply plan to read from your book (which no one has heard of). You’re often more valuable as an educator than an author.
Consider a virtual book tour
If you don’t have the money to do a regular tour, you can consider a virtual tour. You connect with book bloggers around the country and agree to write guest posts, run some giveaways, do a podcast, and/or take questions from readers. You can also do virtual chats or readings through Skype or similar. It still requires a lot of planning and time on your part, but it costs very little.
Go where people know you
If you don’t know a soul in New York, it might not be worth going there. Think of places where you know people who can help you. Where did you go to school? Can you go back to your hometown? Do you have a lot of friends living in one city? Go places where your friends and family can help get the word out and drive people to your event.
Practice efficient scheduling
Once you figure out where you’re going, organize your schedule for efficiency. You don’t want to be flying back and forth across the country ten times. Proceed from city to city in a logical and cost effective order.
Practice your pitch
When you’re ready to start calling bookstores and other places to set up your appearance times, be prepared. Don’t wing it. Know who you’re calling (find out who handles events and ask for that person), and have prepared what you’re going to say. Be clear on who you are and what you’re offering (a reading, a class, etc.) Be professional. If you go in unprepared, or ask, “Um, what do other authors do?” the other person is likely to dismiss you. Quickly.
Alert the media
Call local newspapers and other media in the cities you’ll be visiting to see if you can wrangle any coverage of your time in their city. You may not get any interest, but then again you might so it’s worth a try.
Pay attention to the logistics
Make sure your books are shipped to each location with time to spare before you appear. Will you have to ship other promotional items, as well? Know how you will get around each city. Should you get lodgings with a kitchen to save money, or are there reasonably priced eateries nearby? Are you leaving enough time between appearances to deal with transportation or weather delays? There are plenty of details to consider besides just booking the appearance at a venue.
It is possible to organize your own book tour, even within tight budget constraints. To maximize your investment, do some advance planning and research and make sure that touring will give you the return you expect or need. Touring isn’t the end all, be all. There are lots of other ways to promote your work. Touring can be fun or it can be a nightmare. Try to prepare as much as you can in advance to prevent the nightmare scenario.
(Photo courtesy of Jonathan Clede)