Friday, March 28, 2008

How to Build a Book Tour Audience - Part I

Many authors are leery of doing book tours, not only because it's expensive to travel across the country, but also because it's difficult to create a good-sized audience. How can a relatively unknown writer hope to guarantee crowds at signings? Here are some suggestions (with more to follow in a later post) to help put butts in the chairs, and hopefully, ring up sales:

Sign in Cities Where You Know People
This sounds like a no-brainer, but I've had clients insist on appearing in cities like New York, Chicago, or Washington, D.C., when they don't know anyone there. Being an unknown makes setting up signings difficult in the first place, but if you go to a city where you don't know anyone, chances are you'll have a hard time filling the seats. Instead, consider places where you know people – the town where you grew up, the city where you worked at that start-up company that now owns half the block, the places your college roommates live, etc. Don't just think big city or target market demographics – instead, focus on places where you can call up half a dozen people and get them to each bring a friend to your signing (or at least post a notice at work in the company break room).

Schedule Your Signings Wisely
At Areopagitica Books in Columbus, Ohio, bookstore owners Doug and Rebecca Rutledge suggest holding a signing at one o'clock in the afternoon on Saturdays. Why is that a preferred time? "Because," Doug says, "the farmer's market next door lets out then, and the overflow crowd tends to come into the bookstore to browse afterward." Likewise, James Jackson at The Know Bookstore in Durham, North Carolina, recommends holding signings at seven o'clock on Friday evenings, right after the weekly jazz session that's held in the adjacent café. If you don't have a lot of fans, or aren't familiar with the city where you're signing, scheduling your reading right after a nearby or in-store event can help draw interested listeners in to hear you without costing you a dime in advertising.

Think Outside the Bookstore Box
Many authors automatically want to hold readings at the big chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders, small independent book stores, libraries and, depending on the topic, schools and universities. But there are lots of other options for book signing venues. If your book has a non-fiction topic or is specialty-based, you might consider finding related outlets for that particular bit of information. For example, if you've written a cookbook, you may be welcome at a local bakery or restaurant that features your style of cooking. If your novel has a romantic theme, you might consider speaking at a romance writers meeting or at one of the local singles get-togethers. Got a book with a political spin? There are numerous Democratic, Republican, and Green clubs looking for speakers on any number of topics. Written a civil war historical? Find one of the many reenactment clubs, and ask if you can speak at the next meeting.

Don't be afraid to look for enticing or rarely considered venues as possible outlets. Museums, concert halls, churches – any place where people gather is a potential venue for book signings. Camille Forbes, author of Introducing Bert Williams: Burnt Cork, Broadway, and the Story of America's First Black Star, recently gave a reading at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York. "The cemetery signing was a great start to my book tour," she says. "The audience had a unique vested interest in Williams, since he’s buried there." Not your typical venue, but people came, and she sold books.

Also, be sure to maximize your website as a place where interested readers can find ways to hear you speak. Contests are a great way to promote your book on the web and the possibilities are endless. You can run contests for phone interviews with book clubs, or even follow the lead of one enterprising writer, who offers a contest for filmmakers, allowing them to create entries using scenes from his novel.

Monday, March 17, 2008

To Sign or Not to Sign: Why Writers Should Consider Doing Book Signings

I recently attended a writers' conference where the instructor (a published writer himself) asked me to give a brief talk about book publicity and then privately confided that he thought book signings were a waste of time. I've heard similar rumblings from other authors and understand where they're coming from. Most of us have witnessed a book signing where the author sits at a table in a crowded bookstore with only two people (one of them most likely his mother) in the audience. Or perhaps, as a new author, you've had the first-hand experience of arriving for your signing to discover that the store personnel didn't even know you were coming. They couldn't locate your books, scrambled to set up a table for you, and then left you to try to scrape up a crowd on your own.

The Benefits of Book Signings
Despite these worse-case scenarios, there are hidden benefits to doing book signings. Yes, they're time consuming, and the travel costs can hit your bank account pretty hard. And for those who don't like to speak in front of an audience, reading your work in front of strangers can be downright scary. But book-signings can help you make tremendous inroads into reaching your reading audience. And a good book tour, as part of a complete promotional plan that includes targeted advertising, a strong web presence, effective media coverage, and good distribution, can really get your sales going. Here's how:

Creating Buzz
When you have a book signing at a store, a percentage of those in the audience (usually at least half of them) will buy your book. Of that percentage, the majority are likely to read it. If they like it, they'll tell others about it, or even pass your book along. As we all know from success stories about breakout books like Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, The Da Vinci Code, and Memoirs of a Geisha, many big name hits became that way not because of the publishers' promotions, but because one person told another person, "You must read this book." As people tell others about your book, you're creating "buzz," one of the most successful sales tools in the business. And one of the best ways to create buzz, is to get out there and talk directly to readers.

Motivating Bookstores to Stock Your Book
You can sell your books via Internet links,, catalogs, and on your own website. But you can also maximize those sales by asking the book stores where you've held a signing to stock your book. If you did a good job of filling the seats at your book signing (a subject we'll cover in a future article), the bookstore manager should be willing to order at least a couple more copies for their shelves. If the store keeps the promotional material around from your signing, they should be able to sell those copies. And if you're willing to come in and sign the additional copies, they'll move fast.

Also, some bookstores have their own bestseller lists. If you held a successful signing and sold all of the books ordered for it, chances are you'll land on the store's bestseller list. After a few weeks, (if your book is good) you might climb to the top of the list. Your publicist can use that news to sell other bookstores on hosting signings and to get you radio, television, and print interviews.

Even if bookstore managers won't let you do a signing (many of them don't have the space), your publicist can ask if they'd still be willing to order your book. Most managers are willing to stock a couple of copies. If those copies sell, you're on your way to more orders.

Getting Engaged
Like most authors, you probably toil alone in your home office, writing your heart out about subjects that matter deeply to you. Getting out and talking with readers is one of the best ways to share that passion and create a dialogue about the book itself. Those who attend your signings get to hear firsthand why you wrote the book and what you feel is good about it. They get to know you in person, ask you questions, and hear answers on the spot. And they'll tell you what they think about the subject. This exchange lets readers feel engaged in the process. And, as most sales people will confirm, a person who feels some emotional investment in the product is more likely to buy it.

Reaching Out
Many writers, fiction and nonfiction alike, write because they have something important to tell the world. And authors like to connect with their readers. One of my clients, who wrote a novel about being black in a white world of business, says that the people he's met at book signings have had a huge impact on his life. He's had young African Americans come up to him after his signings to discuss their dreams of being successful in the working world. He's mentoring some of them now and has built a network of email contacts with a number of people he's met as a result of his book signings. "It's been the most important part about being an author," he says. "I realize that I'm making a difference in someone else's life."

What author wouldn't want to do that?