My book Forgetting English came out twice—once from Eastern Washington University Press, after winning the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction—and again, from Press 53, after EWU Press closed its doors.
On one hand, it was awful to have my publisher shut down and leave me out of print. On the other hand, I got to have a second book tour, with an updated edition of my book and a spiffy new cover.
Among the best things I learned from doing two book tours for the same book, two years apart, is that The Book Tour comes in many different shapes and forms. However, the old days of publisher-sponsored, multi-city book tours are, for the most part, long gone. These days, the vast majority of authors must plan, pay for, and publicize their own book tours—no small task. And for writers who don’t have a background in publishing, publicity, or marketing, it can seem even more intimidating.
But the challenges are well worth it, and the rewards can be great. Here are a few things to consider as you begin to think about planning a tour that will best fit your needs.
1. Go where your friends are.
Choose venues that you know will draw a decent audience, i.e., always plan book tour stops and events in places where you know at least a few people who will show up, bring friends, and otherwise make sure you’ll have a nice showing.
If you’re doing mostly local or regional events, spread them out so the venues aren’t competing with one another. When Forgetting English first came out in 2009, I was living in Seattle, where I did about a dozen book events—but I spread them out over the course of the year. The venues didn’t have to compete for customers since similar events were spaced months apart.
2. Team up with a fellow writer.
For my 2011 tour, I teamed up for many events with my friend and colleague Wendy Call, author of No Word for Welcome. Because our books have similar themes (both are about foreign locales, though mine is fiction and Wendy’s is nonfiction), we thought it would be great to offer joint events, with something for all readers, and we received enthusiastic responses from booksellers, community writing centers, and libraries. Best of all, we shared the workload (the cold calls, follow-ups, and creation of marketing materials), as well as the fun stuff (great events, great people, lots of wine). Even better, we could commiserate over the not-so-fun stuff (the rejections, the small crowds, the low book sales).
If your book is a good fit with another writer’s, consider setting up a few joint events, which can offer a great way to share the experience as well as broaden your audience.
3. Think outside the bookstore.
Certain times of year (holidays, for example) can be nearly impossible for scheduling bookstore events. And sometimes, no matter what the time of year, a bookstore may be booked already, or your schedules won’t align. So always be thinking beyond the bookstore.
Libraries, for example, are always open to author events, particularly if the author is local and there’s an educational component to your book or presentation. Also, look for community centers or literary centers such as The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Grub Street in Boston, Richard Hugo House in Seattle, or San Diego Writers Ink in San Diego. Among the places I’ve read or attended readings are museums and galleries, cafés, universities and colleges, book clubs, historical societies … the list is endless once you start brainstorming the possibilities.
If your book is nonfiction, this in and of itself can help you find good venues. if you’ve written a book with an environmental theme, for example, seek out organizations that embrace this theme and see how you can help one another. And fiction writers, too, should look for the same opportunities—simply use your fictional characters and settings in nonfictional ways. If your protagonist is an artist, hold an event at a local arts center or in an artist’s studio; if your book is set in Thailand, host an event at a Thai restaurant; if your main character is a barista, get readers together at a local café.
You might also ask someone you know to host a literary salon, a great way to find new readers and talk about your book in a more private, casual setting. Ask a friend (even someone in another city/state, where you’ll be able to reach out to new readers) to host a salon for you at his or her home. Bring copies of the book to sell; provide whatever food, wine, etc., you’d like at the event. Then simply plan a casual gathering around your book, which might include a brief reading, discussion, and Q&A.
Research book festivals and conferences around the country, and see which ones you might attend as a reader, presenter, or instructor. Book festivals and conferences all have built-in literary audiences, and it’s also a great way to connect with fellow authors. Keep in mind that most festivals and conferences schedule up to a year in advance, so do your research early.
4. Offer something more than reading.
Unless you’re a writer whose mere presence in a bookstore will guarantee a line out the door, offer more than a traditional reading/signing. You want the event to be a win-win, so that you not only find new readers but are invited back enthusiastically when you publish your next book.
Because Forgetting English is set in eight countries across four continents, for many of my events I offered a travel-writing workshop, which brings in not only readers but writers and travelers as well. Even if no one’s ever heard of me or my writing (which is, in fact, most people), those who love to travel or write will show up to learn something. On our joint tour, Wendy and I held several mini-workshops, and we received terrific feedback from these events. Even if an event isn’t specifically about your book, you’re giving participants an opportunity to get to know you, which in turn will build interest in your work.
5. Try a virtual book tour.
This is a great option if you don’t have the time or budget to do in-person events. You’ll do many of the same things you’d do on a live, in-person tour—create buzz for your book, find new readers, and chat about your book. Keep in mind that, while virtual, this type of book tour still takes a lot of planning: You need to connect with host bloggers or websites, come up with original topics to write about, answer Q&As, and promote your tour. It’s also good practice to offer a giveaway of your book whenever you do a guest post or Q&A during a virtual tour. (Note: There’s a new service focused on virtual book events, Shindig, that you might want to consider as part of your online tour. Google Hangouts is another good option.)
- To properly schedule events, you’ll need to do some planning: create a proposal, follow up by e-mail and by phone, and work out the details with the event coordinator of the venue. During the four to six months before your book release date, set aside at least thirty minutes a day—more, if you can—to devote to scheduling your events.
- Create lists of cities for events, of possible venues, of writers you can team with, etc. Spending just a few minutes a day on these lists will let them simmer in head, and spark new combinations and possibilities. After a few list-making sessions, you’ll have the beginnings of your book tour ready to go.
- As you go about your everyday life, open your eyes to the possibilities for promoting your events—look for bulletin boards (at local businesses, cafés, community centers, etc.) where you can post flyers, and seek out local newspapers and magazines you may not normally read as potential recipients of your press releases.
- Picture yourself at one of your events. Imagine what section of your book you might read; imagine the questions you’ll get; envision a workshop you might offer. Think of new and different places for events. Let your imagination wander—you’ll find all sorts of possibilities arising from these daydreaming moments.