Books Tours: 7 Things I Learned About Marketing Books

1. Physical tours can still sell a lot of books. I know, I know, lots of people say the book tour is dead. And yes, most authors, even famous authors, don’t draw crowds the way they used to. But at least for the young adult and children’s market, it is still possible to put together an author tour that sells well. How do I know? Here’s a list of the top ten markets for my debut novel, ASHFALL, at the end of November last year as my physical book tour was winding down. The data are from Nielsen Bookscan:

GIVEAWAY: Mike is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: vrundell won.)



Mike Mullin is the author of ASHFALL, about Alex, a teen
struggling to survive and find his family after the cataclysmic
eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. The sequel,
ASHEN WINTER, was released on October 8, 2012. Follow
Mike on Twitter or visit his author website here. Mike is currently
on tour for ASHEN WINTER—if you’d like to see him present,
check the listing of his public tour events here.


The data are from Nielsen Bookscan:

St. Louis, MO*********
Salt Lake City, UT
Cincinnati, OH****
Madison, WI********
Indianapolis. IN***
Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo/Battle Creek, MI*****
Cedar Rapids/Waterloo/Dubuque, IA*********
Columbus, OH**
Boston, MA
Chicago, IL**

The asterisks in the list? The number of events I held at schools, libraries, and bookstores within that market in October and November last year. I visited about a dozen markets, and eight of them wound up in the top ten for ASHFALL sales. When I toured the East Coast in March, Boston and New York shot to the top of the list. Smaller markets I visited like Burlington, VT cracked the top ten, too. Book tours work—in fact, as you read this, I’m on tour to support the sequel to ASHFALL, ASHEN WINTER.

2. What’s the only fool-proof way I’ve found to draw a crowd for a tour stop? Go where there’s a captive audience. I’ve done this literally, visiting juvenile detention centers in Cedar Rapids and Chicago. But mostly this means I do a lot of visits in high schools and junior highs.

This is one area in which writing for children or young adults is a huge advantage. But adult non-fiction authors could use the same tactic. About one in five of the schools I visit request my geology-themed talk, even though my books are fiction (about an eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano). An adult author with a book that meshes with the typical high school curriculum could land a lot of speaking gigs. Eventually, these can develop into a significant source of extra income.

Adult novelists may have to look harder for captive audiences—college classes, conventions, and book clubs come to mind as possibilities. Some books will work for high schools, too—it just depends on the school and the book.

(Are you writing YA like Mike? Agent Claire Anderson-Wheeler seeks young adult submissions now.)

3. Almost every presentation has to serve three distinct purposes. It needs to entertain the audience, serve the needs of the host, and sell books. If you’ve ever tried to entertain even one sleepy teenager at 7:30 a.m., you have a sense of what a challenge this is. Now imagine a gym with 500 of them. I never use a podium and only rarely use slides. Too boring! Instead, I jump around like a rhesus monkey on amphetamines, yelling, running through the audience, and demonstrating taekwondo moves (my books feature a young martial artist). But amid the chaos, I’m talking about reading, writing, and geology—that’s what the teachers and the principal want and what will get me invited back. I normally finish with a reading that ends on a horrible cliffhanger. Want to know what happens next? You’ve got to buy the book!


Props are great!

4. Pack a change of clothing. Yes, even for a show fifteen minutes from your home. I learned this the hard way when I knelt to demonstrate a taekwondo move and my pants ripped open, pretty much from the back of my belt to mid-thigh. In front of an auditorium full of high school students. Not good. On a related note, wear clean underwear.

5. Just say no to all the cupcakes! I gained 30 lbs. during my tour last fall. Everyone will try to feed you cupcakes. I started turning them all down during my spring tour and managed not to gain weight. I’ve taken 10 lbs. off since then, but I’ve got a ways to go to get back to my fighting weight.

(Should you mention self-published books when querying an agent?)

6. Carry a stash of your books. Most venues will be well prepared—they’ll have plenty of your books on hand. But occasionally something goes wrong. So I keep a couple boxes of books that I purchased with my author discount in the trunk. If the bookseller runs out, I can fill in. Don’t sell the books yourself if you can help it—by passing your discount on to whoever is doing book sales at the venue, you’ll earn goodwill that’s worth far more than a few extra bucks on each sale.

7. Props are great! I carry my own model volcano, complete with LED lights and fans to make it “erupt.” Above find the image of the window at Kids Ink Children’s Bookstore in Indianapolis.

GIVEAWAY: Mike is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: vrundell won.)



Writing books/novels for kids & teens? There are hundreds
of publishers, agents and other markets listed in the
latest Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market.
Buy it online at a discount.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
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20 thoughts on “Books Tours: 7 Things I Learned About Marketing Books

  1. Patrece

    I appreciate that you have kindly shared your experience with WD members, such as myself. Even though I am just beginning to get projects underway, I like to stay in the know on ways to better succeed once I am “out there”.
    Thank you again, and Happy Holidays!

  2. sefmac20

    I truly appreciate the advice! As a middle school English teacher, I remember the fear I had when I first stood in front of pre-teens. I hope someday I get to face an audience of them.

  3. Toby.Crowley

    The bit about jumping around like a rhesus monkey on amphetamines sounds a lot like what I do in my extra-curricular history lessons. I’d like to hope that Mike does a better job than I do!

  4. dougero1

    Thanks for the great advice. I don’t guess it’s a good thing that I love cupcakes. The advice you give for keeping a captive audience is priceless. Elementary school for me was way back in the sixties and I’m sure we never had any authors visit the school. What a great idea.Your books sound like something I would like to read and as soon as I’m finished here I’m heading over to amazon. Thanks again for the article.

  5. Dragonlover

    Great advice, I will keep all of that in mind, especially the cupcake warning. LOL! I’m sure it is not easy to keep a gymnasium full of teens capitvated, but it sounds like you are in tune enough to do just that.

    During my school years, we didn’t have authors come in talk to us and as an avid reader since I could read, that would have been awesome.

    Your books sound great too and I fully intend to check them out soon.

    Thanks for you advice.

  6. sparkvoice

    I enjoyed hearing about the captive audience (and meeting the campus’ needs), the extra clothing, and extra books. Nothing like being prepared. Plus, if you don’t use all of the extra electronics you eliminate compatibility and other glitches. You’re making a connection with the audience. As one who’s never been on any type of tour, it was great to hear about your learnings!

  7. Pamela Carey

    Spent a year marketing my first book and lugged along cords for my computer’s power point show, a screen, and lots of books. Although the publisher helped, I’m glad to hear I may never have to do that again!
    Pam Carey

  8. Teresa

    Not that I foresee doing book tours any time soon, but these are great tips to know! Wish I’d spent more time picking your brain yesterday at the Autograph Party…didn’t know you weren’t going to be at the talk afterward or I would have hogged you for a while longer. 🙂 Thanks, Mike (and Chuck)!

  9. megiemaus

    I love hearing from authors who still believe in the value of book tours. I only remember an author visiting my school once while growing up, but it made a huge impact on me. I still remember the story she read. And that’s great advice about using your expertise to speak to school groups, even if your books are aimed at young adults. I have a lot of teacher friends and they are always looking for guest speakers to come in and keep things interesting for their students.

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  11. Lina Moder

    Those are great tips – no slides, no podium. It’s wonderful that Mike keeps things active in his talks, and doesn’t just do a reading!

    The book sounds awesome as well:) Yellowstone is so beautiful, but knowing what it can do to the country, and seeing how a teen reacts? That’s such a unique concept:)

    linamoder at gmail dot com


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