Author and New Yorker cartoonist Bob Eckstein recently set out on a book tour of his own devising to promote his book The History of the Snowman. In this four-part series, he outlines his experience, lessons learned along the way, and what up-and-coming authors might expect from their own tours. Read Part 1 and Part 2.
December 6th, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, Stroud Mansion
I was invited to participate in this town’s first snowman festival. This was to be another event where I needed to bring my own books. There would be a suggested donation for the museum and I would keep all the proceeds to any book sales. The space we planned the presentation had a capacity of only 40 people (based on fire restrictions). It was “sold out” days earlier which was nice to know.
The organizers of the snowman festival put me up in a hotel so that I would be available to do local TV starting at 4:30 am. This portion went well. I also brought a portion of my snowman collection to be put on display. Like many previous events, volunteers set up the room and brought refreshments and baked goods. There was many different snowman cookies and tarts. I gave a copy of the snowman book to each volunteer afterwards. They said they are seldom thanked.
For the second time in a row, I started the presentation, first sharing a humorous (fictional) feud I was having with my next door neighbor over the size of the wreaths on our door. With doctored pictures showing the increasing size of the wreaths, this proved again to be a good ice breaker.
I gave a free poster for each book sale—it's difficult to say whether that helped, but the sales were above average. Because the museum knew that there were more people interested in coming than who attended they asked to do a second show early next year and one that would be in the middle of the day so they wouldn’t have to drive at night, a problem people complained about it.
At the Miami Book Fair, one of my reps insisted I consider focusing on more snowman festivals to sell books. This first attempt at that here in Stroudsburg proved I should do take that advice and find venues where I’m a welcome expert in a region that’s a natural fit—think Canada, not Miami.
I kept hearing that I must prefer doing the events where I sell my own books and enjoy the direct profit margin. I’m not sure if all other authors have the same experience, but I do get a lot authors coming up to me with a signed copy of their book and insisting we trade (it used to be I would just get people wanting to tell me their book ideas but with self-publishing, everyone’s got a book in their hands now). Their books are often already personally made out to me and I have little choice but to agree. I have literally, pun intended, many dozens of books on vampires and subjects I have zero interest in piled up in my small NYC apartment.
Or worse, a friend tells me they’ll get a free copy from me later, under the wrong assumption that I have many free copies for friends and family. Two things people are surprised to learn about me: 1) I pay for my own books (I enjoy a 50% discount) and 2) I’m not rich.
I’m not even making enough on sales to make it my primary income, despite my last book being on the New York Times bestseller. The royalties are minuscule, and the advances are not what they used to be. It’s really hard. And even harder, a friend of mine is now making $400K, but she asked for two free copies. I awkwardly explained I pay for my own books. There’s this urban myth that if you are published, you are swimming in piles of money. I wish all my author friends out there luck breaking the news to their inner circle.
December 8th, Hawley, Pennsylvania, Winterfest
This annual event consists of all the local writers in the area. I initially proposed I give my snowman presentation to attract visitors to the library where the Meet the Authors event was to take place, but there was no room due to Winterfest’s most popular event, the Soup Sale in the library.
The popularity of the Soup Sale cannot be exaggerated. Hundreds of attendees line up for a dozen variations of homemade soup. It was if this town has never tasted soup before. The lines went right past the tables where authors and their books, which one would think was a very good thing.
I was the last author to set up on a folding table. Table spots by the entrance are considered premium with a couple of authors arriving hours early to grab them. Late comers get the spots in the back. Some authors sold nothing in the three hours. I was lucky. My book is natural holiday topic whereas someone with a book of poems about their dead pet is a tough sell. As the old saying goes, “Soup sells.”