Book tours are a wonderful way to connect with readers. Indie author John Peragine shares his experience planning his latest book tour for his book Iowa Wine.
It was one of the hottest days in July when I walked into the small indie bookstore in Ankeny, Iowa. I hoped that the triple digit weather would not keep away my fans. As I walked in, I spied a table covered in a cloth. There were two bottles of wine that bookended the tabletop with a neat stack of books in between. Posters around the store announced that I would be signing books today. Across from my table was another table covered in wine bottles. An owner from a local winery was setting up a wine tasting to hopefully to drive some extra traffic into the store.
It was Day 10 of my trek across the Midwest on my recent book tour. I released a sigh of relief as people began to gather and buy copies of my latest book, A History of Iowa Wine.
There is a belief that book tours are dead. That they are an outdated strategy that died in the '90s of connecting with readers. However, I believe that book tours are a lucrative strategy when properly executed, and when planned well enough in advance, can help you sell books and be a lot of fun.
My book tour journey started a year before the release of my book. I made it a point to connect with wineries, librarians (demigods), and indie bookstore owners (superheroes). I spent time talking to them about my book, what I hoped to accomplish with it, and how I could partner with them to do a presentation or a book signing with them. The response was overwhelming, and the dates began filling up in my calendar.
Since my son (aged 7) was home for the summer, I made sure to include him as my wing man on the road. It is an experience he will not soon forget. He loved every cheap hotel room, bad food choice, and lugging books in and out of my trunk. I did not become a millionaire author on the road, but the experience was priceless.
Here are four lessons I learned about planning a successful book tour:
Connect An Event To Your Book
Since there are so many people now publishing books, it pays to be creative about how you draw people in. Most of us are not recognizable names in the industry, so we must strategize about how to get people to come in, talk to us, buy our book, and most importantly, remember the experience. The experience is what gets them to tell their friends about you and will have them looking for your next book.
Find some way to connect your event to your book. This works whether you write fiction or nonfiction. For example, if you are writing a children’s book, have face painting, coloring, cupcakes, or a bubble party. Happy children make happy parents. Happy parents buy books.
In my case, my book was about wine. Whether my venue was at a bookstore, farmer’s market, or even a library, I contacted a local winery. They were all glad to come host a free wine tasting. It was a win for winery, the bookstore, and me. If nobody showed, I at least got to drink free wine for two hours. I have considered that maybe my next book should be about whisky.
Have a No Return Policy
Book returns can be difficult and expensive. Sometimes bookstores will order books from the publisher, and other times you will be bringing your own books. If I don’t sell all of the books, I talk to the bookstore manager about buying the rest of the books I brought to the signing or allowing me to buy the books back from them at wholesale. I save money and can then resell the books. If they are returned, I could owe money for the shipping or the books may be destroyed. I also offer to sign extra books at the bookstore before I leave. This makes them much harder to return.
At the end of each book signing, I approached the winery who partnered with me. I would ask if they would like to buy 20 or more books at a discount. I would sign the books and they would pay me on the spot. It worked at every one of my book signings. My goal was to try to sell every book I could, even if the turnout was not very large.
Plan Media Coverage
Whether you self-publish or traditionally publish, much of the logistics and cost of your book tour are on your shoulders. No one else is going to be more passionate about selling your book than you. If you want media coverage, you have to reach out to people on your own. Be prepared with a one sheet (a quick description of your book, where to buy it, and the cost).
Do your research. Find out the right reporter at a paper or producer for a television show. Offer them a copy of your book. Some will ask for electronic versions, while others want a hard copy. If you are working with a traditional publisher, they will often send out galley copies to the media. Self- publishers should be able to purchase some copies wholesale to send on their own. This is the cost of marketing of marketing your book.
Timing is important. Don’t wait until the last minute to contact the media. Most of my media contacts were done a few months before the book was released. In some cases, a reporter came out to a signing or presentation and reported on it after the fact.
You are also your own reporter. Use social media channels to your advantage. I had a list of places I was going to sign books on Facebook. I made sure I took pictures and posted them on all my social media channels during and after each event.
What do you do in the case of not many people showing up? I set up shots of people sitting and watching me from unique angles and had people line up and pose as I signed books. No, that’s not cheating!
I am at the age now that if something is not fun, then I just don’t want to do it. It can be a blow to your ego when not many people show up for a book signing, so I always planned something fun each trip. I would eat somewhere new or visit somewhere I had not been before. My son and I loved swimming at the hotel pool or sitting outside to roast marshmallows.
Selling books is of course important, but it is the people I met and the memories that I made that were the real magic of the tour.
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