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.)
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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.)

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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!

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.)

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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

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