We’ve gone on three different book tours within the past year. First for my wife’s newest book (The Peach Rebellion) last May, then for my latest (The 9:09 Project) in Nov/Dec. And since both our books published within 6 months of each other (at different imprints of the same umbrella house), we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go on a “He Said/She Said—Part II*” joint book tour, from which we just returned a couple of weeks ago as I write this.
[*To recap, the original “He Said/She Said” tour was a four-month national book tour covering well over 100 venues. Probably the biggest U.S. book tour of that year. See here for more on it.]
The original post covered the “why” of touring, from a philosophical viewpoint, but I’ve gotten questions about the logistics (aka the nuts & bolts—the who, what, when, where, and how) of setting up and executing a book tour. When I was younger I spent a fair amount of time on the road playing in a few different bands, and many of the logistical lessons I learned on the road still translate well today (and certainly came in handy when we booked that big, crazy tour half a dozen years ago). So let’s dive in…
1. When. The first decision—before you even figure out where you’re going and which stores to visit, is when to tour. Obviously, the best time is when you have a new book out. Throughout the life of most books, the briskest selling period will usually be in the months after release, and you (as well as the Event Coordinators at the stores you’re visiting) will want to capitalize on that. However, if there’s no new release but you have a backlist that sells well, this can also work. Or you could tour with a friend who writes in the same genre who happens to have a book coming out. (Think about how big musical acts tour – their either have a new record out, or they do a “greatest hits” tour, or they do a “package” tour with other like-minded bands who have a similar fan base.)
Then decide how long you want to be out. Realistically, you might average one store an evening, with perhaps one non-store presentation (school, conference, festival, etc.) during the day. (Weekends are different—you can sometimes do stores during the day and evening.) So if you want to present at a minimum of a dozen stores, for example, plan on a couple of weeks. Once you know how long you can be on tour and the rough number of stores you’d like to visit, you can start planning your route.
2. Where. At its most basic, a workable plan looks like this: Pick an efficient route that goes through a number of target-rich environments. (IOW, a major interstate that passes through a bunch of cities and towns that have bookstores.) A loop route is generally better than an out-and-back because you don’t want to hit stores near other stores you’re covering (the stores don’t like it, and you’re drawing from the same well of customers twice) so a circular route gives you twice as much “fresh territory.” (Our overall rule was stores should be at least 20 miles apart, and ideally further. Big cities are an exception, because two stores ten miles apart can have totally different customer bases. This will come up in your conversations with the Event Coordinators at the stores.)
A few factors will help determine the route specifics: where you live, any special places you may have as a goal destination, and desired daily mileage. You can occasionally bang out 500 miles or more in a day when you have to get across a “book desert” to get to another locale, but that’ll wear you out quickly and takes all the fun away. We try not to schedule more than 200 miles for most “normal” tour days. That’s only three or four hours of luxurious sight-seeing per day—broken up by meal stops, etc.—which makes for an easy cruise. (Plus, the goal isn’t to cover the most miles, it’s to visit the most stores, so venues closer together makes for a more efficient tour.)
3. Who. Once you know the basic route, it’s time to look for likely venues along the route. Good sources of info for this: The American Booksellers Association website (click their Find a Bookstore tab, then enter the city you’re currently searching); entering “bookstore” into the Nearby tab on Google Maps when you’re mapping a given location; and word-of-mouth, either from fellow authors, local booksellers (indie stores know each other), or asking for recommendations on social media.
When hunting for likely prospects, you’ll have your own personal criteria. We were looking for indie bookstores which had good connections to their local community, with bonus points for hosting regular book clubs and/or writers’ groups, having a coffee bar, and having a store dog or cat. Number of books in stock might also be a consideration for you… all bookstores are wonderful in their own way, but a store with 5000 books is less likely to carry your titles than one with 50,000 books. Not that this should be a Boolean consideration, however—some of our best (and most successful) visits were at smaller stores.
At first, you’re looking for more initial prospects than you’ll need. (Take the total number of days you’re going to be out and multiply by two or three—ideally two or more in each target city on the route--for reasons we’ll see shortly.) We’ll talk more about the selection process when we get to the “how.”
4. What. This may be the easiest part—deciding what your presentation will consist of. Broadly, there are three categories of signings: the “Sit and Sign,” the “Read and Sign,” and the “Present and Q&A.” We’ll do a deeper dive into these in Part IV, but the critical task here is to come up with a general idea of a presentation that works for you, your books, your audience, and the bookstores you’re visiting. The reason you need to come up with a rough idea now (instead of months down the road when you’ll actually be doing it) is that you have to sell it to the event coordinators at your target venues (more on this in Part II) and if they don’t think you’ll have something of interest to their customers, it’s going to be a much harder sell. My overall advice here is something I’ve reiterated before: the worst way to get people interested in your work is to drone on about it. OTOH, if you come off as interesting or informative, they’ll naturally be inclined to think your book may be likewise, and may check it out. (TL;DR: Do not shout “Buy my book!” at potential readers. It’s bad form… and it never works.)
You don’t need to decide on every detail at this point, just enough to be able to say to the event coordinator, “I have a presentation that covers X, Y, and Z, and I take questions from the attendees. Then I sign for everyone who wants a book, and I’m happy to sign whatever stock you have.”
5. How. Now that we know what we want to do, let’s step through the nuts & bolts of the preliminary actions. Be aware that for a significant tour you’ll want to start this process well in advance of the projected tour dates. Like several months.
1. Buy a big-ass map covering your potential tour area and put it on the wall in your workspace. (We call ours the “war room map,” because that’s what it looks like in the middle of booking a tour.) Get small colored stickers in various colors.
a. We used different stickers for “initial,” “provisional,” and “confirmed.”
b. Don’t highlight your route, because it may (will) change.
2. Start building documents to track all the information discussed below. Use whatever method works best for you, but we ended up with an overall plan and a page for each day of the tour with all pertinent info. (Venue, location, time/date, name of contact, etc.) My wife is brilliant at building informative spreadsheets for this (lucky me!).
3. For each city on your route, look at the list of candidates you compiled in #3 (Who), above, and order them in terms of your preference.
4. Make initial contact with your first choice for each given date/location. (You’re contacting a business with multiple employees, so phone is the best for this.) Introduce yourself, briefly explain you’re setting up tour dates, and obtain/verify Event Coordinator name & contact info (which is the whole purpose of this call).
a. Place an “initial contact” colored sticker at that location.
b. Go to the next target location and do the same. Etc…
5. Contact the Event Coordinator to discuss possible events. (This may happen during the above call, but will usually require a follow-up call or email.) Explain the tour basics and the rough timeframe you’ll be in their area, and get provisional approval. Explain that you’ll circle back to confirm a specific time/date when schedule is finalized.
a. If they pass, go on to your 2nd choice for that location and do the above.
6. Do this for every venue on your route, at every likely city.
a. Again, keep spacing in mind. You don’t want two stores in the same market, but you also don’t want big gaps of several hundred miles if possible.
7. Go back to your first venue and confirm a logical start date/time that works for you and the store. This is your “anchor”--everything will stem from this date. Replace the “provisional” sticker at that location to a “confirmed” one.
a. Gen up and send a ‘confirmation document’ to the event coordinator with all pertinent information.
8. Go to the next store on your route that provisionally approved a visit and book them for the next day.
9. Continue the above, through the rest of your route. Realistically, you’ll still be getting initial approvals for the end of the tour while you’re starting to finalize the early stops. That’s fine, because by that point you can say, “We’re scheduled to come through your area during the middle of the first week of August, so can we pencil in the 3rd or 4th, and we’ll confirm with details in a couple of weeks?”
In Part II we’ll cover some of the details around the scheduling of the signings, booking school visits along the way, and the logistics of booking rooms.
Happy tour planning!
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