Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Hard, Cold Reality of “Book Tours”

I leave for Oshkosh, Wisconsin on Friday afternoon. I’m headed off to stay with a friend of a friend and stop into OshCON and do a signing at Apple Blossom books in Appleton.

Before I was published, I had this crazy idea that publishers arranged and paid for authors to go on book tour. They don’t. At least, they don’t pay for mine. No doubt there are some authors who get the royal treatment of fifty states in fifty days, the tab picked up by Houghton Mifflin or Penguin USA or whoever, but that’s a select few… and, more to the point, no one *I* know.

How did I end up doing the signing in Appleton, you ask?

Well, sometime after my book first came out in May this friend of a friend in Oshkosh read Tall, Dark & Dead and loved it. He’s also involved with OshCON and he emailed me to see if I was interested in attending the con in October. I said I was, but it’s a bit of a drive for me (several hours by car) and I have a young family at home who will have to make arrangement to survive the weekend on their own. Sensing my hesitation, Phil (my friend of a friend) sweetened the deal: how about I see if I can help you arrange a signing at one of my local bookstores? Or maybe two? “Oh,” I typed, my eyes twinkling, “That’s starting to sound worth it. Especially if you’re willing to make initial contact.”

Because while I love to do signings – what could be cooler than people coming up to YOU and asking for your signature on a book they loved? – I HATE arranging them, especially in places where I’m not local.

I’m not a shy person, but there’s still something in me that inwardly cringes when I have to dial a bookstore’s number and try to convince them that I’m a good bet for a signing. The thing that you may not know about book signings is that they rarely sell a lot of books. I’ve been told by booksellers that if you sell a half a dozen (that’s SIX) you’ve done really well. Many times a bookstore will only order several copies knowing that even those might not “move,” which backfired once… I had a signing in my hometown. It was my first published book. I got some media attention – the Sunday paper ran a huge article the day of the signing, plus my parents told everyone who had ever known me – fifty people showed up. Great for me, except the book store had ordered fifteen copies. Luckily, I’d thought ahead and brought book plates to sign. After that, I started carrying extra copies in my car, though I’ve only had cause to use them once since then.

Normally, it’s crickets. The resounding sound of emptiness.

The class I took in publicity said that the point of book signings is not to sell books, it’s to talk to booksellers and get them excited about “hand selling” (talking up your book to customers who ask, “What’s good?”). Even though I know that’s what I’m supposed to expect, it’s still disappointing to drive (eight minutes or eight hours) to sit in a mostly empty bookstore with that wistful, yet doomed expression of someone whose date is never going to show….

When book signings are local, I can do something to mitigate that depressing experience. I can print up and send out postcards announcing the signing a week or a month in advance to my friends, acquaintances, people to whom I’ve taught classes, etc. Then, usually, some people show up. When the signings are out of town, like this one will be, I’m at a loss as to what I can do. Now that I’m writing romances, there’s the possibility of contacting the local RWA chapter and seeing if they will, at least, run a notice in their newsletter to members… but, this brings me right back to that slimy feeling of asking people to do something for me that doesn’t net them much in return.

A more robust self-promoter than myself would send off press-kits to the area newspapers in hopes that somehow I will have written a press release that makes an Oshkosh reporter psyched that an out-of-towner that has no connection what-so-ever to their city has come to sign one of a million paranormal romance. It’s a tough sell. What usually happens is I work like a dog to come up with a clever hook about my work, write up and print out the press releases, gather up reviews and articles about me for a press kit, go to the effort to make them pretty, yet accessible, spend the money to ship them off…

…And get zero response.

So, I'm off to Oshkosh to listen to their crickets. Wish me luck?

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