The Book Tour: A Dinosaur?

Signing-at-OUACI’m about to embark on another book tour.  This will be my tenth.  Let me tell you about a book tour.

When I began publishing nearly a dozen years ago, the prevailing wisdom was that book tours were an essential part of the promotion of a new work.  The idea, not a bad one, was that readers would be interested in seeing authors in person and hearing what they had to say.  A lot of time, money, and energy went into the planning and execution of a book tour.  The results of the tour were tracked by publishers: How many sales resulted from each store event?  How did the store feel about the event?  Was the event perceived as successful?  For some authors, the cost of the tour was clearly worth the expense.  For others, the results were less clearly favorable—in terms of sales, anyway.  That’s how it was for me, in the beginning.

With my first book, Iron Lake, readers stayed away in droves.  It wasn’t uncommon for me to travel a great distance for an event at which were present only me, the bookseller, and the bookseller’s cat.  I planned and paid for that first tour.  Despite the general lack of crowds at my signings, I never viewed an event as unsuccessful, for several reasons.  First, I was able to make a personal contact with a bookseller.  This was the person who, I knew, would hand sell my work, book after book.  Second, I did sell books.  Booksellers generally told me that as a result of the display both before and after the event, many customers bought Iron Lake.  And third, those few readers who came to an event gave me terrific confirmation for the job I’d done, not only in the writing but in my personal presentation.  I was, they assured me, a big hit.

heavenskeepcakeOver the years, the glow of the book tour has dimmed.  Not for me, but for a lot of writers and for most publishers.  Because almost every writer tours, the appearance at a bookstore of yet another hopeful face has become commonplace.  These days even best-selling authors can’t be certain of drawing a crowd.  Booksellers have become wary of going through all the hassle of promoting a signing that can’t guarantee a turnout.  Now, to the uncertainty about the value of personal appearances, add all the possibilities available through the Internet—viral marketing, web promotion, blogs, MySpace, Facebook—that give an author the opportunity for a breadth of exposure almost unthinkable a dozen years ago and at a fraction of the cost of a national book tour.  From a purely business perspective—bang for your buck–it might seem a no-brainer that the days of book touring have passed.

Me, I don’t think so.  I still do a lot of personal appearances with every book, and for many of the same reasons that compelled me to tour with the first.  I continue to believe that it’s important for an author to make that personal connection, with both booksellers and readers.  Word spreads from a good event—and most of my events these days are good.  It’s always a pleasure to spend a little time with booksellers I’ve come to know well over the years.  And I still get such a thrill out of standing in front of a room full of people who’ve gathered simply because they like my work.  The expense isn’t, I suppose, justified from a strictly business perspective.  But for me, it’s not all about business.  It’s also about art, about community, and about connection.

Heavens-Keep-Launch-at-OUACI still plan my own tours.  I set up the events, buy my airline tickets, book my hotels, rent cars and drive myself around.  My publisher is usually agreeable in helping to finance a tour, but I also kick in a lot of my own money.  In the past, a new book has entailed planning and attending fifty to sixty events in the ten weeks following the release.  This year, I’ve cut back a bit, but I’ve never once considered cutting out a tour completely.  Honestly, if I didn’t tour, I’d feel that the birth of a new book was incomplete somehow.  I’m like a proud father who wants to hold up his newest child for everyone to see.

Maybe this time when I tour, I’ll pass out cigars.

7 Responses to “The Book Tour: A Dinosaur?”

  1. Tori Ayers Says:

    Except for HEAVEN’S KEEP, I own and have read all your books. Thank you. Also, thank you for this “rant.” I don’t believe book tours are dinosaurs either, and you said it so much better than I could. See you in Denver!

  2. Tom Riddell Says:

    Your points are well made. Not that I wouldn’t buy your books without seeing you in person- I would and I have but as you say, a personal connection adds to the appeal of an author and it also can have a magnetic effect when a browsing shopper comes upon a reading or signing and sees a particular book highlighted and displayed on shelves and stacked high in book carts…

    It happened at B&N when we saw you Thursday night. As my wife and I were getting in line to have our books signed by you, a man in passing asked us who the man was (you) seated at the table. We explained that you were “the author of this book (HK).” He picked it up and nodded “thanks” and it looked like, from the way he was reading the back cover, that he might buy it…

    I was just commenting to Lou yesterday: “It must be a lot of FUN for Kent to be traveling around the country meeting his fans, his readers.”

    Thanks for keeping the tours alive. The internet is a great tool but no matter where you go on the web, it doesn’t compare to the pleasure of meeting someone face to face.

    Thanks Kent! :)

  3. Elizabeth Cabalka Says:

    Kent,

    I remember my first tour in ’04. I was so excited to be at Changing Hands in Tempe AZ, my table set up, pens at the ready and books stacked nearby. Just the week before John Sanford and Neale Donald Walsh had launched books at that very location.

    You guessed it. No one came. Not even friends. Pretty humbling but a good experience. I had to decide whether or not my books – my story – had value, even if no one showed up. I’ll never forget that day. Taught me a lot.

    I am sad I missed the party at Once Upon a Crime. All the best on your tour. Can’t wait to get my hands on Heavens Keep.

    - Elizabeth

    PS I just finished Blood Hollow on my quest to reread the series. Good stuff. Mercy Falls awaits…

  4. Lynn Price Says:

    You are a publisher’s dream. It doesn’t matter how much an author splashes his name on the internet with the various Facebook, Twitter, etc. Customers buy books because they enjoyed meeting the author. You simply can’t make that kind of impact via a computer screen. Bravo! I imagine Atria loves you. Best of luck on your new book.

  5. Kent Says:

    I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to get such affirmation for the road trips. In the middle of one now, tired and wondering if it’s worth it, this is good stuff to hear. Thanks to all!

  6. Andrea Sehestedt Says:

    Hi Kent,

    I’d like to say that I appreciate your support of the author signing. I work in a bookstore and frequently sell books because of the author having signed them. Having the recommendation from a bookseller who has not only read the book but also met the author can make all the difference. Although I have never met you, I loved all your books and frequently recommend them in my store.

    As mentioned by my husband in a previous post, another bookseller that I gave Iron Lake to also recommends it a lot. In the last 6 months, mostly due to Superseller Brian, we have sold 83 copies of it! It’s gotten to be a bit of a competition between us. When I get to work, he’ll tell me that he’s sold out again, why can’t I order them faster? I have had customers come in a day after reading Iron Lake and get all the rest of the Cork books that we have. If you are ever in Midcoast Maine, we’d love to host you at our store!

    I hope that authors don’t give up on the signing, because sometimes the benefit is not apparent right at the moment. Meeting the booksellers and all the promoting that they end up doing after the event is what brings continuing sales.

    Hopefully, my husband Mark, who is a shy author, will eventually let me bully him into doing one! His third book comes out in November. (shameless plug and brag)

  7. Phyllis Dale Says:

    I missed the event at Anoka, so in a couple weeks I’m planning to drive to Brainerd with my copy of Heavens Keep for the event at the public library. I love the Cork O’Connor series – well-developed characters, fast-paced while retaining interest in detail, absorbing interaction between cultures. I found Iron Lake at a thrift shop, and from that 80 cent copy I’ve bought all remaining books in the series. It would be a pleasure to meet a truly talented mystery writer, especially from my home state and who writes about some of my favorite “up north” places. I’ve given away several copies as gifts, all very well-received.