Everything I know about booking a book tour, I learned while in the music business. Sometimes, I joke that as an author I’m like a small rock band. I’ve been signed by a major label, given some money in advance to make my album, fed a lot of exciting promises about marketing and promotions, and then I’m on my own.
It is entirely up to me whether my record succeeds or fails.
If I work really hard, and there is a blip in record sales somewhere, maybe, just maybe, my record label (publisher) will put a little money toward promotions or do a little public relations for me.
Does this scenario sound familiar? As a currently non-best-selling author, I’ve learned that my publisher is the ideal distributor for a product – my book – but that I’m really the marketing and PR machine. Once I accepted that role, I took advantage of an extended road trip I was taking across the country to promote my second book, Cybergrrl @ Work: Tips and Inspiration for the Professional You. I ended up stopping in more than 50 cities in 2001 to support my book.
How did I do it?
Based on what I learned while working in the music business – at booking agencies and music managements companies in the early 90s – I mapped out several months of tour dates. I also enlisted a friend to help me book the dates, something she was happy to do on the side while running a home-based Internet marketing business. Then I hit the road.
Here are some basic concepts of booking tours that work well whether you are an aspiring rock band or up-and-coming author.
Routing the Tour
The act of “routing a tour” simply means to map out the entire trip, specifying the cities you’ll cover, noting the mileage and drivetime, then using it as a framework for actually booking the tour.
Your publisher will tell you that there are only a handful of major markets that they really care about.
My publisher mentioned New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and maybe Seattle since my book was Internet related and at the time, Seattle was an Internet mecca along with Silicon Valley. Traveling between those cities can be unrealistic if you cannot afford the airfare. If you can take the time off, try routing a driving tour to hit as many major markets as possible or stick to a regional area around a single major market.
Your best markets to sell books are where your audience lives. Don’t think you have to go to the big cities to have a successful book tour.
You can book a tour within a drivable radius around your own hometown or fly to a major market, rent a car and create a tour in that region. The biggest markets, of course, would be New York City and the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) plus Pennsylvania and Washington DC and even as far north as Massachusetts. Amtrak has good deals between these cities if you don’t like to drive.
To route my tour, I used these tools (updated slightly from 2001):
1. A Rand McNally road atlas to help me visualize the driving routes. I still use the paper version.
2. Google Maps Driving Directions section to check approximate mileage and driving times.
3. Maps of each state where I would be traveling. My local AAA office furnished me with every map I needed with even more detailed driving directions and road conditions.
For the first leg of my tour, I began in South Florida with a plan to end a month later in New York City. I knew that I wanted to hit Atlanta, GA, and Charlotte, NC, so I couldn’t stick to driving north on I-95. I had to consider the drive time to each city and keep in mind that most bookstores preferred evening appearances on the weekdays and afternoons on weekends.
The first few weeks of my skeletal routing looked like this:
Jan 8 Mon Miami
Jan 9 Tue Ft. Lauderdale
Jan 10 Wed Pompano Beach
Jan 11 Thu Speaking engagement (already booked) – Ft. Lauderdale
Jan 12 Fri West Palm or Melbourne?
Jan 13 Sat OFF
Jan 14 Sun OFF
Jan 15 Mon Tampa
Jan 16 Tue Orlando
Jan 17 Wed OFF
Jan 18 Thu Jacksonville
Jan 19 Fri OFF
Jan 20 Sat OFF
Jan 21 Sun OFF
Jan 22 Mon Atlanta
Jan 23 Tue OFF
Jan 24 Wed Charlotte
I emailed the above routing to Alison. We received suggestions of bookstores in each city either by emailing friends and acquaintances in the area or by researching on the Internet.
Here is what the actual tour for those weeks ended up looking like:
Tue, Jan 9 Ft. Lauderdale, FL – 8:00 pm – Archives Bookcafe
Wed, Jan 10 Miami Beach, FL – 8:00 pm – Books & Books
Thu, Jan 11 Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Speaking engagement
Fri, Jan 12 DRIVE
Sat, Jan 13 Tampa, FL – OFF
Sun, Jan 14 Clearwater, FL – 1:00 pm – Barnes and Noble
Mon, Jan 15 Orlando, FL – 3:00 pm – Books A Million
7:30pm – Borders Books Music & Cafe
Tue, Jan 16 DRIVE
Wed, Jan 17 Atlanta, GA – 7:00 pm – Chapter 11
Thu, Jan 18 Atlanta, GA – OFF
Fri, Jan 19 DRIVE
Sat, Jan 20 Charlotte, NC – OFF
Sun, Jan 21 Charlotte, NC – 7:00 pm – Borders bookstore
Note that these days, book store options are narrower with fewer independents in every town – but they still exist and tend to devote more attention to author signings and appearances than the big book chains (unless you’re a best selling author or someone with a well-known brand). Non-traditional venues are great alternatives for authors such as grocery stores, retail stores other than bookstores, cafes, and even people’s homes.
The changes from my tentative routing to the final schedule happened mostly because of the available dates and times at each bookstore. I skipped certain cities because they didn’t fit into the schedule as it developed, and they weren’t big enough markets to warrant rearranging the schedule.
Submitting a Rider
Every rock band has a rider – an addendum to their contract that states what the band would like in the dressing room to make their appearances more comfortable. Whether it was M&Ms without the green ones for Van Halen or an enormous bowl of boiled shrimp for Def Leppard, in my music business days, I witnessed rockers getting almost anything their hearts desired at each concert.
As an author, you only get what you ask for. I created a rider that Alison sent in advance to all of the bookstores that requested things such as:
1. How to obtain copies of my book and who to contact if there is any delay. I wanted to make sure they had my books at each signing. This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many authors show up for signings only to find their books aren’t there.
2. Request for the exact store location, contact information and driving directions to be emailed to Alison. I wanted everything in advance so I didn’t get lost.
3. Request for specific event details. Would I be doing a signing only or did they want me to speak as well? Or were they going to set me up behind a table with my books at the front of their store?
4. Request for Audio/Visual inventory. If they want me to speak, what would be the setup? Microphone? Podium and lectern? If they wanted me to speak, I did request a microphone and amplifier because I found that it attracted more attention storewide.
5. Request for several bottles of spring water without ice. This was my luxury request.
6. Request for local media contacts. If they provided Alison with these contacts in advance, she could help pursue media coverage of the event.
The rider worked out well for everyone, and I always had my bottles of water when I needed them!
Advancing the Dates
In the music business, to “advance a date” means to call a few days ahead of time to make sure everything is in order. Alison contacted each store within a week before my appearance to make sure everything was set, to go over the rider point by point, and to get answers to any last minute questions.
Advancing dates is not foolproof, but it is helpful. After over 50 tour dates, I had only had one mix up when we got a date wrong, and no one realized it until I missed my appearance. The store generously let me set up the following evening, although I didn’t have the benefit of promotions.
After many appearances at bookstores, I’ve learned that as an author, you can’t have enough promotional tools. Here are a few tools that have come in handy:
1. Promotional Blurbs. Prepare a few, very short promotional blurbs about the book and about you that the bookstore can have in advance to include in their newsletter or give to the media. You can only imagine the erroneous and irrelevant blurbs I’ve seen about my book. Getting a consistent message out there is key to marketing your book.
2. Pre-Prepared In-Store Announcements. Write out and give bookstores several options for storewide intercom announcements to avoid them reading blandly from your book jacket. Make sure you clearly specify how to pronounce your name. I can’t tell you how many times I’m announced as “Eliza” or “Aleesha” instead of the proper way – Uh-LEE-zuh. If you can, get permission to do the announcements right before your appearance if you are comfortable on a microphone.
3. Book Blowups. Get several blowups of your book mounted on foam core. When you arrive in a town, go directly to the bookstore even if a few days in advance. Check the signage about your signing, and offer the blowups to put in their window or near their checkout counter with the date and time of your appearance taped to it. I was lucky enough to be given 3 blowups of my book by a New York City bookstore who had them made for my local appearance. The posters were so eye-catching that the store sold over 40 books the week before my appearance.
4. Flyers. I made fliers at Kinkos with my photo, a graphic of my bookcover and the text: “Meet the Author – Tonite!” and “Aliza Sherman – “Cybergrrl @ Work.” I left blanks for Date, Time and Location. I made several copies of the master flyer and used a Sharpie pen to insert the appropriate information. I made copies on bright yellow paper to attract attention, and then canvassed neighboring businesses near the bookstore and asked permission to hang up the flyer in their windows. They almost always said “yes.”
Booking your own book tour can be time consuming and being on the road can be grueling, but as you begin to see book buzz – and even sales – increasing in the markets you’ve visited, you’ll realize how effective a grassroots tour can be. And don’t forget to support each book tour stop with local media interviews!