Whither the Book Tour?

17813888The LA Times devoted the front page of their Calendar section today to a feature on my friend Harley Jane Kozak and her book tour to support DATING IS MURDER. It’s great to see her getting some well-deserved publicity.  The article is about her, but the angle really seems to be whether a book tour  makes sense anymore for authors who aren’t mega-bestsellers.

There are fewer Kozaks — new writers hoping to stake out a readership — out on
the road these days. When they do tours, the trips tend to be shorter and closer
to where the author lives or where the book is set, hoping to play off local

"What we have learned is that if you are going to go out on
tour with basically an unknown author and set up a book-signing, chances are
you’ll have two to five people show up," says Justin Loeber, publicity director
for Simon & Schuster. "It’s just not very cost-effective."

The reporter followed Harley to several of her signings, including some in Houston.

Each morning, Kozak visits a handful of bookstores to meet the owners and
managers and sign copies of her books. In smaller ones, such as Houston’s Blue
Willow Bookshop, tucked between a tailor and a gift store in a neighborhood
strip mall 10 miles west of downtown, that means three hardcover copies of the
new book and four paperback copies of her first one…

…an evening reading and signing at Murder by the Book, where she is double-billed
with Randy Wayne White, author of the bestselling Doc Ford mysteries and former
"Out There" columnist for Outside magazine. Together they draw about 50 people,
and Kozak signs 34 books for 19 readers, many of whom tell her they came for
White but decided to buy her book too.

The question is whether the schlep to Houston was worth it.  Most likely, she wouldn’t have sold 34 books at Murder By The Book otherwise (and will now sell more since she signed stock), but when tabulating the costs of the trip (and time away from family and writing), was it worth it?  Did she gain anything in the long run by signing seven books at Blue Willow Bookshop?  I don’t know. But those are questions that authors, publishers and booksellers are asking themselves these days as it gets more and more expensive to send authors out on tour (or for authors to send themselves).

12 thoughts on “Whither the Book Tour?”

  1. I’ve got a book coming out soonish. I have zero interest in doing signings–or, really in leaving my house–but of course will serve and obey the publicity department. They set up a few signings within about an hour from my home–but I have the distinct impression they did so for fear that I’d complain if they hadn’t, not out of any hope of increasing sales. Book tours are great for those freak writers who enjoy things like travel, and people, but for the rest of us … I shudder.

  2. Actually, I think they missed the boat on this one. Perhaps the thing to do is put a NEW author out with an established author of the same genre.
    Why not? Give the new guy 15-30 minutes before the “main event” and see if it helps word of mouth.
    Works with bands. Why not books?

  3. They do that all the time, Josh & Kitty. I recall Michael Connelly doing it with Jonathan King, specifically, and that certainly helped King get some recognition (well earned, I might add). Although, I also recall S&S setting up a signing for me Stephen Hunter together when my first book came out, which was fantastic until I realized that the crowd of people waiting outside wasn’t for me…and wasn’t interested in my book…but it sure was cool to meet Stephen Hunter!

  4. Connelly has done it with several writers, the most recent being Lee Lankford.
    Connelly may be the most generous “big time” writer working today. He blurbs so much he won a “Nevermore” as Best Blurb Whore.

  5. I have picked up a number of books because the author was around. Some I haven’t read. But some I’ve read, loved, and bought more from.
    A tour might not be cost effective for this book. But in increased readership three years down the road, it might be a gold mine.

  6. I’m still learning (the hard way as often as not) what works and doesn’t with touring and publicity. It’s given me a clearer idea of what I’m going to do next year. This year, I have a tax bill I’m trying to whittle down, so I might as well take productive losses, build contacts, and have a little fun. I know my first check’s not even going to cover the trip to New York*.
    And now I have a clearer view of how I’ll promote the next book. And so on, and so on, etc.
    *Well, it could if I’d stayed away from the Strand and Penzler’s shop.

  7. I think that even more important than meeting the readers at these event is the chance to meet the folks who run the bookshops. Especially the independent booksellers.
    Jim, you’ve got to be strong when going anywhere near the Strand. Its tough, I know. But just think you could live here and have to resist on a regular basis.

  8. I don’t know. I’m always sort of confused when I hear someone complain about their publisher actually springing for a decent book tour. (Oh, sorry – “a literary Bataan Death March” of a book tour). Yeah. It’s probably better to sit at home and wait for those masses to come and find you. After all, you’d hate it if your house spent one thin dime more than it needed to promote your book.
    No, it’s probably not all that fun spending your days in airports but then again – once you’re airborne, you can always look down and cackle with glee at all those published novelists driving about the country on their own self-financed promotional tours… 🙂

  9. I did my early author tours in the palmy days when the publishing companies would send an author on a long tour and put him or her up in Hiltons and Sheratons en route. We would visit booksellers and wholesalers, and do radio and TV interviews as well. (The local wholesalers have all but vanished.) The rationale for the fancy digs was that it showed local booksellers and media people that the publisher was behind the author. Put him up in a Super 8 and it would be a sign that the publisher didn’t have much faith in the author’s sales or future.
    There was no expectation that sales at signings would justify the expense. Then, as now, I felt lucky to move five books. But the publicity people said that the purpose was to create a buzz, and that there was additional value in introducing authors to staff people at bookstores and wholesalers. The problem with that notion is that sales staff turns over about every six months, and once again no one knows you or has ever met you.
    I don’t know of any easy way to sell books.

  10. Interesting article, but the Natural Born Pedant (and professional editor) in me can’t help commenting that the correct spelling of the word in your headline is “Whither.”


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