Monday, May 30, 2011

On Book Touring

ROSEMARY: "Nobody goes there's too crowded"
If you're a New Yorker you grow up with Yogi Berra-isms. They're delivered in utero like collective memories, and this one's been coming back to me lately as I hear over and over again that authors "aren't touring" because "it never pays for itself" and the publishers are only touring "bestselling authors who don't need it." I say hogwash. People are touring, they're just defining it differently.

It's become fashionable to say that blog tours make so much more sense "and I can do it in my jammies!" You won't hear me say I don't engage in the kind of social media we've been yakking about recently. I've got two pages on facebook, a fan and a personal, and I've recently crossed the Rubicon into Twitterland where I have an embarrassingly low number of followers - please follow me @rosemaryharris1. Still, I guess I'm old-school. I want to meet booksellers, librarians and readers in the flesh, particularly if I've met them already online. Few things match a face-to-face meeting for generating that all-important word-of-mouth.

A recent survey conducted for Sisters in Crime revealed that word-of-mouth and personal recommendations were still the biggest motivations to purchase books and although I can Meet, Friend and Like as many people as I want to online, it's the ones I've met in person who have been the strongest advocates for my work.

And where do I meet most of them? At shows and conferences. If the book tour used to mean the red carpet treatment and jetting from one glamorous destination to another with cases of perfectly chilled Perrier at your disposal, (sadly before my time) for some, it now means Columbus, Ohio for RT Booklovers Convention, New Orleans for American Library Association, Oakmont, Pennsylvania for the Festival of Mystery and other stops which might not have previously been on anyone's whistle-stop campaign but are increasingly important as up-and-coming and midlist authors work to get the word out about their books. If the people don't know you well enough to come out for you then you've got to go where the people are.

In the past three years, I've been to all of these events plus the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show, the Collingswood, Decatur, Empire State and Philadelphia Book Festivals, The Big E (a five state fair in MA.) I've even gone to something called the Submarine Festival in Groton, CT. Okay, that one didn't work - but all the others have, and I've sold more books at these venues than I ever have at a chain store or most indies with the exceptions of Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ, Aunt Agatha's in Ann Arbor, MI and Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA, but those retailers are exceptional - and they are few and far between. Which is not to say other retailers aren't good at what they do, they're just not in the business of making me famous. That's my job.

I've also met a number of influential bloggers at these events, Jen Forbus, Molly Weston and Kaye Barley to name a few and while their stock in trade is the internet, meeting and getting to know them in person has been invaluable (as well as oodles of fun!)

The logistics may take some time but I'll also go to virtually any library that invites me. If a librarian is interested enough to ask for me that's the same as having a friend in town who will chat up my book and I will do my best to go and provide an entertaining program - for 3 people or 300. Is it working - ask me in five years.

How do you feel about touring?

HANK: I love it. Something wonderful happens at every stop. It is however, expensive. And time consuming. For the past--five years?--I've essentially used ALL my vacation days from work to do book events. With no regrets! It's a privilege, really.

HALLIE: What's happened for me is that 'touring' is no longer just about a book launch. It's like social media, and can be any time (and sometimes all the time). I so agree with you, Ro, about events. I've just come off doing a string of them, and I'll be at the Willamette Writers conference in Oregon and the Surrey International Writers Conference in Vancouver and and and... I just spoke for the Sturbridge Library and will be in Malden in a few weeks. I guess 'touring' has become part of my writing life -- fortunately like Ro and Hank, for me it's a sheer pleasure and frankly (shhh, don't tell anyone) a nice break from the hard work of writing.

ROBERTA: Touring is exhausting and expensive, but nothing beats meeting readers! And I love doing events with other writers--share the pain and the gain! I've been laying low writing and getting ready to launch the first Key West food critic mystery--I won't do a blog tour this time. I think the repetition wears people out and ends up being a turnoff, don't you think?

DEB: Yes to all of the above! I think we've all agreed that the social networking is pretty much a necessity. But nothing replaces actually getting out and meeting people. Over the years I've been to most of the best independent bookstores in the country, and making those personal connections with booksellers is priceless. The same holds true of meeting bloggers and reviewers and readers in person. No substitute. It does take it's toll, however, both personally and financially. I've been having a quiet, catch-up year so far, but starting with Bouchercon I'll be ramping up for the new book out next February. Interesting--this quiet year has made me realize how much I've missed seeing all my friends in the writing community, because community it is.

JULIA: That's an important point, Deb. One of the things I've come to realize about publishing in general and the mystery community in particular is that it's all about relationships. The relationship between the author and the folks at her publishing house, between the booksellers and their customers, between the readers and the book itself. Book tours, conferences and conventions create and reinforce these relationships. And although you do "meet" many people over the internet, I agree with Ro - there's nothing like talking face-to-face with someone.

As you all know, I'm just coming off of an exhausting month-plus of touring for ONE WAS A SOLDIER. You know the one question I've been asked at virtually every book store and library I've spoken at? "What are you reading now? What are some books you like?" So long as readers rely on other readers recommending their favorite reads, so long as book lovers depend on a bookseller saying, "Try this, you'll love it," there will be book tours. And tired, broke authors who wouldn't have it any other way.


  1. Great advice as always from all of you. I think some new writers think of touring as something that happens for a month when their book comes out. But if you only go on the road for 4 weeks in February (for example), you would miss all the wonderful conferences and events you mentioned. On the road I've met so many readers--and also terrific writers (like you all at Jungle Red!) and it's been well worth it for me.

  2. For readers and bloggers, it's a great experience to actually get to meet and talk to the author who gives you so many hours of reading pleasure. I really enjoyed meeting you and getting to know more about you and the process you use for crafting your stories.

  3. Thank you for the terrific insight.

  4. I'm leaping in late on this with good excuse--I've been in Casablanca and Tangier over the weekend where there was no wifi to be found and just arrived back in Spain.
    I've been touring crazily since the first book came out and reckon I've probably visited most bookstores in the States plus many in Canada. I think the personal connection one makes with booksellers and readers is invaluable. And watching the number of fans gradually grow to a respectable number is encouraging too.
    But I have to say I used to love touring with another author, especially with my friend Lyn Hamilton. We had such fun, laughed, drank wine and made it the ultimate road trip.

  5. I'll be traveling to North Carolina this friday with Jane Cleland, Stefanie Pintoff and the amazing Miss Molly Weston for the Ladies on the Lam tour. More on that later in the week. last year I went with Meredith, Elaine Viets and Donna Andrews and we had a blast, including a fabulous dinner at Margaret Maron's.
    I felt like I had arrived!

  6. And I'll be in NYC with rosemary this Wednesday--speaking at the NY Mystery Writers of America meeting!

    Ro, details please!

  7. And Rhys--that's just--showing off. :-) Welcome home, sister..and congratulations. And so glad you got your luggage back!

  8. Rhys, you do come up with the most outlandish excuses!

    And Rosemary, nobody tours like you do--except for Hank!

    I'm so sorry to miss Bouchercon this year--just hard to justify the time and money. But I'm so looking forward to meeting you somewhere Deb!

    Julia, mentioning One Was a Soldier everywhere lately. Ro's, yours is up next in my pile:)