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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How important are book tours?

More from my interview with Lincoln Paine, award-winning author of The Sea & Civilization


Now to the matter that other authors will find riveting, that being your opinion of the importance of book tours.

Book tours are important for all sorts of reasons. If you don’t go before unknown audiences of diverse kinds, you’re stuck in an echo chamber of your friends and relations who aren’t going to challenge your writing or assumptions terribly much if at all. If you write for a wide public, you should be willing (if not necessarily eager) to meet it.

Is it necessary to have good sales and great reviews before the book tour begins?

Positive pre-publication reviews from outlets like Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, Choice, and Library Journal (Seavilization got the first three) obviously don’t hurt, but publishers are most eager to promote books in their first month in print. And because many venues book not much farther ahead than that, you can’t wait for editorial reviews to come out.

Are book tours worth the cost? Even if the travel is covered by the publisher, there is not just lost writing time for the author, but the costs of daily living, too.

I was in a position to market myself a bit, and was willing and able to travel. Most of the personal expense was driving and eating. Flights were always covered by someone else, and I don’t think I paid for more than one night in a hotel, and that only because of a bad flight connection. Most of the time I stayed with friends or family.

It’s hard to say it’s worth it when you have twenty people show up at a signing and sell one or two books, or sixty people and sell none because your host didn’t arrange for any to be available. However, thanks especially to the media age, virtually every venue I attended was promoted on the web as well as in print media, and it is difficult to even guess the ripple effect from that. Several of the larger venues record and post podcasts of their guests’ talks, as do interviewers, which have can reach fairly substantial audiences, thus getting your name out even if it seems no one is actually listening to an hour-long presentation.

Do you think that book tours help sales?   

It’s hard to say how much these appearances affect sales, but as I said that’s only part of the reason to go, if you can. Publishers obviously think they help at least a little; but they have a complex calculus that means they can spend lavishly on books with an obvious appeal—well-known author, hot topic—and less on those that don’t. I’m not sure where mine fell, but I would guess somewhere closer to the latter than the former. But I’ve been on one side or the other of publishing my whole career and I get it. Lincoln Paine is not Stephen King, and although most of the characters I introduce are dead by the end, it just doesn’t have the same page-turning quality as a King novel.

Does agreeing to tour make for good relations with your publisher?  Make it more likely that they will write a contract for another book? 

Publishers do notice whether you put yourself out there, and it does matter, as it should. If the publisher knows you’re willing to stand behind—or travel for—your book, they are going to see you as a partner, and writing and publishing is a partnership.

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