book tours

The L.A. Times has discovered that the multi-city luxury-hotel book tour is pretty much gone.

Okay, if you're King, Patterson, Rowling or Grisham, they'll pick up your hotel tab. But then, if you're one of those guys, you're a) not reading this blog, and b) you actually don't need the tour to sell four bazillion copies.

For the rest of us groundlings, "tour" is a fairly malleable term. Brian Keene got a corporate sponsor to send him and his bodyguard/assistant across the country in a van. The folks cited in the linked article couch-surfed their way across the country on four new tires and a pile of McDonald's and Starbucks gift cards.

Those of us with day jobs *waves hand* have a tougher deal: how do you do a book tour when you only have X number of days off work?

The solution I choose is to piggyback on conventions. Cons are an efficient way to meet science fiction and horror readers, because they're already there and in the mood to hear about the kind of stuff I write. This is much more efficient than sitting at the front door of a bookstore waiting for people who don't treat you like the perfume squirter - they practically get whiplash looking away from the pathetic author, careful, don't make eye contact!

Okay, it's not always that bad. The last signing I did for NOCTURNE was at a Borders in Fairview Heights, Ill. I felt lousy and I was so very tired of signings, but to my shock, they had promoted the heck out of it and kept re-announcing me for the entire two hours. We sold every book they had ordered and the copy in the front-window display. It was marvelous.

Independents often will promote the heck out of you weeks in advance, and let you do a reading as well. This is sometimes problematic for me - I love reading my work, and would happily do it anywhere. But if you've read anything I've written, you know that there's blood, horror, death and foul language. Particularly the language.

I read in a Memphis bookstore once, and when I got to the soldiers' swearing, I kept waiting for some kid to pop his head out of the very-nearby children's section and ask his mommy what that word meant, and then we were all going to end up in handcuffs.

I had to do a hallway reading last weekend, and when I told my dear editor Tyree Campbell that I'd be reading THE COLD ONES in public, he had this deer-in-the-headlights look calculating my bail. What can I say? Ex-Marine mercenaries don't tend to say "oh fooey" when the zombies snarl at them, blood dripping from their mouths.

I'm a little far from topic.

Anyway, I tend to focus on conventions over traditional book tours. If I do a bookstore, it's generally because I'm already in town for a convention. It's simple numbers, which the L.A. Times recognizes - it's hard enough to get people to buy books. How can I sell enough books in two hours at a folding table in Borders to justify driving to Indianapolis and back?

I don't like to couchsurf, though I will if I have to - it feels like imposing on my dear friends. But I have found very efficient ways to stay alive on the road. I survived Dragoncon on canned ravioli and trail mix, the former eaten cold because there was no microwave. There are extended-stay hotels for as little as $32 a night on the weekends, and sometimes they're pretty skeezy, but you woman up and do it. You make sure you've got a car with good mileage and you take care of it.

Last year I did five states in six days with four hotels, and back at work by Tuesday. I only get a handful of days off a year, folks - I have to save them against the Boy suddenly coming down with pinkeye or something that makes him stay home for days. These weekend wraparounds mean that I rarely get more than two days' drive from St. Louis - which, y'know, is not such a bad location to reach much of the country. California, I love ya, and I'm there as soon as airfare is free.

The point is, there are ways to do it. We all find a way to get out there. There are lots of places to introduce people to your work, and it's not always about selling it to them right then and there. Sometimes it's about connecting with the people who buy books. I can't tell you how many books I own just because the author was a human being.

The thing that's really funny? The L.A. Times thinks this is just because the economy sucks. Near as I can tell, the marketing dollars have always been reserved for the top echelon of authors, and rarely for the midlisters scrabbling for the scraps. One of the many ironies of the business - the most money spent on the books that need it the least.

Still, one of the funniest parts of CASTLE? Watching the world fall all over him, the vast book-release parties and women throwing themselves at him... because he's a WRITER. I guess I'm still waiting for that kind of fame.


  1. Anonymous12:15 AM

    Have you thought about a small RV, like a van conversion? They can sometimes be found used (but in good shape) for not very much, the gas mileage can be decent (it just depends on the model), and instead of motels, you can sleep in your own bed.

    It's hard to say, but it might end up being a better deal (economically, emotionally, etc.) than the motel route. But then, I'm possibly biased...

  2. We aren't the CSA yet. We don't arrest people for swearing in public, even in front of children. Your hypothetical child has probably not only heard it, but uses it in company of his friends.

    Also, next DC? Hotplate. They're less than $20

    I set up a three city book-tour as a result of ConTraception last year: Rolla, KC and St. Louis. St. Louis fell through, which was actually a relief because I was dead at the end of the weekend.

  3. I wonder if you could rent a Winnebago or something similar? Might be worth looking into.
    When I worked at DK, we noticed that book tours were cut back dramatically after 9/11. I think it probably would have happened anyway, because pubs decided it wasn't the most efficient way of using their marketing dollars, but it definitely affected us - as an indie, one of the things that separated us from the chains was that you could count on anywhere from 10-30 events per month. Before I left, we would look at tour itineraries and be appalled at the signings in Costco, Sam's Club, and WalMart, but that's the publisher throwing a bone to very large accounts to keep them happy.
    Anyway, you're on the right track, because the old model is on the way out. Most book tours now are not the 30-cities-in 35-days behemoths that they used to be. They're more regional, and the pubs try to get more bang for their buck, so it helps if the author/publicist can be creative. Kids authors want to add events at schools, business authors love business luncheons, you get the idea. And even midlist people have to get creative. Stuart Woods flies himself to every signing. E. Lynn Harris started out by selling books out of his trunk, to beauty salons and gas stations and diners and whoever would listen to him. Best thing to do is build your fan base. You know your fans - they're at the cons- so that's where you go, and you're right to do that. Make friends with booksellers who love scifi and horror- they will sell more of your books than you ever could. Work your FB and LU pages, get them linked to similar pages, reach out to other like-minded readers and publishers and booksellers. Make it easy for your fans to find you, and to share your books with their friends.


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