Why Book Tours Matter

Book tours suck. Particulary book signings. I remember sitting at a table by the front door of Borders in Fresno, with a stack of books and a tray of Oreo knock-offs. I couldn’t give away the cookies, let alone sell the books. Several hours of humiliation later, I had sold one copy of my erstwhile bestseller, Write a Book Without Lifting a Finger.

The signing was an accident — I had thought I had been booked for a talk, which is a more dignified, even pleasant (but still often below minimum wage) activity.

Getting out of that chair and leaving was one of the happiest moments in my life.

Despite the horrors and the expense of bookstore tours, I still recommend them.

Here’s why:

1) Product placement: For a week or two before and after your appearance, you get preferential placement in the front of the bookstore. If you’re lucky, you might even get counter space at the register. Normally this costs a great deal of money.

2) You have the opportunity to convert bookstore employees into a personal sales force for your book. They will continue to “handsell” your book to their customers long after you leave the bookstore.

3) A book signing is an excuse for you to contact media in that town and get on local radio and television to promote your book, as well as in print media.

4) Successful bookstore appearances can build a small buzz around your book. If your book has the right stuff to make people want to talk about it, the word of mouth factor can eventually be huge.

Television is definitely a factor in getting people to show up. Even with a topic like book publishing and ghostwriting, I usually had twenty people or more at my appearances–as long as I appeared on the local morning TV talk show. But it had to be a morning show that aired before work. In Pittsburgh, the only local morning show airs at 9 AM and reaches fewer people than shows that air earlier. Consequently, only 12 people showed up.

Even that is considered a decent event by bookstore managers. I’ve was told by one manager that if ten or more people attend your talk, they are happy.

If you’re like most authors, you probably think the success of your bookstore appearance relates to how many books you sell while you’re there. You’re wrong!

The signing is a one time event. Bookstore managers are interested in the effect your signing has after your talk. If your book steadily sells after your appearance, that’s when they’re impressed. It’s an indicator that people like your book and are talking other folks into reading it as well.

The “handselling” factor, mentioned above, can be huge. Vroman’s, an independent bookstore in Pasadena, California will support books of universal interest throughout the entire store. A recent pick sold 900 copies. They also promote titles with press releases, blogs, and on the store’s MySpace page.

If you make enough bookstore appearances within a limited area, you might wind up on a regional bestseller list. David Bach initially took his first book, “Smart Women Finish Rich”, to the San Francisco Chronicle’s bestseller list by appearing at forty bookstores in that region. (Update: The Chronicle is now using only independent bookstores to come up with its list, so you can probably become a San Francisco bestseller by visiting fewer stores.)

And if you want to make the business book bestseller list in Denver, it might be easier than you think. Tami DePalma, of marketability.com, told me her father made the Denver Post’s business list one August by selling just 11 books. So make sure you set up some appearances at Denver’s independent stores toward the end of the summer.