Tips for authors: How to set up a book tour

Thanks to the release of a new edition of Forgetting English this spring, I’ve spent many weeks this year traveling to venues on both coasts and through the Midwest promoting the book. Among the best things I’ve learned, not only from this tour but from the events I did when the book was first released in 2009, is that The Book Tour comes in so many different shapes and forms. And the most important thing for any author to know is which type of tour will work best, for both the writer and the book.

The old days of publisher-sponsored, multi-city book tours are, for the most part, long gone. These days, authors must plan, pay for, and promote their own book tours — which is no small task. And for writers who don’t have a background in publishing, publicity, or marketing, it can seem even more intimidating; I’ve heard countless authors say that their book promotion turned out to be even more challenging than writing the book. (And I’m inclined to agree.)

But the challenges are well worth it, as the rewards can be great. Keeping in mind the nature of your book, your schedule, and your budget, here are a few tips to help you plan a tour that will best fit your needs:

Team up with a fellow writer. For my 2011 tour, I teamed up for many events with my friend and colleague Wendy Call, author of No Word for Welcome. Because our books have similar themes (both are about foreign locales, though mine is fiction and Wendy’s is nonfiction), we thought it would be great to offer joint events, with something for all readers, and we received enthusiastic responses from booksellers, community writing centers, and libraries. Best of all, we shared the workload (all the cold calls, follow-ups, and creation of marketing materials) as well as the fun stuff (great events, great people, lots of wine). Even better, we could commiserate over the not-so-fun stuff (the rejections, the small crowds, the low book sales). In all, it was a wonderful experience and one I’m so glad to have shared with Wendy. So if your book is a good fit with another writer’s, joint events are a great way to share the experience as well as broaden your audience.

Think outside the bookstore. Certain times of year (holidays, for example, or summer in the Pacific Northwest) can be impossible for scheduling bookstore events. And sometimes, no matter what the time of year, a bookstore may be booked already, or your schedules won’t align. So think beyond the bookstore, and you’re likely not only to find gems but a whole new audience. Libraries are very open to author events, particularly if there’s an educational component; also think of community centers or literary centers such as Grub Street, Richard Hugo House, or San Diego Writers Ink. Among the places I’ve read or attended readings are museums and galleries, cafes, universities and colleges, book clubs and other clubs, historical societies…the list is endless if you think about it, so get a little creative.

Offer a little something more. Unless you’re a writer whose mere presence in a bookstore will guarantee a line out the door, think about offering a little more than a traditional reading/signing. You want the event to be a win-win (so you’ll be invited back enthusiastically when you publish your next book), so think beyond your book to what else you can offer. Often when I do an event for Forgetting English, I offer a travel-writing workshop, which brings in not only readers but writers and travelers as well. So even if no one’s ever heard of me or my writing (which is, in fact, most people), those who love to travel or write will show up to learn something … and one of the things they learn is what my book is all about. Wendy and I held several mini-workshops during our New England book tour this fall, and we received terrific feedback from these events. Even if an event isn’t specifically about your book, you’re giving participants an opportunity to get to know you, which in turn will build interest in your work.

Be creative. Again, a book tour needn’t be limited to bookstores or libraries. In this New York Times article, Stephen Elliott writes about his D.I.Y. book tour for The Adderall Diaries, in which he bravely embarks on a different kind of book tour. Not wanting to “travel thousands of miles to read to 10 people, sell four books, then spend the night in a cheap hotel room before flying home,” Elliott decided to let his readers host his events. His salon-style events would take place in readers’ homes, have at least 20 attendees, and Elliott would sleep on the host’s couch. Check out the article for details, including what the author learned in the process.

Host (or ask someone to host) a literary salon. This is a version of what Stephen Elliott did, but with friends, not strangers. Literary salons are a great way to find new readers and talk about your book in a more private setting. Ask a friend (even better if it’s someone in another city/state, where you’ll be reaching out to new readers) to host a salon for you at his/her home. Bring copies of the book to sell; provide whatever food/wine/etc. you’d like at the event. Then simply plan a casual gathering around your book, which might include a brief reading, discussion, Q&A, etc.

Learn from each event, and from others. Susan Rich returned from her book tour for The Alchemist’s Kitchen with new wisdom and some great tips, which she offers in this blog post. And I’ve written a few notes on my book tour with Wendy as well.

– If you don’t have the time or budget to do a traditional book tour, try a Virtual Book Tour. You do many of the same things — create buzz for your book, find new readers, and chat about your book — on a Virtual Book Tour. Keep in mind that, while virtual, this type of book tour still takes a lot of planning: you need to connect with host bloggers, come up with original topics to write about, and promote your tour. See my original post on virtual book tours, and search virtual book tour on the blog if you’d like to see examples of where my tour took me.

Plan in advance! Bookstores usually schedule events 4-6 months in advance, and libraries schedule 3-5 months in advance. There’s always a chance you can get in at a later date, especially if you’re a local author, but I definitely recommend advance planning, especially if you have certain venues in mind.

Promote, promote, promote. Once your events are set up, the real work begins! Again, a happy experience for all is when you have a nice crowd, and when you sell books. Use social media to promote your events; create postcards, bookmarks, and/or flyers to offer to the venue so that they can promote it as well. List your events on your web site, and ask venues for a local media list so that you can send press releases and/or calendar announcements (never rely on the venue to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to promoting events). This excellent post by Randy Susan Meyers offers advice for how to be self-promote with dignity.

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Remember that this is fun. (Really, it is.) The process of setting up all these events is exhilarating but also exhausting — and running around to all of them can be even more so. So this is when it’s important to remember why you’re doing it all: You’ve published your book. You’re getting it out there in the world. And you’re meeting your readers. For a writer, what could be better than that?

Give thanks to all. Don’t forget to thank everyone who made your tour possible, from the independent bookstores to your salon hosts to the readers who showed up to support your book. (In fact, these notecards are perfect for writerly thank-you notes.) And even more important, hold on to this spirit of gratitude — it’ll make your entire book tour lots of fun, even in the challenging moments.

4 thoughts on “Tips for authors: How to set up a book tour”

  1. I am preparing to set up my own book signing as I was recently published in April. Thank you so much for this and the added links. Running a blog myself and hosting so many people, its very clear how much work you put into this post and I want to say thank you for that!

  2. Thanks for your kind words — and congratulations on being published! I’m so glad this was helpful … all the best for a terrific book tour!

  3. Thank you for the excellent tips! I’m working with my publicist to schedule an East Coast tour to coincide with the release of my third parenting book and am trying to quickly educate myself on the process so I can contribute to making it a success. One question, if you don’t mind, how long were your actual book events? I’ve read about some that last an hour and a half and some that last as long as three hours. I was just wondering what you found to be the ideal amount of time. TIA!

  4. Thanks for this question, which is a great one. I think the length depends on the type of event — most bookstore/library events I’ve done are typically an hour and a half, which offers enough time for reading, Q&A, and chatting with readers and signing books — and it’s not so long that people go stir crazy. I’ve found that the most engaging events feature readings that are about 20 minutes, give or take, with most of the time for discussion and interaction.

    Yet if you have a book launch party (something more festive and whose attendees will include family, friends, and/or colleagues as well as the general public), you can go longer — especially if food and beverages are involved. If it’s more of a party, it can be up to three hours, especially if people can come and go as they’d like.

    I hope this helps — and best of luck with your book tour!

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