Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book tours and signings and such

By Joe Moore

A few weeks ago, my blogmate John Gilstrap, posted Best Advice Redux in which he said, “Standard book signings are to me a waste of time. Ditto book tours.” I left a comment that I agreed and could prove it was true, at least for me. So that’s the subject of today’s blog: are book signings and tours necessary? And in addition, are the marketing efforts of the publisher important if not critical?

First, let me start with a disclaimer. My comments here are my own opinion based on my personal experience. I fully expect that others will feel different, and have equally compelling reasons to believe that the opposite is true. That’s fine. But here’s what I believe:

You can have a bestselling novel and never conduct a book signing or book tour. I know because I’ve done it—more than once.

The first book I had published was THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY (2005), co-written with Lynn Sholes. It was released by Midnight Ink, a small Midwest imprint of a large and venerable house called Llewellyn Worldwide. We had modest domestic sales with TGC, earned back our advance and experienced an excellent sell-through percentage. Midnight Ink went on to publish our next 4 books including our newest, THE PHOENIX APOSTLES. I don’t know the numbers on TPA yet, but the others (THE LAST SECRET, THE HADES PROJECT, and THE 731 LEGACY) also had modest sales, earned out their advances, and had high sell-through.

Lynn and I did many book signings through the course of the first 4 novels (the Cotten Stone series). Some signings drew impressive crowds while others drew a handful of friends and family. Sometimes we would sell 60-70 copies while other times we would sell just a few. Our number of signings fell off over the years in part because we are located at different ends of the state with over 400 miles in between. We still do a few signings a year, mostly at conferences.

Now, let’s shift gears. THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY was bought by a publisher in the Netherlands (same company that publishes Dennis Lehane, Clive Cussler, John Grisham, Stephen King, and others), dutchtranslated into Dutch and released. They bought it solely because they liked the story, not because it was a bestseller with high numbers in the U.S. In fact, TGC had no significant domestic track record. The only factor that affected the sale of the Dutch version was the efforts of the publisher to market it. Lynn and I never held a book signing in the Netherlands. We never did a book tour. In fact, to this day we have never communicated with our Dutch publisher. THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY (Het Graal Complot) spent 9 weeks on their national bestseller list and earned us more money than our domestic sales for the same book. And all we did was write the book.

sholes_moore_kyotovirus_08Our Dutch publisher went on to buy our next 4 thrillers. Our 4th book in the Cotten Stone series, THE 731 LEGACY (Het Kyoto Virus), also hit the bestseller list in the Netherlands and brought in more earnings than the domestic version.

The same thing happened in Poland. With no track record, our Polish publisher (Grisham, Cussler, Cabot, Tolkien) promoted THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY (Spisek Graala) right onto the bestseller list where polishit sat for weeks. No signings or book tour or any communications from us. Nothing.

Over the years, our books have been translated into 24 languages including Chinese, Russian, Greek and Thai, even Serbian. The majority of the foreign publishers have bought all our books. Almost half were hardcover deals. Many were later republished in paperback. Our foreign royalties have far exceeded all our domestic sales many times over. All done with no book signings. No tours. No communications with these publishers. How can you have a bestselling novel with no personal author involvement? I believe it’s starting with a good book combined with aggressive, savvy publishers who know how to market to their audience.

So, are signings useful? Should writers conduct book tours? Are the publisher’s marketing efforts important? I can only speak for myself, but my answers are, probably not much, no, and definitely yes.

What do you guys think. Do you tour? Do book signings work for you? Does your publisher do a decent job of promoting your books?

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THE PHOENIX APOSTLES is “awesome.” – Library Journal. Visit the Sholes & Moore Amazon Bookstore.

25 comments:

  1. I think booksignings and such are often viewed the opposite of what they should be. People see that many bestselling authors conduct booksignings and assume that if other authors conduct booksignings they will become bestselling authors. This is far from true, but I believe booksignings have value in that they provide a means for the fans to connect with the author. With some authors, that is a very important part of their marketing, but doing booksignings at which very few people show up is pointless.

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  2. They may not be helpful in terms of sales, but as someone who is still in the middle of her first book, I would love to do a book signing. The thrill of seeing people actually wanting to read something I've written will, I imagine, be immense.

    Also, as Timothy said, it's about making yourself a little bit accessible to your fans, where it's possible. It's a lonely old process sat typing away. I see no harm in book signings even if they're not making you a success story.

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  3. If you want to do it, fine. It won't hurt anything, and it can be an ego booster. Local bookstores bring in your friends and family. Traveling around is not cost effective. Truthfully you could probably sell more of your books at a yard sale.

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  4. I think signings are most useful in promoting good will. In terms of sales, they're probably useful only at the Indies, where booksellers hand sell and promote books. Good buzz among the Indies can land you on the Indie bestseller list. At one of my local Indies, they would put my books in the rack by the front door--it definitely helped.

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  5. I'm not really doing any for my latest novel, The Valley of Shadows. Partly that was my choice and partly it was the world and current market - my publisher has been having problems getting authors into bookstores for signings, especially here in Michigan (Borders country). I'm focusing on other things, like the blog tour.

    I would also argue that book signings can actually hurt you if the bookstore gets wildly optimistic and orders too many books and you only sell a few. Then they've got 30 or 40 or 100 copies of your book and they sold 2 at the signing and can't necessarily move the rest, and you end up with an eventual batch of returns. If you hadn't done the signing, of course, it's possible they wouldn't have stocked your book at all. Or they may have ordered 5 and managed to sell all of them, which, in a perfect world, would seem to indicate the bookstore should order more.

    Unfortunately, that hasn't really been my experience either. I was literally having discussions with booksellers where they would say, "Yeah, we sold all the copies we ordered. Do you think we should order some more?"

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  6. Book signings haven't been a wonderful experience for me. It's been nice to connect with fans, but in most cases they were fans anyway. On occasion, I've had the privilege of telling a few people about my writing, and some of them bought the book, but I have to agree with John that I'd probably do just as well at a yard sale.

    My publisher has never sprung for a book tour, and knowing what I do now, I'm happy about that.

    As for the third question, I decline to answer on the grounds that I'd like another contract from this publisher at some point. Actually, I don't know of any authors who think their publisher does enough to market their books. The truth--as is usually the case--lies somewhere in between.

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  8. Don't forget one of the important benefits of signings, particularly if you are new and unknown. You connect with readers, yes, but you also connect with booksellers. If you develop a relationship with them, you'll sometimes get more promotion from them, more word of mouth, better display, larger orders. This is especially true for mystery bookstores.

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  9. I left out that signings help booksellers, especially the indies. Hand-selling isn't what it used to be, but if it's close and you can do them, it's all good.

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  10. After hearing from many Midlnight Ink authors about how great their publisher is, I would be very interested in hearing from them what they do on behalf of their authors for marketing and getting overseas publishers interested.

    Any chance you could convince your editor or their marketing person to write a post? We read a lot about what authors do to market themselves, but would a publisher be willing to share what they do?

    Victoria Allman
    author of: SEAsoned: A Chef's Journey with Her Captain

    I

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  11. I recently toured with a group of Texas YA authors and we hit the major cities in our state over the weekends in May. Three of the seven authors had a readership in YA. The rest of us were new to the genre.

    We gave our tour a name and promoted it as for summer reading. We also created a blog, Twitter, and Facebook accounts to promote it. This was set up 3-4 months prior to our tour with our authors spreading the work around. Each author worked with their respective in-house publicist to get store recommendations, insure our books would be there, and assist with promo.

    The most effective part of all this advance work was the blog and promoting our tour on Twitter since I had become more aware of the Texas bloggers. These folks come to signings and help promote your books after. They are amazing support.

    We're thinking of keeping the group together for more events this year and even a repeat summer reads thing in 2012.

    As for sales, we had 4-7 authors at any one signing over the cities we chose and had a Q&A session following our intro, so readers came to listen. Adults and kids. We had 25-40 people at the signings I attended with standing room only at some stores. My personal sales were 30-40 books per location with some folks buying more than one book. And each store had us sign inventory so they could display our tour books. For a new author, I considered this to be good, considering readers probably had to spread their budget dollars.

    I'm normally not a believer that signings are effective. For my adult thriller, I've had events where I sold from 20-300 but have experienced times when it was me and the crickets. I was cutting back on anything outside my city, but I learned a lot from this last tour and maybe YA is different. I had fun and got to personally meet readers, store personnel, and the bloggers/reviewers. I'd do it again.

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  12. After hearing from many Midlnight Ink authors about how great their publisher is, I would be very interested in hearing from them what they do on behalf of their authors for marketing and getting overseas publishers interested.

    Any chance you could convince your editor or their marketing person to write a post? We read a lot about what authors do to market themselves, but would a publisher be willing to share what they do?

    Victoria Allman
    author of: SEAsoned: A Chef's Journey with Her Captain

    I

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  14. I'm too new to the industry to draw a book-signing crowd, but I have to say I love the one-on-one opportunity of meeting folks and hand-selling my stories.

    On the other hand, I find book signings at big events such as conferences or workshops are definitely a plus because your crowd is already supplied!

    Sounds as if overseas sales are more lucrative for you, Joe. That's GREAT to hear!

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  15. I've had the same experience, Joe. The Ark did very well in the UK, Germany, Taiwan, and Italy even though I did no promotion in those countries (except for my website and Facebook, which do help get the word out about upcoming books). But we're still trying to catch up to those countries here in the US.

    Many unpublished authors don't realize how big the international market for thrillers can be. American writer Glenn Cooper is a number 1 bestselling author in many countries, but he could barely wrangle a US deal.

    I am touring this summer, but as Neil suggested, it's as much to meet with booksellers as to visit with readers (and my wife and I are using it as vacation and research time as well).

    Another reason to tour is if you can get local radio and TV appearances. It may not increase your booksigning attendances, but it will help build name awareness.

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  17. I always wondered about how well those things worked, everytime I saw a tired and grumpy looking author at our local Costco all by himself. One author sat there singing, aloud. Not bad actually, but I felt sorry for the guy.

    I am about to embark on the first leg of my attempt at cracking the shell of selling paperbacks. Tonight, after work, I am going to our limited number of Anchorage bookstores and attempting to handsell copies of my self-published paperbacks 65 Below and Faithful Warrior. Figured I might as well give it a go and see what happens while I wait for new representation to appear.

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  18. Oh, and in line with Boyd's comment about radio interviews I'm hosting a local Alaskan talk radio show this friday, #1 in its timeslot for our little state. If any of you are interested in doing a ten minute interview to pitch your book to a bunch of folks in igloos (and suburban houses, and highrises) who have long months of darkness often filled with books and such give me a buzz and I'd be happy to give you a few minutes.

    Or if you just want to verify that I sound the same in radio as I do in print you can listen in to www.kbyr.com from anywhere in the world (except places where you can't) from 4-6 AK time Friday 6/17. That's 8-10 EST.

    And really...let me know if you want an on air interview...don't worry, John G and Michelle can verify I don't bite...hard.

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  19. Oops...forgot to put my email if anyone wants to take me up on the interview thing.

    basil @ basilsands . com

    35,000 listeners are waiting for your amazing novel.

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  20. Tim, I agree the connection with fans, especially new readers at a signing, is truly a benefit.

    Rebecca, it can be an amazing moment to sign a book for a reader, especially if they came looking for you. Then there are those less than amazing moments when you’re sitting at a table in a mall and the most in-depth question you get is: “Where’s the men’s room?” But that’s all part of the routine.

    Miller, I hadn’t factored in the yard sale numbers. Thanks. That should help the bottom line.

    You’re right, Kathryn. The majority of our signings have always been with independent stores. And once you win over the owner or salesperson, you’ve got a friend for life.

    Mark, having a store over-order can hurt. When that has happened, we’ve bought the bulk of the stock. We’ve also had many occasions where we had to give the store a couple of cases after we sold out their stock at a signing. They reorder and we pick up the replacements at a later date.

    Richard, I doubt that there are many writers who believe their publisher does enough to promote. The burden is truly on the shoulders of the authors to do all they can. But with the growth of the Internet and social media, there are some things we can do that cost little or nothing. Unfortunately, in many cases, that’s what the return will be, too. Little or nothing.

    Agreed, Neil. The personal connection can never be done on the Internet like it can in person. See you soon.

    Victoria, I’ve seen MI grow considerably in both marketing and promotion over the years. I’ll see what I can do to get one of their editors or publicists to guest blog.

    Smart strategy, Jordan. There’s safety in numbers. Just like what we do here at TKZ with multiple authors like yourself. The increase of names and styles brings in a bigger audience.

    Kathleen, Lynn Sholes and I have been very fortunate with foreign sales. One of the coolest things I ever heard someone say was, “Hey, I’ve heard of you. You’re big in Estonia.”

    You’re right, Boyd. One thing I’ve learned is that thrillers sell in other countries. Way more than mystery or romance.

    Basil, best of luck with your Anchorage book tour. If I was there, I’d be first in line.

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  21. Joe, I actually was asked to sign a book bought at a yard sale. I signed it.

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  22. I stand by my previous statement that signings are pretty much a waste of time--but with one exception: The speaking gig. I can work a crowd pretty well, if I do say so myself, so if I can have a featured slot, I can sell a lot of books. That's mostly true of non-bookstore events, though.

    As for mass signings at big events, I think it's always worthwhile, but rarely satisfying. Readers have too many choices among a crowd of authors for any one of them to get much attention.

    John Gilstrap
    www.johngilstrap.com

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  23. Meeting the booksellers is always helpful, and I enjoy touring. But it's expensive, and exhausting-once I hit 26 stores in a month. And I can't say that the sales were all that different from the tour that only tackled five stores. So I've cut way back.

    On a side note, you brought up something that I think a lot of the people rushing to self-pub on Amazon don't realize: the vast majority of working writers today live off of their foreign rights. And the chances of getting those deals with a self-pubbed book is pretty much nil.

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  24. There you go, Miller. A customer behind every bush.

    John, you and I are on the same page. Scary. Maybe we should have a drink together at ThrillerFest and discuss it.

    You’re dead right, Michelle. Without foreign rights royalties, that WalMart greeter job would start looking pretty good. A self-published book has little chance of getting picked up by a foreign pub. And foreign rights royalties are virtually free money.

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  25. That's fabulous news about your foreign book sales, Joe. Don't you think the genre has something to do with your book's popularity, though? For other genre authors, personal appearances are a way to connect with readers and build a following. If nothing else, you establish a relationship with the bookseller or librarian. Signings are helpful for that reason alone, because you never know who you'll meet at one of these events.

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