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Bookstore events are the fantasy for many authors. The reality is, it’s getting harder and harder to find an audience. I’ve been advised by pros that book tours aren’t worth the effort. It’s unlikely that travel expenses would be covered by the profit of at-event sales, even if you get a good turnout. And getting a good turnout is iffy.
So why am I doing a book tour? Oh, stubbornness. And as a celebration. And, as an experiment. I think there’s value to be found in this, and I’m giving it a go. Our kids are homeschooled and my husband works from his laptop and phone, so what’s to stop us from having an adventure? We, with my mom along to help with the kids, are crossing the ocean and hitting the road for the entire month of June.
Over five weeks, we’ll visit 10 states: New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Ohio, California (northern and southern), and Washington DC.
This is my strategy:
1) My six bookstore events are the pillars of the tour. I feel honored to have been accepted for events at these fantastic stores. It can be hard to get a bookstore’s attention; having my publicist involved really helped.
2) I purposely arranged only one “public event” per large area, in the hope of having one great event rather than a handful of sparsely attended ones.
3) I’ve lived in all these places, or otherwise have close ties. While I hope that my publicist will get media attention for the events, and that the bookstores have their own regular clientele who will come, I’m counting on myself to provide a core audience for each event.
4) In between these events, I’m meeting with book clubs and presenting at private book parties. I’m in the lucky position of having lived several different places in my adult life, and having friends from many different social circles. Even in the same area, different friends of mine have completely different invitation lists. I’m going to get to meet a lot of people.
My expenses are pretty low:
1) For all but one city, I’m staying with family/friends, not at hotels.
2) My husband travels so much for business that we had enough air miles for ALL of us–that’s five people, folks–to fly from England and then all over the US. Our only transit expense is car rental and gas.
3) We return home to the US at least once every year, so part of this is a “normal” expense for us. We don’t usually do a trip this broad or long, of course, but still: this isn’t an expense from out of nowhere.
The relatively low-cost of this trip makes a big difference when asking whether it’s “worth it.” Lastly, directly attributable sales are not the extent of a tour’s effect:
1) Booksellers who become more aware of my book because of my visit (whether event or drop-in) may put it in a better position up front and recommend it to customers.
2) My events may get media mentions, which expose my book even to people who don’t come to the event itself.
3) Some of the book clubs I’m meeting with will likely be small groups. But “book club people” tend to be the kind of people who recommend books to others and are likely to be vocal about books online.
4) Even before the tour begins, it been a great conversation-starter. I’ve been able to make contact with readers’ groups with an offer of “What can I do for you while I’m in town?” Some are interested and some aren’t, but I wouldn’t have felt comfortable making contact without something to offer, like visiting with their group of presenting at a private event, during the window that I’m in their area.
I’ll be reporting here on the effectiveness of the various events and what kinds of marketing/invitations/cold contacts were most successful.
This is where I’ll be! Join me
Friday, June 04, 7:30 PM
Words, Maplewood’s Bookstore
179 Maplewood Avenue, Maplewood, NJ 07040
(Just a 40 minute train ride from Penn Station, New Yorkers!)
Tuesday, June 08, 5:00 PM (ETA: 5pm start, not 6pm)
The Learned Owl
204 N. Main Street, Hudson OH, 44236
Thursday, June 17, 7:00 PM (ETA: 7pm, not 7:30!)
Books Inc. in Mountain View
301 Castro St., Mountain View, CA, 94041
Tuesday, June 22, 7:00 PM
695 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, CA, 91101
Thursday, June 24, 7:00 PM
20 Congress Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801
(This is the wee bit of New Hampshire, squeezed between Maine and Massachusetts, that touches the Atlantic. Only an hour north of Boston or an hour south of Portland!)
Friday, July 02, 4:00 PM
Other Tiger Bookstore
90 High Street, Westerly, RI, 02891
(This is the southwestern coastal corner of the state, right next to Mystic Connecticut. Providence and Hartford area and southern Massachusetts–this means you too!)
Let me know if you can come!
And if you have any funny book event stories for the comments, so much the better.
My publicist is working hard to drum up reviews and attention. But who knows which sources will actually mention my book, and what their opinion will be? I have no control over that.
I’m working on the media that I can control. The common (and excellent) advice to novelists is to find some non-fiction hook for articles and profiles. My book is set in Cambridge, England, and I moved here from the States four years ago, so “an American in England” is my thing. I’ve made offers to write articles on that theme to key places.
This is what I’ve secured so far:
- Deadly Pleasures (quarterly mystery review print magazine)
An interview with Cambridge bookseller Richard Reynolds in the July issue.
- Anglotopia (website and blog)
Cambridge travel tips, posting weekly for the month of June.
- Games (monthly print magazine)
A profile of my father, a game inventor, and of my years as his assistant and later as a logic puzzle designer, which will be in the August issue, hitting newsstands in June.
Each of them will mention my book in my credit, and they’re all clustered around June, when my book will be recently on sale.
I’ve submitted ideas a few other places, and am waiting to hear. My grad school’s newsletter is printing an essay I wrote about Cambridge museums, but, weirdly, the alumni magazine of my undergraduate college is a completely closed door.
As writers, what have you put out into the media and did it have an impact? As readers, what in the media besides reviews has brought you to a new book or author?
ETA: A Mystery Scene “new books essay” is now in my line-up as well!
Publisher Alley is a peek into Baker & Taylor’s sales data.
Okay, I’ll back up: There are a few key distributors who move books between publishers and stores. Ingram and Baker & Taylor are the biggest. Each one represents only part of a book’s sales.
Distributor info is highly specialized, and professionals pay dearly for access to it. Some writers’ organizations, such as Mystery Writers of America, have made deals for their members to have access to Publisher Alley at a low rate (presently $35/year).
Keep in mind: this is partial data. It reflects only the books that move through Baker and Taylor. What can be useful, though, is comparing your sales data with that of similar books. I find it helpful to see where I stand compared to other debuts in my genre, and to other books from my publisher coming out that same month. Also, for some books they list print runs.
Ingram, another distributor, used to have a phone number you could call to get sales data, using a book’s ISBN. That seems to be in flux right now. The latest number I’ve heard is 615-213-6803, but several authors have reported that it’s not working for them.
For a fuller picture, you’d need Bookscan. Membership to Bookscan is prohibitively expensive.
Really, only a royalty statement knows for sure.
Any advice for what a writer should do instead of staring uselessly at numbers? Exercise? Volunteer? Write the next book?
ETA: Two new sites I’ve just become aware of, for tracking Amazon sales specifically:
The best use for these that I can think of are for 1) tracking books that sell PRIMARILY through Amazon, not bookstores, or 2) to identify/quantify sales spikes in the wake of specific advertising or media efforts. I don’t want to obsess over my Amazon sales in general, but it may be helpful to compare the immediate effectiveness of different kinds of promotion.
I’m sure my Amazon page will become a source of intense scrutiny once my book goes on sale. For now, I’m just keeping my eye on it in a housekeeping sort of way: Making sure my cover is there, and my book description. That sort of thing.
The info that most writers focus on is their Amazon ranking. This is found under “Product Details” and is usually an enormous number. This number reflects your rank among all the other books on Amazon, based on recent sales. If a lot of people buy your book at once, your rank will shoot up to a lower number (meaning, nearer number 1). But it will just as quickly drop down again. It can be exciting to see a surge, and depressing to see a drop. But what you’ve sold “today” is less important than many, many other things.
I have a fluctuating ranking already, based on pre-orders. If you want to know what your rank means in terms of recent sales, I found this chart (though I can’t vouch for its accuracy):
Your star ranking, from reader reviews, is an obvious thing to obsess over, but I don’t have any of those yet (my book is not yet on sale). As with GoodReads, I’ve been advised by those who have been through this before me to avoid dwelling on reader reviews. They are not for authors; they are targeted at other readers. Let the readers talk among themselves, candidly. If you do read them, and find a review you feel is unjust, WALK AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. Do not respond, not on Amazon as a comment, and not on your blog. Every reader has the right to their opinion.
I’m also going to keep my eye on “Discussions” and “Lists” that mention me, but not intensely.
I’ve made an Amazon author page. It’s basically just another page where readers can find aggregate information about me. I put up my pic and a short bio and a link back to my website. BookTour.com automatically added all my tour info.
Because of Amazon’s recent monopolistic actions, some writers are offering alternatives to Amazon in their buy links. IndieBound, Powell’s and Barnes and Noble are popular options. I link to them all.
Readers: How much do Amazon reviews sway your purchases?
Writers: What’s the most frequently you ever checked your Amazon rank?
I got sucked into GoodReads when my publisher did a giveaway of ARCs of my book. I watched every day to see how many people had registered for the giveaway. This kind of unhealthy obsession with numbers seems to be a stage all new authors pass through. Longtime pros eventually hit the stage of giving it up, but, to a debut author, numbers are crack.
I did notice something interesting: quite a few of my favorite books there have average ratings in the three-star range (out of five). These are some of my favorite books, by well-respected authors.
Really, I think it’s a good policy to assume that most books that sell widely will have wide responses to them. I have resolved to not let myself get caught up in readers reviews, and to steel myself to be happy with a 3 average or above (yes, of course I still hope for “above”).
Goodreads is one more place where readers can find me if they like. I’ve put up a bunch of my favorite books on my “bookshelf” there, so people can get a sense of my taste and reading history.
Are you on Goodreads, or Shelfari, or LibraryThing? Which would you recommend most, as a reader or writer?
Google is fascinating. Type in your name, and/or your title: what comes up? Is your book’s website the top hit?
Are there references to you that don’t represent you well, or are too personal? It’s important to get a handle on what people will find when they look for you. You can use the tools here to make private pages unsearchable. (I want my mom and dad, not the general public, looking at pictures of my kids.)
Once my website and numerous professional references to my book became firmly established as the top content of my search results, I had to get creative to find the new stuff.
Using “show options” (a link up near the top left of the results page) can filter the results usefully. “Latest,” “News” and “Blogs” will show you results about you and your book that might otherwise be so deep into the general search results you wouldn’t otherwise realize they exist. (This doesn’t mean they’re not important, by the way. Sure, their results are deep when you google MY name, but they have their own followings and can be the tops of their own subject searches.)
Google Alerts? Of course. They email to let me know when someone has mentioned me (or mentioned that doctor by the same name, or that lacrosse player).
Who on Google shares your name? What’s the silliest thing you wish weren’t online about you?
I have a Facebook confession: I haven’t checked my news feed of friends’ status posts in months.
After an initial flurry of keeping up, I have settled on using Facebook as a place to report occasional things of interest in my own status reports, and to treat other people’s profiles as aggregate, rather than immediate, sources of info. When I want to catch up on someone in particular (and I often do), a quick visit to their profile will catch me up on their recent life. This is much more useful to me than trying to keep up with the daily deluge.
I decided I needed a professional profile as well as my personal one. It wasn’t just a matter of keeping baby photos private; it’s the content of status updates too. The things my personal friends will find entertaining are different from what are relevant for me as a writer to report. So I have two profiles: a personal one under my married name, which is full of child pix and personal status info, and my professional account, http://www.facebook.com/emilywinslow.author
My purposes in having an author Facebook profile are:
- To keep in contact with other writers. I’ve friended many of the authors I “know” from various online writing communities.
- To give readers the opportunity to friend me. When I weighed maintaining a fan page v. maintaining an author profile, I chose profile because I, personally, like friending somebody better than fanning them. It feels more personal, even if it isn’t really. (I don’t have plans to do a separate fan page.)
- To have a place for book-related announcements
I double-friended my personal friends, so they see both my personal and professional profiles.
And, yes, I do mix them up sometimes. My two Facebook selves are friends with each other, so can see each other’s full profiles. When I visit either profile, the face of that profile is at the top, and the “status update” box and “write on the wall” box are identical. I sometimes assume I am that person, when actually I’m logged in as the other, and “comment” as a visitor to the profile when I think I’m “status updating” my own profile. It’s a minor annoyance, and I’m getting in the habit of confirming who I am before I write anything. I think maybe unfriending myselves will help–that way, whichever profile I had access to would be the profile I was logged in as. Hmmm…
Tips: If you want your newsfeed to be at all readable, “hide” annoying quizzes and apps. You have do this for each kind of quiz and app as it comes up, but, once you do, you’ll never see that type again. You can even hide people, and so reduce the number of status reports in your news feed to just the people most personally relevant to you.
I have tweeted a bit, in my role as a blogger at The Debutante Ball. Twitter is too chaotic for me. Maybe one day I’ll wrap my head around it, but for now I simply don’t grok it enough to do it well, I don’t think. Besides, my book name and author name are taken!
Speaking of blogs: The Debutante Ball has been amazing. It’s a group blog started four years ago by a group of five female debut authors, and every year it is passed on to another five. I’m honored and delighted to be a 2010 Deb. I blog every Monday, for my debut year (August 2009–August 2010). The sharing of the workload + it being already established with an audience has been great.
Why did I start this blog? I’ve been involved in a lot of interesting discussions about the promotional aspect of publishing lately, and I’ve found I have a lot to say.
What social media works out best for you, as a writer or reader? Do you prefer Facebook fan pages or Facebook author profiles? What about MySpace and Twitter?
ETA: I’ve given in. At Melanie Benjamin’s urging, I’ve started to tweet.
An author website is a must. When someone googles you, you should provide them with an official source of information about you and your book.
There are three main audiences for your website: potential readers considering your book, fans who want to know more about you, and reviewers/journalists/bloggers who want to write about your book.
For potential readers:
- Tell them what your book is about
- Show them the cover
- Excerpt reviews and endorsements
- Provide buy links
- Include the fine print, like publisher, ISBN and on-sale date (booksellers will thank you)
- Tell them about yourself
- Include a photo
- Give them a means to contact you
- Have a short bio and short book description that they can copy/paste
- Provide hi-res photos of you and your book for them to use when they write about you
These are some tools I use to check up on my website’s impact and effectiveness:
This tool lets me know how many people have visited my site, and from where in the world, and from what source on the internet. Also, how long they stayed and what pages they viewed. Amazing!
Link Popularity Check (at Submit Express)
(For some reason, all my attempts to link to this site transform into a link for a WordPress page. Anyone know why??)
This shows me one measure of relative popularity. You can see your own ranking, and compare yourself to others.
This automatedly evaluates your website and give specific comments as to what features you lack or underuse.
What do you look for in an author website? What turns you off?
ETA: Oh, and Browsershots is another great resource. It lets you see what your site looks like on different browsers.
My debut novel, THE WHOLE WORLD, launches next month. This is wonderful, and freaky. I’m longing for reader and critical feedback, and shy of it.
I’m already starting to find some numbers to unhealthily obsess over, attempting promotion, and planning a bookstore tour. Share the madness over the next few months, while I report on what I’m trying to do, what works best, and the emotional upheaval of an introvert becoming an (albeit extremely minor) “public person.”