Does Touring Matter?

JT Ellison

I’m full of questions today.

I’m on the road promoting 14. I had a great launch party and a separate signing at my local independent, Davis Kidd, where I was shocked to find I only knew 1/3 of the crowd. Progress!

And then I left for Colorado. I did a signing at a Barnes & Noble in Lone Tree, Colorado and it went great. It was a meet and greet, not a signing with chairs, etc. I did a bunch of this style signing for ATPG, and found it was quite effective. Usually a minimal amount of effort is required to make a sale — a big smile, a welcoming attitude, and a simple "Do you like thrillers?" and in two hours I hooked twenty new readers who would have never known who I was otherwise, who bought BOTH books. A stellar afternoon, in my mind. Yes, there was the inevitable "Where’s the bathroom?" "I only read non-fiction," stuff, but you have to check your ego at the door when you do an event in this style. It works for me, I can talk to strangers with no problem. I have a couple more of those lined up back home.

I decided to try something different this time around — instead of setting up multiple signings and praying people show up, I flew out to Colorado, made plans to hit Phoenix and Houston. I’ve been doing drive bys, dropping in on stores, meeting booksellers, signing stock. My house set up two "official" drive bys for me this week, with Poisoned Pen and Murder by the Book, and I’ve scattered the rest across the two states. I signed in eight bookstores in Phoenix, five in Denver. Needless to say, I’m already exhausted. I was supposed to go from here to Houston today, but Hurricane Ike changed my plans. I’ll be in Houston the 24th now, but I can’t say the break from traveling isn’t welcome. I’ve got a lot more planned, including a whirlwind few days in one of my favorite towns, Omaha (the food is DIVINE) right before Bouchercon, so a few days of rest is a Good Thing.

I’ve been surprised to find that some independent stores don’t carry my books. (Careful, hubris.)  Perfect example, Tattered Cover in Denver chose not to stock 14. I have no idea why. The house has no idea why. Which was a bit of a shock to the system, considering they successfully carried the first book. The house tried to set up a signing, but they weren’t biting. It’s the first time I’ve gotten a flat out refusal, so it stung a bit. And then you try to balance it with, well, I’m in Walmart. But I want to support indies too. I have great events lined up at indies in Nebraska with
Alex Kava, and I’m on the docket because of her kindness in including me. I need to find
more ways to get myself in front of additional independent
booksellers.

Granted, this is only my second book. I have a limited backlist. My series is just beginning. This may all be a moot point in two years. But for now, I’m curious.

So here’s question number one. Outside of your publisher’s efforts, how do you get the independent stores to notice you? I’ve been a vocal supporter of BookSense, which has now morphed into a very cool organization called IndieBound.org. I have independents on my website, and we’ve always had links here at Murderati. I accept and seek out their Facebook and MySpace sites. Yet I’m nowhere on the radar for many of these folks? And please don’t misunderstand, this isn’t an indictment, but a serious question. What am I doing wrong? I want to support the independents, but I’d like to have some support in return. And I’m a little bit worried that I can be ordered online from their websites but they don’t have any books on the shelves. We’re supposed to be helping sustain the brick and mortar stores, right?

Here’s question number two. Does ANY of this really matter? I like meeting readers. I’ve enjoyed meeting the booksellers (aside from the one who accused me of bringing my books into the store. I had to prove to her that no, they came off her shelf. She was busy, I was trying to help. THAT backfired. So no more of me retrieving my own book. You learn…) Across the board, the chains have had plenty of my book in stock, on coop, etc. But does a signed paperback really entice a new reader? Will that green sticker make them jump and say — oh, must get this, the author SIGNED it. I simply don’t know. I won’t see any numbers for a couple of weeks so I have no idea if it’s making any kind of impact or not.

That’s one of the major problems with publishing, I think. There aren’t any quantifiable numbers unless you’re on the lists, and there’s a ton of super successful authors who aren’t. God knows following your Amazon ranking isn’t the way to judge your reach. Calling Ingram to get your sales figures doesn’t give you the whole picture; they’re a fraction of the actual number. So an author works in a vacuum for a few weeks, hoping what they do promotion wise makes a difference.

And the experience for a hardcover author is different than for a mmpb author. I’m assuming this is part of the problem with the indies. We don’t get the kind of attention hardcovers do. Which sometimes makes me feel like a spoiled child who’s stamping her foot and saying "LOOK AT ME," but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. It’s always lovely to have the attention of the community, to get reviewed, to get interviews. It’s a nice ego stroke to have that kind of affirmation, even if it’s not the most stellar review. But is it just that, an ego stroke, or does it raise awareness and sell more books???

With all of this in mind, I decided earlier this year that I was going to skip both touring for JUDAS KISS, coming out in January, and the conference circuit in 2009. I have one that I may do, because it happens to be an hour from my parents, but for the most part, I’m hitting a couple of regional literary festivals, and that’s it. I need a break. I have two books due next year, and I need to focus on making sure I’m writing the very best books I possibly can. So this 6 weeks of excursions is my last hurrah for a while.

I’ll tell you, I don’t know if I’m making a massive mistake or if it will prove to be the smartest thing I’ve done career-wise. We’ll find out soon enough, I suspect.

So tell me, what do you think really works? Signings? Drive bys? Traveling on your own dime? Sitting at home and working on your next book? Working the Internet, the social networking sites, the listserves? Conferences? Literary Festivals (I personally find the literary festivals exceedingly rewarding.)

I’d love to hear from all sides on this one. Booksellers, do you want us coming by? Readers, will a signed sticker make or break a buying decision for you? Writers, do you find one aspect of the mix works better than the other?

Wine of the Week: 2004 Bodegas Lan Rioja

Our prayers are with you, Texas.

38 thoughts on “Does Touring Matter?

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Ooof, this question. The bane of everyone’s existence.

    Well, I’ve said it before – EVERYTHING works. It’s sort of impossible to predict what’s most effective, but after a while you do get a little more discriminating about it.

    I did way too much promotion my first year and not enough writing -getting more good books out there should always be the priority. The upside of getting myself out there is now people ask ME to do events and appearances and interviews, so i don’t have to work as hard on that. (I do have to work harder at saying NO.)

    I’m a big fan of drive-bys and the meet-and-greet kind of signing – I will only do the other kind if the store insists or if there’s a book club involved.

    Some things I’ve learned is that the absolute best time to drive-bys is the first few weeks after a book is out – that’s mandatory, and it makes sense to me to hit the most bookstore-concentrated areas you can get to, like So Cal, obviously – the easiest place in the world for drivebys because you can just randomly choose a freeway and start to drive and you will see the stores from the road and can just pull off.

    I’ve also learned that there are regions which are far, far, FAR more book-friendly than others. The Virginia Beach-Chesapeake area floored me with the high level of engagement of their booksellers – I think we should all be trading that kind of information with each other more often, and teaming or tripling up with each other to do drivebys of certain areas. You can really reduce the cost by going with a friend, and we all live in different areas of the country so it would be so easy to establish a network where we could stay with each other for a few days and go hit bookstores together… if you see what I mean. Cheap and instant touring.

    I also always now do a loop of bookstores around any convention I go to.

    And I’ve learned which conventions are unmissable, at least for me.

    Oh well, I could go on pretty much forever. Will add more later and let someone else talk for a while!

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  2. Ally

    As a reader, a “signed by the author” sticker will only sway me into buying there and then (i.e. at full price) if it’s an author I already know and like, or a book I was going to buy anyway. Otherwise, I’ll probably still pick it up and handle it, and if it looks good I might buy a copy online, at a lower price.

    It’s not so much a question of anything an individual author does or doesn’t do, it’s just that I buy too many books to be able to get them all at full price.

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  3. billie

    JT, I think each author needs to follow her bliss with this question. If you love it, do more of it, if it’s too exhausting, do what you need to do and then stay home.

    Either way, writing the best books you can write is what really matters, imo. There’s a different feel to a book when the author has lived with it, and breathed it, and not just written it to turn it in. I think whatever it takes for anyone individually to put that kind of life into their books is what needs to happen.

    Re: signed copies. Unless I already know the author, the signed copy means nothing to me. The one thing that drives me nuts is when there are stickers on any part that can’t be removed easily. I want to see the entire cover and be able to read the back w/o those stickers in my way.

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  4. M.J. Rose

    For me the only way to deal with this issue is to understand this famous quote:

    50% of all advertising works.We just don’t know which 50%.

    And its true. And booktours are advertising. Meeting booksellers is advertising.

    The reason I think we need to keep doing them is not for how many readers show up – but is because we are showing up. Letting the bookstores get to know us is very important to our careers. And its important as a writer to keep ourselves involved in the writing community and bookstores are part of that community.

    I’ve never had the time or the ability to do what I call a “JAK” tour – JA Konrath driving around to 1000 stores in six weeks and risking his very sanity. But I do try with to get to a new region and meet new booksellers and go to new stores with each new book.

    Slow and steady and ultimately you build up a community of booksellers who know you and do push you and it starts to have an effect on your career. Here are some reasons why to do it. If you get to know the booksellers. There are more than 500 books published a day and meeting the booksellers makes you more memorable – you’re not just a name on a cover anymore. We need to honor and to connect to the people who help us do what we want to do.

    Here are some actual reasons to do it – I’m sure there are a dozen more – that I’m forgetting so please, everyone else jump in:

    1. There’s more of a chance you could get nominated for the IndieBound (ne Booksense)list.

    2. A lot of booksellers have newsletters and/or websites and are more likely to write about the book if they have met you.

    3. When your arc comes in they are more likely to notice it.

    4. When your publisher takes out trade ads for your (Or when you do it for yourself via Authorbuzz.com) the booksellers are more likely to notice the ads because they know you.

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  5. David J. Montgomery

    Good stuff, M.J.

    Touring is also one of the few ways of attracting local media coverage. It’s no guarantee, of course, but it helps.

    Some newspapers, when I’d pitch ’em, they’d ask, “Is the author coming to town?” If the answer was no, they had no interest in a review.

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  6. neil nyren

    Here’s the most important thing about that “signed by the author” sticker — it may not make the customer buy the book, necessarily, but it often means that the bookseller will feature it more prominently. And there’s nothing like having that book displayed on a table or face-out in its section, because the customer will simply notice it more. And if he notices it, maybe he’ll pick it up. And if he picks it up, maybe he’ll look at the jacket copy or the quotes or the author’s picture or even a page or two, and maybe, just maybe, what he sees will interest him enough to take those final, magical steps over to the cash register. That’s all we’re trying to do in this business — give the customer a reason to pick the book up in the first place.

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  7. Wilfred Bereswill

    Thanks for the topic, JT. As a newbie and author for a small press, I’m just laying back today and taking it all in.

    In my humble 2 months of release, My signing at Borders was most successful. I met quite a few people that I didn’t know.

    I’ve made some close ties with the indies here in St. Louis, but, the biggest one has been elusive. I can’t even seem to crack the Davis Kidd/Joseph Beth nut which would be awsome since they are all in weekend/driving distance for me.

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  8. Arthur

    When your credits are 2 paperbacks it can be tough to get in stores and attract fans. But you’re getting out there and putting in the facetime so you’re on the right track. This business is about building. It doesn’t happen overnight, although we often want it to. As long as you are moving up the ladder, you’ll eventually build a successful career. Good luck!

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  9. Naomi

    JT, congrats on 14!!!

    It seems like you’re pursuing the whole signing thing in the right way. If your tour is self-financed, it’s good to target regions that’s a natural fit for your series. Where you live, naturally, and then where you have strong ties like Colorado and the wider circles around it.

    For me it’s California (first L.A., then San Francisco, Orange County, and then the Central Coast in between So. and No. Cal), Seattle, and Phoenix. Now I’m trying to bleed more into Texas and hope to hit Indiana next year.

    Being a mmpbo is certainly a disadvantage in trying to attract the independents. Being published as a trade paperback original debut author in 2004, I faced the same challenge (I’m being specific about the year because attitudes and trends have changed in a short amount of time–trades are getting very popular now).

    I would view your efforts now as sowing the soil for your future hardback.

    One of the best things a publisher’s publicist did for me was have me visit a chain store’s regional meeting (they were planning for the L.A. Times Festival of Books). It was just in a bookstore coffee shop, but I got to meet more than a dozen managers in a few minutes and tell them about my book. (I was also shaking in my boots–my first task as a published mystery writer!)

    What’s very big in Southern California are these women’s book festivals–it’s usually held in a hotel and attracts more than 500 rabid book buyers. I remember speaking briefly to Laura Lippman at a festival in Fullerton last year–her eyes got so big as she surveyed all the decorated tables at the banquet hall. We both agreed that this venue, in which you have a captive audience, is the best ever. And usually an established bookseller is brought in to handle sales, so it’s not like you’re eating into those numbers.

    I, too, took a break from out-of-state conventions for a couple of years. But I stayed active with my local mystery community and tried to see other writers as they came through town. And now with the Internet and social networking sites, you can also maintain relationships.

    My strategy is with each book, you do something new, add something to the mix. Since my first two books came out in mmpb this year, I’ve been giving out a bunch of free copies–I use it almost like a brochure! Whenever I go to an event, I bring a book to give to a new person I might find interesting.

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  10. Becky Lejeune

    I used to love having authors stop by when I worked at the stores. I hate hearing horror stories about them now! I also find it sad that Tattered Cover isn’t carrying 14. Maybe I should call and complain as a “customer” : ) I just think I should be working as their buyer, I’d have your book front and center, JT!

    Anyway, I think signings and things are partially the bookstores’ responsibilities as well and unfortunately, some just aren’t as helpful as others. Disturbing in this day and age when anything that could help sell a book is a benefit. I’d definitely be more prone to buying a book after seeing the author. I agree with Ally’s post above, signed stock only really matters to me if I am planning on buying already, then I’ll grab a signed one rather than an unsigned.

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  11. Jeff Abbott

    I write this in haste, pardon any incoherence.

    JT, thanks for sending Texas your good wishes. We need them. You don’t want to be in Houston now. I was there for Alicia, and in the aftermath of Allison, and you’re right to wait.

    I am of mixed feelings about this. I have always done touring and I do think it helps, and I especially love to meet readers and booksellers. But I did no touring in the UK for PANIC when it came out and it has moved hundreds of thousands of copies there. Why? I don’t know. I did NOTHING, my publisher did it all but even at some point their promotion efforts stopped and it kept selling. My publisher there said, “Now it’s word of mouth”. So how do we create that? It’s more powerful than any advertising or promotion.

    With my subsequent books there, I don’t tour in terms of book signings, the Brits have me over to meet industry people like chain buyers and this last time I signed stock at Gatwick Airport for five hours. As I signed the booksellers would say they would sell out of the signed stock in days. The conventional wisdom says a signed book is twice as likely to sell, and the Brits still say that’s true.

    I think breaks from conventions are a good idea. You can go to too many. You can become a sort of expected fixture.

    The best thing you can do is write the best book. Write a book that people are dying to read. It all starts with the books. Look at Ken Follett. He wrote ten books that did very little. Then he wrote EYE OF THE NEEDLE, and he changed how he wrote, he was conscious that it was the best thing he’d ever done. I don’t think he broke out by the dint of promotion. He broke out by writing something fresh and powerful and compelling.

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  12. pari

    J.T.,Good, good questions today. And thanks to all the people who’ve answered so far.

    You know I’ve had my doubts about the whole PR thing for a few years now — this is especially inconvenient since writers’ conferences want me to come teach PR.

    I do think that it’s to a writer’s advantage to do some public relations/marketing with each book — but what works for one might not work for another.

    We’ve heard that developing relationships with bookstores makes a difference and I think that’s true. My publisher doesn’t do any coop, but in ABQ I often find my books featured on end-caps or in other ways at the local Borders stores.

    In other cities, my books are mainly featured when I’m doing a signing and no matter how good the relationship, they quickly go onto the shelves or back to returns as soon as the next author comes for a signing.

    As for conventions, I’ve cut my attendance quite a bit and will be even more discriminating in the future.

    Here’s my newest theory: A big presence at the traditional venues to meet readers — bookstore signings and conventions — may actually be cheapening our personal stock with these same folks.

    Writing is our bread and butter. It should be a priviledge, not an expectation, to meet us.

    Does that sound “elistist?” I don’t think it is. I think it’s a good new paradigm — especially when it costs so much to travel.

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  13. Tasha Alexander

    Great post, JT—I know we’ve talked about this lots and lots and there’s no magic answer.

    Signing books is important to me because it gives me a chance to meet and bond with booksellers (and let’s face it; I’m a book junkie—love getting to hang out with book people and need only the slimmest excuse to do just that), and also because, as Neil said above, signed books get better placement. And we all know better placement never hurts.

    I tend to prefer drive-bys to traditional signings, simply because you can cover more ground, but I think you need some of both. Events give you the opportunity to get media coverage—and even if you don’t get a huge signing line that night, you’re getting increased exposure and (back to this) great placement in the store hosting you.

    In my (albeit extremely limited) experience, placement and distribution are the two things that generate sales the most.

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  14. Louise Ure

    I also think that our promotion planning should change with each book. Signing events, tours and conventions are, in my mind, especially appropriate for your first book. They may have less importance for you as your number of works increases.

    And for those of you who remember, and wanted to celebrate, the life of our friend Tom McGinn, The following link should take you to Tom’s obituary that appears in today’s Ventura County Star newspaper. His wife would be greatly pleased if you would sign the electronic guest book.

    http://www.legacy.com/venturacountystar/Obituaries.asp?Page=Lifestory&PersonId=117306840

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  15. tess

    I love doing drive-bys. But actual scheduled bookstore events also get you local publicity and visibility in the bookstore, plus the store will order more copies and keep them on display.

    The book tour is just one more arrow in your marketing quiver, and the whole point is to get your name out in front of consumers so that it becomes familiar.

    Here’s an anecdote I’ve told before, which connects with this topic. Without identifying myself, I started up a conversation with a bookstore customer who had just picked up one of my paperbacks for purchase. She said she was finally going to try a Tess Gerritsen book, because she’d seen that name about three times over the past few weeks, and she figured the author must be important.

    Three times, for her, was the charm. It made the name significant to her. I suspect that’s true for other readers as well.

    The most serious downside to book touring is the time away from writing. If touring means you’ll be late with your next book, then the tour may do more harm to your career than good. The best publicity of all, and the best way to get your name out there, is to write lots of books. As fast as you can. If touring means you can’t put out a book a year, then I’d say skip the tour and just write the next book.

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  16. JT Ellison

    Holy Moly! I just got up, packed and checked in, and you guys have blown me away. Thank you, for all the responses. Your advice means more than you know.

    Louise, that’s the tack I’ve been taking, a little change here and there. We’ll see where it leads. And thank you for posting the link to Santa Tom’s guestbook.

    Poor Tasha has to listen to me wonder about this all the time. Thanks for chiming in darling. You’re right, distribution and placement are key.

    Pari, I used an independent publicist my first two books with mixed results. Lots of local coverage, not as much nationally. Granted, I am mmpbo, so I won’t be getting that coverage either. But it was much harder getting stuff for the second book versus the first. I have to skip him the third book, simply because it’s too expensive to hire a publicist twice a year, so I’m curious to see if I get anything on reputation alone.

    But you’ve hit on something that’s surprisingly hurtful to me. Going into a bookstore, you like the booksellers to be just a little bit pleased that an author has stopped in. And the vast majority are. But it’s that one person who looks down their nose at you that always stands out, you know?

    I think you’ve hit on another important item — too much exposure cheapens the experience. I want to avoid that at all costs.

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  17. JT Ellison

    Jeff, you were one of the authors I had in mind when I wrote this post. You and Allison Brennan, who’s on the other end of the spectrum, have always been an ideal in my mind as far as the promotion, and your subsequent success. So thanks for your answers.

    You’re so right, it all starts with the books. I had lunch with one of my editors this week and he reemphasized that point to me. It was like getting a hall pass from the principle — we’ll worry about the marketing, you worry about the books.

    Becky, the woman I spoke to when I dropped in on TC wanted me to call their front list buyer. Had I known there was a chance of reaching you, I would have asked for the number immediately. As it was I told her my house handled that kind of thing, which for some reason didn’t seem to be the right answer. Oh well. You can’t please all the people all the time.

    Naomi, I stopped in on a B&N regional meeting this time as well, handed the Regional Manager a galley, and felt my little ears burn the whole time. That was utterly nerve wracking. I’m thinking, just thinking, about coming to LA and hiring a media escort to traipse me around instead of trying to find it all myself. Phoenix and the iPhone GPS I could handle, LA seems a bit too much for me. And then heading to Napa, to make it all worthwhile ; )

    Will, you’ll crack them. It’s very hard when the publisher doesn’t accept returns. The indies really have problems there. But you’ll get there. Maybe not this book, but the next. You are working on the next, right??? In between your jetsetting and publicity, of course ; )

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  18. JT Ellison

    Neil, that’s been my thought on all this. Get their attention, get them to pick up the book. Every store I signed in that I wasn’t already displayed made a point of putting me face out. And since the way I’m shelved alphabetically means I’m often on the bottom shelf, face out is invaluable. Thanks for stopping in!

    David, that’s absolutely right. Advance media for a tour is crucial. I struck out a bit this time, simply because of lead time, but I did get a few mentions in the smaller Colorado papers.

    MJ, I’ve been focusing on the regional tours — first book, southeast, second, midwest. Next time I go out, it will be to California, Seattle, that area. It’s just not cost effective to try to hit everything at once, much less feasible. I’m still not sold on doing advertising. I haven’t found anything that truly shows conversion to sales. Raising awareness, sure, but until I prove to myself that it sells books, I’ll remain skeptical. I can’t bring myself to pay for my own, and thankfully the house and my publicist do a goodly amount for me.

    Billie, you’re right. Embrace what feels right and stay away from the torturous stuff. Amen to that, sister. I’m still finding what I like and dislike about publicity.

    Ally, thanks for the POV. It’s good to hear that it may not make a sale but might catch your attention.

    And sweet Alex, the goddess of the tour circuit — you always seem to be having so much fun. I can’t imagine you not on tour, not at the cons, because you give so much to them. It’s a guaranteed elegant and eclectic time if you’re on the guest list. I certainly don’t see your books suffering. THE PRICE was one of my favorites this year.

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  19. JT Ellison

    Tess, can I ask… did you tour at the beginning, and have you toured all your Rizzoli books? You’re a household name, which is too cool. You came up in a conversation over dinner two nights ago and all the people at the table (readers) knew exactly who you are, read you, and love you.

    And see you Tuesday night in Nashville!

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  20. Lesa Holstine

    I’m very fortunate to be within a thirty minute drive of The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, and I do get to see some of you on tour, and it does make a difference to me.

    I’m not interested in an autographed book with a sticker. I want to have met the author before I buy an autographed book. I want my copy personalized, or books signed that I bought to give away as prizes on my blog. I can walk right by stickered books with no problem.

    If I see the author in person, I will write about it on my blog, and, probably, give away an autographed book or two there. That’s exposure to another 300 readers. I normally have between 300 and 400 people enter the contests on my blog. When I offer an autographed book, I even get other authors enter the contests occasionally.

    Jennifer Lee Carrell spoke at my library branch on Wednesday. No, we didn’t have an enormous crowd. But, we almost sold out of the books Poisoned Pen sent us. They handle our sales, and they get credit for them. And, I can attest to the fact that the author “sold” them herself by her appearance. A librarian from another branch came, and said she was debating whether or not to buy the book, Interred with Their Bones. I said, why don’t you listen to Jennifer, and then decide. After hearing Jennifer speak, she bought three copies. Those three copies would not have been sold if Jennifer hadn’t been there.

    We have six authors appearing at my small branch in October and November for our Authors @ The Teague series. This week, we had a half-page article in the Glendale edition of the Arizona Republic, covering the series, with a paragraph devoted to each author, and their book. Some of them are coming just for us, but Poisoned Pen is still handling the sales. This is coverage they would not have had if they didn’t make the personal appearance. On Sat. Sept. 20, we have four Tucson mystery authors driving up together to appear. Again, Poisoned Pen will handle the sales.

    I know we’re very fortunate to have Poisoned Pen Bookstore as a partner. But, we’re on the west side of the Valley, and Poisoned Pen wouldn’t get these sales if the event was only at their store on the east side.

    No, you don’t need to tour every year. But, if I don’t get to hear you, I won’t pick up those signed copies.

    Just a reader’s point of view, who happens to be a librarian and blogger as well.

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  21. Jim

    “Outside of your publisher’s efforts, how do you get the independent stores to notice you?”

    I send out free, signed ARC’s to approximately 125 independent mystery/thriller bookstores for each new book that is released. Some of the books immeidately end up on e-bay, undoubtedly unread. Others, though, are read and/or reviewed and the stores order copies. There’s no substitute for showing a store the actual book, together with a brochure as to where to order, available backlist titles, etc. The approximate cost is about $600, which covers mailing, books, brochures and boxes.

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  22. Fran

    A lot of our business is tourists, and I can’t tell you how often I hear, “It’s signed by the author! Does it cost extra?” and the delight on their faces when (in general), we say it doesn’t.

    For a bookstore, putting a friendly face to an author name does increase the chance that we’ll go out of our way to promote it. A surly author can find their books buried or overlooked on re-order. I speak from experience here, on both sides of the coin.

    Our collectors want their hardcovers signed and dated on the title page. Tipped in pages are better than nothing, but mostly collectors want the title page. That’s true with pbo’s, to a lesser extent. People like to be in on the ground floor of a new, hot author. We have one customer who only buys debut novels.

    But never underestimate the “signed by author” sticker. I’ve seen it make a difference when people are waffling between two books. And it’s easier to get someone involved with a new author if you have a mmpb to begin with. People are hesitant to shell out the money for an unknown author in hardcover or trade. But they’re more willing to pay full price for a signed book.

    Sadly, we littler stores get overlooked by publicity departments back East (I think JB’s gonna rant about it on our shop blog today), because there is no institutional memory on how things work out here,and because we’re considered to be “too small” to be bothered with. It’s frustrating. We WANT authors to come in and sign! We’d be tickled if we had signings pretty much every day. But we do get tired of pleading with publicity departments who continually nod and then drop our signing requests into a black hole.

    I have no idea how cost effective or realistically practical it is for you as authors to tour, but I know that we really enjoy it!

    Reply
  23. Kathryn

    My real concern is the easy availability of used books online. When you can go to online vendors and buy a book for fifty cents that costs you 12.99 in a bookstore, where’s the choice in that? And a lot of the “widgets” that authors are putting on their web sites and blogs promote the online vendors who offer used books at the top, so that’s where readers are more likely to try out new authors. It’s not in the author’s interest (or the bookstore’s) for readers to be buying used books on the cheap.

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  24. JT Ellison

    Kathryn, amen. I can’t fault a reader for looking for a deal — but it would be nice to see the actual sale instead of a resale.

    Fran, you are truly one of a kind. And Lesa, what you’re doing is wonderful. Bravo to you both.

    I’m fixing to get in the car to go to the airport, so I won’t be around for a few hours. Please, continue the discussion. I’ll check in again from Nashville.

    Reply
  25. R.J. Mangahas

    J.T.— I’m a little late joining this party today, but here are my thoughts. I always like to have a signed book. Of course I’m a notorious bibliophile. I’m sitting on two two copies of Dennis Lehane’s A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR in hardcover, one of them signed. Both of them would fetch a tidy sum on eBay. But I’d rather keep them, especially since I’ve met him. That brings me to this: I don’t know how much is involved for a book tour, but I for one love meeting the authors that I read. It’s kind of hard to explain really.

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  26. Jim

    “Jim, wow. That’s a serious outlay of time and cash. How does it work?”

    You can get the addresses and phone numbers of most indepdent mystery bookstores at http://www.mysterynet.com.

    If the mailing nets the sale of at least 100 book, I’ve recouped my money. I’m pretty sure that happens. I’ve had one bookstore alone buy 100 copies of my various titles over time. They keep them displayed by the cash register and hand sell them. I doubt that kind of thing would have happened if they hadn’t received an ARC in the mail.

    Time wise, it takes about 4 hours. I print the labels from a master list.

    You never know where the ARCs might end up, but they always end up somewhere. One ended up with a librarian, who also happened to be a reviewer with one of the biggies. That ARC netted me a number of purchases in that (large) library system, as well as a really nice review.

    I also send free books out to libraries. They have different policies. Some sell them at book events and some add them to the collection. I recently sent one to the NY library system, which hadn’t carried any of my books at that time. The system then ordered 35 copies of my next book.

    I’m a firm believer that free ARCs to the right people is the best bang for the buck, publicity wise.

    Reply
  27. Stacey Cochran

    Despite having no publisher, I have managed to do between 100-125 bookstore and library events in the last 18 months.

    Coupled with a television show that reaches 90,000 folks locally three times every week (and an international audience of more than 50 countries each month), I have learned a lot about what bookstores like, how to develop a grassroots campaign, and how to develop strategic partnerships with national bookstore chains.

    This summer I worked one-on-one with the Borders Books National Events Manager on a national workshop tour and campaign. This came about largely because of the good word of mouth on my bookstore events around this region last year.

    Nothing makes a bookstore happier than drawing a crowd of 50+, and a surprising number of events I did in 2007 drew standing-room-only crowds.

    Why?

    The events aren’t about me. They’re about engaging the audience and meeting their needs.

    When I did my Poisoned Pen event in Phoenix this summer, we drew 35 folks… and this was with only two weeks’ notice to get the word out. How?

    The Arizona Republic ran a front-page story on my event because it was _for_ the audience. They listed it on their “Things to Do this Weekend” article. The folks at the store were really behind that, and everyone who came had a blast (and I sold out of my self-published DVDs and books).

    The power of television and mass media is like no other form of advertising, which is why I film every event I do. Why reach only 50 people (at a store), when you can film the event, put it online, and reach 5,000 people?

    Also, I’m developing the chops to put a TV show on major network along the way.

    Now, I’ve decided to start targeting grassroots book clubs. On Meetup.com there are no less than 1,000 book clubs around the U.S.

    What I would like to do is begin an online video documentary profiling these… Most book club organizers are flattered when I’ve asked them if they’d like their organization profiled in a video documentary! The next step is to ask them to choose your book for their club.

    Other things I’ve done that work. Because 450 literary agents passed on my novel THE COLORADO SEQUENCE (only about ten even requested sample chapters), I decided to publish the book as a podcast novel.

    To date, I’ve had over 15,000 downloads of the book, and I’ll probably be near 30,000 total downloads by Christmas ’08.

    Of course, as you guys have all heard me say before, I just wish a major publisher would take a chance and publish one of my novels.

    With a little bit of money and the skill I’ve developed filming my bookstore events, I could really create a powerful word-of-mouth grassroots national video bookstore tour. I know I could.

    In fact, I would if I actually had a major publisher. I wouldn’t settle for less.

    So, mass media combined with serving the stores’ and audiences’ needs… those are the ingredients I’d suggest.

    And always take down everyone’s email address who comes to your event. (I pass around a sign-in sheet at every event I do). I’ve developed a huge email newsletter following from folks who’ve come to my events the past year and a half.

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  28. MJ Rose

    Here is the thing – the one true thing – no one can buy a book they never heard of.

    So how do you do it? How do you get tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people to hear about the book?

    There are 1000 novels published a month. Over 500 show up in the bookstores. Over 100 get some form of coop. The average reader goes into bookstores once every three weeks. Most coop lasts two weeks.

    How do we make sure the reader notices out book?

    And how many ways to do that can we afford and control?

    We can’t be sure we’ll get reviews. We can’t be sure our cover will stand out when it’s compared to the other covers. We can’t be sure the booksellers will hand sell us. We can be sure the publicist we hire will get us articles or radio interviews. We can’t be sure we’ll get word of mouth since that takes readers reading and then talking about the book and if readers don’t hear about it first to read it and the talk about you won’t get word of mouth either.

    But advertising will get the book cover and a short message out there. If you pay for it – it shows up. It is a guarantee

    Do ads work?

    Of course you will sell more books if you expose the book to more people than if you don’t.

    Why does every single publisher take out ads for every single bestseller? In fact they do ads far more times than they hire PR firms. Why? Ads are guaranteed. You don’t have to hope the paper writes about the book – the ad shows up.

    Why do they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars of ads for lead titles? To alert the readers the books are there.

    Do ads sell book the minute someone sees the ad? Of course not. But ads are subliminal. Billions of dollars of testing over the last 75 years proved it over and over and over.

    Ads tell you the book exists and give the book a shot at least ensure you recognize/notice a book when you walk in the store you are more likely to pick up a book that you’ve heard of – even if you don’t realize why or where.

    My biggest beef is when people say they never bought a book based on an ad.

    I say – you don’t know if you did or not.

    Lets say you are reading a blog and see an ad for the wonderful Lee Child’s newest book.Hey, you might say to yourself – I didn’t know Lee had a book out. Great, I have to pick it up and then you forget about it. Then you go in to a bookstore and strangely the very first book you see is by Lee. Coincidence? No. That’s marketing.

    You have to get your name, your book title and your book cover out there over and over and over. People need to see it over and over and over before it sinks it and stands out.

    To do that you have to do something.

    Some people are better at different somethings. Some people have more money for different somethings.

    The right ads work if they are in the right places. Do other things work? Of course. No one thing works. Everything works. The question is how many everythings can you do?

    On line especially, advertising is affordable and targeted and you can reach people and you can make a difference. In general books that are advertised have a much higher sell through rate than books that don’t.

    Reply
  29. Tom Barclay

    JT, don’t know if you saw my note from the weekend – you may not have gotten into the indy bookstore you mentioned, but 14 is on the racks in drugstores I’ve checked across Southern California.

    Not a bad trade-off.

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  30. Allison Brennan

    JT, on what end of the spectrum do you think I am? 🙂 . . . I don’t do hardly any book signings. I have one locally scheduled book signing per book (usually, not always) and sometimes I’ll drive around the area and sign stock. I’ve done a couple multi-author book signings. I’ve sold as few as 3 books and as many as 120. The average is closer to 3. I have one scheduled signing for Playing Dead, and that’s at the Emerald City RWA conference where I’m a luncheon speaker. I’ll go to my local Borders and BN and sign stock when I have a free minute. I’ll do “special” signings, such as if a local bookstore is doing a big local author day or I’m speaking at a library or once one of the sales team from RH took me to a newsgroup sales meeting in my area. Those are totally worth it, even if you’re giving away books.

    I rarely schedule anything during my writing time, and I write every day–at least 5 days a week. Often on weekends, but that’s usually in the evenings.

    When you’re in mass market, signings really don’t matter much. You’ll find people who disagree with this, but for the time and effort, the end result is minimal. I know some authors who sign al the time, every weekend. I’m not saying it’s a waste of time, but it’s not something I want to do for weeks on end . . . until I go to hardcover. There it’s a whole different ball game.

    And indies . . . when you are PBO, indies don’t really pay much attention to you unless you start getting reviews or awards or things like that. I’m in very few indie stores, even the mystery bookstores, and I have book #9 coming out and every book has hit the NYT list, the last 5 on the print list. I made a false assumption that since you’re being marketed as straight suspense, you’d be a shoo-in . . . I’m romantic suspense, and mystery stores don’t generally stock RS unless you’re like Nora Roberts, Lisa Jackson, etc. But I’m trying!

    Who gave away all those ARCS? GREAT idea. I love to give away books. I buy extra copies from Author-Author at a large discount and give away books all the time. I’ve probably given away nearing 1,000 books, primarily the first book in my current trilogy. Why? Because readers get readers. I get so many emails from people who say something like, “My sister gave me your book” or “I saw my daughter reading such-and-such and she said it was so good so I borrowed it and then bought all your other books.” I give books to conferences, charity events, even the guy who installed my bookshelves because he said his girlfriend likes romantic suspense.

    I’ve done a few other things, but rarely signings and between raising five kids and writing three books a year, I don’t have time to do much of anything.

    But I do talk a lot online 🙂

    Reply
  31. David J. Montgomery

    Virtually anything an author does to promote their books will help. The important thing is to be smart about it so that you undertake the activities that will have the most impact for the hour/dollar spent. (And one of the things that make this so difficult is that it’s very hard to assess these things.)

    But it’s also important to remember that all of this in contingent on outside factors. If you’re getting a $5000 advance and your publisher is printing 3000 hardcovers, it probably doesn’t make any sense to spend $5000 buying ads or financing your own tour. If you’re published by a small press that has no (or limited) distribution, the same cautions apply.

    On the other hand, if your publisher is printing 50k copies and spending tens of thousands on co-op and sending out 1000 ARCs, you probably don’t need to worry about starting a blog.

    I think it’s important for authors to assess the realities of their publishing situation, assess their own strengths and weaknesses, assess how much time vs. how much money they’re willing to invest, and then make their promotional decisions on that basis.

    As M.J. said, everything works, but nothing works on its own. Successful promotion relies on a variety of factors all working in concert. But before you can even get to that point, you have to have at least a reasonable amount of distribution and publisher support behind the book. Without that, you’re just wasting your time and money.

    Reply
  32. Allison Brennan

    I hadn’t read MJ’s comments before I posted . . . all great advice and I agree. My goal has always been long-term career building. From day one, I wanted a professional website that I regularly updated, quality bookmarks (I use them as business cards), and more books–meaning, if I couldn’t get the books from my publisher, I would get them myself and give them out.

    There was one thing I heard about the time I first sold. It’s attributed to Nora Roberts, and she’s very sharp so she probably said it. Don’t spend more than 10% of your advance on promotion. 95% of the time, the amount of your advance can tell you how hard your publisher is going to push. The more money invested in you, the more they’ll push. There are of course the sleepers that get the small advances then break-out big, but most of the time that’s not going to happen. And it’s not something that the author has any control over. Even with my first book, I didn’t spend more than 10% on promotion and that included my website.

    I can afford to do more now, and frankly, the stakes are higher because the higher you climb, the further you can fall. I love targeted marketing–I did that in politics all the time and it makes sense. Try to reach your readers who haven’t read your books. And hope if they take a chance on you, they’ll be hooked.

    As both MJ and David said, if your books aren’t out there in sufficient numbers, it’s virtually impossible to break-out. On MJ’s blog somewhere there are a series of articles that Barry Eisler wrote about partnering with your publisher. I’ve read them several times. While I don’t agree with every single point, as a whole the ideas are terrific. being proactive and coming up with ideas working with your publisher. Because while they may not do everything for your book that you want them to do, if you take some initiative, they may respond in kind. Also, knowing where your books are (and where they’re not) and what the publisher is planning can help you with your own budgeting. You can’t go in blind and throw your money around and see what sticks. You should have a plan.

    BUT in the end, the most important thing is the book. That’s why promotion shouldn’t interfere with the writing.

    Reply
  33. Catherine

    Allison, when Nora Robert’s Tribute (romantic suspense)came out a little while back I was in a large shopping mall on a Sunday afternoon, where it almost felt like saturation mode all things Nora. I think it was the first week of the books release here in Australia. Borders had a large display, and discounted price and posters, and in the mall there more posters on stands(next to benches) a voice over throughout the mall with a plot teaser, and then also large displays in Kmart, and Target et al.That is the first and only time I’ve seen such a huge targeted campaign for any author.

    I found myself still reading an extract online and then the next week going and buying it.Because I wanted to know I would be happy to invest a couple of hours into the characters and story.For me a well thought out website provides that avenue to explore.

    JT I really research books before I buy, so a signed copy is just icing…I either order a book in directly, or specifically search for an author. I do notice the staff picks though and got a little kick to see that both 14 and Toni’s first book had staff pick stickers on them from the Seattle bookstore.

    Although I went through an independant bookstore and got my copy mailed in from the US release later I found that in Australia your first book was released at about my eye height (I’m 5ft 4)…which was about the second or third top shelf.

    Also congratulations on 14. I was caught up in the same dilemna as last time( when reading All the Pretty Girls), race along with the pace and have the story end all too soon, or put it down every now and then to prolong the ride.

    Reply
  34. j.t. ellison

    Home again, home again, jiggity jig : )

    RJ, I have a shelf of signed books that I would be hard pressed to ever give away.

    Stacey, you’re a machine. I’m glad that despite not being published the way you want to be, you’re being proactive and making things happen for your career. Bravo.

    MJ, don’t they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? I don’t where plagiarism runs along that road, but I’ll check it out for you. Thanks for clarifying for us.

    David, yes. A little bit of everything works. I wish there was a quantifiable answer, but there isn’t.

    Allison, you answered your own question. I wanted to hear from you as a massively successful mass market original author who doesn’t do extensive touring. I agree wholeheartedly with Nora’s statement that you shouldn’t spend more than 10% of your advance on promotion. I know people who’ve spent their entire advance plus taken out loans to promote themselves, and no one knows their name. I think I’ve spent between 5-15% of my advance on promotion — a website that Randy designed which cost nothing, postcards (I’m switching to bookmarks for Judas, easier to hand out,) an independent publicist and travel to conferences. That’s it. I don’t do swag, I don’t do mass mailings of galleys, mostly because Mira does that for me. The vast majority of the expense has been travel, and the publicist gets awfully expensive for what it really gets. Mira’s publicity has been wonderful, so everything I do on the side is a compliment instead of the only thing I’m getting. I’ve said it before, I am utterly blessed.

    Tom, I did get your email! Sorry, I’ve been very hit or miss, I actually traveled without my laptop this trip. I’ll take Rite Aid any day of the week, and twice on Sundays. Thanks for letting me know!

    Catherine, I came home to find a box from Australia, with my Aussie copies of 14. So cool, and so exciting. Hey, where’s my “14 with Pearls” photo?

    Thanks, everyone. This has been a very, very helpful day for me, and I hope to other new authors who are trying to make decisions about what to spend their funds on.

    Reply

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