By Louise Ure
I had an email chat with an old friend a couple of weeks ago who said that her scheduled signing at a local bookstore on election night did not turn out as well as expected. “There was one person there, and I think he was homeless.” This from a woman who has published dozens of books in our genre.
I can understand her disappointment. The economy has taken a toll on the purchase of new hardcover books for many folks, the bookstore had not done a good job of publicizing her appearance in advance, and frankly, there were probably lots of people who just wanted to stay home that night and watch the election results. And who needs a signing to sell an electronic copy of a book, anyway?
Her signing failure is not uncommon. I remember attending one event for Laura Lippman several years ago that had only five attendees; all but one of us budding mystery writers ourselves.
The terror of my first book signing event is still with me. Yeah, me, the girl who had for three decades given hundreds of budget and strategy presentations to senior level clients all over the world. But that was easy by comparison, because all those years I was talking about/selling somebody else’s ideas or product. This time the product was all mine and I was selling myself.
Kirk Russell, sensing my angst, came over and said quietly into my ear, “Remember there is no one here that doesn’t want to be here. They’re happy to be here.” Kind of like that job at Dairy Queen I wrote about a couple of weeks ago: everybody who came in was happy to see me.
It got easier after that, whether I was doing solo signings, partnering with another author, attending conventions and panels or signing at libraries, clubs or festivals. I know I’ve done well over a hundred … maybe two hundred … appearances like that now.
But that doesn’t mean I like them.
I’m perfectly happy to converse with readers and get to know them as well as having them get to know me and my work. But I’ve become such a hermit these days that even telephone conversations – let alone a real social interaction – have become difficult.
And then you add in the money.
With my first book, published by Time Warner’s Mysterious Press (now Grand Central), I was treated like royalty. My book tour was set up and paid for by their PR team, and they even included media escorts to drive me around each city. My current publisher (St. Martin’s) does not offer those same kind of perks to many of their authors. My guess is that the big name authors still get a fair amount of PR support from their publishers, but ninety percent of authors pay their own freight on publicity tours. In my case, that’s meant thousands of dollars of contribution for gas, flights, hotels and meals, for little reward.
Is the two-person turnout in Portland or the one-audience-member-who-bought-six-books in a Seattle suburb justification for all those dollars spent? Not for me it isn’t. Not anymore.
And I’m not even sure who I was reaching with those book tours. With the first book, there were a preponderance of friends, acquaintances and family members who showed up. For the more recent books, many of the attendees already knew my work and came prepared to buy the next book. I don’t think it’s the way to reach a lot of new readers.
If I publish again, I doubt that I would do a book tour. Maybe I’d concentrate on conventions or libraries or a massive internet effort.
So what say you, ‘Rati ‘Riters? Do you continue to think book tours are integral to your marketing? Do you go to the same places with each book or different geographies? And does your publisher help with any of it?
And for our ‘Rati ‘Readers: are personal signing events important to you? Are you attending more or fewer of them these days?
PS: Have a great Thanksgiving everyone. I’ve got 31 people coming here. It will be the last of three decades of Ure/Goronsky household Thanksgivings. It’s somebody else’s turn now.