My Thoughts on Book Tours

Via Metafilter, I found and read this article on The Awl in which several authors (and a couple of publicists) discussed the pros and cons of book tours. As someone who tours and otherwise does lots of author appearances I found it interesting, with some of the points lining up with my own experience and some not. This prompted me to write up my own thoughts about book tours in the Metafilter comments. Because I believe in “waste not, want not,” I’m reposting the bulk of that comment here for the edification of all y’all, with a minor edit because I made a hasty snark which I thought I should walk back a bit (you’ll see it).

Some of this has been covered here before, but this has enough variance that I think it’s a worthwhile post.

And yes, I will be doing a tour for Redshirts in June. We’re still fine-tuning the stops. I’ll post it when it’s locked down.


My thoughts on book tours.

1. I find them to be very useful, personally; the tour I did last year for Fuzzy Nation definitely helped to get the book on the NYT best seller list, first by helping me do publicity in the various cities the tour was in (which helped sales) and second by the tour going to bookstores sampled by the NYT lists, which helped to sell a lot of books at those particular stores.

2. You don’t have to be an extrovert to go on a book tour, but what you do have be is social — that is, have the ability to engage an audience during the reading part, and make amusing small talk during the autographing part. You are essentially going to be on stage and the focus of attention for three hours straight, and that’s draining (especially if you are an introvert), so you better be prepared for it.

3. Related to the above, you should recognize that for the duration of the appearance, you are not a writer, you are a performer — your job is to entertain the people who have come out to see you. To that end, the person in that article who said they like to read in a quiet, flat monotone is, in my opinion, something of an idiot not doing it the way I think it should be done. You have to perform your reading and make it memorable. They’ve humped out to wherever the hell you are; it’s not out of line for you to make it worth their while.

4. When I read at an appearance, I rarely if ever read from the book I’m touring for; most of the people have either already bought the book (or are going to buy it at the appearance) so reading them what they already know is no fun. What I typically do is read from an upcoming novel and emphasize that because the audience members took time from their lives to see me, I’m giving them an exclusive that no one else gets. It makes them feel special and it also serves the useful purpose of giving me feedback on what’s often a work in progress.

5. Book tours can indeed be lonely and disorienting, particularly if you’re traveling to a different city every day. If you can, do visit with friends either before or after your event, but do make them aware that after two or three hours of being “ON,” you might be a little… dissipated. In other words, they’ll need to do the heavy conversational lifting.

6. Try to fit everything into a carryon. On my last tour I traveled to 14 cities; that was 14 opportunities for the airlines to lose my luggage. Be aware if you have a long tour that this means you may have to do laundry in the middle of it. It helps to have a friend with a washer and dryer somewhere around halfway through the tour.

7. Try to eat well. Tours give you lots of opportunity to eat a bunch of shit from airport news stands and fast food restaurants. Resist the temptation. You will notice the difference in your energy level.

8. Authors don’t get groupies. Sorry.

9. Book tours really aren’t for everyone. You have to be willing to perform and entertain, and be a public entity, and lots of writers either can’t do it or don’t want to do it. For such a writer, a tour isn’t going to be useful. They should focus on publicity options that are congenial to them. Not being able to tour isn’t a crime, and it isn’t even necessarily a drawback, publicity-wise, provided that the author is doing other things to get their work out in the public sphere.

10. That said, if you can tour, and be an interesting public speaker and personality, then there are definitely benefits. People remember good readings and appearances and thereby think positively about you; that makes them more likely to buy your work in the future and to recommend your work to others. Touring can give you an opportunity to meet booksellers, librarians and other writers, all of whom can be helpful for building friendships and business relationships. You get to see the country (and sometimes the world), often on your publisher’s dime, and that doesn’t suck, either. And hey, you might sell some books too. It beats lifting heavy objects for a living.

41 Comments on “My Thoughts on Book Tours”

  1. On the “groupie” thing I suppose I should mention that it’s actually that I don’t get groupies. Other writers might, although general anecdotal discussion with other authors I knows suggests the in general, groupies are not falling out of the trees.

    Not that I’m in the market for groupies, mind you.

    You know what? I’m gonna shut up about groupies now.

  2. In regards to point number 4, I would assume people in attendance are already fans. Sort of preaching to the choir? I wonder how often people stumble upon a book tour, listen and watch and then decide to buy the book or try out the author? I imagine there has to be some.

    With point 8, I am sure there are not groupies in the sense that they follow you around the country but there ought to be a clear fanbase that resonds. There certainly is here in the online world.

  3. There would be groupies if writers would spend more time focusing on their rock star bodies instead of their prose.

  4. About the “Redshirts” tour, I have only one question: Minneapolis?

    Also, about the dark side of book tours: I once went to one, featuring a very well-known SF writer, whom I was a fan of, and whom I was looking forward to getting my first-edition hardcovers signed by. It didn’t happen, because about halfway through his talk with the audience, he started stating some opinions which I found homophobic and deeply offensive. As much as I liked this author up to that point in time, I realized that I no longer wanted anything to do with him. And what I really needed was a shower. I quietly got up and left, and so did quite a few other people.

    So, there was at least one instance in which a book tour definitely worked against an author.

    Just sayin’.

  5. Re: #8 I beg your pardon, but we drove all the way* from Durham, NC to see you do a reading somewhere in the middle of Ohio. I totally think that qualifies for groupie status.

    *Okay, so it was on the way to our eventual destination (Michigan, I think). It should still count.

  6. Authors don’t get groupies?? Well, crap! I’m chuckin’ my 400-page manuscript (all hand written with a fountain pen mind you) and taking up the 12-string guitar right now!

  7. Yep:

    I do actually get new people coming to readings; they’re sometimes brought by others who are fans, or are just people looking for something to do that day and see a reading as free entertainment.

    Tracey C:

    Being a fan (or which I thank you!) is not the same as being a groupie. A fan wants your autograph. A groupie wants something else entirely.

  8. Sapiophilia’s a real thing. If we love you for your mind, there are some people out there who would *love* you for your mind. Trust me, authors get groupies. Even that Scalzi guy has at least one groupie, because well, hi!

    I suspect that other would-be Scalzi groupies are simply too polite (and afraid of Krissy-related repercussions) to actually.. y’know.. “group.”

  9. Points well made sir. Might I also suggest that many of them also apply to Author appearances at Conventions, except maybe the part about travel since you are only going one maybe 2 places.

    I chaired a faily large and well known literary con for several years. At least 15-20 authors on my watch list are there because of con appearances, mostly because of what John says above. I spoke to the author, found them likeable and/or interesting and checked out their books.

    The same guidelines also hold true for appearances with local groups, library readings, etc. All of those have been a source of new authors for me.

  10. I do hope you come somewhere near me again, this year. I didn’t get to catch your appearance last year. I want to be able to give you a, “this giant freak isn’t going to try to hug me moment.” But, I won’t, I’ll get my book signed and maybe shake your hand, and get to tell you in person how much I like your work.

  11. Regarding”…by the tour going to bookstores sampled by the NYT lists, which helped to sell a lot of books at those particular stores.”

    This is one of the reasons I put so little stock in the weekly NYT list. The ability to scam the system by knowing where the samples come from and flooding those markets for dersired results makes the list an advertising and marketing gimmick rather than unbiased reporting. Not that I’m accusing YOU of this….but every time a ‘tell-all’ quickie-biopic of some reality flavor of the month appears on the list – a book noone is ever actually seen reading – it undercuts whatever value and legitimacy the list once had.

  12. barbara trumpinski-r (@kittent) says:
    “You, Neil Gaiman and maybe Seanan McGuire are the exceptions that prove the rule….”

    As a highly-theoretical potential groupie for John or Neil, I’d have to say I’d be … well, “intimidated” isn’t the right word but close enough … by Krissy and Amanda Fucking Palmer.

    Also, too, my odds of being a successful groupie in either case, all things considered, would be asymptotic to zero.

  13. Con appearances are how I found Naomi Novik, Joan Slonczewski and Lois McMaster Bujold. Personable, interesting discussions and, later, cool books.

  14. @Robin Raianiemi – I asked him about Minneapolis as well. He sid the book tour is still being finalized, so we will have to wait until the cities are announced. It won’t be long, because we are only a few weeks away from the “day”.

  15. Exactly Bearpaw, there’s also that factor. In order to have groupies, an author would need the reputation/fan-perception that a groupie might be successful… Rockstars get more groupies because they are EASY.

  16. For some reason, I’m suddenly tempted to start going to readings and seeing how many plaster casts I can collect of authors’ … hands.

    (Actually, that *would* be kinda cool.)

  17. Use dental alginate, it sets MUCH faster. Also, plaster heats as it cures, and can burn your subject.

  18. Glad you corrected the Groupie thing there John :)

    I was about to point out that I’ve been out and about in the company of Neil Gaiman a few times, and he definitely has groupies :p

    #7 – as a veteran business traveler (200K miles a year blah blah) that’s for anybody doing anything protracted on the road.

  19. Another benefit of book tours – booksellers like authors who come to their store and will handsell the crap out of a book by an author they can say they have met. We sold tons of copies (for us) of Old Man’s War because we were sf nerds and liked John.

    I think at our store Marjorie M. Liu had a couple of wannabe groupies.

  20. Most authors ought not read, because they do not have the talent. BookTV on CSPAN is a good place to see it in action. These authors know their subjects every which way and are highly skilled at discussing the subject. They are fantastic. But the authors that do a reading – most of them suddenly seem completely uninteresting and uninspiring. Booooring. Yes, it’s non-fic authors, but I find that it holds up as an example. Most authors Can Not Do Readings and ruin their appearances.

    If you aren’t offering anything-I-want-to-do-with-you sex, you aren’t a groupie. Give me a ‘backstage pass’ and I’ll give you one.

  21. At last year’s Worldcon, I purposely used the kaffeeklatches and literary beers to ‘sample’ authors I didn’t know. I figured that if I found them interesting to listen/speak to in a small group, I might well enjoy their books. Besides, Bujold and Willis filled right up.

  22. I had the impression that when Scalzi uses the word “groupies” he is specifically making reference to those willing to “group”, since usually the next sentence has to do with the fierceness of Krissy.

    I was going to mention a writer/producer with whom I shared an elevator when he had to discourage a wannabe groupie, but now I’m not so sure it’s a good idea. Is this really where went want to go with this? Even if we don’t say how they responded, it seems a bit close to the line to me.

  23. Hey, if it weren’t for a book tour, I’d likely have never met William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, and seen Gibson compltely piss-monkey drunk and lusting for the weathergirl who was on the Weather Channel that evening, nor would I have learned of the most offensive bumper sticker ever from Sterling (“God Is My Co-Pilot And We’re Cruising For Pussy”).

  24. “To that end, the person in that article who said they like to read in a quiet, flat monotone… ”

    That sounds really boring.

    That person should go to one of Connie Willis’ readings to see how it is done (sorry John, never been to one of your readings – but I bet you also would be awesome. Any plan to come and do a reading here in Denver?)

  25. Also agreeing about anyone who likes to read in a quiet, flat monotone being, well, boring as hell. Have never been to a reading/signing by someone with that preference, thank ghods. It does remind me of one time Jack Whyte signed at Totem Books, and related how eye-opening it was for him when a teacher read Milton’s sonnet on his blindness with actual emphasis and meaning, instead of the monotone reading he’d been used to hearing before.

    (I used to volunteer doing radio reading for the blind, and wish I were up for doing it again… it’s a fun skill for an introvert to have. *grin*)

    (Also, if the UWashington bookstore is on your tour, I’ll try to catch the ferry over…)

  26. On point 1, the wife will be quite glad to hear about the complete lack of groupies thing for the day when I do get published. I tried to assure her that there were no such thing as sci fi/fantasy writer groupies, but she didn’t seem convinced. Now I have the statment of the President of SFWA to show her.
    On point 3, since the guy who said he likes to read in a quiet, flat monotone is the same one who recalls deciding to trip on mushrooms before his reading, maybe calling him something of an idiot is not, in fact, unfair

  27. John, if you end up in DC, I’ll even do your laundry for you. But since I tend to buy your books as ebooks, you’re going to have to sign my kindle. (Which would, as I think about it, be perhaps the coolest thing ever done with a Kindle.)

  28. About the “Redshirts” tour, you absolutely must come down to Atlanta. Period, end of discussion.

    Ok, fine, if you would rather go to Birmingham or Chattanooga (although, fine cities that they are, I can’t imagine why you would pick one of them over Atlanta), I’ll make the trip. And I suppose I could make it as far as Greenville, Asheville, Knoxville, or, all right, even Nashville. But that is where I draw the line. I definitely wouldn’t travel south from Atlanta, well not any further than Jacksonville anyway.

    While Richmond, Louisville, Memphis, and New Orleans would all be considered a trip down South for you, there is no way I can drive that far just for a book signing. I’m not in my 20s anymore you know. Of course I still don’t have a signed copy of Fuzzy Nation, so I’d be killing two birds with one stone, so maybe…

    No, forget I said any of that. Atlanta it is. I’m glad we’ve got that straightened out. Can’t wait to see you here!

  29. Tamora Pierce started out a reading at a local library in a little old lady quavery monotone – just to freak out the audience :) Was very funny – the teens looked appalled and the adults had very polite grim smiles. Then she laughed and went on to a great talk.

  30. Scalzi: ” Not being able to tour isn’t a crime, and it isn’t even necessarily a drawback, publicity-wise, provided that the author is doing other things to get their work out in the public sphere.”

    Such as?

    Blogging is the only thing I can think of, getting some kind of public presence.

  31. Bearpaw: “For some reason, I’m suddenly tempted to start going to readings and seeing how many plaster casts I can collect of authors’ … hands”

    Besides what Mount said, a bigger problem of using plaster might be answering the question of how you get their hands OUT of the plaster once its hardened. the dental alginate, once its solidified, is still pliable. You can wiggle your hand around and crack the alginate loose from your skin. You can also put a little bit of water into that crack, and it will help speed up the seperation and make it easier to pull out your hand.

  32. I could easily become your groupie. It is a source of both amusement and embarrassment to me to find that I have become a somewhat gushy fan of several authors. In fact, I cringe a bit when I think of my reaction to meeting some of my favorite authors at Denvention a few years ago. So, if I manage to make it to Chicon, I’ll gush all over you, too.

  33. Neil Gaiman definitely gets groupies. I remember the Boskone when he was GoH, and was just Moderately Famous instead of (as now) Mega Famous. Whew. I think the old school fans were scandalized.

  34. Awe, no groupies, so sad! We really do enjoy the book tour aspect of writing. It sure helps that we are a writing duo. Always have someone to help when the going gets tough! It doesn’t hurt that we are both extroverts!

  35. saruby: Yeah. At least you didn’t manage to whack our esteemed host in the reg line with your backpack at Denvention. :) (I didn’t know it was Scalzi when I did it — you can imagine my horror when I found out who he was.)

    He’s been nothing but awesome the few times I’ve met him, though, even after that first impression.

    PS: Using my Twitter account because is being a pain with accepting my email address. :P

  36. I can vouch for M. Scalzi being a great reader, with sound effects. You know they’re good when an eyebrow lift at the right moment cause guffaws all round. Toronto would be happy to see you again.

    PS: Worse than the monotone drone is the non-monotone whine. Though this author’s book was delightful.

  37. I’d second that authors should still think about book tours. I did 45 events in 43 days in 2009 for Finch and Booklife and it was partially on the publisher’s dime, partially paid for by college gigs I did, and partially I stayed with fans. You have to plan it out right and really think about all the angles–I am going to write a piece on booklifenow soon about what that means for most writers–but as John says, it’s still viable and it’s good to get out and about, too.

  38. A possibly dumb question (from a non-author): I understand book tours are primarily promotional, but do you get paid for the book tour itself, as a band gets paid when they tour? Or is it strictly promotional, with expenses paid by the publisher?

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