Does Book Touring Still Matter?

In the picture above are elementary, junior high, high school and college classmates, people who I work with on video games, people I work with on TV, and at least one multiple Grammy winner. Plus ordinary, awesome fans. This is a good tour date turn out.

I am home today but tomorrow morning I set out again for the third and final leg of my Lock In book tour, which will take me to Brookline, Massachusetts; Concord, New Hampshire; Saratoga Springs, New York; Brookyn and Philadelphia. When all is said and done, this tour will have had over two dozen events on it, and I will have seen and signed books for, conservatively, about two and a half thousand people.

When I’m out and about and recount my tour adventures to people (I can reel off my itinerary just about in my sleep at this point), the question often arises about whether all this touring is actually still useful and/or desirable in an age where so many people get their books electronically, and when one (or at least, one like me) can show up to a comic con, at which between 20k and 50k people will show up in one place, where you also happen to be. In this context, book touring can at least initially seem like an anachronism, and of questionable value.

Here’s why it’s not questionable, at least for someone like me (and I will explain what “someone like me” means in a bit — stay tuned). In no particular order:

1. Because print books still matter. Chest-thumping about the digital revolution aside, print books are still 70% of the market in a general sense. I personally sell more electronically than in print, but my print sales are still substantial and I’m not inclined to ignore them. Book tours take me to places where those print books are sold, especially at the beginning of the book’s sales cycle. Showing up can make a difference.

2. Because it pumps up best seller list appearances. Lots of tours (including mine) include stops to bookstores that report to Bookscan, the New York Times, and to local and specialty newspapers and magazines, all of whom collate that information and offer up best seller lists. Best seller lists matter because it’s free advertising in newspapers and online, because bookstores (including Barnes & Noble, the largest book chain in the US) put best selling books front of store, making your work easier for people to find — especially if you’re in genre, because sometimes people won’t intentionally wander over to the genre racks — and because it becomes a useful tool in marketing. When you can claim you are a bestseller, it assures someone who has never read you before that they aren’t wrong for giving you a try; after all, lots of other people agree with their decision.

3. Because it helps to support bookstores, and not just in the sense of selling a whole bunch of books to people at the event to see me, although that doesn’t hurt. It also reconnects people to the fact that there is a bookstore in their city, gives them an opportunity to walk the aisles and look at the wares, and gives the bookstore a chance to make the argument to these folks that shopping at the store is still a great way to buy books and a great way to support local business. Helping keep bookstores in business and front of mind to locals is in my long-term best interest, because, again, print isn’t going away anytime soon… unless the bookstores go away.

4. Because it can generate local and national attention. Aside from best seller lists (which generally happen after the fact), local press often run interviews and features — or even just appearance listings — prior to an event, which can help draw people in to the local bookstore, and which can help my publicist capture the interest of reporters and media outlets further down the line on the tour. Simply just showing up can make the difference in whether there’s a review or feature. And again, people may snark about newspapers/magazines being in decline, but know this: Those newspapers and magazines still go out to tens and hundreds of thousands of people. You can still get a lot of attention from and awareness out of them.

5. Because it develops relationships between you and book sellers. If I come into a bookstore, fill it with dozens of people, all of whom buy books, talk up the book seller to my audience, and show appreciation for and respect to the book seller for having my event at their store, you know what? Weeks and months later, long after I’m gone, that book seller is still likely to be recommending and hand selling me and my books to customers who come into the store — and ordering my books, both in back list and when the new books come out. This matters quite a lot because, again, print isn’t dead, and people are people; they remember the people who have helped them out and have been on their side.

(The flip side of this is that if you come in to a bookstore, act like a jerk and give a disappointing appearance for the people who have come to see you, the book seller is going to remember that, too. So, you know. You try not to do that.)

6. Because not everyone who comes to your book tour is going to come to a comic con or other convention. Note that I don’t think these things are either/or — you can do book tours and appearances at large general events, like comic cons, book fairs and other such things. I mean, I do — I do several conventions and book fairs a year. But anecdotally, there’s a large number of people who show up to my bookstore events who aren’t going to go to something like a comic con. Some of them are people who do not see themselves as “geeks” — i.e., people whose idea of fun encompasses spending a day (or three) in a convention center among tens of thousands of other people. Some people hate large crowds and prefer an opportunity to see you in a more intimate setting. Some people have never heard of you before and found out about you through a book seller flyer or email, or a newspaper write-up. Some people just happen to be in the store when you start doing your thing. And so on. Limiting one’s self to one sort of appearance limits you to the sort of person who will come to that sort of appearance — limits your potential audience, in other words. I’m not sure why I would want to do that.

7. Because people want their moment with you. The number of people who have a book signed specifically to have a signed book is actually pretty small. The majority of the people who are getting a book signed are getting a book signed so they get a little time with you — to talk to you about the book, to get a picture, to share a thought or otherwise spend just a moment with someone whose work they like and who they might even admire in some way. A book tour is a good way to have those moments, and those moments matter — it can mean the difference between someone being a casual fan, and someone being a lifelong reader of your work (and being someone who recommends that work to others).

And yes, this is a very hands-on, time-intensive, retail way of doing things, but again, it’s not just about the moment, it’s about what happens after the moment — the knock-on effects of that moment, over days and weeks and months and years. Looked upon that way, it’s not a bad time investment.

(And once again, it can work the other way, too — if you blow that moment with someone, they’re going to remember that. You have to be fully engaged in the moment, and you have to make sure the person you’re having the moment with knows you are actually happy to be sharing it with them.)

8. Because it’s fun, even as it is a lot of work. I mean, come on. I get to go around the US and meet people who are fantastically happy to see me, perform for them for an hour with the reading and Q&A, and then spend a moment with them as I sign their books and/or take a photo with them. It’s a lot of travel and a lot of work being “on” the whole time, but it’s not hard, and there is, bluntly, a lot of ego gratification, which doesn’t suck, either. People geek out about meeting me. That’s weird. And delightful! But weird. I like it, and I like that every day that I am out of tour, I get concrete evidence that people enjoy what I do. It’s a nice life, you know?

There are other reasons to tour, including some that are very inside pool for publishing and book selling, but you get the idea.

Now, it’s important to note a couple of things here. The first is that in general I get toured a lot more, and a lot longer, than most authors; I’ve toured for five out of my last six books and I’ve toured for no less than two and a half weeks each time. That’s a lot, especially when you consider that I publish new books more or less annually. I am also someone who sells a lot generally and is well-along in his career; my position and perspective are different than many authors.

It’s also important to note that by and large the benefits of touring are not short term; at the end of my tour, Tor, my publisher, will just barely zero out the cost of putting me on tour, or will either eke out a tiny profit or suffer a tiny loss. This is all about the long-term benefits: To me, to them, to booksellers, and to the relationships between all of us and the folks who read my work. In the short term, the book tour benefits might seem iffy. In the long term, however, it is totally worth it.

So, again, for me, touring makes sense, and will probably continue to make sense, for a long time to come. I expect I’m not the only author for whom this is the case.

(Comments are on for a couple of days.)

69 Comments on “Does Book Touring Still Matter?”

  1. The “Goodwill” of book touring is hard to put a dollar value on, though.

    If you were coming to Minneapolis, I’d come out to meet you. Have I (sorta kinda) seen you at a con? Yes. But that’s not quite the same, and lots of people at that book tour, as you say, would never come to a con. It shows you as a face for the community, for the bookstore, for readers.

    I’m glad Tor puts you on tour :)

  2. In 30 years of reading, i managed to attend only one reading tour. It was Terry Pratchett and my diaphragm hurt from laughing for days. I never knew you could get aching muscles from listening ;-).

    Unluckily, the combination of my living location (coast of the Baltic sea) and choice of authors (SF&F in English language) make this a rare treat. I wish your (and your colleagues) travel itinerary would pay more attention to my home waters ;-).

    I admire you for your travelling stamina and hope you may still enjoy it.

  3. Thanks for coming to Gurnee! I appreciated seeing you “perform live”. I already have all your books (Lock In was already mailed to be with your signature) so I didn’t stand it line for a moment, but I did appreciate the show. What you didn’t mention is that you’re a skilled stand-up comedian in your own right. You should think of selling tickets! ;)
    Thanks for taking the time to tour. Hope Tor breaks even or shows a little profit on their investment, too.

  4. As a long time reader of whatever and several of your books it seems to me that as you get more popular and become more important you are losing your humbleness. Not completely mind you, you still spend time with people here and on the road but a big reason for that is self serving which is to be expected.

    This comment is to be deleted as I would expect. The intended audience is you and you have seen it. But I hope you consider this privately and assess what it says. Thanks

  5. There’s an odd knock-on effect of meeting people in person, whether one is an author, actor, or politician, looking at future sales or votes. In the last 10-15 years, some politicos have tried to limit public appearances, claiming “social media” et alia were replacing handshakes, bar-b-ques, and baby kissing, but somehow it doesn’t work that way. An interview on Reddit and some YouTube videos just don’t translate into votes the way that Town Hall and county fair appearances do.

    I had this discussion with a popular science author a few years ago; she was touring in my town, and I was writing for a local paper & blog about events and doing book reviews. Neither of us could pin down causation, beyond anecdotally, but we had a nice chat about correlation. And, I found that I was more likely to mention her in my columns after that, without intentional bias; I didn’t seek out reasons to mention her, but if I ran across news about her new books or an interview, it stuck in my head, so I shared it on my platforms.

    People are social animals, still, I think. Exchanging bacteria, odors, and dead skin cells is kind of our thing…

  6. Not that John needs defending, but I thought that GobblyGook’s comment about this site’s moderation policy should be addressed. John hasn’t, as far as I’ve seen, censored comments for disagreement, but for belligerent stupidity, not adding to the conversation, or being a troll. This has made John’s comments sections worth reading and better than any site I’ve ever seen. I appreciate that.

  7. One advantage you have is that in my 28 years of meeting authors, you and Connie Willis strike me as the two who connect best in person with their readers.

    It is a pleasure to come see you in person and you always go the extra mile to make it a special experience for those that show up at your readings.

    So keep up the good work, and continue having fun at the signings. It is always obvious you are enjoying your time while up in front of the audience. (The other parts of touring I know can be a pain)

    Read Lock in, and loved it. Although the Novella to start the hard cover would have been nice. They go together extremely well.

  8. GobblyGook:

    “The intended audience is you and you have seen it.”

    Well, no, that’s entirely disingenuous. If the intended audience was me and only me, you could have emailed it to me. Whether or not you wish to admit it to yourself, your intent in posting it here was to have it seen by other people.

    Regarding losing my humbleness, also, no. I’ve never been particularly humble. It’s hard to lose something you don’t have (or don’t have much of). Perhaps to your point, I am well aware of my fortunate position in the world, and in the world of publishing, and am not inclined to pretend it is something it is not. I’m also not inclined to worry if people think that means I suffer a lack of humility.

    Mind you, there are people out there who will happily tell you I have always had an overinflated sense of my own position as well. I’m not particularly worried about what they think, either.

    With that said, my humility or lack there of (not to mention my commenting policy) is not precisely on point to this comment thread, so let’s go ahead and table it for now. Thanks.


    Putting the novella in the front of the novel in the same volume would probably been too much for most peple, I think, in terms of getting right into the story. But thank you.

  9. Hi! I was one of the people who saw you in Lexington (and I saw you in Lexington on your last book tour, too). I asked a question about the novella, as I LOOOVVED it (I’m an epidemiology buff, so it was right up my alley). Anyway, thanks for touring. I enjoyed seeing you both times.

  10. You mentioned that you toured for five out of your last six books. Out of curiosity, which book did you not tour for, and why not?

  11. Muspel:

    I didn’t tour for Zoe’s Tale. As to why I didn’t tour: Mostly because Tor didn’t suggest I do so, and I wasn’t expecting to in any event. It wasn’t a big deal — I didn’t assume one toured for every book (an assumption which is, as it turns out, not a bad one to have; I had several non-fiction books between ZT and today, none of which I toured for).

  12. It would be interesting to check out Hugo Awards and see whether those that won had authors that toured diligently, comparing them with those that came last.

    You know, in general.

  13. Makes sense to me that it makes sense to you. Under the circumstances you describe, it definitely sounds like fun (despite the hard work). Congrats, and best wishes, John. :-)

  14. As a strictly personal viewpoint, I come to your book signings because they are *entertaining* and *enjoyable*. I have FUN at your signings!

    I get the books signed while I am there just as a incidental item, on the small chance that when I kick the bucket and my kids sell off my library they might get more for the books.

    I take pictures while I am there, but that is because I enjoy photography and like attempting to capture the atmosphere of the event. (Most of the time I fall short of what I am reaching for, as with all my images on any subject, but I sometimes please myself. Among my favorite images are a couple of shots from Worldcon 2008 of Mary Kowal reading from the Sagan Dairies, with you in the background. With them, I was actually able to achieve what I was trying to do, which gave me a lot of satisfaction.)

    I cannot resist commenting on the remarks about your ego. As you have said yourself, it is obvious that humility is a word that is probably not applicable in your case. However, in my eyes that makes your behavior toward others even more deserving of praise. As I said to you at your Pasadena signing, your gracious and friendly conversation with my teen-age granddaughter at Phoenix Comic Con 2013 left her floating on air. You may not be humble, but you do a damned good imitation of it.

    – Tom –

  15. -et-:

    What you try to do, generally speaking and unless somehow indicated otherwise, is what the Golden Rule suggests you should do: try to treat everyone with the graciousness and kindness that you yourself would like to have. Simple enough, and everything else proceeds from there.

  16. I’ve met a fair number of writers at conventions of one kind or another, have heard many of them speak on panels or at readings, and those events have nearly always been loads of fun. And I will freely admit that I’m a lot likelier to go out and buy a book if I’ve engaged in conversation with the writer about it.

    But there are very, very few writers about whom I geek out so much that I’d drive across town (or across the state) to attend their book tour event. And about half of the writers I feel that way about are already dead, which makes it hard to get to an event where they’re appearing (at least absent time-travel).

    I would drive anywhere in this state to hear a guy named Michael Perry read or speak. He does mostly non-fiction, but his writing is some of the most achingly beautiful stuff I’ve ever read, and his in-person events are invariably highlights of the year for me.

    I would also go a long ways to hear Ellen Klages read or speak. She isn’t a terribly well-known writer, but she does a meticulous job of researching her period, writes very well, is an amazing (and often hilarious) speaker, and it is well worth investing time to attend her events.

    And at some point, if Mr. Scalzi ever does a book tour event in or near my community, I would very much like to attend and meet him in person. While I prefer his non-fiction writing to most of his fiction, I still geek out over any writer who can craft a phrase the way he does, and I’d love to have the opportunity some day to meet him and hear him read.

    I know you don’t set your own tour itinerary, of course, and I know that Tor sends you where they think they’re likeliest to get the most bang for their travel-expense buck. But I hope some day they send you up to our neck of the woods on one of these tours.

    Oh, and best wishes for an easy final leg of the tour, too. Hope you have on-time flights, comfy hotels, large and happy crowds, and no crises of any kind. Safe travels!

  17. I’m SO disappointed that I won’t get to see you. I had the date of your visit to my area marked in my calendar, was very excited about it and planned to get a book signed for my son. Sadly, due to unpleasant medical news will not be able to go to any events for the next several months. I hope I’ll get to see you on a future book tour.

  18. 7. Because people want their moment with you.

    Specifically: “You have to be fully engaged in the moment, and you have to make sure the person you’re having the moment with knows you are actually happy to be sharing it with them.”

    At the Tattered Cover Bookstore event in Colorado, when my moment with you arrived, it went absolutely perfect. You listened to what I was saying and came up with an absolutely perfect personalization to my copy of Lock In. What you signed captured the moment and it was great fun to talk with you if only for a few brief moments.

    I even managed to get my picture taken with you which was a bonus:



  19. Have you ever toured internationally (and I don’t mean Canada)? Have you ever done a breakdown of your income by country? As an outsider, it often feels like markets outside the U.S. are treated as incidental (particularly by the movie industry, but others, too.) Curious if the numbers justify that outlook.

    P.S. Really enjoyed Lock In. Read it far too quickly, which I guess is your fault. You should have made it longer. :-)

  20. The majority of the people who are getting a book signed are getting a book signed so they get a little time with you — to talk to you about the book, to get a picture, to share a thought or otherwise spend just a moment with someone whose work they like and who they might even admire in some way.

    Wait, it’s not just me? Once I stopped by a signing for an author I love; I didn’t have one of her books with me, but the line was very short, so I didn’t feel guilty. Anyway, she seemed to appreciate me coming by and chatting for a minute (I gushed, she basked, it was good all around). ;-) But I really did think most people did want that signature; I’m glad it’s not just me that couldn’t care less, and just wants to spend a moment, as you say.

  21. I agree, the Golden Rule is simple, and should be simple to follow, but how many people are actually able to live by it – especially those with large egos? Which is why I said that your behavior is deserving of praise.

    – Tom –

  22. Cole Mak:

    I toured Germany a couple of years back, but usually in order to tour you need publisher support, and most of my foreign publishers have not asked me to tour in their country. This isn’t a criticism, incidentally; touring is expensive.

  23. You think people geek out about meeting you now? Just wait til you get to Australia next year… :D

  24. I saw you in Petaluma, the City of Pie. I was pleased at how much you talked about the importance of brick-and-mortar bookstores and print books. I am spoiled for bookstores where I live, and I’m grateful for that because I have friends who live in California’s central valley in large towns that have *none.*

  25. Re: the signed books thing – they’re nice to have, but at this point I have so many signed Scalzi books that I feel like I’m making my other books jealous. :)

    I go to your events for several reasons – including that the events are enjoyable and I live within reasonable driving distance – but I think #7 is the biggest reason that I keep showing up and keep reading your books. You do a good job of it. A while back you recognized my face at an event, and that really stuck with me. It’s always nice to feel a sort of personal connection with a creator whose work I enjoy.

  26. It’s about the moment. There is without doubt a personal connection that is contained through your work and the chance to chat.

    At your last tour stop in Seattle, you made me break up so completely, that you stopped reading for a moment and asked if I was OK. I assured you I was good and you continued to bust us all up with barbecue and “That’s some good pig”

    But what makes that first moment special, is the second moment during the signing. You asked me to explain, I told you about my experience with meat processing and we both chuckled.

    Then the bow on top of this present, the personalization in the book that I didn’t see till I moved on.

    Being able to talk about the work is fun, being with a number of people that like reading is awesome. How cool is it that I was at one of my favorite author’s reading, sitting in front of 3 other authors, 2 that I had never met before but have their books and the third, a Campbell nominee that recently returned fron LonCon. It doesn’t get better than this.

    So I like to gush, sue me.

    Thanks again John,

    Oh, and I still don’t eat hot dogs…

    Jeff S.

  27. As a bookseller, I can testify to the usefulness of author tours. We are fortunate to host a lot authors and our monthly bestseller list is dominated by the books of authors who read at the shop. That sales of Lock In are multiples higher than of Human Division is down to the fact that John visited us.
    I had thought that Lock In was going to come out on top for the month, but sorry to say it looks like you’re going to be crushed by Melissa Gilbert.

  28. Wish I could be at the Brookline, MA event. My wife will be there but I guess I’ll just have to suffer through the King Crimson concert I got tickets for before the tour was announced.

  29. @Sharat B: Not that John needs defending, but I thought that GobblyGook’s comment about this site’s moderation policy should be addressed. John hasn’t, as far as I’ve seen, censored comments for disagreement, but for belligerent stupidity, not adding to the conversation, or being a troll.

    Seconded, as someone who’s skirted in the vicinity of troll territory on this site (thankfully pulled back before I fell [too far] over the edge), and not been censored.

    This has made John’s comments sections worth reading and better than any site I’ve ever seen. I appreciate that.

    You need to visit more sites that promote open discussion :-) There’s plenty, and it’s always worth considering opposing viewpoints as well as confirming your own.

  30. I’m part of that Vroman’s audience in the picture up above. It’s our second time to one of your signings there, and we just saw Randall Munroe interviewed by Will Wheaton out in Santa Monica today. We’re part of a family that collects signed first editions of sci-fi and fantasy books, so that probably gets us to the signing table, as I generally feel funny talking to people whom I don’t know, but whose work I know. BUT we go out to see authors whose books and online personalities we like, and most importantly, who are fun to watch. If the Redshirts signing hadn’t been so much fun, I don’t know if we’d have gone to the signing for Lock In. But now we’re hooked, and we’ll be back the next time you’re there. Without those two signings, we’d just have bought one copy of each book for the Kindle. Instead, we’ve bought two copies of both books – one ebook, one hardback.

  31. Any thoughts on how a publisher chooses who gets to tour, and what that does to shape the field?

    I come at the question as a reformed bookseller, someone whose store did a lot of author events — upwards of 150 annually — back in the early nineties when I worked there. A lot of the tendencies in the business today were visible then, although ebooks were still the kind of thing one read about the Media Lab developing.

    From one perspective, touring strengthens the divisions between top-tier authors and others. The top tier gets touring support, co-op advertising to go with it, publicity work by the publisher’s people, advertising in national and local venues, and so on. To borrow one of your metaphors, the people with the lowest difficulty setting get bonus lives and extra in-game goodies.

    From another perspective, a Scalzi tour event is a good, solid investment, much as you have sketched here. There’s a whole über class of authors whose signings are three-ring circuses: admission can be charged on the strength of their name alone, if it’s free event upwards of a thousand items will be signed if time permits, local stations send cameras, etc. etc. Anne Rice was in this category when I was in the business; happily, so was Carl Sagan. The craziness of the signing for the sequel to Gone With the Wind at an Atlanta bookstore was yet another level, but that was clearly a class of one.

    Then there are those sad Tuesdays when a sudden thunderstorm or an unexpected baseball playoff game means that the three-author panel, despite everyone’s best efforts, barely draws a dozen and employees from other parts of the store are asked to take off their badges and help fill chairs. Poor choice by the publisher? Authors who just shouldn’t be touring? Simply bad luck?

    For an author who isn’t someone like you, how does a tour shape up? Is it good for the field — and you’re in a position to have a reasonable overview on this — that the performative aspect can mean so much for a book-writer’s career? Is the emphasis on front-loading events and evaluations pushing out the slow-building seller?

  32. I’m in that picture up above (omg!), and I’ve also been to two of your signings at the LA Times Festival of Books. Since you’re discussing it, just dropping a line to say thanks. I think it’s fun in general to meet the person behind the work, and in your case you clearly put a lot of thought into making it a cool experience for everyone.

  33. Hi there. I’m also part of the crowd in the image; in fact I’m the guy in the back right holding up the tablet to take pics of John Scalzi taking pics :-) .
    It was a lot of fun to meet you and hear the super secret reading of . That day also happened to be my birthday, so I got a nice signed book and got meet one of my favorite authors.

    Thanks for making it a good birthday, and looking forward to the book you read from.

    The other John S.

  34. Hmmm, seems that the book being on the NYT list was a one week affair, but it made it at least however short.

  35. I’ll make the argument that book tours are, to a certain extent, the literary equivalent of music tours. Let’s take Katy Perry. She is rich and every album that she releases goes platinum as a matter of course. If she wanted to, she could just sit back at home, record a new album every few months, and let the royalties roll in. Instead, she tours in support of those albums even though it cuts into the time she has available to create new albums.

    Why does she do it? For many of the same reasons that you elucidated above. (There is also the fact that she makes money on the T-shirts and such that get sold at the concerts; that income is frequently more than the artist makes on the ticket sales.) Touring brings press and popularity and awareness and all of that other good stuff.

    Me, I’m just waiting to see who will be the opening act for Scalzi’s next book tour…

  36. whatforme:

    “seems that the book being on the NYT list was a one week affair”

    Yes, and it sold absolutely no copies after that week!

    Except that it did, of course, which was reflected by its appearance on several local Best Seller lists, including the LA Times and Denver Post best seller lists in subsequent weeks (not concidentally, right after I cruised through those cities on book tour, which again argues for the usefulness of touring). And if the book follows the pattern of previous books, it’ll continue to sell healthy numbers below the lists, week in and week out.

    So don’t worry about Lock In; it’s selling just fine, and will likely continue to.

    Mind you, you can move lots of books away from the lists, too. Once again, I offer the example of Old Man’s War, which never made the NYT list but has sold hundreds of thousands of copies over the years. There’s something to be said for consistent, constant sales.

  37. @Kendall: I had that experience at a WorldCon as well – I got to talk to one of my favorite SF authors for a few minutes as his line was slack (he’s been very successful, but there was a BIG NAME ((Not our noble host, though he was at the Con)) up at the same time and everybody was in his line.) It was amazing. However, I was stunned to see people walking up to signing tables with five copies of a brand new hardcover – the same hardcover. I had a handful of beat-up old paperbacks (one of which was only a few years younger than I am) that I wanted autographed. Call me naive, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that this was an opportunity to generate eBay fodder. I wanted my books signed.

    @John Scalzi: Without discounting for a moment that there is still demand for paper books and money to be made selling them, that “70% of the market is print” is getting a little out of date, in my humble opinion and to the best of my understanding. If you’re in the textbook business, print is still huge. If you’re writing books people read for fun, it’s not so much anymore.

    Author Earnings has done a pretty convincing job of illustrating that for genre fiction, more than half of unit sales are digital and the ratio continues to slide toward e-books. This isn’t just from comparing sales on Amazon and B&N, but from doing analysis of what various reporting services will count and what they even can count. Nobody, in my opinion, knows how many ebooks are being sold. But I think that any reasonable person has got to admit that there are a heck of a lot of ebooks being sold that nobody can accurately count.

  38. Marc Cabot:

    With due respect to Hugh Howey, there’s a lot about the Author Earnings methodology that is suspect, so I treat it as basically a first draft. With that said, as I noted, my own sales show more ebook than print sales, although print sales are still substantial. The nebulous numbers for sales in the book world is a perennial problem.

  39. I think it ought to be mentioned (as obvious a point as it is) that book touring is great if you are already established and popular. A total unknown promoting his debut novel will be gazing at the depressing sight of a vast, empty bookstore in front of his podium. There is inarguably a long process of establishing a fan base for yourself — through online interaction with readers on social media, through cons, through getting plugged by friends and colleagues who are well-established writers themselves — before you become a writer of sufficient stature to warrant going on tour. 98% of published writers aren’t nearly there yet and most never will be.

  40. I think touring makes sense for you. It’s not really an option for the majority of authors and although I’m not sure counterproductive is the right word, you do note that Tor is more or less in break-even mode for you and by the standards of many authors, you’re BIG! So for authors less likely to sell a lot of books or to even draw in many people to events (more on that in a moment), that puts the publishers (assuming the publisher is footing the bill, not always the case) in a position of losing money on it.

    I spent a number of years doing that book selling hustle, library talks, conferences, book signings and bookstores, even book talks at bookstores, rotary club talks, etc. Not exactly a book tour, but when I had a new book out I did the promo thing. I think you can argue the PRO side by saying: you definitely sell more books when you do the promo. The CON side, especially in my case, is: there is no way the time and energy needed to do it justified the sales, short-term or long-term.

    There’s a level of book selling that has a sweet spot where all the physical marketing really pays off. I never hit it. I had some seriously awful events, like one in Ann Arbor where the Borders must have put out 100 chairs and I got about 5 people. I tried my best to put on a show for those 5, but man, that was tough. I also did a couple book signings (most notably at a college bookstore on a Friday afternoon in July — bad idea) where I sold no books, primarily because, well, nobody came into the store. I imagine for a few it goes the other way as well, the JK Rowlings, the Stephen Kings, perhaps, who are so popular that bookstores or libraries can’t really accommodate the crowds.

  41. Reading events in bookstores have become a regular feature over the last 40 years. The two are entwined at this point. People attend them regularly, and booksellers can use these to establish new networks that have enhanced ‘word of mouth’ via the new social media. Consider a bookstore that does regular readings as an active node that adds depth of knowledge (at a personal level) of an author and their work.

  42. And, by the way, John, I think it was a brilliant idea of UW Bookstore to put you on a podium on the stairway. Made it a lot easier for people in the back to see you. And they do want to see you after all.

  43. ———
    I offer the example of Old Man’s War, which never made the NYT list but has sold hundreds of thousands of copies over the years.

    Wow, that’s a lot of books – I’m assuming by your phrasing that it’s over 200k at least, which is a hell of a lot of books. Didn’t know it had done so well, that’s pretty damn impressive.

    I may stick my neck out and say 2015 might be better than 2014 for you, sales wise, as long as Redshirts survives Hollywood ;) Pity it’s not being made in England, a Red Dwarf ish slant might have worked well (except with a budget that was in the thousands of pounds, not hundreds)

  44. I brought you a Coke Zero when you came to Denver, but then you said your hosts inundate you with them. I’m pretty sure you’re just touring for the free soda.

  45. Yann:


    Thomas Wagner, Mark Terry:

    Sure, and I did note that I’m in a different position than many. I’ll also note that I was first toured by Tor for my fourth book for them, and my fifth novel overall, ie, when it was a reasonably safe bet.

  46. Most of the authors I read, I follow on social media. If I’m lucky, they come to town and I meet them at a book event. This interaction can convert me from casual reader to a fan who pre-orders their books, tweets about them & tells her friends. Reading is an intimate act (no, not that kind. Jeez) and meeting the author of a book that has resonated with me is closing the loop on that connection. It’s also a chance to hear them read, ask questions and be a part of a community of book lovers. Thank you for touring. I’ll see you tonight at Brookline Booksmith!

  47. Love author appearances. I show up early, I always buy a book from the store (even if I already have one) to support them and the author, and I usually get pictures. Sadly, I’m in Florida, where we only get authors who a) already live here, b) show up at a con, which tend to be either small enough not to attract name writers or too big (MegaCon) for much in the way of personal interaction, or c) show up when there’s a bookseller convention down in Miami. I think the last actual non-local author I saw on an actual book tour here was Orson Scott Card and that was back when everyone still liked him.

    Necronomicon in Tampa is the closest thing we have to a regular event that deliberately tries to bring in authors and I’ve met quite a few there — some happy encounters with Terry Pratchett, and a lovely talk with Spider and Jeanne Robinson one year I still treasure (and my picture of them there has been on Spider’s Wikipedia page for an awful long time now, which pleases me immensely). For a brief time there was a group in Orlando trying to have a regular author-based con and thanks to that I got to hang around with Steven Brust and chat about Firefly and Robert B. Parker. And Neil Gaiman did a ninja event with a reading with Amanda last year because he was visiting relatives in Sarasota anyway.

    But for the most part, Florida is a dead zone. I understand we may not be cost-effective for publishers to send anyone here, but there are readers in the Sunshine State and many of the reasons above apply here just as well as in Los Angeles or New York.

    End of rant.

    (Should anyone know of exceptions I would be embarrassingly eager to hear about them.)

  48. It’s important to connect with your readers. As you say, we will spread the word, which helps sales and keeps us happy as well. I appreciate a book more when I remember the author’s comments from the tour.

    I was glad to see you in San Diego again. Come back to Mysterious Galaxy any time.

  49. Fantastic explanation of why you tour (which may or may not be relevant for why other authors should/should not tour). As someone who had to miss you in Seattle this time (daughter’s first day of school took precedence as it should) but caught you last time I will whole heartedly agree that you put on a good ‘show’. And you are spot on about how that ‘moment’ can help sell you. Not that I wasn’t recommending your books already (I was) but after the tour stop and having a brief moment with you I’ve had a much more personal connection to you as an author and I think that makes me even more likely to recommend your books to my friends/family/co-workers. For at least 1 12-yr old girl I know it worked (Zoe’s Tale got her interested… and hopefully a path away from only ‘young adult 3 book stories about dystopian societies’ as her reading of choice!) Thanks for touring and hopefully I can catch you next time!

  50. I’m not into getting books signed but do like seeing authors discuss their books, live and in person. It’s fun to be surrounded by a small group of geeks, too. In particular, having been to two Scalzi tour stops and two LATFoB panels, I feel confident that it’s worth the drive to participate. And buy a book.

    I was at Vroman’s and dragged my mom along (I can see her in the picture!). During the Q&A a woman thanked you for using your blog to bring attention to social justice issues. After the event, my mom said that she found your response to that comment and your discussion of how you use your blog “very moving”, and she said it without qualification (which is a big deal, believe me).
    At 76, my mom has experienced her share of difficulties born of the status quo, both personally and professionally, so can be a bit cynical. Thanks, John, for being a voice that even my mom can recognize as one of the good ones.

  51. As a reader, it matters so much to me to meet an author I love. For however long I was reading their book, they lived inside my head. They’ve added something singular to the richness of my life and I want to thank them in person, I want to hear their voice, I want to shake their hand.

    As an author, the tour matters for the exact same reasons. These people read my book. For a time I lived in their head. I’ve added something singular to the richness of their life and I want to thank them for the opportunity, in person. I want to hear their voice. I want to shake their hand.

  52. So bummed I missed you in Seattle! I have my very first book reading this coming Friday and am nervous as hell. You’re an inspiration. And I love meeting people. It’s the best thing you can get out of being a writer, having someone come up to you and tell you that they love your work. Even if only one person shows up, it’s worth gold!

  53. I never understood why people fine values in getting books signed. If I were to go to an event, I’d go because I’d want to hear tidbits about the book/series the author was working on. Some interesting nuggets, etc… When I look at book signings on youtube, it looks like there is a little bit of that, little Q&A, then a reading, then most of the time a signing.

    Most of the time people wait in line to get a signature.

    Why do you guys find that interesting? I’d be more interested in skipping the whole signature thing and getting more Q&A in. I am not sure if I am in the minority on this. I don’t think the vast majority of fans ever go to book signings. I wonder if more people would go if it was more ‘chat’ and less ‘stand in line for a signature’. Those who go clearly don’t agree with me.

    I never got the whole fascination with autographs thing.

    Hell, I think it would be fun to play ‘stump scalzi’, since he says he makes his worlds 2 questions deep… lets see if we can make him think deeper.

  54. For me at least, book tours bring the author & reader together in an informal(ish) setting… and have the advantage of spontaneous interaction in Q&As. Bringing people in to bookshops and libraries is never a bad idea in any case.

  55. The Lock In tour was the first book signing I’ve actually been to, so I didn’t actually know what to expect.
    To be honest, I went to get a signed book. However, once I got there, I learned that, while, yes, you get a signed book, the important part of getting it signed is that you have a thing with a *story* behind it, rather than one more book from wherever. Our Host was engaging, the people were fun to talk to while in line, and generally I had a good time. (I also got a ton of unrelated books, because what else are you going to do in a book store?)
    By the time I got to the front of the signing line, I was exhausted, (I’m pretty gregarious, but being social is nonetheless draining for me, and I’d been standing around for two and a half hours at that point) and I suspect I made an ass of myself, but that just means I have a funny story to tell if anyone asks about the message in the front of the book! You can bet I’ll be back for more signings in the future, although I’ll probably show up earlier so I’m not as far back in line.

  56. Went to the Tattered Cover in Denver, got a picture with John and now I have my own little piece of his soul- Bwahahahahah! (Of course from the number of other pictures- it is a very very small piece:)

    John- How you keep up the freshness, focus, and energy especially during the signing portion amazes me. I was probably a little over halfway through the line, and I really do appreciate how special you work to make it for people.

    I admit I would have bought an electronic version of Lock In if I hadn’t of gone to the tour stop. I bought a hardcover at the TC. So it didn’t directly change the number of books bought from me, though it did help out the TC.

    What the tour also did though, was when people ask what I done fun recently that was something I mentioned. It increased the amount of word-of-mouth that did sell more books.

    So as an added benefit I would say that by rewarding fans who would come out to see you, Those fans are more likely evangelize about the brand (the author in general) and probably about the quality of the work, and because word of mouth from an actual person is great advertising… more sales.

  57. Guess: then you’re in luck (if you’re near a tour location), because John IS reading from his current work in progress. And we’re all sworn to secrecy, so there! He also read a couple of other amusing things, and then answered questions. All sorts of questions, including worldbuilding ones.

    And then he wrote something in my Fuzzy Nation book that made me laugh out loud. What’s not to like?

  58. Living in San Francisco I’m lucky to be able to see a number of readings, between SFinSF and Borderlands, where I’m seeing new authors, I’m not just going because I already who the person is. I was introduced to a couple of my favorite authors, Joe R. Lansdale and Charles Stross, because of readings. So yeah, I think readings matter. Like a lot…

  59. Well, if you happen to sell a Dutch translation and Tor sends you, I volunteer for a non-profit in Amsterdam that puts on lectures and readings by American cultural figures (mostly writers)…

  60. Longtime reader, first comment.

    I’ve a big fan of Whatever for the last ten years and went to see John on this tour – leading to buying three more books in the Old Man’s War series and reading them all this week. Just an example of the effect of a successful tour!

  61. @GobblyGook:

    Not completely mind you, you still spend time with people here and on the road but a big reason for that is self serving which is to be expected.

    Is anyone supposed to getting their clutching pearls out of storage at the notion that authors, publishers and booksellers rather like earning a living? Which you can frame as “self serving” if you like, but whatevs. Rather than being a sourpuss, I wish more people were able to pay the bills doing something they enjoy and which brings harmless pleasure to others. The world would be a much better place if that was a universal constant.


    Why do you guys find that interesting? I’d be more interested in skipping the whole signature thing and getting more Q&A in.

    The last time I stood in a signing line was after the British science writer Jim Al-Khalili had delivered a forty-five minute lecture, let the Q&A run for half an hour instead of a quarter so I didn’t come away feeling shortchanged. (I found out later that he missed his lunch break because he insisted on staying until everyone on line had got their books signed, which strikes me as hella classy because he was under no obligation to do it.)

    So, yeah… I have his signature on the flyleaf of one of his books. It’s not exactly a Shakespeare First Folio or a Gutenberg Bible but it’s a memento of a pleasant afternoon. Nothing more, nothing less.

  62. It was very exciting seeing this post and knowing that I was going to go to the Brookline event. I ended up with a little more time then I expected, so when I ran out of the couple of things I had prepared to mention in advance, I kind started to blather a bit there. It was incredibly entertaining the whole way through, though. This was the first author reading and/or signing I had ever been to, so the bar’s been set pretty high. :)

  63. Yeah, I call bullshit on that comment about losing humility, and also on Scalzi’s claim that he’s never been particularly humble, and you can’t lose what you don’t have. He had a realistic understanding of his position in the world, and of the fact that his success is due to a combination of hard work, talent, and lucky breaks. What I’m saying is, he’s plenty humble. And also a genuinely decent human being. That is all.

  64. Woo hoo! There’s my husband and me: he’s the bearded guy, third person behind the man with the green shirt in the front row, leftwards. I’m to HIS left, raising my head to make sure my whole face gets in the photo!

    When you were signing my copy of your book, I said we’d see you the next day in San Diego… Because we were probably going to bring our daughter. She decided to not go… For reasons…. So we didn’t go either, though I was somewhat bathed in regret about that. She is happy about getting her own signed by the author copy of Lock In…. hasn’t started reading it yet… To busy juggling homework for the new school year and Homestuck Cosplay meet ups right now….

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