RIP the Author Book Tour—and why you shouldn’t be sad to see it go

We’ve all fantasized about book tours, haven’t we? That glamorous trip we’ll take when our novel makes it big? Our publisher will send us off in a whirlwind of glamorous travel: booksignings, readings, and personal appearances with our adoring fans all over the country—maybe the world!

But this week, shut down, saying fewer tours and marketing budget changes make business “financially unviable.”

The book tour seems to be one more casualty of the electronic revolution.

Of course the death of one company doesn’t mean touring has completely disappeared. There are still tours for superstars. No doubt this year’s presidential hopefuls who don’t make the cut will get major book deals, complete with extended tours of the mini-malls of the heartland. And when Mick Jagger writes his memoir, novel, and/or children’s book, he’s sure to get booked on global booksigning expedition.

Just last week, Meghan Ward posted an interview with Holly Watson, a publicity manager with Penguin who plans such tours (a great insider’s view) so the institution is not dead…quite.

But my crystal ball says it’s not going to last long.

Not just because it’s hard to sign an ebook. (OK, they have invented the Kindlegraph—an online service lets authors create a digital autograph and send it directly to the customer’s Kindle. But it’s not the same. And you don’t have to travel anywhere to use it.) 

But 70% of books sold are still in paper, so why is a book tour “financially unviable”?

That’s because it’s not just the ebook that’s killing the book tour. Social networking has affected it even more—simply because social networking has turned out to be a better way to sell books than traditional advertising.  

This week Kristen Lamb wrote a great post on why traditional marketing doesn’t sell books. It included an interesting quote from super-agent Donald Maass: 

“There are only TWO things that sell books…a good book and word of mouth. Period.”

David Gaughran at "Let's Get Digital" said much the same thing in his Tuesday post on “Word-of-Mouth in Action.” He said: 

“While a glowing review in the New York Times will undoubtedly shift some copies, if the limited amount of people that actually read the reviews (and then purchase the book), don’t then spread the word, the sales bump will be temporary.”

Also speaking about that coveted NYT space, here’s a quote from editor Alan Rinzler’s blog from June 5th:

“That $50K space ad in the New York Times? Forget it. It’s only for the author’s mother. The twenty-city bookstore tour with first class airplanes, limousines, and hotel suites? A waste of money.

Not even an appearance on the Today Show can guarantee more than a brief spike in sales. And Oprah, bless her heart, isn’t around anymore to guarantee sales for the very small number of titles she once had as her book club picks.

The old ways don’t work, and smart people in book publishing know that and say it openly now.

What works, all agree, is the creation of “buzz”, one person telling another, “Hey you have to read this!”

This is where you, the author, come in. What creates buzz is when the author connects directly with the reader. Readers don’t care who published the book; they want a relationship with the author.”

How do you form those relationships? Get that buzz? Start that word-of-mouth?

Social Media. 

That’s why the blog tour has replaced the book tour.

I recommend every writer who’s approaching the marketing stage of a writing career get a copy of Kristen Lamb’s book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media  and follow her blog.  Kristen takes you step by step through the process of establishing a digital “platform.” Right now the three most important legs of that platform are still Facebook, Twitter, and a blog. (Google + may take over from FB at some point, but it isn’t even close yet.)

But what if you don’t want to start your own blog?

There are good writers who really, truly aren’t cut out to blog regularly. They’re fiction writers and anything nonfic hits their muse’s snooze button.

But non-blogging authors can still connect with people through blogging. All you have to do is leave comments.

A post on this blog averages 1000 hits. That means your comment will be seen by 1000 potential readers.

Think how many bookstores you’d have to visit to reach 1000 people.

You do have to make sure people can reach you if they see your comment and want to find out more. If you’re not at the stage where you want to pay for a website (I’m not) and you don’t have a blog, you can give yourself an online profile if you sign up with

Gravatar gives you a page where you can post a picture, a bio and links to whatever sites you do participate in on the Web—whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, RedRoom, or whatever. Having a Gravatar profile and url is a huge help in commenting on blogs—you get your picture in the comments and you don’t have to jump through so many hoops. Signing up with Google profile is good, too (although it only works on Blogger blogs.) is a new alternative as well. Take five minutes to sign up with each, and you'll raise your online presence a good deal.

Of course you don’t want to leave a comment that says anything spammy like “buy my book”. That’s not “creating buzz”, it’s creating irritation. As Alan Rinzler says,

“A cardinal rule of the new author platform is never to actually ask people to buy your book. Rather promulgate your work by making an enduring connection.”

 It’s permissible to have a signature that mentions your book, or you can bring it up as an example as you talk about the topic of the post: “This advice sure would have helped me when I was working on my romance, The Savage, Burning Duke” is OK, but if the Burning Duke shows up in every one of your comments, you’re going to start getting blocked.

Once you start commenting on blogs, you’ll make blogfriends. Bloggers will recognize you as one of their regulars. Then when you have a book to promote, you ask blogfriends who are likely to reach your target audience if they’ll let you guest blog, give an interview, run a contest for a free book, or—if they do them—write a review.

And that's what they call a blog tour.

You can visit anything from a handful of blogs to dozens, over a week, or a month, to coordinate with your book’s launch. You’ll reach thousands more potential readers than you would flying around the country getting groped by TSA agents. 

And before you lament the loss of the glamorous booksigning tour, it’s good to know it isn’t actually an age-old institution. Yes, people like Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and Mark Twain toured the world selling books, but it was their lectures that brought in the crowds. Those revered authors were offering an evening’s entertainment—not just the opportunity to stand in a long line in a crowded bookstore to acquire an author’s scribbled name on a flyleaf.

The author book tour as we know it was invented in the 1960s by Jacqueline Susann, who changed the face of publishing with her steamy Hollywood sagas and savvy marketing. She rented her own plane and flew around the country visiting as many bookstores in as many towns as possible. She made a point of memorizing the names of the employees of each store before she arrived, establishing a relationship with each one as she sprinkled her Hollywood glitter across the provincial backwaters of America.

Susann designed her tour as a way to market herself, not so much to customers, as to bookstores: their owners and employees. It was a radical way to hand-sell books to the retailers who would in turn hand-sell to customers.

But in our 21st century world, when bookstores are evaporating, it makes no sense to cater to the middlemen. (And the truth is, most booksellers hate booksignings: they don’t bring in much revenue and gum up the store traffic for regular customers.)

For those of you who are feeling despair at the news that we are losing one more revered literary institution, Pay it Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde says, “If you’re sorry to hear the news, you’ve never been on an author tour.”

Turns out they weren’t much fun, even before today's draconian security measures and customer-unfriendly airlines. They mostly involved lots of missed flights, skipped meals, double-booked interviewers, and always—the airplane cold.

A blog tour sounds a whole lot better to me. I’ve already had some fantastic offers from fellow bloggers to guest, give interviews, etc, to promote the re-release of Food of Love, and I’m going to get to know a whole new bunch of people. All while staying in the comfort of my own home, drinking my favorite tea and wearing my Crocs.

What about you, scriveners? Are you disappointed you won’t get sent on an author book tour when you land that Big Six contract? Do you want one so much, you’ll set one up at your own expense? Or are you secretly relieved?

And speaking of blog tours, Kim Wright, who visited here on her blog tour promoting her critically acclaimed novel Love in Mid-Air, has just come out with a great guide for writers who have just finished your own opus: Your Path to Publication, available for pre-order now. 

Next week, Ruth Harris will be taking the helm, with a post on “Wealth Creation for Writers”. She’ll also have AWESOME news about a legendary  upcoming guest, plus the debut of her brand new medical/political thriller, HOOKED—a dishy book about sex, greed, ambition and murder among the high and mighty. Emphasis on the “high”. Sounds like a fantastic read to me!

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