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Andrew Fox
Posted on Monday, August 23, 2004 - 09:15 am:   

I'd like to hear from other writers near the start of their careers (or midlist authors who haven't yet stormed the best-seller lists) who have toured to support their books. Do you feel it's been worth it? Given that you're likely coming out of pocket for at least some, if not all, of your travel costs, have your increased sales and visibility in the marketplace been commensurate with your costs, both monetary and time? Is there any way for you to even make a judgement of this?

I'd also like to hear from readers who have attended visiting writers' events in your hometowns. What has attending those readings or signing meant to you? Has getting to meet a writer turned you into a lifelong reader of that writer's works or an advocate of his books? (A little aside on this subject -- I got to hear Lucius Shepard read from his upcoming novel, An American Book of Prayer, at ArmadilloCon in 2003. Up until that point, I'd been somewhat familiar with Lucius's work and interested in trying it, but I might never have gotten around to seeking some of his books out. Hearing him read his work, however, transformed me into a fan. I bought three of his books there at the con, and I've continued to look for his books, new and old, ever since. He's now on my short list of writers whose new books I will buy as soon as they appear. So, whatever else Lucius was able to get accomplished on that trip to ArmadilloCon, he gained at least one lifelong reader.)

Here's what I see as the potential payoffs and likely downsides of a book tour. I imagine that for each tour and each differing situation, all of these factors will take on different weights. And in many cases, the varying costs and benefits can't be entirely measured. So one's judgement as to whether a particular tour was "worth it" or not comes down to the balance of optimism or pessimism in one's personal makeup. . .

POTENTIAL BENEFITS

1) Direct increased sales. If you're very fortunate, crowds of readers attend your events, applaud your reading, and line up to buy your books.

2) Indirect increased sales. The stores where you hold your events place your remaining signed books on a display table near the register, assuring increased visibility. The managers allow signs advertising your appearance to linger a little while longer so as to encourage folks who weren't able to make it out to meet you to sample your books. Your personal appearance scores you articles in the local newspaper or interviews on local radio stations, which perk readers' and listeners' interest so that they go looking for your book, either at their local store or online.

3) "Oh, I've heard of him. . ." Getting out and about helps get your name in circulation among potential readers. Even if nothing more than the sound of your name registers in a book buyer's memory, the next time they visit their local store and see a volume with your name on the spine, they're much more likely to pick it up, turn it over, and read the back copy having heard your name somewhere than if you're a complete blank.

4) The pleasure of meeting your public. Getting to talk with book sellers and readers is a valuable benefit in itself. Ultimately, one writes in hopes of securing an audience, of making connections with other human beings, even remote connections that are never acknowledged. Being out on tour gives a writer a precious opportunity to get direct feedback from (hopefully) friendly strangers who have read and appreciated his work.

5) The pleasure of travel. Being out on tour gets you out of your hometown, even if all you're doing is making day trips. Of course, all you may be seeing is interstate highways, fast food joints, and chain bookstores tucked into anonymous strip malls. But if you plan your itinerary right, you can squeeze in side trips to museums, parks, and cultural sites and maybe visit friends and family, too.

6) Showing your publisher that you're a team player. Publishers may or may not be impressed with your efforts to get out there on the road to sell yourself and your books. But if you don't make the effort, you have zero chance of impressing the powers-that-be at your house with your diligence, increasing your sales, and achieving a better deal on your next book.

COSTS (MORE ACTUAL THAN POTENTIAL)

1) Money out of pocket. Unless you've been pegged by your publisher as the next hot thing, chances are that you're paying for most of, if not all, the costs of your touring. Those include gas, car depreciation (if you're traveling on the road), airfare and taxis (if you're not), hotels/motels, restaurant meals, and incidentals (like all those books you end up buying from all the bookstores you're visiting). Yes, much of this can be written off on your taxes, but you're still paying for about two-thirds of it, even after writing it off.

2) Time. The time you're spending on the road is time that you're not spending doing other things of value. . . time you're spending away from your family (unless you're schlepping them along with you); time you're spending away from your day job, if you have one, meaning that you're having to spend accumulated vacation time; and, in all likelihood, time you're spending away from your writing. Yes, you may bring that laptop along with all good intentions, but at the end of a full day on the road and talking to people at bookstores (or, worse, sitting there at a table along with no one but a pile of your books to keep you company), you probably won't have energy for much more than a quick meal and falling asleep in front of the idiot box.

3) Energy. Any period of extended travel, whether by road or by air, sucks this out of you. You'll find that you won't snap back to normal immediately upon your return home. It'll take a few days of downtime to begin feeling like your old self.

4) Hope. The most insidious potential pitfall of a book tour is that too many "bummer" stops along the way, hours spent behind a table in a shop begging walk-in customers to come over and at least take a glance at your books, signings that result in only a tiny handful of your books being signed and sold, can make a writer question the value of the entire writing enterprise. Ideally, the reward of one's writing is to be found in the act of writing itself. . . not in the attention, notoriety, or money that flows from publication. But a danger of being out there in the trenches, so to speak, experiencing the grind of the retail end of the business, is that a writer begins to ask himself, "Why the heck am I doing this? If it's this difficult to sell my books with me here to sign them and talk about them, how the heck do booksellers manage to sell ANY copies at all when I'm not around to hawk them? Am I just throwing words out into an abyss?"

* * *

I'd really like to hear back from you, writers on tour and readers both. Share your war stories. Share your triumphs. Share those moments when you experienced a sense of connection with a visiting writer and became a lifelong reader (and buyer) of his books. Not that any negative feedback will make me stop touring. At this point, I'm still too hopeful that my efforts will bear fruit.
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Kage Baker
Posted on Monday, August 23, 2004 - 07:00 pm:   

I'd have to say it's worth it, though it can be pretty bloody unrewarding at first-- nothing like those signings where you have a stack of books at your elbow and exactly one person showing up during the whole of the signing. Nearly as bad as those readings where the only people in the audience are your agent, your editor and your sisters.

The cost is the big breaker. I make about $9 an hour at my day job-- how the heck am I going to afford airfare to anywhere 3 or 4 times a year?

Still-- the ball does begin to roll, and you can count on at least one new fan from each event. And when they get interested in your stuff and buy it, and read it, and then spread the word, that's the system working as it should. Make friends with the booksellers-- always make the round of their tables in the dealer rooms, offering to sign stock. Same goes for any out-of-town places you visit. Talking with booksellers gives you insights into the way the business actually works, and that's vital. Best of all is meeting other writers: you swap stories and realize that you're not alone, that you're in the same boat with a lot of really fairly cool people. You become part of a community.

I try to make each trip pay, myself, by getting a story out of it. WorldCon 2002 in San Jose afforded me a trip to the Winchester Mansion that morphed into NIGHTMARE MOUNTAIN. The Ironfront Block in Portland, Oregon turns up in a scene in a forthcoming Company novel. Austin has already turned up (in GRAVEYARD GAME) and is likely to do so again. And something, even now, is percolating away in my unconscious that has to do with that streetcar I saw gliding through the Garden District late at night, thanks to you. It may not make it into print for years, but it'll get there sometime.

When all else fails for inspiration, I buy a book of local ghost stories. They're usually badly written in cheapo editions, but it's amazing how much of a place's psyche you can tap into from its folklore.

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Andrew Fox
Posted on Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - 07:19 am:   

Dear Kage,

Thanks so much for your thoughts and insights. I've found, too, that even the worst-advertised, most poorly attended signing or event usually does result in at least one fresh connection, either with a reader or a bookseller. And, certainly, getting to meet fellow writers at conventions and other locales has been a delightful part of my early professional life. My little list of fellow pros who have become friends now includes you, Barry Malzberg, Bob Sheckley, Pat Elrod, Mark Simmons, and John Picacio. Whenever I meet readers or potential readers, I always try to keep in the forefront of my mind how kind and supportive Anne McCaffrey was to me when I was a teenaged fan. One of the most wonderful aspects of the culture of SF and fantasy is the graciousness with which writers treat their fans and other writers just getting started. I think this goes all the way back to the beginning, when Hugo Gernsback organized the first Scientifiction clubs in New York, and club members began inviting writers to speak at their club meetings. I feel as though a very strong and warm-hearted tradition has been handed down to me from generations of writers and fans. I mean to do my best to do that tradition proud!
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - 10:23 am:   

I recall some years ago going into the Simon and Schuster bookstore in New York and seeing Gore Vidal, a publicist hovering anxiously on his shoulder, sitting alone and unadored at a table laden with books. He was obviously in a foul mood, doubtless due to the lack of business. I considered buying a book. but was put off by Vidal's forbidding look. Just goes to show that even the big names can have a bad day, and it serves as an object lesson that even if you are bummed, keep a jolly aspect and you might sell one book.
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - 10:46 am:   

Hey, if that could happen to Gore Vidal, then I shouldn't feel so bad about selling only three books in Natchitoches, Louisiana, huh?
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - 10:52 am:   

Gore should be so lucky! :-)
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Friday, August 27, 2004 - 07:16 am:   

Yeah, you're absolutely right. I think Gore Vidal (or Al Gore, for that matter) would tank in Natchitoches even worse than I did.

My experience last night in Baton Rouge reemphasized for me the positive aspects of getting out on tour. I didn't pull in an Anne Rice-sized crowd to the Barnes and Noble -- far (way far) from it -- but just my being there encouraged the store's managers to set up displays and banners around the store and in the front windows that have resulted in hefty sales of the two books in the weeks leading up to my appearance. And now, in order to recoup their investment in signage, they're going to leave the banners and displays up for at least another couple of weeks, which will result in more visibility and more sales. Plus, any sort of an event gives local newspaper writers and talk radio hosts an excuse (and a prod) to pay attention to your books. So, if only five or six people show for one of your readings and signings, it's not necessarily a disaster -- so long as the store manager doesn't immediately turn around and return all the books she ordered for your event.

Next stop? My birthplace -- South Florida. I'll be down at Books and Books in Coral Gables on Friday, September 3. But this weekend, I rest!
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Tom Mannon
Posted on Thursday, January 18, 2007 - 03:23 pm:   

http://www.nightshadebooks.com/cgi-bin/discus/show.cgi?tpc=2922&post=49379#POST4 9379

Kage Baker,,,,"nothing like those signings where you have a stack of books at your elbow and exactly one person showing up during the whole of the signing".

I am sorry I missed you. I traveled down to see you at Mysterious Galaxy, and I arrived minutes after you had left. The trip of 95 miles took over three hours that day. Next time I will allow five hours if you sign there again.
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Friday, January 19, 2007 - 02:10 pm:   

Hi, Tom. Sorry you missed Kage at the Mysterious Galaxy signing. That's a great store, by the way. I always stop in there whenever I'm in San Diego to see my dad or my sister-in-law's family. I love bookstores in general, so doing signings or tours isn't that much of a hardship for me, even if few readers/buyers show up. There are always the clerks or owners to schmooze with, great people watching (at mall bookstores, at least), lots of books to browse through, and the occassional store cat or dog to pet.

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