How to Book A Book Tour
(for Horror Writers)
by Michael Marano
Photo by Dion Wenchell
Copyright © 1998 Michael Marano. All rights reserved.
Imagine your first book tour...the airports, the limos, the excellent hotel rooms, the nice meals. Now picture me, while you are imagining these things, walking up and giving you a sound SLAP! for your own good. (Sorry, but you needed that!) The aforementioned goodies are provided for those who write bestsellers, not books. "What?" you ask, "aren't bestsellers books?" SLAP! A book is a commodity that is primarily read. A bestseller is a commodity that is primarily bought. The "book industry" and the "bestseller industry" are two separate enterprises. Picture you, with your first novel out. Now picture the kid who played Steve Urkel on TV out hawking his new Family Matters Cookbook. Guess who's gonna move the units? Guess who's getting the limo? Guess who's getting the centrally located bookstores in which to sign?
My first novel, Dawn Song, is a critical success. Cool, huh? I called a Boston bookstore manager to set up a signing. The guy had a big fat packet of my reviews in hand as he told me, "I'm sorry, we only cater to a literary crowd." (He rolled the "l" in "literary" most pompously.) The towering literary giant he booked the week I was in Boston was... drum roll please... CHASTITY BONO! I hold no ill will toward Chastity (she was robbed by that fraud, James Joyce, when they tabulated those 100 Best Books of the Century, and don't get me started on that sham, Nabokov!), but you see my point, don't you?
Chances are you'll never write a bestseller, unless you're Urkel. "Bestsellers" are not determined by sales in bookstores; it is extremely rare that a book sells enough to become a bestseller by itself. "Bestsellers" are determined by executives in boardrooms months in advance of publication: think about it... how else could enough of the things be printed in the first place for them to become bestsellers through bookstore pre-orders?
If and when you sell your book, you are likely going to have to book your own tour, and pay for your own air fare, car rentals and food. You'd be shocked by the authors (and I mean truly great authors who sell well, not just schmucks like me) who have to do it this way. There is no shame in it, though there would be shame in sharing a limo with Urkel. I offer the following advice, having just booked my own semi-successful book tour, paid for out of my own pocket.
1. What are your objectives with this tour? If you say, "To meet my readers and promote sales through personal appearances" get ready for another SLAP! You're going on the road to create an audience, and if you think one is waiting for you as you hit the road, SLAP! (Sorry... but this really is for your own good!) You're going on the road to meet bookstore personnel, to communicate with them, not the people who are there to buy Danielle Steele. You can't compete with Danielle Steele, so don't bother. You can compete for the money of a customer who already has bought most of the horror the store has in stock, and who asks the clerk, "So what's good that's out now?" Your personal appearance is incidental to sales of the book in that store. What counts is your communication with the staff during that personal appearance. They know the customers, you don't.
2. Your ultimate goal for going on tour is not to stimulate bookstore orders of your book, or sales, but RE-ORDERS of your book. Re-orders send up little happy smiley-face flags to your publisher. A store manager who orders ten copies of your book for a signing is doing you a favor; a manager who orders one hundred copies needs a good SLAP! The returns to the warehouse of your book will kill you. Those send sad little scowly-faced flags to your publisher.
3. Unless your book is set in your home locality, don't bother signing in local bookstores. The exception to this would be if you live in a some place like New York, L.A., Boston, San Francisco, or Chicago. Most people expect LOCAL AUTHORS to write about things local, and if you haven't, they feel you're cheating them. It is much more worth your while to travel to New York or Boston than it is to travel two miles. How much horror does your local bookstore move? Why would your book be any different?
4. Avoid chains, and avoid independent booksellers. "Huh?" you say? Chains don't know what to do with you. A Barnes and Noble once stuck Harlan Ellison in the children's section to sign. The only time you should sign at a chain is if the manager (with whom you must have first made an effort to communicate) has a cogent strategy to sell the book. A Borders manager in Chicago had read Dawn Song, loved it, wanted me to sign at her store, but since she didn't sell much horror, she sold it to her regulars by playing up the religious aspects of the book. Cool! A Barnes and Noble manager in Boston played up the local flavor of the book to her customers, and we sold fifteen books in one hour. Very cool!
The problem with independent booksellers is they promote books they think people ought to read. You, as a horror writer, can't compete with the latest "recovered-memory-my-life-is-terrible-because-I'm-really-a-third- worlder-at-heart-despite-my-white-suburban-middle-class-background" PC whine-fest. Don't bother courting the "tears in our non-fat lattes" crowd. Focus on SF/Fantasy/Horror/Mystery specialty stores (which are often independent booksellers, but with a specific customer base that you want). They know what to do with you.
5. When you're in a town, drop in as many stores as you can and sign the copies of your book they have in stock. Communicate with these folks, too. If a store has one copy of your book, BUY IT! Then come back in an hour, go to a different clerk, and ask if they have your book in stock. This hopefully will send a mister happy smiley face re-order flag to your publisher
Now, get out there and kick some Urkel ass!
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Posted 10/13/99. The content of this page is copyright © 1998 Michael Marano and is protected under international copyright law. Photo copyright by Michael Marano and custom graphics by Yvonne Navarro and Webette Designs. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction without the express written consent of the appropriate party is expressly forbidden. Don't swipe stuff-- it's tacky.