Sunday, May 13, 2012

DIY Checklist for a Book Tour

1. Assume nothing. If you have an over-staffed publishing house with flocks of talented, smart people looking after your p.r. and your hair and jetting you around everywhere, read no further. You are living my dream life. Meanwhile, back in the trenches with me, I'm advising you/me to follow-up on absolutely everything, from the date of the book's release from the jaws of the printer to its eventual arrival at a distributor's warehouse. Why? Because your new book MUST be available in bookstores when you have moved heaven and earth to organize a tour. 

2. Five months ahead of time, four at the very least, book key launch venues.Why? Because everyone else with a book coming out in the spring or fall season will need a launch venue as well so unless you want to launch on a Tuesday evening, try for a Friday or Saturday first.
3. Work with your publisher to establish your key readership areas, places you've lived and worked, places where your books have done well before or where you've recently had a great reception in schools or at a festival. Work hard to book reading events or bookstore signings there so that when you get to a town, city or village, the p.r., from online alerts to bookmarks to posters to press releases and radio public service announcements, is in place.
4. Assume nothing. Follow-up on local media AND provincial media to make sure every event you've organized is advertised in some form of media. Let your own professional, book-related, friend & family networks know you're coming to town with a new book as far in advance as you can. Timing conflicts will still happen but give yourself the time to sort them out as well. If your publisher has a smart, well-trained publicist, you are lucky, lucky, lucky. If not, do it yourself because nobody else cares as much about your book (the years it took to write, the years you could have earned really decent money working at a respectable career instead of holing up and writing in hopes of someday getting this thing published in order to earn a pittance). Yes, it's a huge time and energy suck to have to write your own press releases and to find out the deadlines of monthly, weekly and daily media, but you have to do it. Or else shit happens and stuff doesn't get done. If stuff does get done, and your sales are still low, well, write the next book. Meanwhile, great stuff does happen to books all the time. Hold onto the dream of actually making a half-decent living!

5. The great poet John Newlove said: If writing isn't fun at least some of the time, why do it? Well, the same is true for book tour events. Don't be just another author pontificating from the podium! Put some creative flair into your events and if you don't have the energy, hire somebody to help you. Although if you're a writer worth a hill of beans, you'd better have some creative zip in your veins! So, organize contests for kids, fun stuff for adults, give away books, make people laugh instead of dutifully listening to your heartfelt paragraphs and then lining up to buy your book (or slinking out the door, bored silly). The wonderful and creative Allan MacDougall, founder of Raincoast Books and former book sales rep, always said: Want to sell books? Give 'em away! 
6. Finally, assume nothing. Establish a check-in time prior to your book's release, say once every two weeks or weekly if there's lots of activity, with your publisher or publicist and have your tour/media plan in writing so that you are literally on the same page. Know your tour budget as well, by the way so that you don't expect full-page ads in the Globe & Mail. If you know next to nothing about book publicity, ask grizzled veterans whose publishers are about the same size as your publisher. Come to grips with your ego and your fantasy life in a big hurry. You are not J.K. Rowling so don't expect to be sent to New York City with your wee but wonderful Canadian book about a tree fort gang, is what I'm saying. Publishers with fantastic publicists do great things because they are a known quantity (see: great editors & designers, smart publishing program with consistently excellent books, savvy publicity moves online and everywhere else) and nationally respected in the publishing business, so their authors, magically, are invited to national Festivals, interviewed on prime time radio and television programs, with foreign rights and sweet, fat prizes waiting in the wings. The rest of us must DIY and learn, learn, learn. It's all good, really.
7. Finally, sign books at bookstores, meet and thank the people who actually read and sell your books, or at least have the time to sell them. Meet your regional sales rep if you have the opportunity to do so and thank them. They are the behind the scenes angels for authors and books and yet I still hear authors yapping on about how well they "sell books" as if their publisher and the sales reps hadn't logged in countless hours talking up your book to the front-line book buyers! Not to mention forking out a lot of money to produce the book, the catalogues, the website updates, the publicity 'hits', all the mysterious overhead at any publishing house and sales rep agency. 

8. Try to line up readings with libraries and schools and ALWAYS insist on being paid for your time and talent. Otherwise, you could actually be a librarian or teacher (many of us were) and not somebody with nothing better to show for decades of writing and training than making 95 cents in royalties per book. When in doubt, assume nothing, work hard, try to stay positive and enjoy the results of actually meeting readers who loved your book. There is nothing better than someone beaming or emailing or writing a card to let you know they really loved what you wrote and that it changed them, affirmed them, made them feel they weren't alone with their thoughts in this world. This is why I write, to connect with readers, to say, yeah, I noticed this too and it's wrong to do this to someone else or it's right to be grateful for the way this is handled or it's the way it is when I wake up and why doesn't anyone ever write about this...