The do-it-yourself book tour

By now most writers have heard about the death of book publicity. The pyramid for authors has gotten ridiculously misshapen, with advances, publicity, payoffs, even editing increasingly going to the tippy-top and nothing or near nothing going to the rest of the hill.

So how are the rest of us supposed to get our wonderful words out to a public that doesn’t know about them? Websites, begged and pleaded reviews, radio interviews, guerrilla marketing, social media …. And with no one to do it for us, we have to create our own book tours.

I was delighted to keep tabs on my colleague Beth Baker as she made her way across the northern states to flog With a Little Help From Our Friends: Creating Community as We Grow Older. Her website describes the book this way: “an award-winning journalist tells the story of people devising innovative ways to live as they approach retirement, options that ensure they are surrounded by a circle of friends, family, and neighbors.”

The site also includes a blog called “My So-Called Book Tour,” a friendly, personal tracing of Beth’s fall 2014 travels to promote the nonfiction book. Naturally, the blog was a bit of promotion in itself. It’s also instructional and enjoyable.

When you make your own tour, things don’t always go as planned. Starting in Oregon, Beth promoted the book on KPOV radio, which she called “really fun.” Less fun was a bookstore event where turnout could be counted on two hands. “We fled back to Bend and ate great Thai food as a consolation prize,” she wrote.

Then on to well-attended discussions in Portland in collaboration with Making Oregon Vital for Elders, Villages NW, and AARP Oregon. In Seattle, the star of her previous book organized three events and even hosted Beth and her husband. See, Beth was making vital connections for her book just as she advocated in the book.

This pattern continued at Vashon Island, then on to Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Columbus. For each stop, Beth added a photo or three to the blog. In contrast to the early experience, the tour ended this way: “We had hoped for maybe 20 folks, but 50 showed up. Most then trooped over to the Celeste’s for wine reception and book sales. An unusually enthusiastic book-buying bunch!”

My book, Innkeeping Unlimited: Practical, Low-Cost Ways to Improve Your B&B and Win Repeat Business, came out before blogs really got professional and photo-friendly. Otherwise, I would have followed Beth’s example! Because touring the country a bit at a time, working with the very people who helped with the book itself, is ideal for a blog. Other similarities and differences:

  • Instead of being a weeklong stretch, my tour was here and there over a longer period. With a full-time job, I fit in nationwide visits on long weekends and multiple vacations.
  • My book, like Beth’s, had a specific focus and a narrowed audience (mine more than hers)—something you need to promote your own book. You just can’t appeal to everyone. By reaching out to specific interest groups—the older crowd and alternative housing interests in her case, mostly regional and state B&B associations in mine—you can spread the word to the people most likely to want your message.
  • The more advance work you do, the more chance you have at success. But sometimes there is none. Like Beth, I had a bookstore failure. At the late Travel Bookstore in Bethesda, a grand total of six showed up for a discussion and signing. Three bought the book. Bright spot: 50 percent sales!
  • The tour itself should be fun. We’ve all heard about the exhausting pace of big-time authors waking up who-knows-where, riding a limo to yet another interview or store signing with crowds lined up out the door. We no-name authors don’t have that. But whether we stay with family or with sources or with friends of friends, our tours are fun. We can make time to see sights. We’re discussing our issues with people who care. We’re learning. We’re probably even collecting material for the next book or article.
  • And then there’s the rush no author ever forgets: when someone nervously, hesitatingly, holds out his or her copy of the book and says, “Would you—sign this for me? Thank you!”

No, thank you!

Copyright 2014 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

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