How to plan a book tour
Now that you’ve published your book, it’s time to think about ways of generating buzz. A book tour can be a good way to engage with potential readers, make connections, and get exposure. In some cases, you’ll be able to talk about the book, read a sample chapter, and answer questions. It also gives you a hook for contacting local media and material for social media promotion.
We talked to Tellwell author Sharyl Rains to get her advice on planning a book tour. She’s held dozens of book signings and author talks across Canada and the United States for her book The Holy Tudors. She lives in St. Albert, Alberta.
1. Budget and locations.
First, decide how much you can afford to invest in a book tour. Consider travel, accommodation and food costs, as well as promotional materials such as a banner and bookmarks. If your budget is minimal, you’ll likely want to stay close to home. If you’re able to travel, then decide which cities and towns you’d like to target. Consider locations that appear in your book, whether it’s a town or a place like a coffee shop or vineyard.
Starting the book tour at home is a safe bet. You can make the most of being a local author, and bookstores/libraries know they can count on at least a small audience of friends and family.
Sharyl’s advice: I focused on the Western/Central portion of Canada and the USA, mostly because of geographical convenience and because I am lucky to have so many connections in those areas. During my USA tour last summer, I literally lived in my car, staying the night at rest stops and campgrounds (making sure I was outfitted to do so) and I made an adventure out of it, which was so much fun. My biggest advice? OVERPLAN AND OVERBUDGET. Plan to have things cost more.
Once you have a list of cities/towns you’d like to visit, research the bookstores and libraries in the area. Include both large chain stores such as Chapters, as well as independent bookstores. Look for bookstores that fit your genre.
Include libraries in your list. They are very open to author events, especially non-fiction or books with an educational component.
Get creative when thinking of venues. If your book features a social angle, like caring for animals, or overcoming grief, then contact support groups and non-profits and offer to make a presentation about the topic of your book.
Think of places such as a restaurant or even bar where you might hold your event. If you have connections to local establishments, even better. Author Sharyl Rains’ most unique book signing was Mama’s Gin Joint in Edmonton on a Saturday night that included a drag and comedy show.
Sharyl’s advice: I also am lucky that a lot of the friends I have in the USA knew people who owned bookstores or worked for libraries, so it greatly helped in my search for venues. I strongly recommend anybody doing a book tour to try to include library signings and, trust me, they are so much fun.
Give yourself several months of lead time before contacting venues. Bookstores and libraries sometimes book events months in advance. It can also take a while to get a hold of the right person and confirm a date. You’ll likely have to call back several times before securing a date. Don’t be afraid to be persistent. Keep in mind, certain times of the year such as Christmas, can be very busy for bookstores, and they may not be booking any author events.
Sharyl’s advice: When planning a book tour, you need you need to be very aggressive. You need to be able to follow up because some of the Chapters I’ve talked to just e-mail me saying ‘give me your ISBN, here’s the consignment contract,’ but they wouldn’t confirm a date and time. For some of them, it took two weeks before I ever got a response.
4. Event day.
A book signing involves setting up a table with your books in a visible area of the bookstore where there is a good amount of foot traffic. You can engage people as they are walking by and strike up a conversation. Hopefully, the table setup and banner will draw some curious readers your way. Since people may be in a hurry it can be hard to engage on a deeper level beyond the basics of what your book is about.
Book events at libraries and independent bookstores allow for a more flexible format. Author readings allow you to have a captive audience for an hour or two. You can introduce yourself, talk about where you got the inspiration to write the book, and give some insight into how the book came to be published. You’ll be able to tease your book by reading a sample chapter. Choose something that leaves the audience hanging and wanting to know how the rest of the story unfolds. Afterwards, there is typically a Q&A.
People who come to an author event will usually already be interested in the topic of your book, so it’s an easier sell than at a book signing.
Sharyl’s advice: Book signings at Chapters and other bookstores are great for exposure. I can take pictures and put them up on social media. I don’t make much money at the signings at Chapters because they take a really steep cut, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay for the exposure. I love doing author signings the most. People are really engaged. They ask a lot of questions and I love sharing my story and talking about my book.
5. Supplies, books and promotional materials.
Check with each location to see what they supply and what you’ll need to bring yourself. Most bookstores will provide a table, chair and pens.
The author is usually responsible for bringing in copies of their own book. If the bookstore is stocking your book already, then they may order it directly from the printer. If they are selling copies on consignment, then it’s up to the author to supply the book. You can ask to send copies directly to the bookstore ahead of the event, if you would like to avoid carrying them with you.
Think about investing in a large banner to grab people’s attention at events, as well as bookmarks, business cards, and posters. Even if people don’t buy your book, hopefully they’ll walk away with at least a bookmark (make sure it includes your author website). Consider putting up posters in local businesses to promote the event. For out of town visits, mail a few to the hosting venue and ask them to put them up in the store
Sharyl’s advice: When I went to the United States for my book tour, I took a box of books with me but I also ordered books from the printer and shipped them to friends I have in the States. I would also pop into smaller bookstores and leave my business card and a copy of my book.
6. Reach out to local media.
Send a press release with all the details about the event to each city’s local press, in particular the arts or lifestyle section’s department. Include at least one high resolution image, preferably of you signing a book, or something from a previous book event. Send it out one or two weeks in advance and then you can follow up a few days before the event.
Sharyl’s advice: I would contact local media via social media by tagging newspapers and local publications. I would also make phone calls and send emails, but more often than not, the people I connected with in each city helped me with the media outreach.
7. Social media promotion.
Create Facebook event pages for each of your tour dates and invite people you know in each city. Facebook event pages are easily shareable so your friends can help spread the word. Let people know where you are and where you’ll be heading to next on your social media channels. Take photos and post those too. Add an events page to your website so people can easily see if you’re coming to a city near them.
Sharyl’s advice: It is time consuming to do all the social media, but you really need to be consistent, and you need to be determined. You need to push yourself.
8. Enjoy it!
It can be a lot of work to plan a book tour, but also very rewarding. You’ll make a lot of face to face connections with readers, and have meaningful conversations about reading and writing. It’s about more than selling books. A book tour can boost your social media profile, lead to media exposure, and put your book in front of new readers.
Sharyl’s advice: Having connections wherever you go is a massive help in planning a book tour. You would be surprised who comes out of the woodwork when you announce you’re planning such a huge undertaking.
What you’re going to get out of your book, is what you put into it, and I think it’s the same with most things in life. It’s a ton of hard work to promote your book, but you have to put a lot of effort into it. But when I go on IngramSpark and see my book selling, I know the tour and book signings have definitely been an asset.
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Re: 5. Supplies, books and promotional materials…”When I went to the United States for my book tour, I took a box of books with me but I also ordered books from tand shipped them to friends…” Needs to be fixed-spelling/grammatical error.