Before my book was published, I thought book tours sounded charming. What could be better than talking about your book to interested readers, traveling the country and – hopefully – making a little money? Sign me up! By the time I finished applying to book fairs and scheduling book talks, my tour included 13 cities from coast to coast. But once I actually set off for my first stop, I learned a tour isn’t so charming – in fact, it takes a lot of work. With no publicist or agent giving me advice (I’ve gone the DIY-book promotion route), I’ve learned through trial and error what makes a book tour successful.
I wish someone had shared these tips before I started my journey. So here are some book tour best practices and must-do’s I’ve picked up (and stole from veteran authors) that you might find helpful if you’re a book tour rookie, too.
Pack your books in a rolling suitcase. Ladies, trust me when I say you do not want to schlep heavy cardboard boxes from your trunk to your book table in heels. Rolling a suitcase across a parking lot is a lot easier. This tip is for the strong guys too, though. If you’re flying to an event, you can avoid the cost of shipping books by packing them in a carry-on (assuming you choose an airline without bag fees).
Bring your own tablecloth. Never assume your table will be covered – unless event organizers tell you it will be. It’s worth buying your own tablecloth to tuck in your bag. Otherwise, you might run into trouble. I saw one author dash to Bed, Bath & Beyond 20 minutes before a Washington D.C. book fair because she missed the organizer’s email warning that card tables would be bare.
Pro tip: Pick a color that complements your book jacket. Or find a pattern from a craft store or online that relates to your book’s theme. (My book focuses on the University of Michigan, so I found a maize and blue table cover on Amazon for my signings at Michigan bars.)
Make a poster of your book cover to display on your table. Sure, you can arrange your books nicely, but a poster takes a display up a notch. Your publisher might even make this for you. If not, it’s easy to do at FedEx. You can walk in a store and provide a high-resolution image of your cover via email that they’ll print in a day or two. Or submit an order online here, and pick up your poster the next day. An 18×24-inch mounted foam board costs roughly $35. Staples also offers same-day printing and a banner stand option if you really want to stand out.
Set out a candy dish. In all honesty, people will likely wander over to take a Hershey kiss, maybe ask what your book is about, and then walk away. But the chocolate accomplishes your No. 1 goal: Draw people to your table. Even if just one piece of candy entices one new reader, you win. Just beware of fairs with kids: Your candy dish might empty before you can say the title of your book.
Order a Square reader. People don’t always carry cash. And if your book is worth more than 20 bucks, they might not want to part with whatever cash is in their wallet. Rather than risk missing a sale, get a Square reader at squareup.com so you can accept credit cards. It takes a few days for the small white device to arrive in the mail. All you have to do is attach it to your phone, download the Square Register app, enter pricing information about your book (don’t forget the sales tax) and you’re good to go. It’s free to register, but Square does take a 2.75 percent cut from every transaction. I promise the convenience and ability to track sales is worth it.
Don’t for get to bring …
- Extra pens. Find a pen you love, and buy it in bulk. You don’t want to get stuck at a signing with your favorite pen out of ink. (Unfortunately, I’ve been there.)
- A phone charger. Because the last thing you want is your phone to die mid-Square transaction.
- Change. If you’re taking cash, have singles, fives, 10s and 20s on hand.
- Snacks. Thoughtful event organizers should provide a water bottle, and if you’re lucky, lunch. But not all book fairs have a big budget, so bring whatever you need to keep your energy up when you’re answering – for the zillionth time –how you got the idea for your book.
- Friend(s). If a friend is free and offers to help at a book fair or signing, accept! You can leave her in charge when you need a bathroom break, want to stretch your legs or feel like scoping out the competition at other tables.
Print a press release. There will be times you’ll have a line of people waiting to talk to you. You might not have time to give each person your book pitch (especially if the woman at the front won’t stop asking questions). That’s where a press release comes to your rescue. People who see you’re busy can read the paper to get a synopsis of the book instead of waiting impatiently in line. Include a few quotes from reviews and the cover image, too. If the book catches their eye, they’ll come back. If not, at least they’ll be happy you didn’t waste their time.
Print tour date cards. David might not buy your book, but if he sees you’re heading to Chicago, he might know a friend there who would. That’s why you need to offer another handout with a list of tour stops. I found a local company to make a 4-by-6 inch card printed with my book cover on the front and the dates and locations of my book stops, social media accounts and ordering information on the back. You can make this any dimension, but an index card size makes it easy for women to stick in their purse – plus, it can double as a bookmark. Which brings me to…
Give away swag. If you can swing the cost, turn your book cover into a giveaway. My publisher was nice enough to make tote bags with my book title printed on the front. (My friends use it for errands and groceries, and it’s great free advertising around town!) I’ve seen other authors make pens, and you could order anything from mugs and hats, to T-shirts at Staples. If you’re on a budget, bookmarks are easy to print at home.
Take pictures. Of the table. Of you with the book. Of readers with the book. Of you and readers with the book. Anything you can use to promote on your social media accounts. Plus, if you take pictures with your readers, odds are they’ll share them on their Facebook page, and you might gain another reader who didn’t know about your book until you popped up on their timeline with their best friend.
Create a hashtag. You may be thinking, does my book really need a hashtag? Yes, it does. A hashtag will make it easier to track what people are tweeting or posting about your book. It can also help you engage with your readers who will appreciate a RT (which means you need a Twitter account if you don’t already). Just don’t get hashtag crazy. Pick a short one that matches your title or a recognizable theme in your book. (Mine is #EditorialFreedom.) Then slap it on your marketing materials and social media bios. And tweet it with those pictures you just took.
Write fast – but not so fast you spell your name wrong. True story: I got so overwhelmed by the line at my first signing (a good problem to have, I know) that I started writing too fast and transposed letters in my last name. Whether you have two people in line, or two dozen, it’s OK to take a minute to write a message and chat with each person. They stood in line to see you. The least you can do is write a legible and correctly spelled autograph.
Think of a few go-to messages. Sure, all readers want a personal note addressed to them, but you might not have time to think of something on the spot. Instead, come up with three or four short messages you can rotate among readers. It will save time, and you’ll avoid the stress of not knowing what to write while someone’s hovering over you.
Make people spell their name on Post-its. You can pass the sticky notes down a line, or keep them on your table. No matter how well you know someone, request that everyone writes their name or who the book should be addressed to. What’s worse than spelling your own name wrong? Spelling your cousin’s name wrong…right in front of her…in a book she’s paying $20 for…that she’ll have forever as a reminder.
Steal secrets from other authors. The author at the book fair table next to you is hogging all your potential customers. He doesn’t have George Clooney’s looks, and he’s not a bestselling author. So what’s the deal? Chat him up (when he has a minute), and find out why he’s the center of attention. Authors tend to be friendly people, and chances are Mr. Popular will be happy to share his tricks.
Have fun. This tip comes last, but it may be the most important. You spent months, perhaps years, on this work, and it’s finally in your hands. Share the joy. Readers will absorb your I-just-published-a-book glow, and they’ll be excited to read it if you’re excited to talk about it.
I’m still mid-book tour, so if there’s something I missed on this list, I want to know! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck on your tour!
Stephanie Steinberg is an editor of the Health and Money sections at U.S. News & World Report in Washington D.C. and a proud native of metro Detroit. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, USA Today, The Washington City Paper, CNN.com, WTOP.com and several Detroit publications. In college, she was editor-in-chief of the University of Michigan’s student newspaper The Michigan Daily. In celebration of the Daily’s 125th anniversary, she edited “In the Name of Editorial Freedom: 125 Years at the Michigan Daily,” which is a compilation of essays by alumni who take readers behind the scenes of major stories they covered. You can follow Stephanie on Twitter at @Steph_Steinberg and visit her website www.stephaniesteinberg.com.
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