By Paula Margulies
Many authors are leery of doing book tours, not only because it's expensive to travel across the country, but also because it's difficult to create a good-sized audience. How can a relatively unknown writer hope to guarantee crowds at signings? Here are some suggestions (with more to follow in a later post) to help put butts in the chairs, and hopefully, ring up sales:
Sign in Cities Where You Know People
This sounds like a no-brainer, but I've had clients insist on appearing in cities like New York, Chicago, or Washington, D.C., when they don't know anyone there. Being an unknown makes setting up signings difficult in the first place, but if you go to a city where you don't know anyone, chances are you'll have a hard time filling the seats. Instead, consider places where you know people - the town where you grew up, the city where you worked at that start-up company that now owns half the block, the places your college roommates live, etc. Don't just think big city or target market demographics - instead, focus on places where you can call up half a dozen people and get them to each bring a friend to your signing (or at least post a notice at work in the company break room).
Schedule Your Signings Wisely
At Areopagitica Books in Columbus, Ohio, bookstore owners Doug and Rebecca Rutledge suggest holding a signing at one o'clock in the afternoon on Saturdays. Why is that a preferred time? "Because," Doug says, "the farmer's market next door lets out then, and the overflow crowd tends to come into the bookstore to browse afterward." Likewise, James Jackson at The Know Bookstore in Durham, North Carolina, recommends holding signings at seven o'clock on Friday evenings, right after the weekly jazz session that's held in the adjacent café. If you don't have a lot of fans, or aren't familiar with the city where you're signing, scheduling your reading right after a nearby or in-store event can help draw interested listeners in to hear you without costing you a dime in advertising.
Think Outside the Bookstore Box
Many authors automatically want to hold readings at the big chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders, small independent book stores, libraries and, depending on the topic, schools and universities. But there are lots of other options for book signing venues. If your book has a non-fiction topic or is specialty-based, you might consider finding related outlets for that particular bit of information. For example, if you've written a cookbook, you may be welcome at a local bakery or restaurant that features your style of cooking. If your novel has a romantic theme, you might consider speaking at a romance writers meeting or at one of the local singles get-togethers. Got a book with a political spin? There are numerous Democratic, Republican, and Green clubs looking for speakers on any number of topics. Written a civil war historical? Find one of the many reenactment clubs, and ask if you can speak at the next meeting.
Don't be afraid to look for enticing or rarely considered venues as possible outlets. Museums, concert halls, churches - any place where people gather is a potential venue for book signings. Camille Forbes, author of Introducing Bert Williams: Burnt Cork, Broadway, and the Story of America's First Black Star, recently gave a reading at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York. "The cemetery signing was a great start to my book tour," she says. "The audience had a unique vested interest in Williams, since he's buried there." Not your typical venue, but people came, and she sold books.
Also, be sure to maximize your website as a place where interested readers can find ways to hear you speak. Contests are a great way to promote your book on the web and the possibilities are endless. You can run contests for phone interviews with book clubs, or even follow the lead of one enterprising writer, who offers a contest for filmmakers, allowing them to create entries using scenes from his novel.
Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her at email@example.com, or visit her website at www.paulamargulies.com.