Over the years, many publishing houses have been scaling back on traditional book tours — not the least because bookstores themselves are disappearing — because travel can be expensive (and time-consuming) and sometimes there can be cheaper and just as effective ways to sell books. That being said, there continue to be plenty of authors speaking at non-traditional, i.e., non-bookstore, venues.
If you are an author booking a talk for yourself (or a book publicist trying to answer an author’s questions), here are some tips to keep in mind / pass on:
- Before agreeing to a speaking engagement, consider requiring the host venue to either sell books themselves, arrange for a bookseller, or — the holy grail of arrangements — purchase them in advance for attendees. Venues are looking for stellar speakers. For them, book sales rank somewhere between a secondary issue and an annoyance. If they won’t / can’t sell books, think about whether your personal connection to the organizer, the “caliber” of the audience or, in some cases, the fee, make it worthwhile for you to speak anyway.
- Some venues assume that authors will sell their own books. Some authors don’t mind doing this (books are purchased at a steep discount but sold full price — you do the math), but if you do not want to go through the trouble (many authors don’t), make sure you inform the host that you will not be selling your books and that they will need to make alternate arrangements.
- If you will be speaking at a venue shortly after a book comes out, you might consider waiving a speaker’s fee if the venue sells books. Or ask the venue to use the fee to buy books for attendees. (Obviously, this is not an option for everyone, particularly if the venue is not covering travel costs.)
- Be vocal with the event organizer about the importance of book sales. If you feel awkward “hawking” your book, talk about how hard you worked on the book, how much it means to you to get the book into the hands of readers and how strongly you feel about supporting local bookstores. If you don’t raise the issue of book sales, the organizer won’t know this is concern for you — don’t assume they will “get the message” because a publicist or someone else has asked about book sales on your behalf.
- Make sure the organizer / bookseller knows about your most recent book — they may not think to promote this title. (Many authors are well-known for books they wrote years ago.) Likewise, if your paperback has just been published, let them know this edition is now available.
- If at all possible, meet with the bookseller just before the event to sign all their books (signature only — no personalization); that way people who dash out of the event before the end are still able to purchase signed books. (Of course, people who want books personalized, i.e., “To Mary …” will need to wait for you after the talk.) The bookseller will bring back unsold (signed) books to their store where they can sell them or they can return them to the publishing house.
- Plan for your talk and Q&A to last no more than about an hour — people tend to get antsy after that and many will head out without buying books. Discuss the timing with the organizer / moderator ahead of time and have them issue a “Last question” just before the hour is up (or you can do so).
- If you anticipate a large crowd have someone — the event organizer, an assistant — work the line with a pad of Post-Its. This way, your helper can flap all books to the title page and write names on a sticky attached to the book cover before the reader gets to the front of the line. (Otherwise, you will be scrambling to find the appropriate page to sign and figure out how to spell the name … for every single person in line.)
- If you regularly speak to large crowds and have any restrictions when it comes to signing books (signature but no personalization, no photos, only signing the current book, only signing books purchased at the event), let the event organizer and / or bookseller know ahead of time. (Of course, if you are a celebrity author, there will likely be a number of other issues with which to contend including fans bringing gifts / memorabilia and security, but that’s another post for another day.)
- If you are cornered at the end of the talk, rather than remain on stage, encourage the people asking questions to talk and walk with you to the book table so you can start signing immediately.
- Bring a nice signing pen — although it’s not against the law to sign with a Bic pen, people are spending good money on your book!
- If you have any time restrictions, i.e., you’re rushing to catch a flight, make sure to let the event organizer and bookseller know beforehand.
And here are some suggestions to pass on to event organizers. (Bookstores are old hands when it comes to events and probably don’t need this information.)
- There are several ways for books to be available for attendees: your organization can sell books (purchased at a discount, sold full price), you / the book publicist can arrange for a bookseller (if you don’t already work with one regularly) or, if budgets allow, you can purchase them in advance for attendees.
- If you are looking to buy books in bulk (you will get a discount), you can do so in a number of ways:
- Purchase directly from the publishing house — the editor / publicist can provide the phone number / email address of the appropriate contact.
- Purchase from 800 CEO Read (if they carry the book).
- Purchase from Hooks Book Events. I have worked with owners Perry and Loretta for years and have always been impressed by their initiative, organization and — most importantly! — ability to sell loads and loads of books. Sales go through their local independent bookstore, but they offer discounts comparable to what can be obtained elsewhere.
- If you choose to work with a bookseller, you will need to let them know all the event details (date, time, location, etc.) and also how many people are expected at the event so they can bring an appropriate number of books. Typically, most booksellers will operate on the assumption that one out of three attendees buys a book. Unless you let them know otherwise, they will plan to spend about two hours at the event, arriving about half an hour beforehand and leaving about half an hour after the talk ends.
- If you or a bookstore are selling books, at least one table and chair with the books should be set up, about 30 minutes prior to the start of the event (since some people do like buying books beforehand). A second table and chair may be required at which the author can sit and sign books, particularly if there is a large crowd.
- The book selling table should be positioned where people enter and leave the room / auditorium — usually just outside works. If you don’t force people to walk by the book table, they won’t.
- If you are working with a bookseller, you can expect them to bring a cash box and credit card machine (and books, of course). They will take away unsold books at the end of the event; if at all possible, it is helpful if you have packing tape on hand. Some booksellers need to be near electrical outlets (for certain credit card machines) — they should specify this if this is the case, but it probably doesn’t hurt to check.
- If a post-talk reception / dinner is planned, please allow some time for the author to sit and sign books once the talk finishes (usually 15-30 minutes, more for a couple hundred people or more). It’s tricky for an author to sign books at a reception (no matter how informal) / dinner.
- Promotional materials for the event should mention the book signing (in addition to the talk). If you can, include the name of the store that will be selling books — they will appreciate the mention.
- At some point during the introduction, the author’s latest book should be mentioned. Also, as the talk begins and ends, the moderator should let the audience know that the author’s book(s) are available for sale.
For more information about book events in general, you may want to check out:
What are your top book event tips (or questions)?
As a publicist at a large publishing house, my inclination has always been (and possibly will always be) that authors should more or less leave book promotion to the experts: book publicists (either in-house or those with book PR / PR firms). Publicists keep on top of the latest news, know how to craft pitches and press materials, work to establish — and maintain — contacts with the media, and have access to vast media databases. That having been said, I realize authors are playing a greater role in marketing and promoting their books — not to mention those authors who self publish — and there are, in fact, some sites / tools that specifically cater to those striking it out on their own (and which are pretty handy for book publicists too)!
Here are a few; feel free to add your own in the comments.
Booktour.com: As the name implies, the site lists author events around the country. It boasts several features I think helps set it apart from other event listing sites (and this is why I use the site religiously):
- Events listed on Booktour.com are automatically fed to many online calendars and also the Author Page on Amazon. In other words, when I spend time entering event information on Booktour.com, I know those details will not only be emailed to subscribers (a fairly typical feature for most such sites), but will also go to dozens of sites on the web.
- Booktour.com offers a widget that authors can grab for their websites. Instead of painstakingly updating the events section each time an additional event is booked or a time or venue is changed, an author simply needs to drop in a line of code on their website and if the publicist is using Booktour.com, the events will automatically update.
- Booktour.com also offers various other events and media services that authors might find helpful.
Maestro Market: You can think of Maestro Market as an online speakers bureau. However, unlike most speakers bureaus / lecture agencies which will only take on well-known clients, anyone can sign up to be a “Maestro.” They key is to properly tag yourself so that you can be found by people seeking speakers / experts. The site is currently in beta and should be relaunching later this year.
Square: a small device that plugs in to your iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch / Android phone that enables you to accept credit card payments. You open an account on their website and download the app, they mail you the device (for free) and you’re good to go. They take 2.75 percent of each transaction. I haven’t had an occasion to use this, but it seems like it would come in pretty handy for authors selling books at events (or for booksellers who don’t want to lug around a credit card machine).
Google Alerts: You can sign up for Google Alerts for free, even if you don’t have a Google / Gmail account (although, given the amount of free services Google provides from email to document sharing to e-commerce, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t have an account)! The alerts allow you to track any online mentions of a name, title, term, phrase, etc. Set up one for your name so you can see when / where you’re mentioned and, if applicable, set up one for any topics or phrases that pertain to your book so you’re aware of what the media is covering and where you might fit in.
HARO / Reporter Connection: Both sites allow you to sign up as a source, i.e., author (or as a journalist if you’re looking for a source). Once you’re in their databases, reporters looking for an expert in your field will be able to find you. As a book publicist, I find these sites useful because I get to see numerous reporter queries so I can suggest one of my authors if their field of expertise is a good fit.
Who’s tried these sites? What do you think? Any others you like?
Yesterday I had to check in with our speakers bureau to find out about some events scheduled for an author, which reminded me that a reader had written in with a question about speakers bureaus.
I actually don’t know a lot about speakers bureaus — anyone who does should feel free to comment — but I’ll throw out a few preliminary thoughts. This might seem odd to someone who doesn’t work in publishing since both book publicists and lecture agents schedule author talks, but we don’t work together closely since agents schedule talks for a fee and publicists schedule them for free. Typically, publicists will set up author events around the time the book is published, while lecture agents set them up at other times.
Some publishing houses like The Penguin Group and HarperCollins have their own speakers bureaus. (Authors can have multiple lecture agents unless a contract has an exclusivity clause.) For authors interested in signing with a speakers bureau — or for publicists looking to give advice to authors — my not very specific suggestions would be to get advice from someone who has worked with a lecture agent / speakers bureau and also to simply Google “speakers bureau” for some general information. (And keep in mind that some literary agents double as lecture agents.)
The advantage of a gig arranged by a speakers bureau is the speaking fee, which is split in some manner (ironed out in the contract) between the speaking agency and the author. The downside, not suprisingly, is that paid speaking events are harder to come by than free ones. Also, host organizations are looking for engaging speakers — not necessarily book sales. Authors who want their books sold at speaking engagements should consider having it spelled out in the contract that the host venue will arrange for books to be sold. (The publishing house can arrange for books to be sold at talks, but depending on the venue and the size of the audience, arranging for book sales at non-bookstore venues can be dicey — check my What you need to know about off-site book sales post for more information.) Some organizations will ticket events and the price of the ticket includes a book (or a discount towards the purchase of a book).
Authors and publicists — Have you worked with lecture agents? Any advice for someone looking to sign with a speakers bureau?
Yesterday I received an email blast from a bookstore informing me that an author event had been cancelled. I felt a twinge of sympathy, since yours truly — and, indeed, most book publicists — have had the pleasure of having to deal with a cancelled event, whether it be the result of illness, travel delays or an act of God. (Although I did once have an author, who, upon being informed of a tornado watch for the area after having arrived at a library, simply packed up his laptop and decamped for the building’s basement; the staff equally calmly shepherded all 300+ audience members to said basement. That one left me speechless. Truly.)
Last-minute event cancellations are a nightmare. There’s simply no other way to put it. Bookstores have already spent money promoting the event (and time talking it up). This money has now gone down the drain. Further, there’s no way to keep track of who is planning to attend an event, so there’s no effective way to contact everyone to inform them of the cancellation. Lastly, stores are counting on the revenue generated by author talks, since attendees often browse and buy before and after the talk itself. (And that’s just from the bookstore end — the publicist meanwhile has spent time getting the word out about the event and before that time scheduling it.)
So what can bookstores (and book publicists) do in the event of an unavoidable cancellation? First, to get word out about the cancellation, the store posted the cancellation on their web site and also sent out a notice to their subscriber list in an attempt to give people a heads up. I’m assuming they would also have posted a sign in their store to that effect.
In some cases it might be possible to reschedule events, but realistically, given how far ahead of time events are scheduled — at least two months, usually, but up to a year or more in some cases — and how limited an author’s time often is, rescheduling isn’t viable. Another option is arranging for signed books, since many people do, after all, go to readings to get books signed. (The bookstore in this case did offer signed books to interested readers.) Publicists, for their part, should offer to make arrangements to have an author sign — and if possible, personalize — books for a bookstore whose event was cancelled.
What did you (as a book publicist or author) do the last time an event was cancelled? Any event cancellation “success” stories?
Atlanta’s Wordsmiths Books closed up shop yesterday, becoming the latest bookseller to fall victim to our foundering economy. As book publicists, we always try to schedule print and broadcast interviews in advance of bookstore talks to drive readers to the stores (where they will, presumably, buy books). This technique is somewhat dicey these days, not the least because the journalists themselves are facing layoffs.
Fortunately, a slew of websites have emerged that list and categorize author events. These include BookTour and LibraryThing Local. BookTour has lots of partnerships with other organizations including Indiebound and Goodreads, the idea being that you submit information once and it automatically appears on multiple sites. (The downside is that information can easily and inadvertently be duplicated.)
Bookforum Magazine is starting its own events calendar (similar to Artforum’s events calendar) at the end of the month / early next. Details of author talks (anywhere in the country) should be sent to Marketing Director Valerie Cortes at valerie[at]bookforum[dot]com. Or, you can simply include Valerie on your tour mailing list if that is more convenient:
350 Seventh Ave
New York, NY 10001
Another way to draw readers to an event is to hone in on the right readers. Yesterday evening, for example, I attended Lady Jane’s Salon, a reading series dedicated to romance fiction. A group of about 30 ladies (and gents) had packed into a Houston-street bar — a respectable crowd at any time, but particularly admirable given that the event succeeded New York City’s biggest snow storm of the season.
Gabi from Viking Penguin suggests using the site Meetup to find like-minded individuals. Groups are listed by location and interest and are run by moderators. Some groups are pretty general, like the outdoor adventurers who belong to The Next Adventure; others, like the the New York Turkish Coffee Group, have rather more specific interests. Like many networking sites, Meetup requires registration and groups must be contacted individually, so it takes time to list events (which are only listed with the approval of the moderator). Still, if you’ve written a book about Turkish coffee, where else can you reach out to 259 people professing a love for Turkish coffee? Actually, possibly at a site like Eventful.
With so many event listings sites available, book publicists can’t realistically take the time to submit information to each one, so authors, if you have time to lend a hand … No doubt I’ve left out other sites that list author talks nationwide. What are some of your favorite?
Yesterday I received an email from an author at 5:09 p.m. asking if I could arrange for his book to be sold. Today. In Hawaii. 200 copies of the book would be ideal, he said, although 100 would suffice.
I doubt very many bookstores have 100 copies of all the Harry Potter and Twilight books combined. The chances of a store carrying copies of a book — published nearly a year ago — in quantities larger than, well, one, are slim. While this is Book Publicity 101, I realize it may not be quite so obvious to others, so I thought it would be useful to compile some basic information about off-site book sales for authors and for publicists to pass on to authors. (Publicists, Agents and others — plagiarize these instructions at will although I would appreciate, of course, if you could credit The Book Publicity Blog.)
Arranging for books to be sold at off-site events:
— Allow time to arrange for a bookseller. Typically, bookstores need at least about three months notice to arrange for events on-site since they need time to promote them. Although they don’t need this long to arrange to sell books at off-site venues, they still do need time (a month is ideal) to arrange staffers’ schedules. Orders take about a day to be processed and books take at least a week to ship from coast to coast, so two weeks’ notice is pretty much the minimum.
— Publishing houses do not sell books on consignment, nor can our “representatives” sell books at an event. (We’re asked this all the time.) It may seem odd that a publishing house would balk at, well, selling books, but aside from a couple departments — customer service, the website — we’re not set up to sell books directly to consumers. (It’s like this with most commodities: you buy your toys or your Tylenol or your bananas from Toys ‘R Us or Duane Reade or Whole Foods, not from Hasbro, Johnson & Johnson and Chiquita.)
— It’s hard finding a bookseller for a small event. With some exceptions (like in smaller communities where bookseller and author are acquainted), booksellers ask for an expected audience of about 100 people at off-site events. It doesn’t make financial sense for a bookseller to send a staff member to an event for three or more hours — not including commuting time — to sell 10 books to 30 people. (Which doesn’t mean books can’t be sold, but you might consider selling them yourself, which many authors do.)
— Arranging for off-site book sales is time consuming. Of course, for large events, we’ll do whatever it takes to get books there (not to mention it’s pretty easy finding a bookseller to sell to a large crowd), but for small gatherings, we can spend an awful lot of time contacting an awful lot of booksellers only to sell awfully few books at the end of the day.
— Some venues do not allow book sales — some houses of worship, for example. Others, such as many universities, require you to use their bookstore. Keep this in mind when you are asked to speak.
— College students do not buy a lot of books. Particularly hardcover books. Probably because they’re too busy with their Wiis.
— Be realistic about the number of books you will sell. The most accurate way to determine the number of books you will sell is to take the average of the books you’ve sold at previous events. But if you don’t have previous events to go by — and many authors won’t — you can use the 1/3 rule for book sales: one out of three audience members will buy books (obviously this figure is higher sometimes; sometimes, lower). I’ve had authors insist that booksellers bring a large quantity of books, only to have them sit unsold at the end of the night — what authors don’t always realize is that this is a tremendous waste of money for the bookseller (they have to pay to ship back unsold books), it’s embarassing for the publicist, and all it does is make the bookseller wary of selling at the next event.
If you cannot find a bookseller to sell at an off-site event, consider:
— Handing out flyers with a picture of the book and your and / or the publisher’s website.
— Selling the book yourself. I have one author who speaks often at schools. He throws a box of books in the back of his car and off he goes. Depending on how often you speak (and depending on the size of the expected crowd), consider purchasing your book from the publishing house — with your author discount, of course — and selling them yourself.
— Working out an alternate arrangement with a local bookseller. This one needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis, but it is possible that a bookseller who can’t spare the staff to sell books at an event might be willing to order books for an author (sparing the author those logistical details), provided the author (or a media escort / friend / colleague / spouse) can actually sell the books. This can get complicated so some stores simply won’t consider it, but if you’re willing to help out on the sales end — and you’d like to support a local bookstore — it may be worth checking with your publicist or the store to explore how flexible the bookseller might be.
Now, in some cities, there are nice people who arrange off-site events and book sales like Hooks Book Events in Washington, DC (and some other cities) and Kim Ricketts Book Events in Seattle and San Francisco. You can imagine the excitement.
What else should authors know (or would you like to know, if you’re an author) about off-site book sales?
Late last week a colleague and I met with Perry and Loretta of Hooks Book Events. I’ve been working with Perry for a while now, although over the years she has expanded her business and is now working with many different organizations (government and trade organizations, historical societies, business groups, etc.) in the Washington, DC area. A few things really stand out for me as a book publicist:
- They arrange book sales through Politics & Prose. (No last-minute wrangling with venues / booksellers!)
- They assume most — if not all — authors coming to DC will speak at Politics & Prose in the evening, so their events are held largely in the morning / at lunchtime. There is no conflict between P&P and their events because the latter are held at a different time of day and often are open only to members of the host organization (although they have now started organizing public events).
- There usually is some flexibility in the exact time of the events. Obviously, we want to leave time for the author to do interviews, and Hooks Books is good about accomodating us in this respect — a lunchtime event could start at 11:30 a.m. for example, or it could start at 1 p.m.
- They are interested in serious nonfiction, but this includes everything from business to history to science to politics and more. Books dealing with leadership and the environment / sustainability are particularly popular now.
- They’ve arranged events for big-name authors for thousands of people, but they’ve also held terrific events (and sold a lot of books, i.e., 50+) for mid-list authors.
If they have the staff available, Hooks Books can also sell books at offsite events that you arrange on your own. You can contact them here.