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Five Tips for Going on an Offline Book Tour

If you are a writer with a product or a service to sell, you probably know the value of guest blogging at other online sites to get exposure to new readers/customers. We call that doing a blog tour. But I would like to pause for a moment and give a shout-out to the other tour, what is now called the “offline tour,” the old fashioned roadtrip-type book tour. That was the first, and in many ways is still the best, tour: the actual tour.

road and mountainsYou know, where you rent a car, and because Arizona has such ridiculously high rental car taxes and fees, the cost of the car doubles, so you take the cheapest option: “manager’s choice” and hope for the best, knowing you’re not going to be carting around any potential clients and the wife isn’t coming on this leg, and then you end up in a brand new Dodge Charger with all the muscle you could possibly use?

That tour, the one that opens you up. The one where you go a hundred miles without seeing a gas station, where you don’t get any cell service, where you get pulled over for speeding (in your new Dodge Charger) going 65 MPH in a 35 MPH zone once you entered town, and you ask the officer, “Where’s town?” which almost lands you in jail overnight for criminal misconduct but he reduces it to 15 MPH over the speed limit so you can get to your next presentation on time.

Now, when the attendees at that gig trickle in, you aren’t taking any of them for granted. You aren’t looking to sell a product or a service so much as you are looking to connect which increases your chance of selling anything dramatically.

A few words to the wise, then, about active touring:

  1. You Don’t Need a Publisher to Send You On Tour

    Want to hear a tale told out of school? I put together the first year of my tour and arranged 20 appearances while the only thing my publisher did was screw up #21. True story, and I was getting published by one of the Big Five (then Big Six).

    Not to sound ungrateful: having that imprimatur on the spine as well as the distribution and the talented people I got to work with was worth all that and more. I’m just pointing it out now in the context of the tour.

  2. You Don’t Need a Publicist to Send You On Tour

    To date, I have traveled over 60,000 miles and done over 65 solo presentations not including group sessions or moderating panels. I didn’t need a publicist, I needed to become my own publicist.

    I needed a launch kit which contains:

    • an author bio (long and short)
    • a book or product description
    • a headshot
    • notable blurbs or endorsements
    • a description of the intended session

    And I needed some basic computer skills to be able to combine those elements into sales sheets, flyers, and posters depending on the event.

  3. You Don’t Need a Place to Send You On Tour

    You do need places at which to present/perform, and you need to work with those places to maximize attendance for everyone’s benefit. But you don’t need a specific place to send you on tour. I have gotten attached to one place versus another and missed some of life which was transpiring right before my eyes.

    Besides, you never know who is going to say yes. Last year, I approached two bookstores within 20 miles of each other. The place at which I thought I had the best chance told me somewhat snippily, “We’re having Jacqueline Wiiiiiinspear that night.” (I would have known that if you had updated your calendar, that’s all I’m saying.) The one I thought was the longshot of that entire tour leg came back to me in four hours and said: “Sure. Let’s do it.”

    By the way, not every venue needs to be a bookstore, obviously. Try event venues, places of religious worship, conferences, book clubs or other networking groups that host speakers, schools and universities.

  4. You Don’t Need Another Presenter to Send You On Tour

    I have made some great friends on my travels, and have learned a ton about business and life by just being where “people of the book” assemble. But you don’t need to imitate other presenters, is what I’m saying. You need to be you. As my 17 year-old says, “You do you.”

    What does that mean? It means do things differently; my signature presentation, for example, contains a series of stop action films made with action figures to demonstrate the aspects of revision and structure with which writers struggle. Maybe yours needs to incorporate a cooking demonstration, I don’t know. What I do know is no one wants to go to another boring book reading.

  5. You Don’t Need 1,000 Attendees to Go on Tour

    This one gets a tad elusive. You can’t get disappointed by your turn-out. When I managed weddings (and thank you so much to everyone who buys a copy of one of my books so I don’t have to go back to being an event planner), I used to tell the bride: If it rains, everyone will be looking at you. If you’re cool with it, they will relax and still have an awesome time.

    It’s the same when your event draws a baker’s dozen, or less. You never know the corollaries: You could have a “big mouth” in the audience who will be delighted to spread the word about your product or service. If you did your due diligence and made sure you were in the local arts listings or your book has been displayed in the venue for a few weeks, many more people have heard of you now even if they don’t attend the event.

    Besides, the number of people in the audience doesn’t dictate how well things will go. I have done my presentation in front of 250 people and it was great; I have done it in front of 5 people and it was great. I have done it in front of 80 people and it was kind of enh.

Quick Points to Remember

Before I let you go, I want to hit on a couple of other quick points to remember:

  • Know your A/V. Back up your files, find out what equipment they have, be prepared to go live anyway if something fails.
  • Collect emails without being too sales-y. I use a clipboard and raffle off a prize, by using a random number generator on my phone.
  • Clarify the details. Time, length, admission charge, is it open to the public or is it members only?
  • Have books with you all the time. Even if the bookstore or conference says they will take care of that (sometimes they only order 6 or, oops, forget to), people will come up to you and want to buy them out of your car. Have change, and a card reader that connects to your smartphone. Worst case, get their email address and offer to send them a Paypal invoice.
  • Have the attitude: We’re here to solve problems. Once in a while we find ourselves getting smarter by asking questions like, “What is going to go wrong tomorrow?” and solving that problem now.

Have you ever gone on an offline road trip? If so, do you have any tips to add to this list?

See you out on the road!

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