*Editor's Note: Marion Moore Hill is an inspiration to the small-house-published writer. She doesn't wait at home for the book sales to pile up, she goes out to the book stores and talks and sells. Here is her excellent advice and thoughts on book tours. Enjoy!
I write two series, the Deadly Past Mysteries and the Scrappy Librarian Mysteries, and I'm with a very small publisher called Pemberley Press. Pemberley produces well edited, high-quality trade paperbacks of my novels, with covers that garner compliments from booksellers and readers, and has excellent distribution through Independent Publishers Group, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and other companies. (I learned how important good distribution is with my first book, which was from a different publisher. Bookstores don't know that book exists, since it's not in catalogues from any of the major distributors.) The only down side I've found to being with a small publisher is that I'm responsible for most promotion. I have a website (www.marionmoorehill.com) and speak at conferences, but I also travel to lots of bookstores, libraries, and other venues. This personal connection to potential readers seems necessary since I'm not yet a well-known writer. I organize, schedule, and pay for these book tours myself.
I keep a 'tour bible', which is a loose-leaf notebook divided by tabs for each state I do events in. When I set up an event (bookstore signing, library talk, etc.), I make a page containing all pertinent information (address of venue, phone, name of events coordinator (EC) or contact person, date and time of event, and any other relevant info, such as whether I'm expected to provide copies of my books. Some indies request this.). I file the page behind the appropriate state tab in the bible, alphabetically by name of town. I also note on the page the date I send out promotional pieces: bookmarks to the bookstore (to place by the register), postcards and e-mail announcements to friends in that area, and publicity materials to appropriate news media (typically an e-mailed article about the event, with attached book cover and author photo). After a signing or talk, I note on the bible page how many of each title sold at the event, and any useful comments from customers and ECs. For example, book clubs and bookstores often invite me to come back when my next book comes out. Or sometimes an EC says something like, 'You sold more than some of our local writers do.' These notes are extremely helpful when I plan later trips to that area.
I do signings at both independent and chain bookstores. I love working with indies, which often have deep and lasting relationships with customers, are great at 'hand-selling' books, and work hard to make signings successful. I admire their ability to survive against competition from big-box stores and the internet. All that said, though, I don't feel it's fair to my publisher to sign only at indies, since they often don't get the traffic that chain stores do. Because my publisher took a chance on me as an author, and because Pemberley has invested time and money in my books, I feel I need to sell as many copies as possible.
I drive to several mystery and writer conferences each year, and also visit family and friends at
distances, so I set up bookstore signings along the way, going and coming. (Our hybrid auto gets 47 mpg., and my hubby and I both like road trips.) Using the internet, I find likely bookstores along the route, then contact these by e-mail or phone. Though I've done events with several chains, I mostly go to Barnes & Noble because I find the B&N system fairly easy to navigate. If, for instance, Dayton, Ohio, is (or could be) on my route to a conference, I click on 'Stores & Events' in the top right-hand corner of the B&N home page, then type in the city and state I'm researching. When a list of stores within 50 miles (or sometimes 100 miles) of that city pops up, I check each likely store's calendar for the next couple of months, which tells me whether they do author signings and/or have appropriate clubs meeting there that I might speak to. (To bring up a calendar, click on the 'See more store events' to the right of the store's name and address.) At B&N stores, the events coordinator is called the Community Relations Manager, and his/her e-mail address is 'crm' plus the B&N number for that store (which is four numbers, beginning with '2), for example 'email@example.com'.
If I find a mystery book club, fiction book club, or writers group listed on the store calendar, I note its usual meeting day and time (first Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., for instance). If I can manage to be at that store on the appropriate meeting day for a club, I inquire (when contacting that store for a signing) about the possibility of meeting with a particular group. Sometimes the EC contacts the club's leader for me, sometimes gives me contact into and I approach him/her directly. I love speaking to groups, enjoy the interaction with audience members, and find this an especially good way to sell books.
I initially felt nervous when doing signings, but I've come to enjoy them; I meet lots of nice people in bookstores and have interesting conversations there. But I've found that it's important to strike a balance between being pushy and fading into the woodwork. I hear horror stories from ECs about the two extremes of author behavior: (1) the one who chases customers around a store trying to sell them a book, which might result in a sale that day but will likely lose sales in the long run as the intimidated buyer bad-mouths that author to other potential customers; and (2) the one who spends the signing time reading a book or visiting with friends rather than interacting with potential buyers. One EC told me that an author who sits and reads (apparently assuming people will come up to him and ask about his books, which, trust me, ain't gonna happen) might as well be home writing, for all the good he's doing here. ECs often compliment my friendly but low-key approach to walk-in customers, and one told me on a recent trip, 'You need to teach a class to my young authors about how to sell.'
Ideally, a store seats me at a signing table near the front entry and has copies of several of my novels on it. I greet people as they come in, ask if they like mysteries, say I'm there signing mystery novels and add whatever 'hook' seems appropriate for that area (such as the fact that my latest novel is set nearby, or that it incorporates details about some local event into it). Some people say they're not interested and walk on, which is fine since not everyone likes every type of book. But often people stop to see what my novels are like. I then give a memorized speech about my latest novel, or sometimes about the two series I write (a brief but intriguing talk, trying to sound unrehearsed). As a potential buyer indicates interest in a particular book or series, I follow up with more details about that book or series. I often have buyers thank me for stopping them, since my books 'sound interesting' and they 'probably wouldn't have known about them otherwise.'
Sometimes I find a store has ordered only my latest title, or could only get that one from its warehouse, and then I ask the EC if he/she wishes to buy copies of my other books from me. Many (particularly chain stores) won't do that, but some will, either paying my discounted price or sending me replacements when they later are able to get copies. I sell to bookstores at 40% off retail, and I don't make much per copy on those books, but I'd rather sell them than not, even when my 'take' is small. My reasoning is that, since many mystery buyers like to follow an author through all his/her titles, if I can get one into a buyer's hands, that may lead to future sales. Often I sell both titles in the Deadly Past series to the same individual, since he/she is convinced they'll like both.
Occasionally a store places me in an awful location, some out-of-the-way corner where few customers come by. In such a case, I ask the EC (nicely) if I can be moved, since experience with other signings has shown the importance of being near the store entry. If the store layout is such that I can't be moved, or if the EC refuses to move me (which typically doesn't happen), I smile and do the best I can wherever I am. (But I probably won't go back to that store.)
Having toured several years now, I've developed contacts at a number of venues that are especially good places to sell my books. For instance, I have a standing invitation to sign at the Visitors Center in Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia and at the College of William and Mary Bookstore in Colonial Williamsburg, whenever I'm going to be in those areas. And sometimes a CRM at one B&N store where my books have sold well suggests I contact another CRM who he/she knows would be open to a signing by me. As with so many other things these days, networking is important!
I welcome questions about my touring experiences (firstname.lastname@example.org) and will try to answer as helpfully as possible.
Find Marion and her books online at: http://www.marionmoorehill.com