Who knew? I remember walking into my local Chapters when my first book had just come out. This was in 2000, before social media, before the demise of bookstores, before the store's take-over by candles and cards. I stood in the entranceway gazing in awe at the bookcases and bookcases and bookcases of books. I walked past the displays at the front of the store – shelves clamouring 'Hot new fiction', 'Best Picks', 'New releases' – past the seasonal displays and remaindered tables, past the general fiction section, all the way to the huddle of mystery shelves at the back of the store. And there I was, tucked into the middle of the middle row of the middle bookcase, dwarfed by an entire shelf of Dick Francis and Karin Fossum.
Who was ever going to find this book, I thought, let alone choose to buy it over the other tens of thousands of books in this store?
Therein lies the author's conundrum. And I believe it is amplified several-fold nowadays because of the sheer number of books being published. For the self-published author and even those published by smaller presses without the massive promotional and advertising budgets of the big guns, spreading awareness of their book is a huge challenge. Bombarding social media with blatant and irritating pleas or brags doesn't sell books, and indeed may be counter-productive, but if no one's heard of the book, they won't buy it either. Hence the tightrope that we all try to walk on social media between self-promotion and personal connection, so that we nurture friendships and networks and balance self-promotion with sharing each others' achievements. It takes patience, luck, and above all, a damn good book. Your first book sells your second. Or not.
It's an ever-evolving marketplace, and what worked before may not work tomorrow, but I think the same principles will be at play. Write the best book you possibly can, listen to the advice of editors and beta readers, rewrite it even better, and then once it's published, start reaching out to booksellers, librarians, readers, and fellow authors. As Sybil said, this is challenging and unnatural for writers, who are often shy, but it actually does get easier, and I'd say you're well on your way, Sybil. I found my first panel (also at Bouchercon) terrifying, but eventually I got used to them. My first reading was no doubt abysmal, but I kept doing them. I attended conferences where I barely knew a soul. I did bookstore signings where I felt more like a Walmart greeter showing the way to the restrooms, library readings that two people came to, radio and TV interviews that I suspected no one watched. Over the past fifteen years I have probably attended dozens of book clubs. Love them! A great way to make new friends as well as readers.
I started off this post intending to talk about the secrets to a successful book tour, but as usual I am wandering around in the maze of ideas, in the process discovering that the secrets to book tours apply equally well to all promotional efforts. Here they are:
- Travel with another author. Not only do two authors make for a more entertaining event, but it's great to have company and someone to share expenses (and that glass of wine) at the end of the day.
- Always be prepared to laugh. It may be all you get out of an event. Look for the adventure, be prepared for the unexpected, and see the humour (and the story possibilities) in all that happens. This is easier if your companion knows how to laugh too.
- Never count the money. Promotional efforts are about forging relationships, building trust and readers. If you're thinking about what this trip is costing you, or about how many books you've sold, you'll sink into a deep funk. But if the book is good, the word will be spread.
- Be gracious, respectful, and appreciative not only of the librarians and booksellers who have organized the event but also of the readers who came. They owe you nothing; they put themselves out for you, and they all have horror stories of the divas who will never be invited again.