American author Alice McDermott said, “A book tour is, first and foremost, an exercise in humility.”
If you’re a first-time author without a well-established brand, and whose book won’t debut on the best-sellers list before it’s published, you’re already humble, and grateful, and, holy-crap-it’s-really-happening excited. You’re going to work really hard to get out there with your book and make sure it sells.
There will never be another “first-time author” experience so you need to enjoy every moment of it, the misses as well as the hits.
Would you like the benefit of my experience? Here are five tips to prepare you for the joys and hard work of being a first-time author, and to help you avoid the mistakes I made.
1. Promotions R You: You will have to do much of the work of getting your book out there yourself, and that’s not a bad thing. Think of yourself as in partnership with the publicist so find out what the promotions person will do, and what you can take on. I found it easier to set up my events and book tours myself; why go through a third party when you already know your schedule?
BOOK EARLY. The book season is spring through fall so that’s a finite period of Saturdays and Sundays! I missed out on doing a reading at a popular indie bookstore when my book was new because I waited too long to call.
Before your book comes out, make a list of the radio programs you’d like to appear on and the festivals you’d like to attend. Make your list and let the promotions person know; follow up with them (they have a lot of authors to take care of). I’m kicking myself that I might have missed the chance to be at a particular festival in Ontario this summer because I didn’t mention it soon enough.
You can’t count on people seeing or remembering an event announcement on social media, so prior to an event, email and phone your friends. They’re the mostly likely to show up. Also, ask them to bring a friend or two. I was so busy before my book tour in Ontario, I didn’t do this for the one big event and I'm still obsessing over who didn’t show up (because they didn’t know).
Finally, and this is a small thing, since my publisher didn’t provide bookmarks for my book, I created my own which allowed me to include my website which drives traffic to my blog, Facebook author page, Instagram and Twitter accounts. I keep some with me at all times so when someone says, "Oh, you wrote a book?" I can give them a bookmark.
2. Booksellers Are Your Best Friends: Even if no one shows up to your reading/book signing, it’s a great opportunity to get to know the book store owner/manager/employees because they are the ones who sell your book so you want them to remember how nice you are! I always left Thank You cards behind because booksellers work hard and spend extra hours on your event.
3. BYOB: Buy your own books. The staff at my local chain bookstore laugh when I buy my own book (to send to someone as a gift), but it’s to my benefit. For a book sale to count, it must go through a store, whether IRL or online. That bookstore even lets me “borrow” my books, sell them at non-bookstore events (like a Christmas farmers market) then pay for them - those are sales that count. Some authors like to buy their books at a big discount from the publisher and make money but as a first-time author, I think it’s better to make every sale count.
4. The dreaded book signing table at a chain bookstore: I studied this for months before my book came out and I still haven’t figured out the best way to do that table. Location has so much to do with whether people stop and look (too close to the door, and they walk right by with barely a glance). I went for eye-catching: I used my own tablecloth (the Nova Scotia tartan goes with my book’s subtitle) and draped little white lights around my stacks of books. At the same time, I wanted people to feel they could look at the book without having to buy it so I avoided the ‘leaning on my elbows and staring at everyone going by’ stance by sitting back in my chair and writing in a notebook – Look, a writer writing! That said, I always smiled and greeted the curious but I didn’t watch them or engage them in conversation.
That said, two out of four of these chain bookstore signings were flops because they were slow days at the store. That’s how it goes. I had more success in malls than in stand-alone stores.
5. Create a uniform: In this age of multiple social media accounts, I decided I needed a different outfit for every appearance. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, and in the beginning the shopping was fun, but eventually it became rather expensive and time-consuming to figure out a different look for every event. I recommend choosing a couple of basic outfits that you can mix-and-match. As a shoe person, I have to remind you that people notice shoes so if you’re going to have a fashion signature, a great pair of shoes might be it (think Sheree Fitch and her purple Doc Martens).
Regardless of how many interviews you book, how many people show up to a reading, and how well your outfit coordinates with your book cover, the best part of publishing a book is MEETING READERS. As a first-time author, I’m delighted by how much fun that was -- and I miss it now that things have slowed down 18 months after my book's release.
The best advice I received regarding that is courtesy of Christy Ann Conlin, who told me: “Don’t read too long. People really want to talk to you.” I took that to heart and never regretted spending more time chatting with readers than reading to them.The readers make all the work of writing and promoting worth every word, every hour, and every dollar.
My book, Field Notes: A City Girl's Search for Heart and Home in Rural Nova Scotia, was published in the fall of 2016 by Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, NS, and is priced at $17.95.