What Nobody Tells You About Book Tours
My latest blog tour is about to kick off. What are blog tours? A regular tour is where the publisher sends you around the country by train and pays for your hotel so that you can do events and meet your readers. A blog tour allows you to answer questions from popular book bloggers wherever you and they are, and is prepared in advance of publication.
At first glance you’d think physical tours were preferable because you can sign copies and have face time with readers. But it isn’t often as simple as that.
Almost every major town adds a literary festival to its annual schedule of events because they’re cheap and easy to organise, they’ll have a ready-made audience, it’s cultural and makes the local council look good if they add a few pence to the kitty, and authors will be lining up to attend.
A book tour; what could possibly go wrong?
In practice there are way too many events, some brilliant (Harrogate, Whitstable, Charleston, Bath, Cheltenham, Oxford etc), some appalling (let’s just leave that there). Some litfests become obsessed with booking writers from other media, so a TV presenter who has written a book is fifty times more likely to be accepted over a boring old writer who has, er, written a book.
And too many authors are booked, so that you end up travelling four hours to do a one-hour five-way-shared panel on an inappropriate subject. Or the event is mismanaged and badly planned, so that nobody hears about the event and you find yourself with an empty room. Or it’s a busy festival but you’ve been booked in the same time slot as a rival writer.
How Neil Gaiman once accidentally destroyed a writer.
He won’t even have known that it happened. The writer in question was new and very shy, and had finally been persuaded to come to a coastal festival and launch his book with a signing. On that afternoon Mr Gaiman found himself with a free slot and his PR presumably dropped a public appearance into the festival schedule at short notice. Mr Gaiman has a lot of fans, and his slot coincided with that of the other writer, who was in a small room at the back of the hotel, where nobody – except me and one other person – turned up for his event. It happens.
Working for peanuts
And now some litfests have got a little too ahead of themselves. Buoyed by their success, they’ve introduced contracts with draconian clauses (demanding that the author must not appear at other festivals etc). Did I mention that most of them don’t pay?
I remember heading into an event with Joanne Harris, held in a youth centre (Huge sign upon entry; ‘Get Your Free Chlamydia Kit Here!’) at which the hearty organiser stormed up to us and said; ‘I do hope you’re going to enjoy yourselves!’ To which Joanne replied, ‘I’m working unpaid on a Sunday.’
Sometimes the smaller festivals are set up by a local busybody with literary aspirations who uses then kudos of the festival as a method of self-aggrandisement. Needless to say, these are to be avoided.
And there’s another hidden cost to tours which is intangible. How much good do they do? The publisher sells a handful of books, but not enough to cover the cost of the trip, but they can connect with booksellers, show support and build relations. It’s a loss leader, a goodwill gesture.
Gentlemen (and ladies) of the press
One could have the same argument about press reviews. I’ve been to press dinners where the attending hacks have all been on another junket earlier and are all pissed. I’ve sat next to reviewers who have no intention of covering your book but are here for the food. There are a certain number of freelancers known in the trade as ‘freelunchers’, who’ll turn up at anything and never write a word about you.
I once did an interview for a woman from Empire magazine in a trendy restaurant. She turned up drunk and insulted all the other diners. I did a disastrous event at the British Library which involved me standing on a freezing rooftop girder in a headset for three hours. But I’ve also been treated to the most wonderful hospitality, usually in public libraries.
Publishers have to take a chance with the notoriously unreliable press because the (not necessarily true) theory goes that readers trust press reviews more than online reviews. Certainly the Sunday Tiomes can change an author’s fortunes overnight, and when I received a rave review in the New York Times from a reviewer I greatly admire, my Amazon sales sharply spiked.
Having been own both sides, I know that press reviewers are continually being crushed for space, while bloggers have space to breathe. Bloggers and, increasingly, podcast producers are becoming ever more sophisticated (try the excellent timhaighreadsbooks.com) So if you get a blogger with expertise and good social reach, you can do far more good than, say, getting a two-line mention in a tabloid.
And blogs are fun – when they do their research and ask smart questions they can be a real mental workout. So, mine kicks off tomorrow – but this summer I’ll also be travelling about, hoping to physically tour a bit, and I’ll update you here.