The Fifty-week Book Tour

This interview was conducted by the award-winning New Zealand maritime historian and author Joan Druett, who published it on her blog, World of the Written Word.

I am grateful to Joan for the interview, and for her permission to repost it here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014—The Importance of Book Tours

The statistics are impressive:

  • 13 readings and signings at bookstores and libraries
  • 16 talks and signings at clubs and societies
  • 10 lectures at academic and research institutions
  • 6 talks at museums and historical societies
  • 3 presentations at conferences
  • 18 interviews with print, radio and TV journalists (including BBC Radio 3, and NewsTalk 106-108, Dublin

Obviously, this was an intense experience. So what tips and memories does Lincoln Paine have to share with us? Follow my blog over the next five days, and find out.

Now to the matter that other authors will find riveting, that being your opinion of the importance of book tours.

Book tours are important for all sorts of reasons. If you don’t go before unknown audiences of diverse kinds, you’re stuck in an echo chamber of your friends and relations who aren’t going to challenge your writing or assumptions terribly much if at all. If you write for a wide public, you should be willing (if not necessarily eager) to meet it.

Is it necessary to have good sales and great reviews before the book tour begins

Positive pre-publication reviews from outlets like Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, Choice, and Library Journal (Seavilization got the first three) obviously don’t hurt, but publishers are most eager to promote books in their first month in print. And because many venues book not much farther ahead than that, you can’t wait for editorial reviews to come out.

Are book tours worth the cost? Even if the travel is covered by the publisher, there is not just lost writing time for the author, but the costs of daily living, too.

I was in a position to market myself a bit, and was willing and able to travel. Most of the personal expense was driving and eating. Flights were always covered by someone else, and I don’t think I paid for more than one night in a hotel, and that only because of a bad flight connection. Most of the time I stayed with friends or family.

It’s hard to say it’s worth it when you have twenty people show up at a signing and sell one or two books, or sixty people and sell none because your host didn’t arrange for any to be available. However, thanks especially to the media age, virtually every venue I attended was promoted on the web as well as in print media, and it is difficult to even guess the ripple effect from that. Several of the larger venues record and post podcasts of their guests’ talks, as do interviewers, which can reach fairly substantial audiences, thus getting your name out even if it seems no one is actually listening live to your hour-long presentation.

Do you think that book tours help sales?

It’s hard to say how much these appearances affect sales, but as I said that’s only part of the reason to go, if you can. Publishers obviously think they help at least a little; but they have a complex calculus that means they can spend lavishly on books with an obvious appeal—well-known author, hot topic—and less on those that don’t. I’m not sure where mine fell, but I would guess somewhere closer to the latter than the former.

But I’ve been on one side or the other of publishing my whole career and I get it. Lincoln Paine is not Stephen King, and although most of the characters I introduce are dead by the end of the book, it just doesn’t have the same page-turning quality as a King novel.

Does agreeing to tour make for good relations with your publisher? Make it more likely that they will write a contract for another book?

Publishers do notice whether you put yourself out there, and it does matter, as it should. If the publisher knows you’re willing to stand behind—or travel for—your book, they are going to see you as a partner, and writing and publishing is a partnership.

Thursday, October 9, 2014—What Makes a Book Tour a Success?

More hints and reflections from Lincoln Paine. What helped make your book tour a success?

What helped make your book tour a success?

It was helpful that I had had 26 reviews—12 in the U.S., the rest from England, India, Australia, and China—and 3 honors. I’ve also caught a few odd shout-outs here and there, the most unlikely being in Gregg Easterbrook’s “season-ending book recommendations” on ESPN.com, the sports network, back in February, and the English rapper and journalist Akala’s “book list” last month.

What about the venues? Were any of the events particularly delightful? 

The variety of venues makes it difficult to single out any one of them. I got to stay at a number of stately institutions, including the Metropolitan Club in Washington, the Union Club, and the Larchmont and New York Yacht Clubs.

The engagement that had the greatest influence on me was a talk I gave at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. The impact was not just that I couldn’t believe how dead Bar Harbor is in wintertime—the signs outside the shuttered hotels are under wraps to protect them from the elements. Preparing for my talk I discovered that all students at the College of the Atlantic major in human ecology, which is the study of how people interact with the social, technological, and natural environments.

Why does this stand out in your memory?

It seems to me that you can define maritime history in exactly the same way, and I have in fact used that formulation in every talk I’ve given since. COA describes itself as “for idealists with elbow grease,” and its student body is about as unlike that of a service academy as one can imagine. Yet when I told students at King’s Point and SUNY Maritime that their curriculum and chosen careers were essentially about human ecology—interacting with the social, technological, and natural environments—and that I had gotten the idea from a school where students wouldn’t even wear a uniform ironically, they didn’t bat an eye.

Any other pluses?

Another venue that was an unexpected delight was the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, and not just because they flew me cross-country—which opened up the possibility of my speaking elsewhere in California—but because most of their guests are oceanographers and conservationists, subjects that I address only fleetingly.

Being asked to speak there was a treat because I feel, perhaps wrongly, that the oceanographic community doesn’t normally engage their discipline historically, and this invitation seemed like something of a breakthrough.

Were there any serendipitous encounters?

At the Hotchkiss Library signing [a multi-author event in Sharon, Connecticut], I sat a few seats away from Francine Prose, and having just read Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, introduced myself. She seemed as bemused by the ending of her book as I am. I also got to meet the novelist and memoirist Kate Christensen at an event hosted by The Telling Room where we were featured authors. I had seen her at a reading and we live in the same small city and would certainly have met at some point through mutual friends, but it was still pretty exciting.

Friday, October 10, 2014—What an Author Should Expect…But Sometimes Doesn’t Get

More from Lincoln Paine, recently returned from his book tour for The Sea & Civilization.

There must have been glitches! Are you willing to tell us about them?

I think this is the part of the interview where I get to gripe. And I do have a few complaints that most authors will share and of which all prospective hosts should be mindful.

You mean the people who invited you to talk? What did you expect, and how did they let you down?

Foremost, if you’re going to invite people to perform at your organization, you should prepare something to say about them before they show up. This is almost always provided by the publisher or author, and if you’ve misplaced the email the information came in, you can always go to their website or read the flap copy of the book. Not doing so is incredibly insulting to the author, or whomever it is you’re hosting. This happens more often than I can believe.

Most venues have no institutional or logistical impediments to having books available for signing. Authors go on book tours to promote their books, and not making them available for sale defeats the purpose of the tour. Again, the number of places that frown on, or simply don’t think about, providing books for their audience is incredible.

Also, while no author is in it for the swag, which can sometimes be difficult to deal with (one club gave me two enormous monogrammed wineglasses, which they offered to send to me), the gesture of an offering is appreciated, even if it’s just a certificate or letter or acknowledgement, and especially when it’s in lieu of having books available, honoraria, or paying for travel or accommodations.

Yes, authors benefit from publicizing their own work, but it’s not as though all the work was done before the book came out. Preparing for a talk and getting to the event are themselves time-consuming and costly. And we also know we’re there to educate your students or entertain your membership and guests, and that if we didn’t show up you would have to work to find someone else. So hosts should try to be as accommodating as possible.

Hear, hear to that! I remember the venue where accommodation was at the home of one of the members of the board . . . who somehow forgot to inform his wife! Thank you, Lincoln. More revelations to come.

Saturday, October 11, 2014—Organizing a Book Tour

The last question in my interview with Lincoln Paine touched on an area that is close to the heart of many a modern author, particularly the daring soul who has embarked on independent publishing. It is becoming quite common for authors to organize their own book tours. Any suggestions for this?

The parts of my tour that were not organized by Knopf, who did a fantastic job editorially and in promotion, were of three distinct kinds:

  • events organized by people who looked me up directly;
  • those organized by people to whom I was suggested by friends and colleagues;
  • a few to which I invited myself through people I knew personally.

For the first two categories especially, the obvious details to work out are how long they want you to talk and if they have anything in particular they want you to focus on.

It also behooves you to tailor your remarks to your audience, whether it’s their group interest, or where they live. In my case, the Naval War College doesn’t want to hear the same talk as the Sons of Norway in Maine, or the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, and even the latter audience wants to be distinguished in some way from that of the Southern Yacht Club New Orleans.

Any other suggested preparation?

It’s simple to explain the difference between writing and promoting a book. In the one, you spend most of your time sitting at a desk talking to yourself; in the other, you spend all your time standing on a stage and talking to a room full of people.

Public speaking is not my forte, but I practiced a lot and an actor friend gave me tips on speaking and stage presence. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, you have to work at it, but it is worth it, not only because people do judge a book by the author, but because you’ll be more comfortable doing it.

Just as your hosts should do their homework about you, you should do some about them. It doesn’t have to be much, but it can make all the difference between a good reception and an indifferent one.

Any questions you should ask them?

  • Who will introduce you?
  • Will you be in a conversation, part of a panel, or giving a solo lecture?
  • Do they want you to talk about your book, about your process as a writer, or something else altogether?
  • How much time do they want you to speak?
  • Does your host want you to talk, or read, or both?
  • Do they want a visual component like PowerPoint? (Some do, some don’t, some don’t care.)
  • If yes, can you just bring a thumb drive to plug in, or do they need you to bring your own laptop?
  • Do they pay for travel or accommodations?
  • Do they pay an honorarium (either in addition to or in lieu of travel)?
  • Will they arrange for books to be sold at the event?
  • Do they expect/allow you to sell books at the event?
  • Will there be a reception or meal of some kind?

Whether you need any or all of these conditions to be met is up to you. Certainly there are times when you should be happy to speak with nothing in return, such as a local school group. I admit I didn’t have such a list this go-round, but I wish that I had, if only to impress on some of my hosts the fact that writing is actually a business and not an act of charity.

And finally, for the hundreds of voyagers who read this blog, what are your tips for living out of a suitcase?

Keep your expectations modest and be prepared to be both disappointed and pleasantly surprised. And have realistic expectation about what you’ll need to wear, and about how much work you’ll actually get done. I’ve basically decided that traveling is a great opportunity to catch up on back issues of the New Yorker and the TLS.

And when United Airlines decides that you really want to spend the night at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, you can find a cot in Terminal 3, Concourse L. They won’t tell you, it’s a twenty-minute walk from Terminal 1, and the powers that be wake you up at 4:00 am. But it beats sleeping on the floor or between armrests.

Thank you, Lincoln. I enjoyed this interview, and have learned a great deal. You have given me and my readers a lot to think about.