Tuesday, August 26, 2008

User Generated Book Tours

Sarah Lacy, for Business Week, in an article entitled, "Book Publishers: Learn From Digg, Yelp—Even Gawker:"

"The conventional wisdom in publishing is that book tours no longer work. I agree, insofar as tours are confined to bookstores. The sad truth is that bookstores are declining in relevance. There are exceptions, of course, but even stores that draw big crowds for an author will struggle to reach the wide community of people interested in a particular author.

I'm learning this firsthand through what I'm calling my User Generated Book Tour, announced on my blog on a whim. My only rule: I'd go to 10 cities (not including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York) based on response and enthusiasm. With few exceptions, I've held no bookstore events."

I think that "bookstores are declining in relevance" is a little harsh. And a little premature, especially in light of the way the independents are being linked to both the shop local and the green movements. But I'm intrigued by the idea of taking the tour beyond the traditional venues, and using the internet to dictate where that is.



Christian Berntsen said...

Hi Lou,

I went and read Sarah Lacy’s full article, which was interesting, and I guess I have a few thoughts on the subject. I’ll start with the book tours question, since that was your focus here.

Going outside of traditional venues (i.e. bookstores) is a good idea, the thing is not only how do you communicate that to the reading world, how do you get them to go there? Publishers are often ingrained in their traditions, but so are many readers. While I believe the writer’s job is to make the reader work while reading the book, I think the publisher’s job is to make it as easy as possible to find the book in the first place. So, outside of bookstores, where do you tour?

Most of the following suggestions have been used before, but perhaps not to the extent they should, and I think the next logical place to look is other retail venues. Walmart is the world’s largest, and while they don’t carry a huge selection of novels, certain publishers could indeed benefit from touring them. Publishers should follow where their books are sold.

Next stop would be college campuses and libraries. For the SF/Fantasy audiences like Pyr’s, colleges with an emphasis on the sciences and/or the arts should be looked to first, because I believe that’s where you’ll find the majority of you authors’ fan base (potential or established; also look to which ones host conventions – which are already used as a touring venue – or have strong reading groups, fan clubs, etc). Libraries, often stops for up-and-coming and local authors, do not seem to me to be a place for big name authors (though I live in the ‘burbs, so a major metropolitan area like New York City or L.A. could be doing this and I am unaware of it). I think they should be. Most have “Friends of the Library” groups which could benefit from sales of the author’s book(s), and all libraries can use whatever positive publicity they can get (I should add a disclosure here, I date a librarian).

After that, well, on MySpace – my only foray into the social networking world – I often see musicians using a widget that let’s people vote for artists to come to there cities. The idea behind it being that enough votes will make the musician take note and schedule a stop on their next tour. If it already isn’t being used by authors, this could be a way to gauge interest. Once you know where the interest lies, then the trick is finding the right place to present the creators. You could turn anyplace into a tour venue, but is anyplace the right place? And, as I mentioned above, are people going to follow readers to unfamiliar locations?

People are slow to change, and the world is rapidly evolving around us. Right now it would be hard to get people to go see an author at a non-book related venue, so perhaps start with the ones mentioned above that are less exploited, but still familiar. For my part, I would generally go to an unusual place if I liked the author, or were intrigued enough by the promotion, but I’m also a writer who has an interest in how other writers do things so that may make me more than a casual reader. So I don’t know if I even really answered the question.

A quick note on some of her other points: I think the social aspect is key in our current times. As mentioned, I’m not much of a joiner in that respect, but I understand the power of it. Message boards offer people a chance to interact and offer opinions they may not otherwise be able to. The downside is that the petty people are afforded the same opportunities, and if you’re not careful, your board could become a war zone. I believe the new Tor site offers boards, but a quick look at Pyr’s and I saw none, are there plans to offer up that kind of reader interaction?

There’s also the networking sites, in multiple flavors (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, et al), which can provide fans outlet and interaction opportunities not otherwise had. I may be extrapolating here, but Lacy’s idea on book clubs online via these sites is an interesting one, though I’m not entirely sure publisher’s should run those.

Um, yeah, just a few thoughts for you…

Lou Anders said...

Christian thank you for the detailed response. We did try some appearances in comic stores when we launched, and those were only simi-successful, and I've spoken at libraries myself. One of our authors, Alexis Glynn Latner, has also done a tremendous amount of "library outreach" and she's had success pitching her own book at aerospace conventions.

I'm also interesting in different things that can be done with the tour inside the bookstore. Do you recall/remember when Neal Pollack was touring boostores with a punk rock band, and tearing his own book up onstage?

More student interaction does seem key. We ran, in simi-stealth mode, a group of young first readers for a while, all between 15 and 25, asking for honest appraisals of our work blogged in places we wouldn't necessarily know to look. Program was very beneficial to me, in terms of sharing opinions, but a few of the folks carried all of the work, and I'm not sure it ever achieved its aim of getting into extreme venues outside the usual channels, so it was recently shut down.

There *are* plans to expand the Pyr site, funny you should mention it. I'm working on some of that right now, for a potential late Sept roll-out, with more additions planned soon in the coming months. I'm personally on MySpace, NextCat, Facebook, Shelfari, Library Thingy, and probably something else I'm forgetting, but there isn't a Pyr page there. Perhaps there should be.

But broadly I'm intrigued by Sarah's article, both as regards Pyr and just in terms of publishing in general, but I do think independent bookstores are rising in importance again (or rather, their always-important value is being talked about again).

Anonymous said...

I'm a member of a fantasy authors collective here in the UK (Write Fantastic). We tour libraries, bookshops, universities, schools, literary festivals, and get a fair amount of media on the back.

There are big advantages to being mob-handed. Not everyone has to attend every gig, but everyone gets publicity through the material handed out to the audience. And you get cross-pollination with fans of one author coming along, getting interested in one of the others, then trying out their work.

There's a similar group of crime authors - Murder Squad - who also have published a couple of anthologies.

ces said...

I have only lived in 3 cities in my life - Los Angeles, Portland (Oregon), & Seattle, so my experience is limited.

I believe that the locally owned bookstore (not necessarily a "small" bookstore - think Powell's in Portland) - which may or not be an independent - is gaining in popularity. I think folks - and here I'm tempted to say the "real reader," & not the "browser" - are tired of going to chains & only finding the latest book (singular) by an author. Book tours seem to do very well in Portland & Seattle - I never went to one in LA, but the stores seemed to offer them, so I assume they sell books - think of Powell's turning away people to see Neil Gaiman. Although well-known authors may be the ones doing well, and not new or little-known authors. Both Portland and Seattle had lectures also in non-bookstore venues, & lots of times they sold out months in advance. Again, well known authors. I think that if you advertise, folks will come. And that I think is the problem. Advertising. Sure, advertising on the Internet is wonderful, but booksellers seem to have forgotten that folks still read newspapers - and especially bulletin boards in local, favourite eateries (I, for instance, go to none of the networking sites, personally feeling that they are gigo). Especially if the bulletin boards are next to the johns. Or the front door. So folks have something to read while waiting. Bulletin boards in college bookstores and student unions are also good places.

Lou Anders said...

I would like to see more done in conjunction with colleges, especially as regards conventions.

ces said...

Lou, that would be nice. I sometimes wonder, however, if the convention planners consider the conventions rowdy enough without having rowdy college students coming in droves also.

Lou Anders said...

I think droves of anybody would be a good thing. Free admission for high school kids would be something I'd do (or maybe for grammar school...)

ces said...

Lou, I think droves of anybody would be a good thing too. What I was trying to (politely) say is that I think convention planners don't particularly want them, so they don't advertize to them or encourage them to come.

And back to book tours . . . I noticed that this morning's Seattle Times Newspaper front section (i.e., Section A) had an advertisement for a non-fiction book author reading/signing. I thought it interesting (and encouraging) that it was in the front section and not in the Living/Entertainment Section.

Lou Anders said...

There is a very small but very fun convention in Huntsville, Alabama I make a point of attending, run by very nice people. But it is VERY small, and it always strikes me as odd that they don't advertise to the huge population of NASA scientists all working in the town or do anything in conjunction with the US Space & Rocket Center, only a mile from the con hotel. Because it seems that it could be so much bigger with ease.