Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How to Do a Book Tour for $200 or Less

What a lot of people didn't realize about the Ash to Nash tour is that it's something we developed, organized, and paid for ourselves.

This is not a tour we would have thought about if Melissa Marr, Kelley Armstrong, and Jennifer Lynn Barnes hadn't led the way with the Smart Chicks Kick It Tour. Their idea--to make a tour their way, in their control--was truly inspiring and the first I'd ever heard of authors banding together in this way to bring their works (and their selves) to their readers. Since then, there have been more similar author tours (notably here and here).

So! Ash to Nash was a totally self-made, self-run tour between myself, Myra McEntire (HOURGLASS), and Victoria Schwab (THE NEAR WITCH). We went to 8 cities, sold tons of books, had even more fun, met so many great people, and did it all for about $200 each.

So--I want to break down a little how we did it. For entirely selfish reasons. Because honestly? I'd love it if more authors did this. More book events that I get to attend! Yay!

Inception:
We got the idea for Ash to Nash after meeting each other at a writer's retreat. We got along well, all had debuts, and all lived in close to the same area. Honestly? That was enough. You don't have to have a huge theme or anything--we just realized that we were close enough to have a reason to tour.

Myra's book takes place in present day; mine's in the future; Victoria's is in the past. Myra's book has time travel and sass; mine has space travel and murder; Victoria's has lyricism and magic. They are very different books.

But they're also similar. All three are YA. All three have smart YA female leads. All three involve an element of unreal.

And more importantly? We all three got along really well. So we knew we could talk and entertain readers in the audience, and we had enough in common to link it all together.

So, step one? Decide who to tour with.


Organization--Before:
We did the most work before the actual tour. Here's a breakdown of what happened:

  • Communicate with your publisher. They are wise, experienced, have advice for you, and can help you come up with everything. Do this first.
  • Agree on finances. We decided to split everything equally three ways, with one person putting everything on her card and then dividing up the bill. We had a vague idea of a budget. But this should be the first thing you talk about.
  • Come up with places to tour. We decided to make our locations (Asheville to Nashville) a key thing, and built the tour as a way to give back to our communities--so we focused on Indie bookstores between our areas. 
  • Decide on dates. Once you know where you want to go, consider when. We generally did one event a day, but twice we did two in one day. You might think that a tour stop is simple, just a couple hours of time--but they are truly exhausting and take a lot out of you. So, in general, think about limiting how many times you double book, and don't forget to factor in travel time!
  • Come up with an event agenda. We needed to come up with our own tour format, and we also needed to make sure that the bookstores--several of which had never had an event like ours before--knew what to do. We developed a program: one hour of Q&A, one hour + of book signing. We came up with sample questions, and asked the bookstores to have moderators that would lead the discussion. We sent the document to each bookstore, basically an event packet that listed what we're doing.
  • Contact guests. One of the things we wanted to do was feature local authors at each stop. Once we had dates, times, and bookstores confirmed, we went about contacting authors in each local area to have special guest. This involved not only setting up the authors, but also making sure they knew the schedule, including them in marketing, etc.

Marketing--Before and During:
Marketing basically never ends from the moment you come up with the tour, to the actual tour itself. We knew our biggest problem was to get people to actually come to these events, especially in the areas that so rarely have events.

  • Website: The first thing we did was set up http://ash2nash.blogspot.com. In organizing the website, we made sure that the top links were direct links to a post about each event, and that in the post there was clear, succinct, specific information about each event. 
  • Spread the News: In order to help spread the news, we offered a giveaway for people who shared info on the tour. We made sure the prize was big--8 signed copies of the books featured on the tour--to entice people to spread the word. We also made it easy: pre-made Facebook links, Twitter posts, and an easily downloadable widget for people to share.
  • Bookstore advertising: To make it easy for the bookstores to advertise the events, we also sent them pre-made posters and bookmarks to hand out to customers. 
  • Press releases: We wrote a press release and provided it to the local newspapers and magazines. This was a big surprise--we thought that we were being ignored by a lot of the loca media--but we found out after that every single place we went to featured our tour stop using those press releases!
  • On-site giveaway: To encourage people to (a) come and (b) buy books, we offered a giveaway just for people at the event, and gave them extra entries for every book they bought.
  • Social Media: And finally, during the tour we also used our already established social media contacts to remind people of the events and encourage them to come.

Touring--During:
And finally: the tour! Here's what we learned while actually on tour.

  • Travel cheaply. We carpooled and didn't stay in a hotel once--we arranged the tour in part so that we were always near one of our houses (or near the house of one of our parents, LOL).
  • Eat and sleep when you can. This is the best advice for anyone on tour ever.
  • Keep it light and entertaining. People attended the tour predominantly to (a) learn and (b) be entertained. So everything we said was geared either to succinct information or to make you laugh.
Last Thoughts:
  • Money:
    • In the end, we spent about $200 each. Here's a general break down of moneys:
      • Prizes (we offered a $100 gift certificate and some other goodies as part of the on-site prize)
      • Gas and travel expenses
      • Printing costs: we made posters and bookmarks for the bookstores to distribute, as well as some bookmarks for us to give out on the actual event
      • Keep in mind: we split the expenses three ways. The final bill for the whole tour was about $600. But because we worked together, we divided the cost. What we couldn't afford on our own, we could swing by working together.
  • Work Together:
    • It's important for you to consider yourself, your fellow authors, and the bookstore owners as partners. Don't be a diva. Don't consider yourself better. Be willing to do work, and be willing to work with others. You'll get a lot more done that way. 
    • Don't do all the work yourself: if you're working with others, share the load. One person can design posters, another write the press release, and someone else can help with mailings. 
  • Have Fun:
    • This is not the time to try to one-up the people around you. Don't try to build yourself up by standing on the shoulders of those around. One of the things we heard over and over was that people had fun because we were having fun. We heard horror stories from some of the bookstore owners about events where the person was just in it to sell books or prove something. It's a lot more fun to just...you know, have fun.
  • Honestly? This tour was exhausting and a lot of work. Most people only saw the end result. They didn't realize that, for the tour in August, we'd been planning since February. They didn't realize that we made the posters, websites, bookmarks, and everything else ourselves--and we paid for them ourselves. But even though it was a lot of work--it was so worth it. We got to meet so many great bookstores and readers! Nothing--nothing--can replace that experiences!



And Finally...If You Like Author Tours:
Go to them! Let the authors you like know you want to see them in person. And when there is a tour near you, go visit it! Here's a few upcoming tours that you don't want to miss:

  • Smart Chicks Kick It: This is one of the biggest--and first--author-made tours. It's kicking off in a few months and will be national. Be sure to check out these stops (and if you're in Portland or Vancouver, I'll see you there!)
  • Stages on Pages: This tour is going to feature YA authors whose books deal with singers, actors, and more--all those stages on pages! It's a fun debut tour, so be sure to check out whether or not it'll be in your area--they'll be on the East and West coast.



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