Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Should you do a book tour?

by Rob - October 19th, 2009.
Filed under: Promotion, Publishing.

I got asked today by a new writer if it was worth touring for a second book, and whether I’d done that for my own second novel, Far-Seer. My reply:

The first thing to remember is that Far-Seer came out 17 years ago: before the World Wide Web, or any of the social media associated with it. I might well do things very differently today. But even back then, I did not tour for Far-Seer.

Here’s the dirty little secret of book tours: you do them mostly to get local media coverage. A news story helps sell your book in every store in town for several days; a specific book-store event helps sell it for one hour in one store (although, yes, the signed stock you leave behind will also sell well in that store after you’re gone).

But a local paper, radio program, or TV show won’t cover a story without a local angle: an appearance by the author in town is a local angle, so that’s why you do it, but, that said, “Author visits town” is not in itself a news story. And that brings us to why most book tours for fiction fail.

Those that succeed do so because the newsworthiness is intrinsic to the topic of the book. As I wrote in an article for The Writers Union of Canada: “The best way to have a hook, of course, is to build it in to the book from the outset. When John Grisham or Michael Crichton set out to create a novel, they decide what issue they’re going to tackle — what hook the book is going to have — before writing the first sentence. Whether it’s the controversy around capital punishment (Grisham’s The Chamber) or the perceived problems with biotechnology (Crichton’s Next), they give the media something to sink their teeth into.”

My touring started taking off when I started writing books that interested the media because of their subject matter: science vs. religion (Calculating God), constant monitoring of our lives (Hominids), medical efforts to arrest and reverse aging (Rollback), the future of the World Wide Web, young girls and math, the potential for a bird-flu pandemic, etc. (Wake).

So, if your second book is one that the media will note because of its theme or topic, then maybe a tour is worthwhile. But otherwise, it probably isn’t worth doing, especially if you’re paying for it from your own pocket.

Ask yourself this: have you ever bought a book because you have stumbled on a desperate-looking author trying to hawk it to all and sundry at a bookstore? Most tours attract existing fans to your events.

The best-bang-for-the-buck in promotion these days is probably doing stuff online. Here’s an article on that topic that happened to come to my attention today. Unless you’ve got a news hook, I wouldn’t tour, but I would do everything I can to attract positive attention to the book online.

Visit The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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