Let’s face it, before we get published we all have fantasies about the hundreds of fans standing in line to get their books signed by us at some major bookstore.
The reality, however, is that unless you are already a literary superstar, or famous for some other reason, when you step out into the world as a debut author, strangers aren’t going to know who you are. There’s a lot of competition vying for their attention. “If you build it, they will come,” does not apply in this industry.
But, I am an optimistic realist and believe that a little thinking outside the box can go a long way.
If you are a small press author, your publisher probably isn’t spending thousands and thousands of dollars marketing and touring you. (Heck, larger publishers won’t do that either if you’re an unknown.)
Do yourself and your publisher a favour and consider an “alternative” book tour.
I have walked into a store to buy nothing and ended up purchasing an item simply because I enjoyed the person selling it. A writer once said that we read to connect ourselves with others. So, an intimate event, or an event in a community-driven environment might be the best place to have those connections. Give someone the chance to enjoy your work after they’ve had a chance to enjoy you as a person.
Let’s forget the big box bookstores for a moment and think about where else we can make appearances?
Have you been to the Indie Bound website and found some great indie bookstores? Local indie book stores can be much appreciative of visits by pro-active authors. They also tend to be involved in a community, sometimes being connected to libraries and schools. Indie Bound also lists other retail spaces. Consider doing a reading in a space that’s not a bookstore at all, but might cater to your demographic.
Check to see if the city you are visiting has a literary space. In Seattle, there’s Richard Hugo House. In Vancouver, BC we have Christianne’s Lyceum. In San Francisco they have Youth Speaks. Why not hold a themed book party, workshop, or panel in a literary space? Invite 2 or 3 local authors to read with you, perhaps. These places have their own audiences and each author brings some as well. Throw in some snacks and beverages and people will get comfortable and hang out.
Consider doing readings in small towns rather than a large city. There’s far more competition in a city. One of the best poetry readings I ever gave was in Tiffin, OH. I hadn’t even heard of Tiffin, but had met someone from there. I read at a local café to a “standing room only” crowd. They treated me like a star. To this day it was one of my favourite readings because everyone was so genuinely glad I was there.
In a small town or neighbourhood, how about getting space at a Farmer’s Market or another local fair of some kind? This is a great way to talk with a lot of different people.
And finally, here’s a radical idea: do events in people’s homes! I read about an author who did an entire book tour out of fans’ homes. He said each audience was different. He also said the hosts were dutiful in getting audiences, because no one likes to throw a party to an empty house. He would read from his book and then engage the group in a discussion. Sometimes they all bought books, sometimes none bought books, but you can bet they remembered the experience.
Of course, school and library visits are terrific, but are there other appropriate educational environments that might work well for your book? A zoo? An aquarium? A science center? A planetarium?
Remember, as a debut author, it’s your job to put yourself out there. Virtually and physically. Make connections anywhere you can. Don’t limit yourself to the obvious. Remember - an enthusiastic individual in a small town coffee shop might turn out to be your best ally.