This article was originally published at Ideas on Fire on September 4, 2018.
You wrote an awesome book that has the potential to make real change in the world. Now how do you get it into the hands of audiences? Book marketing is a crucial part of publishing, and no book sells without it. Marketing your new book is a big part of your job as a scholarly author and book tours are a great way to get started. So how do you put one together?
Set Your Book Tour Goals
The first thing you should do is get super clear on what exactly you want to get out of your book tour. What would you consider a success? This will look different for everyone. For example, you might have a goal of selling a specific number of books, speaking at a particular number of venues, connecting with specific audiences, being interviewed on specific podcasts, or keynoting a particular number of conferences.
Use those goals to figure out what kinds of events and locations to build into your book tour. Just because your colleague keynoted 7 international conferences on their book tour doesn’t mean you have to. No two book tours look alike because no two book audiences are exactly the same. Yours should help you achieve your goals, not someone else’s.
Find Out Where Your Audience Is and Go to Them
As I explain in Book Marketing for Academics, selling books is about getting them into the hands of people who are already wanting them. That means finding and connecting with your book’s audiences where they already are.
When planning your book tour, identify who your book’s audiences are and where they hang out. Then try to schedule offline and online book events in those spaces. Contact the individuals or organizations running those spaces and pitch them an event that shows you have done your homework to learn who hangs out there, what the organizers’ and community’s goals are for the space, and how your book can help them achieve those goals.
Plan Your Schedule FAR in Advance
Think of your book tour as a year of events to promote your book. Now before you exclaim, “What? I have to do this for a whole year!” hear me out. No, you don’t need to do a solid year of events back to back (unless you want to). But because a book tour involves a large amount of coordination with people who are not you, you need to plan ahead.
For a book tour, you’re not just dealing with your own schedule and desires—you’re dealing with the schedules and goals of dozens of other people and organizations. It is your job to fit into those if you want them to help you promote your book. That means you need to plan stuff out far in advance. Venues and organizations—as well as individuals—plan out their event calendars many months ahead of time (sometimes years ahead of time), so if you’re trying to book an author event for next week or even next month, you will probably get turned down. However, if you contact venues and organizations several months ahead of when you’d like to schedule something and you give them multiple options for timing and structure, you’ll have a better chance of fitting into their existing calendar.
Planning this far in advance will also ensure you have time for the rest of the professional and personal things you have going on in your life. After all, grading, childcare, partner relationships, committee meetings, conferences, dissertation defenses, and publishing schedules don’t all stop just because you’re marketing your book.
One of the best things about being an academic is that you know much of your schedule far in advance: scholarly associations tell you when next year’s conference will be (and they’re almost always around the same time each year anyway), your school’s academic calendar is set years in advance, you usually know roughly what you’ll be teaching a semester (or more) ahead of time, and academic publishers usually give generous timelines for revisions (compared to trade publishing). So you already have a pretty good sense of what you’re doing for the next year in your professional life.
Similarly, many regular familial, community, and friend events can be predicted ahead of time (bi-annual dentist appointments, vet check-ups, regular car repairs, your monthly lunch with that friend group, your birthday weekend trip, and the like).
Put all the things you already have scheduled or can predict decently well on your calendar and then see when you could schedule book events around them. This gives you concrete options you can suggest to venues and organizations when contacting them about events. It also helps you predict your energy levels so you can avoid scheduling a bunch of book events, say, the week that final grades are due or your in-laws are coming to visit.
Take Care of the Budget
Taking your book on tour can get expensive if you’re not careful, particularly if you forget to negotiate speaking fees. Before contacting venues, create a budget for how much money you have to pay for your tour expenses. Keep in mind ALL the costs of travel and presentation: both the obvious ones like transportation and lodging but also the less-obvious ones like food, checked baggage fees, new clothes or bags if you need them, tech tools and software, wi-fi fees, and the like.
There are also non-financial costs to budget for, most notably the time off work. As with any travel, you simply will not get as much done on the road as you’d like, so don’t set yourself up for disappointment by assuming you can do the same amount of grading, writing, course prep, committee work, and letter of recommendation writing as you would at home.
Your budget should also include the speaker payments and travel payments you aim to raise. Be realistic but confident here. Not all venues will or can pay you to speak, but many will. Asking about the speaker and travel budget should be part of every negotiation.
Keep in mind that although royalties are nice, they are often very, very small for academic books. So don’t think that spending thousands of dollars on a book tour will mean you’ll make it back in the form of royalties. Your publisher will probably see an increase in book sales, but check your publishing contract to see what tiny fraction of that is yours. Royalties are also usually paid out quarterly or annually, so you might not see that money for a long time. Budget accordingly.
Make It Accessible
I strongly encourage you to have a variety of types of events in your book tour, both offline and online. For instance, you might put together a combination of conference keynotes, group panels, webinars, Twitter chats, Facebook Live events, bookstore readings, hands-on workshops, and roundtable discussions. This not only lets you showcase the range of your work, it also lets you show how it is relevant to different audiences. Not every person wants to go to a keynote or participate in a Twitter chat. But they might be interested in another format. Format diversity lets you meet different audiences where they are at.
Different formats are also differently accessible. For instance, someone without a smartphone or regular internet access might not be able to join you for a Facebook Live event but would gladly come to a local bookstore reading.
- Building security and surveillance: For university buildings, see if you can get building security to waive the ID-to-enter requirement to ensure that gender-nonconforming people whose IDs may not match their names or gender presentations, undocumented people who may fear police surveillance, and those who don’t have ID can attend your event.
- Recording: Will your event be recorded? Make sure there is a designated area that people who do not wish to be recorded can be in while still fully participating in the event and that all organizers and audience members know not to record folks in that area.
- Food/Drinks: If there will be food or drinks provided, ask the organizers ahead of time if people who don’t attend the full event can eat it. Often university event organizers forbid this, which makes the space and the event inaccessible to community members who are food insecure.
In other words, make sure diverse communities and bodies can actively participate in the event and in the ideas your book covers.
Book tours are a great way to connect with diverse communities, build new relationships, and help audiences use your book to achieve their goals. And with the added bonus of upping your book sales, they also make your publisher very happy. Your book tour should reflect your individual goals for your career and your book and there is no right way to organize one. Make it your own and use the tour to get your book into the hands of the audiences who are going to do great things with it.
Want more specific advice? Check out my guide Book Marketing for Academics.
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