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Book Touring Like a Rock Star

Peter Damien

Staff Writer

Peter Damien has been reading since time out of mind, writing for a very long time, and been hopelessly lost to a disgraceful addiction to tea for a few years now. He writes short stories, comics, a lot of articles, and novels at an achingly slow pace. When not staring at words, he spends a lot of time in the woods, as befits a man of his hairstyle. He lives with a billion books, a tolerant wife, too many animals, and also two small boys. When it comes to writing, the small boys are, frankly, no help whatsoever. You can find Peter on Twitter, if that's the kind of thing you're into. Twitter: @peterdamien

Something pretty cool might be coming to a town near you, and reading about it got me thinking about author tours. You see, right now Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson, and Sarah Rees Brennan are all traveling in a big tour bus, decorated to the nines with images from Clare’s Mortal Instruments books. They’re on a book tour, and they’re doing it on a bus.

cassandra clare tour bus

Who usually does tours on buses? Rock bands! And since nearly all I think about are books and rock bands (well, and tea), I started banging the two of them together in my head and think there’s some very interesting potential here.

What if we started treating an author’s book tour a lot more like a rock band on tour than the way we currently handle them? Right now, a book tour is a promotional affair, in which the author is flown by the publisher (sometimes) into various cities, where arrangements have been made with local bookstores. They might do a signing, or a reading, or be “in conversation.” The idea of the book tour is to convince people to buy the book, raise awareness of it, and sell copies of the book in the store that the author’s stopped in. They’re usually pretty cool events, and if you’ve never been to an author event, I recommend wholeheartedly that you go. Half the fun is seeing the author and listening to him or her talk. The rest of the fun is hanging out with a bunch of people who might be fans of the same books as you.

Let’s suppose now that the author is instead several authors, traveling all together on the same book tour route. Each gig along the way is held either in a bookstore or a small theater or what-have-you, and a small admission is charged at the tour. We aren’t talking the hundred-plus dollars you’d have to pay to see The Eagles (this is why you can’t have nice things, humanity) (sorry). Maybe five bucks, maybe ten bucks.

Inside the space, there is a place selling t-shirts, autographed books, and other miscellaneous that you might want to buy. The advantage of buying here is the same as buying the shirts and CDs at a band’s concert, but we’ll come back to this in a second.

In the event itself would be several authors, and I really think this needs to be a major point of it. I also think that who those authors are needs to be decided very carefully on the outset of the tour. Big-name authors paired now and then with smaller name authors. Supposing I publish a book tomorrow. Who’s gonna come out to see me? I’d be an unknown quantity in this regard, naturally. But supposing I went out on book-tour with Neil Gaiman, who is a little bit less of an unknown quantity than I am. With someone like Neil Gaiman, I’d imagine a couple authors would go out. It’d work just like opening bands. Opening bands aren’t always unknown quantities, but they frequently aren’t the band you came to that place specifically to see. Some people moan about them, and that’s fine (I’ve seen rubbish opening bands, sure. But at the last concert, I became so fond of the opening band, I was a very big fan with their albums a week later). The point is that these authors gain some attention.

If readings are done, they could be planned to be more dramatic. Supposing you are a terrible reader of your own work? An amount could be in the budget to look into hiring a local reader/actor/actress to do your reading for you, lending it a gravitas that you might struggle to provide. Hell, wouldn’t it be interesting to bring along a few actors and put on dramatic readings from your books? (It would provide work and visibility for the actors too. Win-win).

As for the merchandise table I mentioned earlier, that and the at-door cover charge could prove to be very useful. Being on-tour is where a lot of bands make their real money. The album might keep selling for years, but the tour generates money for the band right then. Most merchandise sales and door fees go toward the band-and-crew.

It’d be the same with what I’m discussing. Sales from the gig, door charges from the gig, would go to benefiting the authors and traveling crew more so than the publishers. What would make this interesting as a revenue stream for the authors is, it could change how money flows between them and the publisher. It might be functional for the publisher to keep more money from the book (or something; I cannot stress how much I am not an accountant, folks) knowing that the author revenue will partially come from being on the road.

Not every author would buy into this. Some authors would hate to ever leave home. Fair enough. Personally, I think out-and-about methods like this are becoming more necessary, but mostly I think they would be fun.

I’d like all of this in place by the time I publish a novel, please…because putting aside business ideas, revenue, meeting the readers, and all of that…it would mean I could go on tour! Like Alice Cooper for example! Thus fulfilling all of my teenage dreams!

Ahem. And other sensible grown-up reasons too.