16 Jan How to Sell A Book in America: the 66-City Tour

You may recall that last spring I awoke with the realization that I needed to buy a Sprinter van, convert it into a camper, then tour the nation to promote my new book, From Animal House to Our House: A Love Story. The van is nearing completion. And my publisher and I are working feverishly to book a 66-city tour. That’s what you can do if you are barn-storming a book tour in a camper van: go anywhere and stop anywhere. There are limits, of course. I mean, I’ve got to get back home eventually because I do have a wife, a job, and responsibilities. As it is, I’ll be on the road for 4 months straight. It’s kind of daunting. And the set-up for this thing is mind-boggling. The publisher has given me a dedicated media liaison who does all of the groundwork. Her work and mine combined amount to 8 hours a day, every day. This will go on for months.

You might wonder why it’s so time-consuming. Here’s our strategy: 1) we target the best-bet indie book store in a particular town, then we query the local historic and preservaiton socieites in that town to co-sponsor the reading. The historic/preservation socieites have been really enthusiastic about my visit because, as a licensed home-inspector and a hard-core Do-it-yourselfer, I am offering a lot of value for free: workshops, talks, slide-shows about my experience restoring our big old house and other stuff relating to restoration etc. Jill and I have been building our expertise on YouTube through how-to videos. And we run the Houselove website, which has a national readership. In other words, the book represents a convergence of other efforts and interests, which now all come into play.

2) Once we enlist the partnership of the local historic/preservation society in a particular town, we tell the targeted book store that we have local support. You’d be surprised how many book stores don’t think this is enough. Some want to know if I have family or friends in that town and ask for even more guarantees. You’d think it’d be a no-brainer to book me — and my general-readership book — in a small store when we’re offering so much (see items that follow). We enlisted the partnership of TWO historic societies for a proposed reading at Powell’s in Portland, Oregon, and still Powell’s rejected us. They said we would not draw enough.

I know times are hard. But short of signing an affidavit swearing that we’ll bring a tour-bus load of supporters, what more can we do? And what are the skittish book stores doing on that particular night if they’re not bringing in, say, David Sedaris? All we’re asking is that they give us some space, put the event on their calendar, and send the word around. We’ll do the rest. In the case of Portland, we are going to create an event for the two historic societies and, chances are, we’ll get more press than we would for a book store reading. But my preference is to anchor these in indie book stores because I believe in indie book stores. We writers can help — or try to help — indie book stores, but the indie stores have to be willing to give us a chance.

3) Once we have the historic/preservation societies partnered with the book store, we go to the local press to see if we can get a book review. Then we go to local radio and TV to set up an interview the day-of or the day before. Believe it or not, getting on local morning TV talk shows is not difficult because they’re always scrambling for material, especially if the topic — like old house restoration — has local appeal. Next, we search out the local book clubs and see if we can get them interested.

4) Then we post the event in the local media outlets and calendars. All told, this booking/PR process takes at least a month to work through for each city. And this has to be done at least 3 months in advance for every city. And we’re doing 66 cities. It begs the question: who has time for this? The answer is simple: NOBODY! I certainly couldn’t do it without my dedicated media liaison. And this kind of effort really doesn’t make sense for every book. It will work best for the general-readership book. From Animal House to Our House is a good fit because it has a love story and an HGTV/TOH angle and a David Vs. Goliath inspirational angle and an Animal House angle. I don’t know that I’ll ever have another book that hits as many targets. And, frankly, that’s a relief because it makes my head swim to think of doing this again.

5) Other promotional gambits involve my writing articles for old house magazines like Victorian Homes, present at DIY shows, and give talks at preservation conferences. Further, it helps to get home-town press interestedin the story with interviews and photoshoots. We have a magazine photographer coming over tomorrow for an all-day shoot. Local interest has worked well in my case: look for articles in the Urbanite, Baltimore magazine, and maybe an excerpt in Style. Then an appearance on Dan Roderick’s mid-day talk show on Feb. 2 (from 1-2:00 PM). And more, I hope.

In sum, the idea is to bring all of these forces together so that word-of-mouth carries the name of your book far and wide. Notice that I haven’t mentioned book reviews? Book reviews are the wild card in this game. For an indie-press book, you can never tell who will consider it worth a review. And that’s the primary advantage of having a big-press book: the big magazines and newspapers are much more likey to pick it up.

As for the 66-city tour, mine may be the last of its kind. The world is transitioning to something else when it comes to book promotion, although none of us knows quite that that something might be. I’ve heard people tout the podcast or the video-cast or the guest blog as the way to go, but can any of these virtual efforts truly replace the power and gratification of a face-to-face meeting with readers in a town you’ve traveled to for the express purpose of making something good happen when a writer meeds curious strangers?

If you’re interested in camper van conversions, here’s a video link to my latest installment on that project.

If you want to see the shape of the 66-city tour thus far, click here.

If you still haven’t seen the FROM ANIMAL HOUSE TO OUR HOUSE video trailer, you really must.