Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Touring With Books

Many new writers are shocked to learn that publishers expect authors to have a marketing plan for their books - and even more shocked to learn the publishers expect the author to take an active role in executing that plan. This means authors are expected to write letters, call strangers to ask for favors, and of course, make appearances.

It is this last item that strikes the most fear in the guts of introverts and extoverts alike. I remember an elementary school teacher telling us (her class) that many adults would rather appear naked in public than stand up in front of strangers and give a speach. She said she did not want to read about her former students getting arrested for running around naked in public, so she was going to get us comfortable with public speaking.

Of course, this was before the popularity of reality TV shows. Perhaps this is not an issue with the general public today, but it is still an issue with introverts - and the writing profession attracks us like ants to a picnic.

So what's an introvert to do?

Take a few deep breaths while focusing on the idea that most people who show up to hear writers speak are interested in something about which you already know a great deal - you, your book, your process of writing a book, your research method, the topics covered in your book, etc.
You can talk about these things. It may not feel comfortable, but you can paste a smile on your face and fake it for an hour.

Believe your publisist when she tells you that many interviewers do not have time to read your book before the interview. Don't be appalled. This is great news for you. These interviewers - newspaper, magazine, radio, even TV - will be most greatful if you provide a list of suggested questions. See how this works? You provide questions that you are comfortable answering and they thank you. We'll talk more about this on the next post.

Plan for a healthy part of your tour to be virtual. Why? Because you get to sit comfortably in your own home, read the questions that people leave on blog comments, think about how to respond, writer your answer in software that spell checks and grammar checks, and then copy it to blog site. For more information on virtual tours, check out Blog Book Tours.

Pick one or two topics about which you already know more than the general public. Suggest these as speaking topics. This approach does several things for you -
  • It focuses appearances on a specific, agreed topic, so you can research, prepare, and be reasonably certain most of the questions will focus on the agreed topic.
  • It allows you a granule of control. At the end of your talk, instead of asking the general, "Are there any questions?" you can ask the specific, "Does anyone have any questions about X that I didn't answer?"
  • It creates a reasonable expectation that you will not be able to answer any question on any topic.

Be prepared with kind responses for questions you don't care to answer. (You will get these. Some people have no boundaries, or their boundaries may be different from yours.)

Here are few of my stock responses.

  • That sounds like a great topic for another session.
  • What an interesting question. I'll have to think about that.
  • I think my publisher/editor/agent would be in a better position to answer that. There's contact information on the website.

The most difficult question for me to answer is any form of "How much do you earn?" This comes in many forms - how much do you make for each book, how many books have you sold, is it true that authors only make X% of book sales, etc. You may think it reasonable to simply tell the person it's none of his/her business. But if you do that, your other guests will always remember that you were rude - and they won't remember that the question was rude. The cardinal rule for authors is to be kind to everyone. So you must come up with an acceptable answer to even the nosiest of questions. Do this is advance so you are prepared.

What is the strangest or rudest question you've been asked and how did you respond?


Lisa Logan said...

Not only do publishers expect authors to promote, unfortunately some pubs expect us to do ALL of it and put little effort/money into marketing themselves.

As for the most rude question, I also get asked the "money" question in various forms. I usually respond with something generic, like "fiction sales vary widely depending on genre, author recognition, and the publisher." If pressed further, with a smile and song in my heart I'll add, "My goal is to make fiction my day job, and I'm working hard on it!" Usually these two are vague enough to give people the idea that I don't earn Stephen King's royalties and am not going to quote numbers. The few who persist I try to cleverly redirect onto other topics.

conarnold said...

Thanks for sharing this helpful info, especially for us introverts! I've learned a good deal and continue to learn about marketing, and it's getting slightly easier!

Guess I haven't had enough interviews yet since so far I've never had any rude questions!

Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...


Thanks for the tips. I'll add your answers to my supply.


Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...


Remember - the online stuff is to get your feet wet. Don't use is as an excuse to never push yourself out there. Nothing beats in-person contact with readers, interviewers, and reporters.

I can't believe you haven't been asked the rude question. It was the first question asked at my very first live appearance. Luckily, I used to talk to Jr. High kids during career week, so I'd heard similar questions before - just not from adults.

Perhaps your luck will hold. I hope so.