By the time you read this I’ll be on my way to Michigan for a mini-book tour with two other authors. Which seems quite counter-intuitive these days, since so many readers buy electronic versions of my books. As the ebook revolution continues, you’ve undoubtedly heard others bemoan (or cheer, depending on your perspective) the disappearance of the book tour, and I was right there, too. Yet here I am out on the road again. So, what’s the deal? Are book tours a thing of the past? My answer: yes and no.
Book tours – is the writing on the wall?
Once ebooks started to explode, I honestly thought the writing was on the wall for book tours. I didn’t think I’d tour again. After all, ebooks are convenient, lower priced than print books, easily available from anywhere with the tap of a finger. Why should anyone take an hour or more out of their busy schedules to come see an author, buy the book, and have it signed?
And what’s so special about a signed book anyway? I’ll tell you the truth here: I didn’t know signed books were more valuable than unsigned when I started writing. So having a signed book was never a priority for me, and probably to others, as well. Add to that the fact that it’s hard to get people to come to a signing these days, unless the author is a superstar. And when people do come, it’s rare to sell more than a handful of books.
Combine that with the ensuing chaos in the industry, in which bookstores disappeared, Borders went away, and Barnes and Noble is teetering, and the result is that publishers subsidize fewer and fewer tours, preferring to throw money at their best-selling stars rather than mid-list authors.
For all those reasons, it seemed like book tours were a dying breed. So I hung up my spurs and figured my days of touring were over.
Except they weren’t.
Printed books are still king
In July 2013 the latest Rasmussen research was released. It’s easy to get caught up in the whole e-publishing phenomenon, but, in fact, most people still prefer print books.
The poll showed an impressive 75% of American adults would rather read a printed book than an ebook. Just 15% claimed to prefer ebooks, and 10% couldn’t decide. The previous year, in 2011, 23% of readers said they preferred the ebook format. Which hints that readers’ initial love affair with ebooks might be on the wane. Even more revealing, this year’s results showed more people buying books from a brick and mortar store (35%) than online (27%). Which I find astonishing, because I keep hearing that 50% buy their books, print and ebook online now. Indeed Amazon is said to sell 25% of ALL print books in the market. I guess it’s a case of dueling statistics.
However, if Rasmussen is accurate, and they probably are in their overall stats, paper books still make up the large majority of book purchases. And while signings in bookstores may be on the way out, book Festivals and Fairs aren’t. In fact, they are hugely popular.
The book fair scene is alive and kicking
Almost every state in the US has a book fair. So do cities. And most places still have libraries where you have what I call ‘qualified’ customers. Unlike Borders or B&N where, when you’re signing, someone asks you where the bathroom is or if you could order a book for them, library lovers tend to be obsessive readers. They want to read more. And they love meeting the people who write the books they enjoy. That’s why I made sure Havana Lost is available in print as well as ebook and audio.
It seems to be paying off because I’m going to be touring a lot more than I expected. But there’s a slight but significant difference. Now I base my tours around book festivals. This weekend is Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown Festival, in its eleventh year and still going strong, a popular free event that attracts thousands of readers.
Along the way I will be stopping at two bookstores and a library. I will be traveling with probably my two closest friends in the business, Cara Black and Kent Krueger. Together we three slightly dishevelled Musketeers will be heading to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to flog our new books. And it doesn’t stop there. November is the Miami Book Festival, and March is the Tucson Festival of Books.
So are book tours really dead?
Maybe bookstore tours are. But the thriving Book Fair scene might well preserve author tours for a while, maybe even a long while. It will be interesting to see what happens.
In the meantime, if you’re in Ann Arbor this Sunday, I’ll see you at Kerrytown.
Image Credit: David Sanders/Arizona Daily Star