Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On the Road

by Marcus Sakey

My second book, AT THE CITY'S EDGE, came out about three weeks ago, which means that I'm in the midst of one of the stranger parts of a novelist's existence--the author tour.

I say "strange" not because I don't enjoy it. I very much do. I love getting a chance to meet readers and booksellers and the occasional fan. And I'm one of those odd people who gets a charge out of public speaking, so that part is great fun to me.

However, the travel itself can wear on you. In the last ten days I have signed in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, spoken in front of 250 people in Hoover, Alabama, dropped into two dozen bookstores, and hosted a couple of Chicago events. I'm home right now to wash my underwear and kiss my wife, and then I'm off to South Carolina. Then it's Denver. Then the U.K.

Understand, I'm not complaining. I feel lucky to be able to do this. While I don't sell enough books to cover even a noticable fraction of my costs, I understand that this is a continuing process that is in large part about supporting booksellers that support me. And as this is my second book, some of the people who come out to see me have nice things to say about the first. All of which is lovely.

However, I am curious about something, and I'd like your thoughts. As readers, how much does it matter to you that an author tours?

I've been to see many authors speak. I'm not a collector--the first thing I do with a book is crack the spine so it will lay flat, allowing me to eat while I read--so it's not about autographs for me. I just like to hear what people have to say.

But while I enjoy that, I can't say it motivates me one way or another. For one thing, I rarely go see an author whose work I don't know. Unless they are a startlingly good or startlingly bad speaker, seeing them is unlikely to have any impact on whether I buy subsequent books. Which brings me back to the question--does touring matter to readers?

Does it matter to you?

30 comments:

gayle said...

Not to me. I am a voracious reader, reading at minimum 100 books per year. I have never been to see an author speak. If I didn't have to drive into Chicago to see an author, I might go to hear one talk. But I live in a small town that would never attract an author to speak. Especially as Chicago is so close.

Dana King said...

I hate to say it (God knows we don't need to give publishers another excuse to cut promotional budgets), but I only go to see authors I'm already in the tank for.

pattinase (abbott) said...

When I lived in England ten years ago and I had very little to do, I went to see every writer that came to the local Waterstones there. When I'm in NY for an extended period, I do the same. But when I'm home, I never attend readings unless it's my own kid that's reading. If I lived closer to Aunt Agatha's in AA I'd probably go often. If you're getting good crowds it's probably worth it. If not, not.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy hearing authors speak about the creative process and writing in general and if you can engage the people who come to see you I think it does matter. I have purchased books after hearing a writer speak at an author event. It should all be about the writing but I think you can expand your readership through tours simply by connecting with people on the road. Good luck with the tour, sleep well lol

Doug Riddle said...

Interesting question. I usually only go to see writers that I already read or have heard good things about on blogs...which was the case at the Ann Arbor Book Fest. where I saw a couple of cut ups on a panel having way too much fun.

Doug

Doug Riddle said...

Interesting question. I usually only go to see writers that I already read or have heard good things about on blogs...which was the case at the Ann Arbor Book Fest. where I saw a couple of cut ups on a panel having way too much fun.

Doug

JD Rhoades said...

Well, if you go see a writer you've already read, and he or she's on a panel with someone you haven't read, and said author you haven't read is incredibly witty and charming, are you more likely to buy the book by guy-I-never-heard-of-who's-
incredibly-witty-and-charming?

Just a hypothetical, of course.

Bethany K. Warner said...

As a hopeful novelist, I like to hear writers speak. It's encouraging to realize that other people have gone through this process and lived to tell about it. That said, I sort of feel bad when I go if I don't buy a book too, which is often a budget stretch.

Apparently, I am discovering now, Indianapolis is not the best venue for book tours, or I'm just looking in the wrong places.

Maryann Mercer said...

These days, I'm more apt to check out an author because of recommendations from people I trust (that includes you all), or from going to a conference and hearing the person speak. We don't get too many author appearances here in the middle of the state. I have however sent my daughter to a signing or two in Portland to get a particular book autographed. So I'd say the short answer is No. That doesn't mean I wouldn't go if someone came here, but sometimes meeting the person can change the way you look at his or her work-not always for the better. Good touring, Marcus-and remember that Guiness is good for you :o)

Maryann Mercer said...

PS- Working in a bookstore has its perks too. I can check out new books every Tuesday :o)
And I think I left out an "n" in Guinness...it's still early.

R.J. Mangahas said...

I like to hear writers speak, but it really doesn't make too much of a difference to me whether they tour or not.

By the way, loved At the City's Edge.

Marcus Sakey said...

Wow. That's near universal consensus. Not what I expected.

Dusty, you raise a good point--if you're doing a signing with someone else, or especially a panel, that's likelier to recruit new readers. But just signing sounds like it doesn't much matter to y'all. You'll go if you know the author and live close, but it doesn't matter to you if an author doesn't tour, or doesn't come to your neighborhood.

Hmm.

Anonymous said...

Good question Dusty. Let me know if you meet an author like that...lol.

But to answer your question, yes if they made a good impression. But that book, not the signing/appearance, would decide if I bought their next book.

Marcus, I think the reason a lot of go to see authors is not so much to hear them read or to get our books signed, but because we are all enthralled by creativity. We like to hear how an idea became a book.

Doug

JD Rhoades said...

Hmmmm indeed.

Picks By Pat said...

It does matter to me if I have read the author's work OR have read a good review of his/her book. I will go to hear someone even if I haven't read their work. I once went to hear Sara Paretsky speak, before having read any of her novels, simply because she was well known by that time.
I did enjoy hearing her speak, and subsequently bought her book.

Ultimately, it helps build reader loyalty. And it's a lot of fun for your fans!

Matt said...

Mixed on the signings. Despite Toronto's huge market, American authors generally only roll through here in association with some con. That has changed a bit over the past couple of years. Among authors I remember David Morrell as a standout; I wound up next to him in an elevator and he asked me if I was enjoying myself. This did stand in contrast to the behaviour of some other writers, unfortunately. In any case, I like to attend signings just to put a face to the book, but appreciate the opportunity for discussion.

MO said...

Authors are celebrities to me. Meeting Jeffrey Deaver (5 times), Michael Connelly (4 times), Dennis Lehane, Harlan Coben, and Brian Freeman was awe-inspiring to me. Hearing them talk about writing the book is interesting. Asking them a question during the group discussion is always a goal of mine - and I really do try not to ask them a question that they have answered over and over again. Then just to get that brief 1-on-1 time when they are signing my book...that is 'it' for me. It really makes my day.

I often sense that authors don't like the book tour thing and I ask myself if they are really getting a benefit from doing it. Traveling all over the country, hotel rooms, food, etc...does it really sell enough books to make it a worthwhile process?

For dedicated fans, I think it is a nice thing. To pickup new fans? Maybe I am just not that type of person? I want to be impressed with one of their works before heading to a place to meet them.

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