While driving back from a recent American Society of Journalists and Authors chapter meeting, Randi Minetor and I started talking about her recent book marketing experiences. This helpful “lessons learned” guest post is the result of that conversation. Randi is the author of more than 60 books on national parks, travel, American history, birds and birding, trees and wildflowers, psychology and sociology, and a wide range of general interest topics. See the whole list on her Amazon Author page. You might also enjoy Randi’s earlier guest post here, Amazon sales rank: What the heck does it mean?
I wish I hadn’t done that: Tales from the book promotion road
By Randi Minetor
We sat at the six-foot table in the middle of the Wild Birds Unlimited store in a small Connecticut town, and we waited.
The owners had invested in 15 copies of our latest book, our magnum opus: Birding New England, an overhaul and relaunch of publisher Falcon Guides’ Birdfinding series. The new format replaces the text-grayed pages and black-and-white photos of the original series with hundreds of full-color bird photos and specific information on where to find each species.
They’d also bought a plate of Italian cookies.
The cookies, it turned out, were the more popular investment.
Schedule a talk, not a signing
In the two hours we sat in this store on a Friday morning in June, exactly one person came in to purchase a book and have us sign it.
Despite our luring people to the table with the cookies, chatting them up as they munched, and opening the book to selected pages so they could see my-husband-Nic-the-photographer’s gorgeous photos, they walked off without a copy.
I should have known better than to schedule a signing instead of a talk. When Nic and I have the opportunity to perform—our tag-team presentations are filled with photos, tips for finding bird species, and funny stories from the road—the stacks of books dwindle as happy customers buy multiple copies.
Book signings with no talk, however, rarely result in sales for a midlist author whose name does not spark instant recognition.
Pay your own way promotion
In an age when 75 percent of all books are sold on Amazon, face-to-face book promotions have lost much of their power and luster.
Publishers only pay for book tours when the book has a chance of reaching the New York Times bestseller list. As a result, authors who want to travel to promote their books receive little to no financial support to do so.
We who write about regional nature, history, and other nonfiction topics can build our own book tours, paying for transportation and lodging out of our own bank accounts. We can even generate our own publicity for these events. Or … we can stay home and find better, more effective ways of promoting our work.
What doesn’t work, and what does
My first book, Breadwinner Wives and the Men They Marry, had the remarkable benefit of being the first book about women who make more money than their husbands do.
I paid to have a video made of myself speaking at a meeting of professional women. Sadly, it was scheduled for September 12, 2001, so it was attended by exactly six women. Nonetheless, I put together a snazzy hard-copy speaker package, built a list of women’s professional association chapters across the country, and approached them for engagements.
Not surprisingly, many of them responded favorably to my offer to speak to their clubs.
Also, not surprisingly in hindsight, not a single one would pay a speaking fee. Some did offer to arrange for hotel accommodations, and all but one paid for a meal (yes, one of these organizations would not even buy me lunch at a lunch meeting). I scheduled more than 40 gigs from Long Island to San Diego.
On one tour, I barely broken even
I stayed with friends where I could and took advantage of whatever meager hospitality these organizations offered. (This included a stay in one member’s home, where the shower door and walls were covered in black mildew so thick, I thought it was paint.)
I sold hundreds of books at cover price that I had bought from the publisher at a 55 percent “author discount.” Even so, the cash and checks did not quite cover the overall cost of the endeavor. Worse, I learned that the sale of books at such a significant discount didn’t count toward royalties, so in the end, I barely broke even.
I swore then that I would not be sucked into the not-so-glamorous whirlwind of a book tour again.
Put the focus on publicity
I create media lists by hand and contact newspapers and radio stations in the areas near the national parks that are the subjects of my books. With luck, such stories attract the attention of the Associated Press, which can take an article in the Kalispell Daily Interlake in northwestern Montana and spread it to newspapers in hundreds of markets.
This strategy helped my first book in the “Death in the Parks” series, Death in Glacier National Park, sell enough books to generate royalties in its first year.
“I wish I’d listened to my own instincts”
In spring 2019, with the release of both Birding New England and Death in Acadia National Park at roughly the same time, Nic and I received invitations to speak at libraries in Bar Harbor, Me. and Barre, Vt., with accommodations included.
What the heck, I thought, let’s try scheduling some other dates around these. I put together a road trip with additional gigs in Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut, and Nic and I spent late May and much of June darting from one place to another.
“I wish I’d listened to my own instincts,” I said to Nic as we drove away from the Wild Birds Unlimited in Connecticut, our last stop on the tour. Other bookstore appearances had been slightly more successful than in the past, but not enough to warrant the effort it took to get there.
So, no more unreimbursed road shows for me.
From now on I heed the excellent advice you’ll find here on Sandra Beckwith’s BuildBookBuzz website and blog, and I will work to promote my books via interviews, guest blog posts, and online promotions while sitting in my home office in Rochester, N.Y. It beats cheap hotels and countless tanks of gas literally burning up my book income.
What’s your take on Randi’s experiences? Does any of this ring true for you? Please tell us in a comment.
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