Q&A WITH MKA: Book Tours Explained

As I start the third week of book signings for my new book, THE WEEKENDERS, I’m struck by how interested readers are in the mechanics of a book tour. For me, hitting the road to do signings and meet booksellers and fans is one of my favorite parts of being an author—it’s the dessert after a particularly challenging entrée; i.e. writing the damn book. So I thought I’d sit down and explain my answers to the most frequently asked questions.

  1. Who arranges a book tour? Your agent? Editor? Minions?
    This can vary within publishing houses, but generally speaking, the publicity department, along with input from the marketing department, and the author, and sometimes her editor and agent, come up with bookstores and towns for the tour. Many times, bookstores, through publisher’s sales representatives, will request an author event. Sometimes local libraries, schools, universities, or community organizations will reach out to publishers to request a visit from an author. In my own case, several months before my new book’s publication, I meet with the publicity and marketing team at St. Martin’s Press, and we start planning where my tour will take me. Because I’ve been around the block a few times (THE WEEKENDERS is my 24th novel!), my publicist usually has a list of requests from bookstores. We also take into account the setting of my novel when planning a tour. Since THE WEEKENDERS is set off the coast of North Carolina, in addition to my usual haunts, this year’s tour is taking me to Raleigh, the Outer Banks, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Asheville, and Highlands, NC. Last year’s book, BEACH TOWN was set in a small Florida fishing village, so I did signings in Tampa, St. Pete (my hometown), Jacksonville, and Vero Beach.

    I got a warm welcome at Bethany Beach Books in Bethany Beach, DE.
  2. Who pays?
    Not me! My publisher pays all my expenses and makes all the travel arrangements.

    Here I am in Duck, NC visiting with longtime Nags Head resident Nancy Rascoe, who was so helpful when I was researching my book, SUMMER RENTAL.
    Here I am in Duck, NC visiting with longtime Nags Head resident Nancy Rascoe at Duck’s Cottage, who was so helpful when I was researching my book, SUMMER RENTAL.
  3. How long does a book tour last?
    It varies with each book, but this year, I’ll be on and off the road for roughly six weeks over the course of the summer, with an itinerary that takes up 26 typewritten pages. Generally speaking, I’ll travel for five or six days at a time, return home for a few days (to do my laundry and kiss my husband and remind him what I look like) before going back out on the road.

    Here’s the great crowd at Page & Palette in Fairhope, AL, one of my favorite bookstores and a frequent stop for me while touring.
  4. Does your husband go with you on tour?
    God, no! And I never accompany him on business trips. Although I personally find book tours enjoyable, this truly is a professional obligation. I’m rarely in a town for more than 24 hours, so there’s little time for socializing or sightseeing. (Although I sometimes sneak in a little retail therapy.) Besides, Mr. MKA prefers doing his own thing and pining after me while I’m away. (Or so he claims.)

    I did have time for a little retail therapy in Red Bank, NJ where there is an awesome downtown. I was able to get a quick blowout and get my FitBit cranking making up some steps after a long drive before my event with River Road Books that evening.
  5. How do you travel? Do you have a chauffeured limo? Do you get to fly first class?
    Bwahahahahahaha. That’s me spewing cheap chardonnay out my nostrils. Tragically, there is no liveried driver. No bodyguard, no official valet or lady’s maid, or armed escort. And there is definitely no first class. Sob. It’s just lil’ ole me, flying coach if my destination is more than half a day’s drive, and then driving a rental car to my final destination.

    Spotting my book in airport bookstores is one of may favorite book tour pastimes. Here’s THE WEEKENDERS at the Pittsburgh airport.
  6. Why don’t you ever do book signings in (a)Vermont (b)North Dakota (c)Utah?
    My publisher sends me places where there’s a proven readership for my novels, or where stores have clamored for me. I personally adore North Dakota and Utah, as well as many parts of Vermont, (although not necessarily in the winter) so if you are a reader who lives in those places, or any place where I haven’t been on a recent book tour, here’s how you can remedy that. (1) Buy my book from your local independent bookseller, and if they don’t carry it, annoy the hell out of them until they do. (2) Get your book club, friends, co-workers, and family members to do the same thing. But, remember, the above two plans only work if you make it a habit to buy print books, and locally, from that bookstore. Although my books are carried at big box chains and wholesale clubs nationwide, those stores rarely host book signings, and frankly, they really just want to sell you discount tires and five-pound jars of peanut butter. (3) If you’re a member of a large, non-profit organization, say the Junior League, or a hospital auxiliary, I frequently do ticketed luncheon and dinner speaking events, where my books are sold during the event. You can email my marketing genius, Meg Walker, at [email protected] to get the details about that. (4) If you don’t have a local bookstore, (or even if you do) ask your local library to order my books. Lobby for them to invite me to appear in your community to give a talk and book-signing. To do this, you’ll have to be able to prove to them that such an event would be wildly successful, i.e., attract more than just you and your bff.

    Here’s the awesome crowd at Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA.
  7. Here’s where I explain a little bit about how the retail book business works.
    Hosting a book signing event can be an expensive and time- and labor-intensive affair for bookstores. They have to convince a publisher’s sales rep that they can sell enough of my book to make the expense of sending me there worthwhile. They probably have to have a proven track record of hosting successful book events. They’ll have to order enough copies of my NEW book, plus copies of my most recent titles (this is called backlist) to make the trip worthwhile. In addition to ordering all those books, they have to pay the cost of shipping. And they have to be responsible for promoting the event through advertising and social media. They also have to staff the event with extra help, and if they hold the signing off-site, say at a local restaurant, they pay for that too. So it’s a risky business, to say the least.

    The launch party in Atlanta hosted by FoxTale Book Shoppe is always my biggest event. Here’s the piles of books and swag bags ready and waiting for my beloved readers to arrive.
  8. Now here’s the part where I risk offending loyal readers.
    As an extreme extrovert, I love meeting and greeting my fans. It’s a huge ego boost when I walk into a bookstore and see a line of friendly faces. But here’s the thing, folks. Bookstores need to sell books and other stuff, like calendars, greeting cards, etc., in order to stay in business. If you want them to remain in your community (and you should, because bookstores are a vital part of our culture), you have to actually put your money where your mouth is. I realize you can buy my books cheaper at those online retailers, big box stores, and discount clubs. And if price is the most important thing to you, I understand. But it’s really NOT NICE to show up at a book signing at ANY store, toting a book you bought someplace else, expecting me to sign it. It’s kind of the equivalent of taking a McDonald’s bag into a fine restaurant and plopping down at a table and proceeding to eat your Quarter-Pounder with their silverware, china and linen. You wouldn’t do that, right? Of course not! If you are a fan of my books, you are, by my definition anyway, a NICE person.

    What’s better than enjoying an icy cocktail with readers in a beach town bookstore? No much. Thanks, Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, DE!

Okay, class dismissed. Next time, we’ll talk about where I get my book ideas.


2 thoughts on “Q&A WITH MKA: Book Tours Explained”

  1. Thanks for explaining this. Part of the problem is the book tour information is not on the blog early enough. Last year we found out you would be in Duck at Island Bookstore a few days before the event. We had pre ordered our books so we called to see if we could still attend and they said yes. This year we mentioned it to you at Duck Cottage only so someone knew we brought the books in with us. We have been vacationing in Corolla for years and always visit Duck Cottage. In the future we will not pre order.

    We are such big fans a few years ago we each bought 2 of your Christmas books. One for me and one for you as Christmas gifts. So we had 4 books. So we gave the extra books away to spread the word.

    It was very nice to see you again. Sorry the weather in Duck was so awful.

  2. I love all your books and stay up to date on them. My family and I are long time, returning vacationers on Tybee Island. I can’t begin to tell you how crushed I was when an older lady who works in the lighthouse store, informed me The Breeze Inn didn’t exist, that “it was just made up from some place that existed long ago.” Luckily, I did my own research and was able to admire it from a short distance. Between that a beer truck knocking down a light pole, and hearing about how unprofessional the bay watch crew was, yesterday was one heck of a day. Oh Tybee, I do love you! 🙂

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