Monday, September 23, 2013

Planning a Book Tour on the Cheap

By Beth Groundwater

Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of fiction authors receive no funds from their publisher for conducting book tours. Any traveling most authors do is on our own nickel. Eventually, we learn to stretch those nickels as far as possible, and I thought I'd share with Inkspot readers eight tips for planning a book tour on the cheap. Many of these tips can be applied to any kind of trip.

1. Flying: If possible, avoid flying and use cheaper transportation modes. If you must fly, use frequent flyer miles or shop online for the cheapest fare, even if it means changing planes multiple times or driving to another airport close to your home or destination. For instance, living in Breckenridge, Colorado, I can leave from airports in either Denver or Colorado Springs, so I check the prices of flights leaving from both.

2. Driving: Try to carpool with another author to share the cost of gas, parking, and tolls. You can do this if you anchor a conference at one end of your tour or invite another author to tour with you.  Also, pick the vehicle among those you and your carpool partner own that has the highest gas mileage. I have a Toyota Prius that is my go-to car for book tours, that gets 45-50 miles per gallon.

3. Sleeping: Plan your route so you can stay with friends and/or family along the way and avoid paying for rooms. As an extra benefit, many of them may enjoy serving as door greeters at your bookstore signings. I usually gift my hosts with autographed copies of my books. If you do need to pay for a room, try to share the room with another author or, if going to a conference, with another attendee. Look for as cheap a room as possible, compare the price for the same room at multiple websites and by calling the property directly, or use your affinity points if you've got them. Beware of city hotels with parking garages if you're driving, because they often charge exorbitant parking fees. Lastly, I always check that the property provides free Internet service, is located in a safe area of town, and is not located next to railroad tracks.

4. Eating: Take a small cooler so you can carry meals in the car or keep them on ice in your room. Many times I've packed snacks and sandwiches for a car trip or kept yogurt and fruit in a cooler in my room for breakfasts. Even better is to find a property where breakfast is included. Ask bookstore staff before your visit if they have book club that you could meet with for a meal before or after the signing. Also check if there’s a local chapter of a relevant writing group (such as Mystery Writers of America or Sisters in Crime, in my case). Either type of group will enjoy the opportunity to visit with an author, you'll have more attendees at the signing as a result, and the group usually will pay for your meal.

5. Drinking: Take your own water bottle to conferences and events and refill it as needed. Drink just water with restaurant meals. Avoid expensive coffee and alcoholic beverages. Even more costly can be a slip of the tongue while inebriated that can cost you fans. Instead, if you're at a conference where the bar is a great place to network, nurse a soda all evening. However, if opportunity comes knocking, go for it. I've never turned down just one free drink!

6. Freebies: Don't go overboard on the giveaways. You should only need business cards and bookmarks, postcards or fliers. The expense of pens, buttons, notepads, mini-flashlights and all those other freebies can really add up. If you only make $1.50 in royalties per book, you shouldn't be spending more than 40 cents on a giveaway that you hand out to potential customers.

7. Decorating: Bring along packable eye-catching decorations for your signing table, but don't overdo it or interfere with the decorations and signage the store or conference provides. Suggestions include a small prop related to your book's theme or setting, a brightly colored tablecloth, a sign, and in my case, yellow crime scene tape. I suggest a hard candy dish on your signing table, but buy the candy in a bulk multi-pound bag at Sam's or Costco. Avoid chocolates because they can melt, and bookstore owners don't want chocolate-smeared fingers on their books.

8. Dressing: Don't buy new clothes for the tour. Most fans are comfortable with an author who is neatly dressed just one notch higher than themselves. For instance, if most of the customers in a bookstore will be wearing jeans, I wear casual slacks and a shirt with a collar. Take clothing that travels well, can be layered, and can be washed on the road, preferably at a friend or relative's house.

I've used these guidelines many times in planning my own book tours for new releases. I've combined signings with trips to mystery conferences and even a trip to Oregon to attend my daughter's college graduation. Nowadays, I mostly focus on my home state of Colorado and on tacking extra book signings or library visits onto mystery conference appearances.

 Do you have any other good ideas for book touring on the cheap?


Raquel Byrnes said...

These are all great tips. Especially the drink one. I spend so much money on water bottles, coffee, and other things that aren't that great for me anyway. :0

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, Raquel!

Deborah Sharp said...

great tips, Beth. I'd add one that I just discovered on a short trip my hubby and I took (not book-related, but still relevant). If you do have to fly somewhere, avoid valet airport parking. We were running late, so used this service some airports offer, figuring we'd be gone just 2 days. $63 (plus valet's tip)! I nearly had a heart attack...

Beth Groundwater said...

Oh yes, Deb! Also, an idea that we often use is the Stay and Fly package that many airport hotels have. If you live far from the airport and are leaving on an early morning flight, you can often stay the night before at the hotel, eat breakfast there (or get a to-go breakfast bag), leave your car in their lot for 1-2 weeks, and take their shuttle to/from the airport for about the same amount of $ as it would take to park your car in the airport's cheapest long-term parking lot.