Kevin Hearne: The Book Tour FAQ

Kevin Hearne is doing a rad tour for his newest, Staked. And as such, he hears a lot of the questions writers get when it comes time to tour in support of any new book, and so it seemed like a good idea to cross-post his FAQ here (with his permission). Behold: the Tacopope’s Decree! 

By the way, go pre-order Staked now: Indiebound, Amazon, B&N.

Q: Why don’t you come to my town? We have tacos and beer.

An excellent, fair, and frequently asked question that I often don’t have the time or ability to answer in social media! Going to take the time now and refer to this post as needed, because there’s a lot to it and this is a question many authors get asked.

First: It is not because I don’t love you or tacos or beer. People come at me sometimes with “Why don’t you love the place I live?” as if that’s my only criteria for choosing tour stops. The very short answer—the answer to so many things, alas—is math.  Mostly the fact that I can only visit ten or fewer places and there are many more places than that out there. Math says I’m most likely not going to visit your town, or even your state. But it’s never because I don’t want to, so please don’t be upset with me. Be upset with math. I’m gonna explain further below because I get the feeling most folks don’t understand how the tour ecology works. (I didn’t understand until I started doing tours so don’t feel bad, this is not common knowledge!)

Stuff authors & publicists look at when arranging tours (not a comprehensive list but these are the biggies):

1. Population density. The cold, hard fact of the business is that a hell of a lot of people on the earth do not read for pleasure. And the ones that do in any given city might not read urban fantasy or whatever an author’s genre happens to be. So we have to go where the largest pools of potential readers are living and hope there are enough of ours there who first actually hear about us coming and second care enough to come see us. All of which usually means authors visit the really big cities and their sprawling metropolitan areas.

a. Getting the word out about appearances is surprisingly difficult. I can’t tell you how often I go somewhere with full social media and website blitz and even publisher help, then announce the next day I will be in town X, and someone from the city I was just in says “Come to my city!” And I’m like aww…dude. I did everything I could to publicize my appearance in your city and yet the appearance you heard about was some other one…? It’s baffling and frustrating for both authors and readers, believe me. Which leads me to the next bit and the importance of community outreach.

2. A thriving independent bookstore that welcomes events. This is, quite frankly, a majorconsideration. Hold on, lots of points and examples ahead.

a. For stores like The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale and Powell’s in Portland (and many others!) holding events is a vital part of their business plan. It brings readers into their store that might not otherwise stroll in. It helps them keep the lights on. It makes their store a center of culture in their city.

b. The Poisoned Pen (and others on the ball) have a customer email/postcard list to which people voluntarily subscribe. I subscribe to theirs and every month I get a list of the author events scheduled at the store. They hold 250+ events a year! And when I know about those events I try to get there so I can satisfy my inner fanboy. Which means The Poisoned Pen is very good for authors and readers, and almost every major mystery book that gets released in the US also means an author appearance at their store. But they do other genre stuff too: Diana Gabaldon works with them. So do I. Jim Butcher stops there, and so do other genre authors. And the publicists in New York know that The Poisoned Pen does a great job with events so they schedule tours to go through Phoenix/Scottsdale. The other big indie that’s great at events in the Phoenix area is Changing Hands (and they also have an email list). Which means that if you’re an author ready to do a big tour, Phoenix will probably be a stop because 1) It’s the sixth largest metro area in the US, so it’s got the population density thing nailed, and 2) there are two excellent indie stores there that regularly hold events and have a great relationship with the reading community. But stores like that just can’t be found everywhere. If you would like one to be near you, then it is in fact up to you.

c. Visit your indie store instead of ordering online. Keep your local business in business! Subscribe to their email list so that you know who’s coming and when. Attend their events. Start a book club at the store or join one! Bring your friends and have them subscribe to the list too. Community outreach is just huge because as I mentioned above, authors’ and publishers’ attempts to publicize an appearance often don’t reach readers who’d like to know about it. And when authors have events at your store and do well, then word will filter through to other authors and their publicists. I’m going to be visiting an indie store that’s in a midsize city for the Staked tour—Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, NC—because I keep hearing what a great store it is and how dialed in it is to the reading community. Plus it’s well located regionally so people from several other cities can get there if they wanna. Charlotte, Knoxville, Spartanburg or Greenville SC—all within reasonable distance. Good indie store + access to large population = author visits. Math.

d. Cities that let their indie stores close? Well, it’s not the end forever, but it definitely puts a damper on authors showing up. Two examples to illustrate the principle: 1) Dallas/Ft Worth. You had an AMAZING store called A Real Bookstore that served BEER inside. I did a thing there once with Jaye Wells and it was simply awesome. I loved it! Wanted to go back forever! But by the time my next book came out, it had closed! I wept. So there was no Dallas tour stop for that book, and I doubt I’ll be back unless a new indie store sprouts up (they really are that important in deciding where to go). I am visiting Austin and Houston instead on the Staked tour because they have Book People and Murder By the Book, respectively, which both hold lots of events and bring in lots of readers. Seriously, Austin and Houston: You have two of the best indie bookstores in the US there.  Give ’em lots of love and don’t let ’em die. 2) Nashville is an example of how communities can turn it around. They had all their indie stores die out for a while, and then author Ann Patchett couldn’t stand the tragedy of it and opened Parnassus Books. People love it there. Nashville got its second chance and embraced it, so Nashville gets plenty of author visits now. I was there for the Tricked tour. It’s an object lesson how you can make your city a place that authors visit. Ann didn’t do it by herself. The people of Nashville did it! Readers supported Parnassus instead of online giants. Then they demanded to see authors and authors supplied that demand.

(Entrance to the Powell’s Books store at Cedar Hills Crossing (Beaverton, OR) from inside the mall. Photo by Steve Morgan.)

3. Some cities—in part because of the great indie stores, I think—have thriving reader cultures, and I often wonder if we appreciate just how important such stores are to the community. I’m going to single out Portland here as an example. Powell’s City of Books downtown is a simply stunning place to visit. But their stores in Beaverton and elsewhere are truly great also. Thanks to Powell’s, the Portland metro area enjoys regular visits from the world’s authors, fiction and nonfiction, giving residents of that city access to creative and inspirational minds almost every single day. And that’s why I think their city is such a trip, constantly innovating and re-inventing itself. It’s because there’s a freaking awesome bookstore there and people read voraciously and treasure ideas and creativity. They show up for authors so authors keep showing up in Portland.

f. I have had three very kind & vocal people repeatedly ask me to come to Las Vegas. It’s turbo sweet but here’s the thing: Las Vegas actively—even aggressively—promotes itself as the place to do anything but read. That doesn’t mean nobody reads there—obviously many do, and I appreciate hearing from the three people who would really like me to visit! However, I am simply unaware of an indie store in the area. I know I could search for one online—that’s not the point. The point is that as an author who speaks with other authors regularly and discusses tours and great bookstores in the United States, I’ve never heard of anyone having an event in Las Vegas. Ever. At least not so far. Maybe even author events that happen in Vegas stay in Vegas? I don’t know. But that leads me (perhaps erroneously, I admit!) to conclude that they don’t have an indie store there that regularly holds events.

g. Related to that last point, I’ve had many people from Kansas City and Pittsburgh show up on my FB or Twitter feeds and ask me to visit. Thank you! That matters! It helps! I love you! It has me thinking about visiting both places. But please speak up at your indie bookstores too. Or your libraries. They will, in turn, talk to my publicist in NY. Know why I started going to Houston and then kept going back? Murder By the Book contacted my publisher and asked for me. They said they wanted me there and I’d have a great event because they knew their readers. And holy shit, they were right! I had a hundred people show up with barbecue! I have such a good time every time I visit that I can’t leave Houston out of my tours now. But again, it’s not just the store doing it—Houston’s doing it! Murder By the Book got me there but the readers also showed up.  So if you’d like me (or any author!) to come to your town, definitely let the authors know but also be vocal and present at your indie store!

h. I’ve done a bit of looking into the Pittsburgh thing especially because I hear from readers there so often. And the indie store situation there is unclear. Right now I’m hearing through the grapevine there’s a new owner at Mystery Booksellers and maybe they’d be cool with events? (Mystery shops often host sf/f writers, like The Poisoned Pen and Murder by the Book do.) If that’s the case…well, I’d like to know if that’s the case. O Good and Brilliant Peeps of Pittsburgh (and everyone who doesn’t get to see the authors they want): This is a fixable thing. You’ve made it very clear to me through the provenance of social media that you have a lot of awesome, enthusiastic readers. But right now, at least from my admittedly non-local perspective, it appears that your city doesn’t have a clear go-to for author events.  Where’s the place to go? In Portland it’s Powell’s. In San Diego it’s Mysterious Galaxy. In Lexington, Kentucky, it’s Joseph-Beth Booksellers. In Nashville it’s Parnassus. In Denver it’s Tattered Cover. Where’s the iconic indie in Pittsburgh? I’m using you as an example but understand that there are many, many cities in the same boat. Authors would love to visit their readers everywhere but we really need a place to go where we’re fairly certain people will show up. Because of number 3.

3. Travel expenses. Tours are damn pricy and for the vast majority of authors not a money-maker. In fact this is why most authors do not tour at all or only do events near their hometowns. (And also why we rarely do international visits. The markets are smaller and it’s hugely expensive to travel out of the country, which makes the math tougher.) Let’s say I’m promoting a paperback like I did for my first six books. I get sixty-four cents per copy (that’s fairly standard these days). If I sell a hundred copies at an event (which is a lot!) I’ve made $64. Can I get airfare plus a hotel, rental car or taxi, and meals for under $64 anywhere? Hell no, not even close. There’s no way I can break even on a tour, forget about making a profit. And if you’re thinking the publisher is paying for my tour, well, yeah. They are now. But they didn’t when I first started out. I paid for everything myself for the first four books, and please understand that almost all authors do. Del Rey picked up a hotel room for book five’s tour and paid for a few more nights for book six but it was still mostly my dime. Only when I got to hardcover with book seven did I get a full publisher-sponsored tour, which I still can’t believe really happened.  Point is, aside from a very few gigantic names, authors don’t go on tours to make fat stacks of cash. We lose money on it but we do it because we have heard of sunlight and how we should get some and we also hope that those appearances will pay off down the road in word-of-mouth. So if we tour at all, we naturally try to arrange for events that don’t make us cry and feel like we’ve wasted our time and money. Because nothing blows chunks so much as traveling somewhere, spending cash you don’t really have on the trip, and then three people show up. (Yes, that’s happened to me. And it happens to lots of authors.) And something I genuinely fear more than my own embarrassment if nobody shows up: I don’t want the bookstores to feel like they’ve wasted their time and money either. (It does cost them time and money to set up an event!) So again, it goes back to big cities and stores with good reputations for community outreach and holding great events. We want to maximize the chances that everyone leaves happy.

4. I might have been to your city in the recent past or will be there soon. There are a few places I try to visit every tour now (Phoenix, Houston, Portland, and Denver) but otherwise I try to mix it up. Atlanta’s a pretty big city but I’m not stopping there this tour because I’ve been in Georgia twice already the past year. Chicago’s huge but I’ve been there a couple of times so I’m going to Michigan since I haven’t visited them at all yet. And I like visiting Seattle on tour but since I’m going to be at Emerald City Comic Con in April it seems silly to also stop there in February. Basically the Stakedtour is six cities I’ve visited before (Phoenix, Houston, Minneapolis, Portland, Ft. Collins, Denver) and five cities that are new to me (Austin, Orlando, Asheville, Crestview Hills KY, Lansing).

So I hope this helps explain why I (and authors in general) wind up going to some places and not others. I’d love to see all my readers. Math says I can’t. And in many cases there are cities I’d like to visit (like KC and Pittsburgh) but I haven’t yet heard through the author grapevine that there is a great place to do events in those towns. That can change! It takes work. It doesn’t happen overnight. But where you shop makes a difference in what’s available in your area. (The closing of many independent bookstores plus Borders and a slew of B&N stores is proof of that.) If you value cheap books or simply enjoy the ebook or audiobook format for any number of very good reasons, or if you live in a rural area with few bookstores, then yes, online is definitely the way to go. If you value meeting authors and asking them questions and such, supporting your local indie or library and asking them to book events is the answer.

Anyway: I love you all regardless of where you live or in what format you enjoy your books. I try to visit a few new places every tour, so I hope I’ll get to your town someday, or at least to a city somewhere nearish that you won’t mind making the trip to say hi. And if I can’t make it near where you are, remember — it’s never anything personal, it’s math!

Peace, tacos, & beer—

Kevin

10 comments

  • Vegas has a pretty new indie book store that just opened up (within the past year) called The Writer’s Block. They are holding events fairly regularly. Might be worth checking out.

      • Yes, I’ve heard of that one from a commenter on a FB page! They gave me an article listing 11 indies in Pittsburgh but the majority of them were used bookstores and wouldn’t be able to handle us. Rickert & Beagle and Mystery Lovers looked like possibilities. Would still love to do a thing in PA at some point with you and Nicole Peeler, Chuck. Nicole would know where to go for tasty stuff in Pittsburgh afterward if we did something there.

        • R&B has wanted me to come for a while — and on my end of the state, near Philly is Doylestown Books, which is hella good for this sort of thing. We should plan a proper tour at some point!

          • Sign me up! I’d be happy to trundle around PA with you guys (maybe in the spring)? I’ll fly out and rent a clown car, buy squirrel repellent, etc.

  • This is an excellent, valuable read. I really appreciate you giving us your time to spell this out. This post not only does a great job of appreciating readers, but it helps budding authors feel less…funky…about not being able to tour and/or staying so close to home. It also gives us a good sense of what to expect on the road and what we should be doing in our own communities to support indie bookstores, if we’re not already doing it. Again, much appreciated, Kevin AND Chuck.

  • I mentioned this on Twitter, but Rainy Day Books is THE place to have an author event in the Kansas City area. (They got name-dropped by Colbert during the Amazon/Hatchette nonsense.) They do everything from small local author launches to big name events like John Cleese and Stephen King. I go to way more author events now than when I was living in Los Angeles.

    As far as cons go, we’ve got Planet Comicon, ConQuesT (put on by the KC SF&F Society), and of course we’re getting WorldCon next year. Not sure if cons factor into a tour schedule, but they’re good options if you’re looking to connect with fans in the area.

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