In the previous post I told the story of Ron Tanner, who did a forty-state, sixty-city book tour to promote his book, ““From Animal House to Our House: A Love Story,” about the refurbishment of an old fraternity house.
Did he make any profit?
How many books did he sell? In the article he says he’s still trying to figure that out. I’m not sure why he doesn’t have at least an educated guess, so I’m going to risk making one.
He made 60 appearances. Let’s say the average attendance was 15. That’s 900 people, let’s round that up to 1000. How many of those bought? My guess would be ten percent, or 100.
The book costs $25, so if he bought them at the author’s rate he probably made $5 on each one. That would make his take a total of $500, which would have been less than he spent on gas and other expenses.
So, net profit: zero or possibly minus a few hundred dollars. He did get exposure via his media appearances, and now via the article I’m quoting. It’s possible that the effort will stimulate some follow-on sales. That might just put him into the black if you don’t count the cost of his time for four months.
However, money is not the only way to measure something like this. In an article In Poets and Writers Magazine, Tanner writes, “If you think that a book tour should make money and/or you should easily recoup your expenses, then stay home and query book bloggers. If, on the other hand, you believe that by putting yourself in motion, by meeting as many people as you can, you will be better off as a writer, then the DIY book tour is for you.” He mentions that it can be done on weekends if you don’t want to commit four months the way he did.
In 1976 Wayne Dyer wrote a self-help book called Your Erroneous Zones (a play on the title of a sex book popular at the time, Your Erogenous Zones). The book was going nowhere and the publisher was not promoting it so Dyer took matters into his own hands.
Dyer quit his teaching job and for six months drove his station wagon across the United States. He went onto local radio and TV stations and did interviews with local and regional newspapers. He took a load of books with him and convinced book store owners to put it in their windows ahead of his media appearances. When he ran out of books his wife shipped more ahead to the next town.
It worked. The publisher realized that they were getting a lot of orders for this book and decided to back it with publicity and promotion as well.
The book has sold an estimated 35 million copies and is still in print. It was on the New York Times best-seller list for 64 weeks and paved the way for Dyer to write many more self-help books and become one of the top personal development speakers in the world.
What’s the difference?
Why was Dyer’s tour such a spectacular success compared to Tanner’s?
Book publishing and sales have changed. There are fewer book stores and, as Tanner points out, many independents are struggling and don’t have the time or money to promote speakers. Also when books don’t sell right away they tend to return them to the publishers to get their money back, so the books doesn’t stay on display or on the shelves for as long as they used to.
Dyer’s book had a wider appeal, Tanner’s is more of a niche interest. Most people are interested in improving themselves and their relationships. Compared to that, relatively few want to pay $25 to read about house being refurbished. Niche books do break out from time to time, but it’s a long shot.
There are fewer newspapers and people’s attention is more fragmented. Back in 1976 if you were interviewed in a local newspaper or appeared on a local television show probably you reached a majority of the adults in that community. Now a lot of those newspapers are gone and TV viewership is down. A panellist at the recent Digital Book World conference in New York said these days only 10% of book awareness comes from traditional media.
What’s the lesson for authors?
A cross-country tour sounds like quite an adventure and may not be without potential payoffs for certain kinds of books. However, as Tanner says, if your goal is to sell the most copies, it’s not the way to go. These days the internet is where to find readers, even though four months in a room working on Facebook and Twitter doesn’t sound nearly as appealing as a road trip with a basset hound.
(These days it requires guerrilla marketing to make an impact. You’ll find a chapter on that, as well as a chapter on traditional marketing, in my book, “Your Writing Coach.” It’s published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite book seller.)