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Does Touring Matter?

I'm full of questions today.

I'm on the road promoting 14. I had a great launch party and a separate signing at my local independent, Davis Kidd, where I was shocked to find I only knew 1/3 of the crowd. Progress!

And then I left for Colorado. I did a signing at a Barnes & Noble in Lone Tree, Colorado and it went great. It was a meet and greet, not a signing with chairs, etc. I did a bunch of this style signing for ATPG, and found it was quite effective. Usually a minimal amount of effort is required to make a sale -- a big smile, a welcoming attitude, and a simple "Do you like thrillers?" and in two hours I hooked twenty new readers who would have never known who I was otherwise, who bought BOTH books. A stellar afternoon, in my mind. Yes, there was the inevitable "Where's the bathroom?" "I only read non-fiction," stuff, but you have to check your ego at the door when you do an event in this style. It works for me, I can talk to strangers with no problem. I have a couple more of those lined up back home.

I decided to try something different this time around -- instead of setting up multiple signings and praying people show up, I flew out to Colorado, made plans to hit Phoenix and Houston. I've been doing drive bys, dropping in on stores, meeting booksellers, signing stock. My house set up two "official" drive bys for me this week, with Poisoned Pen and Murder by the Book, and I've scattered the rest across the two states. I signed in eight bookstores in Phoenix, five in Denver. Needless to say, I'm already exhausted. I was supposed to go from here to Houston today, but Hurricane Ike changed my plans. I'll be in Houston the 24th now, but I can't say the break from traveling isn't welcome. I've got a lot more planned, including a whirlwind few days in one of my favorite towns, Omaha (the food is DIVINE) right before Bouchercon, so a few days of rest is a Good Thing.

I've been surprised to find that some independent stores don't carry my books. (Careful, hubris.)  Perfect example, Tattered Cover in Denver chose not to stock 14. I have no idea why. The house has no idea why. Which was a bit of a shock to the system, considering they successfully carried the first book. The house tried to set up a signing, but they weren't biting. It's the first time I've gotten a flat out refusal, so it stung a bit. And then you try to balance it with, well, I'm in Walmart. But I want to support indies too. I have great events lined up at indies in Nebraska with Alex Kava, and I'm on the docket because of her kindness in including me. I need to find more ways to get myself in front of additional independent booksellers.

Granted, this is only my second book. I have a limited backlist. My series is just beginning. This may all be a moot point in two years. But for now, I'm curious.

So here's question number one. Outside of your publisher's efforts, how do you get the independent stores to notice you? I've been a vocal supporter of BookSense, which has now morphed into a very cool organization called IndieBound.org. I have independents on my website, and we've always had links here at Murderati. I accept and seek out their Facebook and MySpace sites. Yet I'm nowhere on the radar for many of these folks? And please don't misunderstand, this isn't an indictment, but a serious question. What am I doing wrong? I want to support the independents, but I'd like to have some support in return. And I'm a little bit worried that I can be ordered online from their websites but they don't have any books on the shelves. We're supposed to be helping sustain the brick and mortar stores, right?

Here's question number two. Does ANY of this really matter? I like meeting readers. I've enjoyed meeting the booksellers (aside from the one who accused me of bringing my books into the store. I had to prove to her that no, they came off her shelf. She was busy, I was trying to help. THAT backfired. So no more of me retrieving my own book. You learn...) Across the board, the chains have had plenty of my book in stock, on coop, etc. But does a signed paperback really entice a new reader? Will that green sticker make them jump and say -- oh, must get this, the author SIGNED it. I simply don't know. I won't see any numbers for a couple of weeks so I have no idea if it's making any kind of impact or not.

That's one of the major problems with publishing, I think. There aren't any quantifiable numbers unless you're on the lists, and there's a ton of super successful authors who aren't. God knows following your Amazon ranking isn't the way to judge your reach. Calling Ingram to get your sales figures doesn't give you the whole picture; they're a fraction of the actual number. So an author works in a vacuum for a few weeks, hoping what they do promotion wise makes a difference.

And the experience for a hardcover author is different than for a mmpb author. I'm assuming this is part of the problem with the indies. We don't get the kind of attention hardcovers do. Which sometimes makes me feel like a spoiled child who's stamping her foot and saying "LOOK AT ME," but that's the way the cookie crumbles. It's always lovely to have the attention of the community, to get reviewed, to get interviews. It's a nice ego stroke to have that kind of affirmation, even if it's not the most stellar review. But is it just that, an ego stroke, or does it raise awareness and sell more books???

With all of this in mind, I decided earlier this year that I was going to skip both touring for JUDAS KISS, coming out in January, and the conference circuit in 2009. I have one that I may do, because it happens to be an hour from my parents, but for the most part, I'm hitting a couple of regional literary festivals, and that's it. I need a break. I have two books due next year, and I need to focus on making sure I'm writing the very best books I possibly can. So this 6 weeks of excursions is my last hurrah for a while.

I'll tell you, I don't know if I'm making a massive mistake or if it will prove to be the smartest thing I've done career-wise. We'll find out soon enough, I suspect.

So tell me, what do you think really works? Signings? Drive bys? Traveling on your own dime? Sitting at home and working on your next book? Working the Internet, the social networking sites, the listserves? Conferences? Literary Festivals (I personally find the literary festivals exceedingly rewarding.)

I'd love to hear from all sides on this one. Booksellers, do you want us coming by? Readers, will a signed sticker make or break a buying decision for you? Writers, do you find one aspect of the mix works better than the other?

Wine of the Week: 2004 Bodegas Lan Rioja

Our prayers are with you, Texas.

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First, I saw "Davis Kidd" mentioned, and thought "Nashville"!  I did my very first public reading at a Davis Kidd in Knoxville, back in the 1980s.  I loved that bookstore, but it's no longer in Knoxville.  Pity.

I'm a poet, which means I rarely go on the type of tour you write of.  However, when I lived in Los Angeles, I would travel to bookstores, bars, nightclubs, anywhere that would have me really, throughout the state and in Arizona.  The indies were really the ones that supported me and sold my books.  For a poet to get into a chain store like Borders, one has to be either dead or really huge, IMO.  So, the indies were for me and I was for them.  Thus, it's been with great sadness that I've seen so many quality indie bookstores die a horrible death because of the big chain stores (I like them too, but it's a different feel and vibe at those stores...).

For me, I rarely found that a signed sticker made much difference.  And as a reader, it rarely does as well.  Although I have many autographed books in my collection, I've gotten them by personally contacting the author and asking if they'd be kind enough to sign them for me, and typically they have.  I value a personally signed copy over one that's simply been signed and left at a bookstore, you know?

Anyway, good luck with your books and your tours.  Different genres, but we have to stick together, eh?  BTW, are you going to the Southern Book Festival next month there in Nashville?