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 readers of Hey There's a Dead Guy in the Living Room 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, leaving from Denver versus my hometown of Colorado Springs can often save me more money than the extra I spend in gas and airport parking.
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, here's where a AAA membership can come in handy as a source for free maps, guide books, and Trip-Tiks. A travel counselor at my local AAA office who is an avid reader enjoys planning book tours with me after I've collected my dates and addresses for bookstores and nighttime stopovers.
3. Sleeping: Plan your route so you can stay with friends and/or family along the way and avoid paying for rooms. 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 MWA 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 often 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 or fliers. The expense of pens, buttons, notepads, mini-flashlights and all those other freebies can really add up. If you only make $1 in royalties per book, you shouldn't be spending more than 25-30 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 candy dish on your signing table, but buy the candy in a bulk multi-pound bag at Sam's or Costco.
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.
Using these guidelines, I planned a two-week trip in 2007 after the release of the first book in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, A Real Basket Case. I flew using frequent flyer miles to Virginia for the Malice Domestic conference, rented a small car with unlimited mileage, and stayed with friends in Arlington. Then I drove another author to the Festival of Mystery, and we shared a motel room. After dropping her at the Pittsburgh airport, I drove back to Virginia and stayed with relatives and friends throughout the state while conducting signings. As an extra benefit, many of them enjoyed serving as door greeters at bookstores.
My next two-week book tour on the cheap will be a car trip with my husband this June after the release of To Hell in a Handbasket. We'll drive to Oregon to attend my daughter's college graduation, conduct signings on the way out and back, and stay with relatives in Seattle and Bend. I'm also on the lookout for friends along the way who will trade a dinner out for use of their guest room! To see if I’ll be signing at a location near you, to subscribe to my email newsletter, and for information about my novels, please visit my website: http://bethgroundwater.com/ .
Do you have any other good ideas for book touring on the cheap?