Hit the Road and Have a Blast
by Marty Essen
As I prepared for my first
book tour, I was a bit apprehensive. I had heard stories about book signings
with no sales and had read a how-to article on a book-marketing Web site by an
author who had sold just 23 books on an eight-city tour. While I didn’t expect
to sell a huge number on my seven-city tour, I did hope for sales of at least
My book is <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Cool Creatures, Hot Planet:
Exploring the Seven Continents. In simplest terms, it follows my
wife and me as we travel each continent in search of rare and interesting
wildlife. I took thousands of photos during our travels and put the best ones
into a Cool Creatures digital slide show. À la Al Gore, I decided to take my
slide show on the road, and Adam, my six-foot-long rainbow boa snake, would
join me. (There’s also an Eve, but Adam got her pregnant, so she had to stay
Starting in my current hometown of
Victor, MT, I planned to go to my childhood hometown of Duluth, MN, and back.
Knowing I could count on Duluth for a successful signing made the 3,000 miles
of travel seem unimportant.
Setting up the tour was easy. In
fact, the only place that turned me down was an independent bookstore in
Duluth. I ended up with a nice combination of schools, independent bookstores,
and major chain stores.
Next, I set up my publicity. Since
I used to be a talent agent in the music business, I work as my own publicist.
I’ve found that getting media coverage for myself, as an author, is virtually
the same as getting media coverage for the rock-and-roll bands I used to
represent. The only difference is that now I have a client who appreciates me.
By the time I finished, I had
newspaper coverage in every city, radio interviews in six cities, and a
television interview in one city.
Can a book tour start any better
than this? When I showed up for my Saturday afternoon signing at the Barnes& Noble in Billings, a film crew from KULR-TV was waiting to interview me.
And that wasn’t the television interview I had set up! Someone at KULR had read
one or both of the articles about me in the local press and felt I would be a
good story for the evening news.
I couldn’t do my slide show at
Barnes & Noble because the store’s lights needed to stay on, but, as it
turned out, that worked to my advantage. I stood at my table (I never sit),
with Adam wrapped around my arm, and talked with customers for more than two
hours. No one left my table without me first asking, “Can I sign a book for
you?” For the day, I sold 16 books, and later my television interview sold
From Billings, I raced to Fargo
for a Sunday afternoon slide show at Zandbroz Variety. Independent bookstores
can be riskier venues than chain stores if they don’t have consistent walk-in
traffic, but here I did just fine. About 25 people attended my show, and I sold
One Swell Snake
From Fargo I drove to Duluth and
had just enough time for a nap before my 6:15 a.m. interview on the WDIO-TV
morning news. This was the most challenging part of my tour, as I had to look
perky on less than three hours of sleep. Thankfully, Adam stole the show. When
the anchorman found out that the weatherman was afraid of snakes, Adam became
the topic of the on-air banter for the rest of the newscast. In essence, my 4-minute
interview stretched out to 45 minutes of free publicity.
Adam worked so well for my
television interview that I decided to start bringing him to my radio
interviews. Yes, I have the world’s only snake that does radio—and he was
a big hit. We visited both KQDS-FM and KDAL-AM and, as the receptionist at KQDS
said to me, “The listeners may not be able to see Adam, but they can sure hear
the excitement in the announcers’ voices.”
After spending Monday working the
media and visiting old friends, I rose early on Tuesday and drove 30 miles
north to Two Harbors High School. During the day, I gave three 90-minute slide
shows for the students, and in the evening, I gave one 90-minute slide show for
the general public. Ninety minutes may seem long for a slide show, but mine
includes lots of action, stories, and, of course, Adam. Keeping my audiences
interested was never a problem.
I didn’t attempt to sell books
during the day, but at my evening show I had a good turnout and sold 25. In
exchange for the use of the school’s theater, I donated a portion of my revenue
to the science department.
On Wednesday, I visited my alma
mater, Duluth East High School. There’s nothing better than being introduced to
a packed theater and hearing a thunderous round of applause. Over the course of
my two afternoon shows, I spoke to roughly 1,000 students. Then, for my general
public show in the evening, I spoke to roughly 75 adults. My book sales were a
respectable 25, but the fun of being treated like a rock star for a day was worth
far more than the money I made. I also felt the satisfaction of doing something
good. Not only did I get students excited about wildlife and conservation, but
I also raised money for the school’s drama department.
Inching Up to 100
My next stop was Thursday night at
Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis. The Minneapolis <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Star Tribune had reviewed my book
several months earlier, so they couldn’t help me this time. The St. Paul <span
however, came through with a huge feature story on the front page of the travel
section, and KTNF radio had Adam and me in-studio for a preshow interview. I
had high hopes for a good turnout, but partly because of bad weather, I drew
only 20 people and sold six books.
On Friday night, I did a show at
Zandbroz Variety in Sioux Falls. Despite two radio interviews and a nice story
in the Argus Leader
newspaper, only eight people showed up. I thought for sure I was going to have
one of those dreaded no-sale nights. Instead, I made the small audience feel as
important as a large crowd, and they rewarded me by purchasing six books.
That left me 12 sales short of
100, with only one stop left. I headed to Borders Books in Rapid City feeling
pessimistic about the chances of reaching my goal.
Of all the stops on my tour,
Borders Books had the greatest potential for failure. Fixed lighting prevented
me from presenting my slide show, and corporate rules prevented Adam from
joining me at my table. Without my loyal sidekick, I’d have to work much harder
to get customers’ attention. Rapid City was also the lone city where I couldn’t
get radio coverage. The only thing I had going for me was a stunning front-page
story in the Rapid
City Weekly News.
When I arrived at Borders, the
aisles were nearly devoid of customers. Not only was it one of the first
beautiful days of the year, but it was also St. Patrick’s Day, and much of the
town was at the parade.
Borders had scheduled me for a
two-hour signing. After 90 minutes, I had signed only six books. Then a woman
showed up who had purchased my book weeks earlier, loved it, and now wanted to
buy three copies for her friends. Two more sales followed before my time was
up. I was one book short.
The great thing about midday
signings is that no one cares if you work overtime. I vowed to stay as long as
it took to get one more sale. Fifteen minutes later, I signed my 100th book!
As I headed across Montana, I
couldn’t stop smiling. While I didn’t get rich on my tour, I had had a blast. I
had signed the leftover stock at all the bookstores, lessening the chance of
returns. And on top of the 100 books I sold directly, I probably sold another
100 with promotion-inspired sales at bookstores and over the Internet.
Maybe more, if my experience with
the Duluth Barnes & Noble is any guide. Before I started my tour, I had
called to let them know I was coming to town. Even though I wouldn’t be doing a
signing there, the manager said she’d order some extra books. I, in turn,
promised to mention the store during my interviews. Later, when I swung by the
Barnes & Noble to autograph its stock, I was delighted to learn they had
already sold 9 of their 10 copies!
When I reached home, I immediately
put together another tour utilizing what I had learned. Having a list of
satisfied venues to use as references made scheduling a breeze. This time I
booked a series of weekend Barnes & Noble signings augmented by weekday
slide shows at independent bookstores and schools. Oh, and no more
500-mile-long drives between stops.
I couldn’t wait to hit the road
Marty Essen in the author
of the award-winning book Cool
Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents. For more
information, visit www.CoolCreaturesHotPlanet.com or email