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July 15, 2007

BookTour.com

BookTour.com debuted last week as a web solution to a real world problem: book tours don’t work well (in fact, hardly work at all) except for very famous authors who probably don’t need them anyway. Appropriately, one of BookTour.com’s founders is Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine and author of the Long Tail book and blog. Although his own book is at the head of the power curve, Chris understands the needs of the rest of us out on the long tail of the curve and the opportunities in serving those needs – that’s what his book and blog are all about.

From the about page of BookTour.com: “For authors, BookTour.com serves as a one-stop tool for book promotion, allowing authors at all levels of their careers to locate receptive live audiences. For readers and audiences, BookTour.com makes finding when a favorite author is coming to your town as easy as checking the weather.”

Full disclosure:  I was a pre-release author on BookTour.com and have a vested interest in seeing it succeed in its promotional aspirations.

Back in my father’s day, publishers arranged book tours for their authors. They didn’t do a great job of this except for their stars. Later authors turned to their own publicists to help with tours (I did that). Independent publicists seem to be able to get bookings but not to be able to drive enough local publicity or get the book stores to do enough promotion to draw crowds. If you have friends or relatives in a town, you can get turnout; if not, not. I sat in a coffee shop attached to a bookstore in Connecticut for an hour and a half making conversation with a very nice lady from the store and looking sadly at the pile of hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble stacked nicely waiting to be signed. In my home town of Stowe, on the other hand, there was a very nice turnout at the library (Mary promoted that one).

Book tours can’t be justified by the number of books you sell while you’re there although selling signed books is an incidental benefit and helps cover the expenses. The purpose of book tours is to create buzz about your book a city at a time; ideally a stop in a city involves a couple of appearances and readings as well as some newspaper publicity and a stop at a couple of radio and/or TV stations. A single appearance at a single book store in a large town is likely wasted effort.

Since each author’s schedule appears on BookTour.com, readers can find out who’s coming when to their town; libraries and other venues can ask to be added when they know the author is going to be nearby; and we authors can fill our dance card and all those empty seats in front of the lectern. You can go to my page on the site (where you’ll find that I’m not currently touring) and invite me to come talk to your group or at your store. I won’t be able to honor all invitations but chances are I can come to some.

Computers, communication, and eventually the Internet created the long tail – the opportunity for niche products and non-hits to be available to those who want them; Chris Anderson calls this the endless shelf because there is no limit to shelf space in a virtual store while brick and mortar stores have to remove slow sellers from their finite shelves. What’s not so clear is how consumers find out about the niche products or even those that are not immediate hits; if it succeeds, BookTour.com’ll be part of the answer. It will succeed, ironically, if it becomes a hit and is THE marketplace where readers find touring authors and vice versa.

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