What’s Old is New Again: Book Tours in the 21st Century

When I proposed going on the world’s longest book tour to my publisher, they kindly told me I was nuts. In fact, they convened a conference call to tell me so. My editor, publisher, marketing director, and publicist were all in on it. I remember wondering how I was going to differentiate voices from my position at home—everyone in New York publishing tends to be young and female, or at least female—but I needn’t have worried because they all said the exact same thing. JENNY, STAY HOME.

Some people feel that the book tour is dying, except for the biggest, blockbuster authors, who still don’t make money on a tour—attendees at events would likely have bought the book anyway—but do it to maintain good will with vendors like booksellers, and with fans. Certainly an utter newbie is going to walk into a lot of empty rooms…and that fact winds up dissuading many authors from trying a tour.

But here’s the thing. It took me thirteen years to get published. That’s a lot of rejection—and a lot of desire built up to do everything I could once I was finally given the chance. I also didn’t want to experience the “one and done” phenomenon that often happens when publishing with a Big 5. There’s all this exciting, thrilling lead-up, but after one month, your book has essentially sold most of the copies it’s going to, while vendors, media, reviewers, and readers have moved on to the next batch of titles.

If I was out on the road, appearing at bookstores, libraries, and book clubs, as well as doing local radio, TV, and newspaper interviews around my events, then the buzz and flurry of excitement couldn’t help but continue, right?

Luckily, I had decided to work with an independent publicity firm even before my debut novel was set to come out. And the publicists at JKS Communications didn’t so much as blink when I mentioned the possibility of a very long tour. Well, maybe they blinked…but then they rolled up their sleeves and got to work on a tour so outside-the-box that Shelf Awareness promptly dubbed it “the world’s longest” and asked me to write about my experiences.

My husband and I rented out our house, traded in two cars for an SUV that could handle Denver in February, pulled the kids out of first and third grades to “car school” them in the backseat, and set out on the road for 7 months and 35,000 miles, covering 47 of the lower 48 states. (We couldn’t find a spot to visit in Kentucky).

So what about those empty rooms my publisher was so worried about?

Well, they were right. On some days anyway.

In Goshen, IN there was one person at my event, and he didn’t buy a book. This always troubles me on behalf of the bookseller who has gone to the trouble of setting up an event. (I mean, let’s be honest—one book is not going to cover the cost of my going to Goshen, IN). But this gentleman agreed to buy a book that I recommended, which meant the register rang once that night due to my coming, and salved my conscious. And here’s what happened next.

The man explained to me why he wasn’t buying my novel. It was because he already owned three copies. One to read, one to loan, and one to “keep pristine.” And he had to hurry then—because he had a three hour drive home.

Book tours may or may not make dollars and cents, but they sure make dollars and sense. A sense of the heart—as my encounter in Goshen proved. Their ripple effect can cause a bookseller to keep my book in stock months—even years—after it’s no longer new. At another low turnout event, one of the few people in the audience wound up being a book reviewer for a major paper. I’ve had lines from my books quoted back to me by attendees like I was Taylor Swift and the audience was singing my song. One of the deepest exchanges I ever had was with a reader whose brother committed suicide and read my book to feel less alone.  

But there were also days that my publisher couldn’t have anticipated, especially for a debut author. In Oxford, MS, I got to appear on Square Books’ heralded Thacker Mountain radio show. For precisely thirteen minutes, I spoke live on air about my book, before an audience of 250 attendees, with a foot-stomping banjo band behind me. I also appeared at Litchfield Books’ Moveable Feast on paradisiacal Pawley’s Island. My JKS publicists, who set up both these events, referred to them as the “literary lottery”. And I can tell you that I sure felt like I’d won the jackpot, walking into both those rooms.

So, guess what happened after the world’s longest book tour? My debut novel went into six printings in hardcover. Not mega printings—it’s not like everyone reading this post has heard of me, far less read my work. But my book did better enough compared to my publisher’s expectations that when I returned home, they said, “Hey, if Jenny wants to go out with her second novel, we’re not going to stop her.” And by the third book, they helped set up a portion of the tour.

All told, over the course of three releases in two and a half years, I’ve spent 15 months on the road with my family. Does it “work”? I think that depends on what “working” means. My sales spike each time I’m on tour. It would be hard to separate that spike from the fact of having a new book out—except that they spike for my backlist titles, too.

But my rubric has never been book sales. Book sales are a Medusa’s head of interactions, timing, quality, connections, and luck. If we get too bogged down in a pursuit of numbers, we’ll go mad. We writers have to compute our success by a different schema. A mathematics that counts things one by one. Reader by reader, smile by smile, and word by word.

And what about you? What if you’re not quite crazy enough-slash-ready to cram your whole life in a car? The good news is you don’t have to. A mini-version can pack a lot of the same punch. By drawing a radius around your house and planning events for a weekend, a week, or over the course of a month, you’ll be increasing the range of exposure for your book, and making deep, lasting connections for yourself as an author.

Here are 5 Do’s and Don’t’s to make every event count!

  • Do be generous: Bring gifts for the bookseller, librarian, or book club leader who hosts you. For instance, for a wintery book, think pouches of hot cocoa in a mug with your book cover on it. At book clubs I do a beribboned “Book Club Bundle”, which is a great way to shed books I’ve collected on the road. At events where there are writers, I offer a “Writer’s Wish List” with a query lesson, coaching session, and ten page manuscript critique for one lucky winner.
  • Don’t read at your event. I hear a lot that attendees are bored by the reading portion (I don’t think this is just because I’m a dull reader). Instead, teach a lesson that pertains to something from your book (craft, recipe, genealogy); lead a writing or publishing workshop; act out a dramatic section; make the whole thing Q&A (attendees love Q&A); share your publishing saga.
  • Do use AirBnB if you travel. Not only is this often less expensive than hotels, but nine times out of ten we found that the host bought my book, came to my event, and even brought friends.
  • Don’t send blasts. I can’t tell you how often I get a Facebook invite from someone who lives in Nebraska, 1500 miles away from me. They’ve clearly just sent it to everyone they know. FB and Twitter allow you to identify people’s rough locations. Personalize your invites and you will have the joyful experience of seeing online friends become real ones.
  • Do enlist the support of other authors. When one of us rises, all of us do. If you come anywhere near me, I want to come out and see you, and try to bring a crowd. Your fellow authors make great readers, great attendees, and when they see how much fun you’re having, they may even offer to pair up for an additional event that doubles your exposure in one location.


Jenny Milchman is the author of COVER OF SNOW, which won the Mary Higgins Clark Award and RUIN FALLS, an Indie Next Pick and a Top Ten of 2014 by Suspense Magazine. Her new novel, AS NIGHT FALLS, was published in June, 2015.

She is Vice President of Author Programming for International Thriller Writers, teaches for New York Writers Workshop, and is the founder and organizer of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which is celebrated annually in all fifty states. She is a 2016 Author-in-Residence at JKS Communications. Jenny lives in the Hudson River Valley with her family.

Three Reasons To Hire A Book Publicist

DIY book publicity is a given. As an author, you must work tirelessly to promote your book – work as hard as you did to write it (or harder).

But, let’s be honest. There are some things you just can’t say about yourself. It’s a Catch-22 in which the author comes out either looking like a braggart or doesn’t do justice to the work by being coy.


 1. A book publicist can say things about you and your book that you simply can’t say without sounding at best arrogant, and at worst, crazy.

You better think your book is incredible. If you’re not its biggest cheerleader, there is something wrong. BUT, you need third party validation when pitching your book to television, radio, print and online media, or venues that invite authors to speak.

You can hardly say, “This is the best book on this subject ever written! It will have you laughing and it will have you crying. Truly a stunning masterpiece” about your own work if being likable and sounding sane are at all important to you. But someone else can.

Book stores, community organizations and the media, prefer to have an arm’s length relationship with the author when initially being pitched a story or event. I was on a panel a few years ago with a very powerful and well-known bookstore owner. The businesswoman (because that’s what bookstore people are!) said that she likes to be able to talk to a publicist to honestly find out what the strengths of the author are as well as their weaknesses. It’s very difficult to be objective about yourself. In the best of all worlds, your book publicist will know you well enough to be able to say if you would do well demonstrating something about your book, talking to a small group informally; if you are earnest and thoughtful, funny, speak loud enough or if you need microphone, etc.  

The media may also want to be pitched in a way that fits with the editorial calendar (what they have already mapped out to cover in the coming months). An experienced publicist will be able to pick out the angle most interesting to the journalist. Let’s face it, it’s tough to be objective about ourselves and how we can best partner with a media outlet to help them achieve their goals, not just us pursuing our own objectives.

You want someone who has your back and can say, “I stayed up all night reading the novel!”  Or, “I thought I’d read everything there was to know about bats, but this book is different because the author went to live with bats in a cave for 10 years and provided this incredible insight” etc…it’s so much stronger than an author saying that family and friends loved the book.

SPOILER ALERT: family and friends always say they love your book, because they care about you and have no skin in the game for you book’s success other than making you feel good. Media and bookstore professionals are told this by debut authors all the time and it means absolutely nothing.

Which brings up another point: if a book publicist tells you they will represent your book without reading it, run. That makes no sense. A cookbook author was surprised that I had made many of the dishes in her book before pitching her. Even her own editor at the publishing house hadn’t tried the recipes. How could I rave about her recipes (and they were mouthwatering!) if I didn’t experience them?

A professional publicist who is highly regarded in the industry does not throw out hyperbole. The publicist honestly shares the quality of the book, the ability of the author, etc.  A good publicist can help pave the way to the media and groups focusing on the best that you have to offer.

You want a publicist who has credibility in the industry. That alone shows that your work deserves attention. If a publicist is willing to put his or her reputation on the line by representing you, that sends a signal to the tastemakers in the industry.


2. Do you really want to reinvent the wheel? The learning curve in meeting the right people, following the proper steps with media and event venues to get accepted, and knowing the latest trends in the industry can be overwhelming when you need to be promoting this book, editing the one you just finished, and writing the next one. Spend your time wisely and use your team.

It makes me so sad when someone comes to us who has spent hours, days, weeks building a list of media contacts. We can go through our contact files, pull lists, and think of media that wouldn’t necessarily come to mind to someone who doesn’t do this every day, in a fraction of the time that it takes you.

An example of what a publicist can do for you that you may not be able to do yourself: We worked with a terrific author with a page-turning novel who happened to have a Chinese mother and Japanese father. In addition to media that would normally come to mind – book reviewers, feature editor of the local newspaper, etc. We created a list of journalists who were of Japanese and/or Chinese descent who covered topics from little league baseball to financial markets, and let them all know about this book and offered to get them a copy. The result? This author was invited to speak at the Shanghai Book Festival on his own stage with a crowd of more than 800,000 readers at that one festival. We then built an international book tour for him based on that invitation. It came to fruition because one of the journalists we reached out to  sat on the committee that chose speakers for the book festival. This journalist and committee member had absolutely nothing to do with books in his “day job” and actually lived in the UK. He wanted to promote Chinese American authors in Shanghai. We gave him the opportunity.

Find a book promoter who has personal relationships with key tastemakers in the book industry and beyond.

It seems counterintuitive, but if you are not a celebrity or don’t have a big platform, check out the publicist to see if he or she has been able to get traction for an author who isn’t well-known. Of course when Kim Kardashian comes out with a book it is going get incredible coverage because the media is clamoring for information on that celebrity. The publicist in that case is acting more as a gate-keeper than actively convincing journalists that the person and the book is worthy of ink in a publication or time on the air. You want to know that you have a scrappy, tenacious, but polite and well-respected publicist representing you.


3.  An established book publicist has connections and can pull in favors when you need it most with the media, book festivals, book stores, and events.

You may need a little help at some point, but you haven’t built up the IOUs to get it in the industry. Hopefully your publicist has.

If your pub date gets moved up and there isn’t as much time as is generally needed, or a deadline has been missed because of the timeline of the release of your book, sometimes a seasoned publicist can get exceptions made for you.

Perhaps there is a book festival at which you are dying to present, but you are a debut author and your advance reader copies weren’t ready in time for the book festival committee to review it. Publicists sometimes know ways to get the committee to consider you or have you replace someone who has to drop out at the last minute. Your publicist is working behind the scenes on behalf of you.

Marissa DeCuir, managing director at JKS Communications, and many of our team members are former journalists who have worked for major media outlets. So radio and television bookers and producers have come to rely on us when, at the last minute, they have a cancellation for a guest. They know that we will quickly get an interesting and timely guest to fill their last minute hole. As former journalists, we know that pit in the stomach that the producer feels when he or she finds out that a guest had to cancel an hour before the show goes live.

Because specific members of the media know that our team will help them in a crunch, they will often help us introduce new authors that we believe in. Our team can help develop a segment that show cases our authors/topics in the best light, but also provides the entertainment or educational factor that their audience and advertisers are counting on them to deliver.

A publicist can open doors that simply aren’t open to you as an author when you have  “do it yourself” campaign. But, that doesn’t mean you are off the hook. While your publicist is scheduling interviews, negotiating features or guest columns for you, you must be handling your career of creating, drafting, editing, and completing your future books, writing content for print and online media that has been requested, keeping up with your social media, etc.

Writing the book is just the beginning, and the easy part. Most authors today find themselves in a situation in which they are expected to spearhead the brunt of their book promotion themselves. The goal is to sell enough copies and develop enough buzz to get their next book sold to a publisher, or create a big enough fan base that there are readers that are salivating to get their hands on the next book.


Book publicity helps start the buzz….it’s the kindling on the fire….but in the end, it comes down to the book and the audience connecting.

Being an author is tough. Surround yourself with good professionals who genuinely want to help you succeed.