Bookstores seem like the natural venue for promoting your book, right? I've had some wonderful events in bookstores over the years,* but they've been the exceptions.
Here's why authors should think twice about choosing bookstores for promotional appearances.
1. In my experience, most bookstores are better at selling books than they are at showcasing authors. They can't be consistently relied on to do good publicity or even do attractive, attention-getting displays. And you're always at the mercy of how savvy the particular publicist is. Worse than that, bookstores often schedule too many events on their calendars, and people faced with a reading every night often can't make a choice, or don't choose you.
2. Doing events for an author is hard work, and bookstores don't always appreciate what you do. Some of them take you for granted: you're just another writer on the publicity conveyor belt. But when an event has been set up specially for you at a college or a library, for instance, there's often more receptivity and better energy. On top of that, many non-traditional venues offer speaker's fees and pay your expenses if travel is involved.
3. Audiences can be spotty at bookstores unless you're really well-known. It's only at non-traditional venues that I've found a solid audience and usually better book sales. So where have I been speaking? For my latest memoir, My Germany: colleges, universities, public libraries, museums, Jewish book fairs, synagogues, churches, high schools, book festivals, reading groups, German/American cultural institutions -- even the Library of Congress.
4. There aren't enough bookstores for all the authors out there, but there are plenty of non-traditional venues to keep a tour going for longer than the first few months of a book's publication. I've been touring on and off since spring of 2009 for my memoir and am currently scheduled for events in the fall of 2011 and the spring of 2012. The book is being picked for course adaptations and is developing what authors hope for -- a long life.
When it comes to promotion, it's not enough to have crafted a great book. You need to figure out what your target audiences might be, where to find them, and how to reach them. And you need to think outside the box and target venues other than bookstores to find the stages where you can shine the best and have the most impact.
That's even more important, now that Border's has gone bust. Who's next?