Lessons from a book signing tour (planning a lecture, slideshow or book signing tour)

Slideshows and Book Signing Tour, The Hand-Sculpted House, November 2002

This is a first draft of what we hope will be very helpful to anyone in
the Natural Building movement planning a lecture, slideshow or
booksigning tour.

Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley completed a slideshow/booksigning
tour, 20 stops in 26 days, from Arcata to San Diego.  This was our first
book tour, so we were a little unprepared for the potentials of such an
event. It felt like a great success.  It's clear from the early feedback
that this was an important step, the effects of which will be felt for years.

We've seen authors who just sat in a bookstore and signed books for
customers. What a waste of our efforts! We're working for free for the
bookstore, but a lot worse, missing the chance to perform, to provide a
lot of information, to fire up a crowd, make cross-connections between
people and help create community around Natural Building.

Overall, we had a wonderful time. People were enthusiastic, hospitable,
generous, excited.  At a time when so many people feel trapped and
powerless, it was wonderful to see people come alive, make positive
plans, begin to take charge of their fates and live according to their
conscience.  It was a month's work for the two of us, plus untold
preparation and arrangements on the part of local organizers, so we want
to maximize the output by making our learning available to anyone else
planning a slideshow or booksigning tour. This sort of event has
tremendous potential for the Natural Building movement. We would
encourage other authors to do similar trips.

We signed over 300 of our new book, The Hand-Sculpted House, sold over
100 of other titles, talked to more than 1,000 people and hopefully
seeded new outgrowths of Natural Building in most of the communities we visited.
Perhaps the most useful product was learning how to make tours like
this even more valuable and how to cut down on the work involved. Here
are some hints and observations.  We'd appreciate comments and feedback
to incorporate into a later version.

Plan ahead

  • Begin planning 2-4 months ahead, contacting local sponsors and
    helpers, booking presentation rooms, ordering stock.
  • Write down your goals and what exactly you want to accomplish.  Prepare
    in advance for those things, e.g. I want to sell a lot of books or I
    want to provide information or I want to help reinforce community.
  • Consider different ways to accomplish your goals.  This is Performance
    Art, be ready to show slides, talk, demonstrate, teach, play games, etc.
  • There should be two of you; you'll need an accomplice to do all the
    other things needed while one of you is performing, to help read the
    map, to be company, to bounce ideas off. Don't try this alone.
  • Stack functions. Figure out in advance how many things you can
    accomplish at the same time, then prioritize them. A book tour can be
    exhausting, expensive and a lot of work for a lot of people. Have it pay
    for itself as many ways as possible. Examples: generate a mailing list,
    advertise upcoming workshops, get people to work together on a local
    practical project.
  • Have a short descriptive title for your show, to be publicized in advance.
  • Use existing networks to publicize.  e.g. permaculture, green building,
    internet lists, specialist newsletters and journals e.g. Hope Dance, New
    Settler, The Last Straw, The CobWeb and The Permaculture Activist.
  • Decide in advance if you want to make deliveries to book retailers. 
    Get lists of local retailers from local organizers and make
    prearrangements to carry extra books.
  • Contact all local hosts and organizers well before leaving home. 
    Reconfirm with them details from your checklist.
  • Have a reliable backup switchboard, all hours.  Give the phone number
    to all organizers.  Our office might be prepared to offer that service if
    you don't have your own arrangements.
  • Choose a suitable vehicle for carrying a large amount of books, other
    goods, for sale or displays.
  • Advance publicity: Help all sponsors with a poster they can print off
    the Internet, a brief description of your book and slideshow.  Design it
    to be striking in black and white, but color is possible.  Have local
    newspapers carry an article a few days in advance, perhaps a phone
    interview of you, the author. Try local radio.
  • Create generic announcement poster, listing each gig but with space
    for a big splash on the current one, location time, etc.  Describe the
    book, describe the slideshow.  Have a catchy title.  Say that you will
    have several titles for sale, that prices are CASH, with a surcharge for checks.

Venues and Locations

  • Don't run a tour more than 2 weeks without a break.  (Ours was 4 weeks,
    much too tiring.)
  • Try to do 2 or more shows clustered in the same area.  Encourage people
    to bring friends to the next slide show. Then take a day off before
    driving to the next town.
  • Set up venues where you can retail your books yourself.  Church halls,
    private homes and public libraries are perfect. Avoid bookstores,
    they'll take your profit. Colleges and universities are hard to deal
    with (finding the room, parking tickets, impersonal, uncomfortable).
  • Schedule slideshows 6 or 6:30 workdays, 7 or 7:30 weekends, no later. 
    Try to arrange supper or a potluck in advance for everyone interested. 
    Social time is very important.
  • Start slides 20 to 30 minutes after announced start time.  Use preceding
    time to sign and sell books.  Warn hosts to be prepared for late endings;
    people hang around to ask questions, share enthusiasms, socialize.

Daily Rhythm
Be realistic about how much you can get done. There's a lot to do each
day apart from signing books and showing slides. You will need time for:

  • Hanging out with hosts.  Often they are the most interested,
    interesting, kind, hospitable people.
  • Local sightseeing.
  • Visiting local bookstores, making sure they stock your book.
  • Phoning ahead to the next organizers/hosts/venue, to confirm.
  • Getting precise directions, finding the site.
  • Organizing your display material.
  • Driving between towns (we were on the road an average of 3-4 hours
    per day).
  • Unforeseen opportunities, breakdowns, traffic jams, etc.
  • Extra sleep (sometimes you get to bed very late).

Supplies

  • Make sure you're well supplied with everything you'll need before you
    leave home.  Don't count on finding things on the road. Here are some
    obvious ones: colored felt pens, markers, clear tape and scratch paper;
    a box with change in it; colored tablecloth, flowers, vase; folding
    table if possible; white double bedsheet for the screen, thumbtacks,
    duct tape; standup signs for prices; flyers for distribution; notebook
    for signups and mailing lists; drinking water and snacks; flashlight;
    maps and directions; projector, spare bulb, spare slides, extension
    cords, slide trays, spare projector if possible.
  • Take other titles to sell (we started with 8 titles, sold some of all
    of them).  Some people are in a mood to stock up on the subject.  A few
    bought one of every title we sell.
  • Have extra books and other gifts ready as thank you presents to
    helpers, hosts, etc. You may need quite a few. Overestimate
    optimistically how many books you may need. We took 320 copies of The
    Hand-Sculpted House, never expecting to need them all, yet returned with
    only 9 copies.
  • Have backup boxes of books for wholesale sales.  Make sure you have
    your own name and contact information taped to everything in case you
    lose it. It can cause a lot of confusion otherwise.
  • Have duplicate backups for all contact information, times, dates,
    phone numbers, etc., stored in a different place, also backup in your
    home office.
  • If you're short of room in your vehicle, have extra books or other
    heavy items shipped ahead to pickup points, allowing extra time for slow deliveries.

Advance Preparations

  • Send sponsor/local contact a checklist to get back to you on.  Their
    address, phone number, possible changes; address and phone number of
    venue, directions to get there; is there free parking for delivery;
    screen size (clear white wall is our preference, or large rolldown
    screen at least 12 feet wide). How good is the black out, both daytime
    and night? Is there at least one large display table available? Are the
    chairs movable? Is there a fee and do they need advance payment? When
    would you have access to the venue? You need access at least 1 hour
    ahead. Make sure there's no early closing time. Dealing with an irate
    janitor can put a wet blanket on everything.
  • Check in with overnight hosts; make sure you have directions and if
    possible a map.
  • Carry your own bedding. It may save your hosts washing bedding.
  • In the room, set up display table by the door so people have to pass
    it coming in.  Put stacks of books for sale on it with other display
    material. If you have free handouts, try to keep them separate to avoid
    confusion. Have someone greet everyone, get their contact information
    and remind them that a donation would really help with expenses.  Have an
    open-topped donations bowl so people can make change themselves.
  • Be prepared for sudden changes so they are not disasters. We had flat
    tires, car breakdown, difficulties finding places, a power blackout, etc.

Slide Show

  • Have 2 half slideshows, each of which stands alone but which together
    make a whole, between 1/2 and 1 1/2 hours total.  Decide if the slides
    can tell their own story, or if they are diagrams of your explanations,
    stories and thought chains. The latter is better.  Don't automate the
    slideshow; you are the key performer, as author, not the images.  Keep it
    mechanically very simple, e.g. single screen, but offer complex
    viewpoints from your own experience. If you read from your book, keep
    readings short (1-5 minutes each). Set up to get as big a picture as
    possible and stand in front of it, facing the audience. Arrange seating
    as close as possible to the screen; you want people to feel they're in
    the picture like the movies, not looking at a tiny image like TV. 

    Select only horizontal slides as most screens don't accommodate
    verticals. None too dark as there may be blackout problems.

  • Have a checklist of what you want to communicate: announcements,
    commercials, announcements from sponsors, the fact that you have an
    exciting book for sale. Ask if anyone else has announcements
  • Plan slideshow to be thought-provoking and inspiring. At beginning,
    define essential terms, eg cob or Natural Building. Introduce yourself,
    your background and credentials.
  • Make your show as dynamic as possible.  Pass around anything relevant
    for inspection, e.g. samples; involve as many people as possible in
    setting up; involve your audience however you can.
  • Limit questions from the floor, e.g., 'I'll take 3 questions of
    general interest.  If you have issues specific to your situation, take
    with me later,' and police big talkers. (You're the performer, not them.)
  • This is an opportunity to build community and set up local projects.
    Plan for and announce followup local events, eg a breakfast planning
    meeting the following morning, potluck and ovenbuilding the next
    Saturday.  Emphasize practical, dirty-hands events. You don't need to be
    there, but make sure you give contact information for one or two people
    who are really enthusiastic, and have them speak briefly about their own event.

Booksigning

  • People sometimes need to leave before the end of a slideshow.  Start
    selling books when you arrive, then in a 10-15 minutes break between
    carousels, then sell them after slides. Announce several times what
    you're doing.
  • Presign each day at least as many books as you think you'll sell.  At
    the table you can personalize them. Say something like, 'What name would
    you like me to sign it to?' and add special messages.
  • Have a special colored pen that you really like to use, to sign books
    with. Choose a number of personal phrases in advance in case you don't
    know what to say.  Don't just sign your name; make it as personal as possible.
  • Prestuff books with other current information, upcoming workshops,
    information about other books you sell, etc.

After the Show

  • Try to take photo of each sponsor/host/organizer, make sure you have
    name spelling correct and have contact information complete.  You may
    want to thank them formally later. Ask what expenses they have and
    settle up with them right then.
  • Ask for feedback from hosts, sponsors, or anyone you meet later who
    was at your show. Be prepared to change your act.
  • Send thank you cards/make calls to all helpers, within a few days of
    getting home.
  • Lick your wounds and congratulate yourselves.  It was hard work but oh
    so rewarding!

Our biggest regret was that we didn't have enough time to hang out with
so many fascinating people who came to see us. The schedule we set
ourselves was too exhausting. Some days we had 8 hours of driving, then
4 or 5 hours of setting up, showing slides, questions, booksignings,
then getting to know unfamiliar hosts and sleeping in a new place.  Don't
be so ambitious; leave plenty of time to relax between shows.

We can't given enough credit to Wes Roe and Margie Bushman of Hope
Dance magazine, who coordinated the whole tour.  They did an amazing job,
during weeks of preparation, then being our backup throughout the trip.

Feedback?  Call Ianto Evans or Linda Smiley, 541-396-1825.