5 Tips for Going on an Offline Book Tour

by | May 8, 2015

By Stuart Horwitz (@Book_Arch)

We read online all the time about how to do a virtual book tour, but you don’t often hear tips or details about doing an old fashioned roadtrip-type book tour. I think you’ll enjoy this article from Stuart Horwitz. He’s got some good pointers that might get you thinking!

If you are a writer with a product or a service to sell, you probably know the value of guest blogging at other online sites to get exposure to new readers/customers. We call that doing a blog tour, and it is what I am doing right now for the publication of my second book: Book Architecture: How to Plot and Outline Without Using a Formula.

But I would like to pause for a moment and give a shout-out to the other tour, what is now called the “offline tour” – but what was the first, and in many ways is still the best, tour: the actual tour.

You know, where you rent a car, and because Arizona has such ridiculously high rental car taxes and fees, the cost of the car doubles, so you take the cheapest option: “manager’s choice” and hope for the best, knowing you’re not going to be carting around any potential clients and the wife isn’t coming on this leg, and then you end up in a brand new Dodge Charger with all the muscle you could possibly use?

That tour, the one that opens you up. The one where you go a hundred miles without seeing a gas station, where you don’t get any cell service, where you get pulled over for speeding (in your new Dodge Charger) going 65 MPH in a 35 MPH zone once you entered town, and you ask the officer, “Where’s town?” which almost lands you in jail overnight for criminal misconduct but he reduces it to 15 MPH over the speed limit so you can get to your next presentation on time.

Now, when the attendees at that gig trickle in, you aren’t taking any of them for granted. You aren’t looking to sell a product or a service so much as you are looking to connect which increases your chance of selling anything dramatically.

A few words to the wise, then, about active touring:

  1. You Don’t Need a Publisher to Send You On Tour

    Want to hear a tale told out of school? I put together the first year of my tour and arranged 20 appearances while the only thing my publisher did was screw up #21. True story, and I was getting published by one of the Big Five (then Big Six).

    Not to sound ungrateful: having that imprimatur on the spine as well as the distribution and the talented people I got to work with (including the incredible editing of Maria Gagliano) was worth all that and more. I’m just pointing it out now in the context of the tour.

  2. You Don’t Need a Publicist to Send You On Tour

    To date, between my first and second books, I have traveled over 50,000 miles and done over 50 solo presentations not including group sessions or moderating panels. I didn’t need a publicist, I needed to become my own publicist.

    I needed a launch kit which contains:

    • an author bio (long and short)
    • a book or product description
    • a headshot
    • notable blurbs or endorsements
    • a description of the intended session

    And I needed some basic computer skills to be able to combine those elements into sales sheets, flyers, and posters depending on the event.

  3. You Don’t Need a Place to Send You On Tour

    You do need places at which to present/perform, and you need to work with those places to maximize attendance for everyone’s benefit. But you don’t need a specific place to send you on tour. I have gotten attached to one place versus another and missed some of life which was transpiring right before my eyes.

    Besides, you never know who is going to say yes. Last year, I approached two bookstores within 20 miles of each other. The place at which I thought I had the best chance told me somewhat snippily, “We’re having Jacqueline Wiiiiiinspear that night.” (I would have known that if you had updated your calendar, that’s all I’m saying.) The one I thought was the longshot of that entire tour leg came back to me in four hours and said: “Sure. Let’s do it.”

    By the way, not every venue needs to be a bookstore, obviously. Try event venues, places of religious worship, conferences, book clubs or other networking groups that host speakers, schools and universities.

  4. You Don’t Need Another Presenter to Send You On Tour

    I have made some great friends on my travels, and have learned a ton about business and life by just being where “people of the book” assemble. But you don’t need to imitate other presenters, is what I’m saying. You need to be you. As my 16 year-old says, “You do you.”

    What does that mean? It means do things differently; my signature presentation, for example, contains a series of stop action films made with action figures to demonstrate the aspects of revision and structure with which writers struggle. Maybe yours needs to incorporate a cooking demonstration, I don’t know. What I do know is no one wants to go to another boring book reading.

  5. You Don’t Need 1,000 Attendees to Go on Tour

    This one gets a tad elusive. You can’t get disappointed by your turn-out. When I managed weddings (and thank you so much to everyone who buys a copy of one of my books so I don’t have to go back to being an event planner), I used to tell the bride: If it rains, everyone will be looking at you. If you’re cool with it, they will relax and still have an awesome time.

    It’s the same when your event draws a baker’s dozen, or less. You never know the corollaries: You could have a “big mouth” in the audience who will be delighted to spread the word about your product or service. If you did your due diligence and made sure you were in the local arts listings or your book has been displayed in the venue for a few weeks, many more people have heard of you now even if they don’t attend the event.

    Besides, the number of people in the audience doesn’t dictate how well things will go. I have done my presentation in front of 250 people and it was great; I have done it in front of 5 people and it was great. I have done it in front of 80 people and it was kind of enh.

Quick Points to Remember

Before I let you go, I want to hit on a couple of other quick points to remember:

  • Know your A/V. Back up your files, find out what equipment they have, be prepared to go live anyway if something fails.
  • Collect emails without being too sales-y. I use a clipboard and raffle off a prize, by using a random number generator on my phone.
  • Clarify the details. Time, length, admission charge, is it open to the public or is it members only?
  • Have books with you all the time. Even if the bookstore or conference says they will take care of that (sometimes they only order 6 or, oops, forget to), people will come up to you and want to buy them out of your car. Have change, and a card reader that connects to your smartphone. Worst case, get their email address and offer to send them a Paypal invoice.
  • Have the attitude: We’re here to solve problems. Once in a while we find ourselves getting smarter by asking questions like, “What is going to go wrong tomorrow?” and solving that problem now.

Have you ever gone on an offline road trip? If so, do you have any tips to add to this list?

See you out on the road!

Stuart Horwitz headshotStuart Horwitz is the founder and principal of Book Architecture, a firm of independent editors based in Providence, New York and Boston. Book Architecture’s clients have reached the best-seller list in both fiction and non-fiction, and have appeared on Oprah!, The Today Show, The Tonight Show, and in the most prestigious journals in their respective fields. His first book Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method(Penguin/Perigee), was named one of 2013’s best books about writing by The Writer magazine. His second book, Book Architecture: How to Plot and Outline Without Using a Formula, is being released in early May, 2015.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com. Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Krista Soukup

    Fantastic advice Stuart! As a publicist coordinating and planning book tours for authors, you are right on! (Except for the ‘don’t hire a publicist’ part, which I would change to ‘yes! you can do this yourself, but guidance or planning by a quality, ethical pro can be handy). ‘You be you’ couldn’t be more accurate. Authors who are authentically true to who they are and go out in the would to share their passion of what they wrote succeed. Leave your salesman pushy hat behind and just connect with people. Bring your manners along on the ride, snail mail thank you’s, appreciation and consideration to your host takes you miles. And you are right, the number of attendees does not equal the success of the show. I was fortunate to ride in the ‘Charger’. The ticket was inevitable.

    • Stuart Horwitz

      Krista that is so funny! You did ride in the Charger and of course a great quality publicist can help you. I hear great things about your work with Blue Cottage and I also benefitted greatly from Sharon Bially’s help at BookSavvy for my first book. I’m just saying that sometimes we wait for the planets to align before we take a few simple steps on our journey, and if we’re not careful that journey will never…actually…begin…

      • Krista Soukup

        Right on! I tell authors ‘this is YOUR dream’ not your publishers, not your agent, not your publicist. If you want it to happen it has to be YOU at the wheel. Do something.

  2. John Jung

    Thanks for an excellent post of how to arrange and prepare for in-person book tours. One other rather obvious suggestion is to get to the venue early. I once gave myself 3 hours to make a 2-hour drive to the site, but the traffic was bumper to bumper for miles, and I arrived 5 minutes late but fortunately had the cell number of my venue to let them know the situation. On another occasion, a local host was driving me to the venue but she got busy talking and was headed to the wrong location before she realized it. A quick u-turn and some fast driving allowed us to get them just in time.
    If you are using powerpoint, there is often a problem getting it to run especially if you used a Mac while the venue has a PC, or vice versa. I have learned to e-mail my powerpoint several days in advance and ask the host to preload and test it so that there is no problem or time lost at the presentation.

    • Stuart Horwitz

      Excellent points, John! The one hour buffer and the one hour to set up are rules to live by. That way when you leave a state like Arizona say that is the only one of the contiguous 48 states that doesn’t observe Daylight Savings and you lose an hour in like one second…you’ll still be okay.
      Also love your point about equipment. If you have a Mac there is a particular toggle switch you should always travel with — it makes sense to become more of a gearhead than you would normally — and also to bug the host, the AV tech, etc. even if they think you are becoming a tad annoying. Better that than having to show up and just do shadow animals as your whole show..

  3. Laura Roberts

    Great ideas, Stuart. I’ve been wanting to help set up a reading for a friend from out of town, and another writer offered me the great advice of setting up readings a) not in bookstores and b) with other local writers, so she’s got the benefit of a hometown crowd. That way, even if the out-of-town writer isn’t well known yet, people who know the other writers – or just want to support someone local – should show up for a decent turnout. And so much the better if you can set it up in a bar!

    • Stuart Horwitz

      That sounds right, Laura — remember that the goal is to connect with individuals. It’s not a numbers game, or if it is, it’s won by converting passionate fans of your friend’s work.
      P.S. Alcohol good. I quit drinking fifteen years ago but I still love to present where everyone has the option to get themselves in their fave headspace…

  4. Kelly Potter

    Great read! I am a brand new (soon to be self published) author and brand new to Twitter, so it makes my wee heart happy to happen across helpful information. I feel greatly overwhelmed with the pressure of building an “author platform” and all the technology that goes along with it. A good old fashioned road trip is like music to my “newbie” ears! Thank you for the inspiration.

    • Stuart Horwitz

      Good for you getting started, Kelly!
      Let me let you in on a secret of mine, when you get an opportunity, take it. Don’t analyze the upshot to death just take it, give it your all, and let fate take its course. The journey is so much more enjoyable that way.
      Good luck!

  5. Leslie Tall Manning

    Hi, Stuart! Thanks for the great article. Perfect timing, as I am now in the middle stage of planning my “offline” book tour. You definitely added some things to my already CRAZY summer ahead!
    A few things I’m doing as well:
    *I bought bookmarks of the cover of my book to sign the back for those who would rather buy a digital copy than print. They arrived today and they look amazing. (I used Gotprint.com.)
    *I bought promo cards to hand out with the cover of my book on the front and the back blank for jotting down upcoming venues.
    *Since the title of my novel is “GAGA,” I plan to hold raffles by having those at my book-signings (where more than 10 show up) write on a piece of paper what makes them gaga, then I will share them with the group, toss them into a bowl, and randomly draw one after reading an excerpt of my book. The winner gets a GAGA mug, a signed copy of my book, and a bookmark.
    *As for driving around, I have a Honda CRV that is pretty roomy for all those books. I will sleep on top of my books if I can’t afford a hotel room!
    Let the roadtrip commence! ; )

    • Stuart Horwitz

      I love the GAGA idea, Leslie! Anything that gets the name branded into people’s minds.. A little Lady GAGA playing before or after a show perhaps? The Gaga ball they use in kid YMCA programs? Anything to cut through the noise of which there is so much of..
      In all seriousness, it sounds like you have the right attitude. Remember to have fun and be in the moment; long after we care about book sales we care about our memories..

      • Leslie Tall Manning

        Ha! No Lady Gaga here! That title was set while she was still in her Catholic school uniform! And I know that gaga ball! I’ve seen the kid corral at our Y!
        LIFE is all about making memories, yes? This is book one of nine to chuck onto the self-pub bandwagon. So I have lots more memories to make!
        Thanks again for taking the time to chat with those of us dwelling in the trenches. It means a lot.
        Have a great weekend!!

  6. J.T. Evans

    I was one of the fortunate people in Stuart’s class in Colorado Springs after he drove oodles of hours from Arizona to Colorado. The class was hosted by Pikes Peak Writers (full disclosure: I’m the president of Pikes Peak Writers) at one of our monthly Write Brains.

    The reviews and feedback I heard by word of mouth from my fellow attendees was outstanding. Stuart is a clear speaker, is well prepared, has gobs of on-point examples, and really delivers his message well.

    At no point did I feel like I was in a sales pitch even though his first and second books were mentioned a few times. The way Stuart merged in mentions of the books with his teachings was phenomenal.

    I was also additionally lucky in that I received his first book as a door prize (yay!) and I was so impressed with his presentation that I purchased his second book as soon as I was able.

    I’ve just now started reading the first book, and it’s fantastic so far. I’m about 1/3rd the way through it, and it’s really helped me wrap my brain around the concepts in my novels and how to look at them from a different angle.

    Stuart, thanks for the great class, the great books, and be safe on the road (especially near those small towns.)

    • Stuart Horwitz

      Haha, thanks, J.T.! That was a memorable night in Colorado Springs. I think it was the altitude — or more likely the collection of minds inside that library rotunda that fueled the show.

      You guys have something special going on with Pikes Peak Writers; I recommend everyone to check it out and go to your conference for years to come.

      now off to do my captcha math…

  7. Leslie Miller

    What a great post. I’m happy to hear real world book selling (as opposed to online) is alive and well. I’d love to try this someday, especially the Dodge Charger part!

    • Stuart Horwitz

      Thank you, Leslie! But you have to be careful… those Chargers really get after it! …And then you get a whopping ticket. However you can do 4+ hrs. of online driving school to have the fee reduced so if (hypothetically speaking, of course) you have a 16 year-old who is just learning how to drive you might be able to pay her pennies on the dollar to take care of that for you… I’m just thinking out loud here…

  8. Ernie Zelinski

    One of my favorite offline road trips for marketing is going to a conference or convention in my home town or in another city.

    One time I went to a Human Resources conference in my home town and sold copies of my self-published “The Joy of Not Working” in the trade area by approaching HR professionals. I wasn’t even registered for the conference. My car was parked outside the conference center. When I ran out of copies of my book, I went to my car and restocked my attache case with another 4 copies. I ended up selling around 20 copies at $15 each for a total take of $300. Not too bad for two hours work.

    I also have done this at a retirement conference out of town where I sold copies of my “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free.” Of course, the immediate payoff is the copies sold at the conference. But the long-term payoff is the word-of-mouth created that ends up selling a lot more copies.

    • Stuart Horwitz

      Great stories, Ernie!

      Touring does bring us to life in unexpected ways — love hearing about you thinking on your feet!



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