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Is $2,500 per Stop on an Author Tour Worth It?

Having an author on hand to interact with an audience is a matter of prestige and passion, but publishers want ROI.

By Edward Nawotka

Today’s feature story discussing the National Writer’s Series notes that it costs approximately $2,500 to send a writer to speak at one location on a book tour. Increasingly, publishers have been shying away from tours, as the resulting sales have faltered and calls from writers disappointed by paltry turn outs have become routine. Nevertheless, there are some successes — the National Writer’s Series being but one example, in addition to the burgeoning number of book festivals around the country.

But at $2,500 a shot, is it indeed a sustainable practice to send a writer on the road? Certainly, provided the venue can attract the appropriate audience — one in the hundreds instead of the dozens. But that primarily works for A-list authors, who have the drawing power of celebrity. For mid-listers, it’s a dicier proposition, unless the venue is willing to pay — and often that means not just paying the $2,500 in related expenses, but a sizable fee to the author, and often via publishers’ in-house speakers bureaus, to the publisher itself.

For many venues, having a big name or even little name author on hand to interact with an audience is a matter of prestige and passion. Getting an adequate ROI is nice, but many organizations are self-financed through donations of time, money and energy and function as non-profits, so the priorities are elsewhere. The practice of touring, while onerous, can also be very rewarding, especially as it gives an otherwise physically isolated author a direct, intra-personal connection with their readers. Social media, for all its wonders, can’t quite replace the face-to-face. And that’s something that money can’t buy.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted May 1, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    I’ve got to question the $2,500 average cost for sending an author to one location. After I read the original article, I passed it by a close friend who’s a long-time book publicist to get her reaction. The only way that the cost could get that high would be if the author spends multiple days in a very expensive city, such as New York. Hotel, meals, airfare and allocated publicist’s costs could get to $2,500. Flights between smaller cities in the U.S. are also much more expensive than flights between major cities, but even with a multi-city tour going mainly to smaller cities, the average city-to-city flight would cost $500 or less, and the hotels will be considerably less expensive.

    The original article provided no evidence to back up the $2,500 cost, and I can’t justify it with the evidence I’ve got.

  2. Posted May 4, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I don’t think the point is whether or not the $2500 per market figure is exact, and actually I can tell you as a book publicist for over 20-years that it can indeed be that high depending on the market and travel circumstances/schedule. The real point is whether it’s worth it at all to send an author across country on a book tour in this day and age. The fact is, even for best-selling authors, the turnout at an event can be quite small. Overall I find that the motivation to meet authors face-to-face has decreased. Given that so much media is consumed online, and purchases made online, it’s far more cost effective (and time resourceful and convenient) to keep an author at home and promote the book with interviews done via phone, internet, or via satellite. A very targeted key city tour for major authors…yes, capitalizing on an author’s already set travel schedule…sure, but the days of planning and executing 10, 15, 20 city road tours are virtually over.

  3. Stacey
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    As a young reader my vote is yes it is worth it. I think the main issue with turnouts is that nobody knows the author is coming. I’ve missed a few authors at book signing and talks because I had no idea they would be there. Utilizing online connections to fans is what will draw people in, but too often I’ve visited an authors website and they’ll have a calander posting up their new tour dates, but there is no mention in their news feed, or twitter, or blog that a new date has been added. How as fans are we to know where an author will be if we don’t know unless we keep vigilant and search for ourselves. It is the publishers job to let us fans know when the author is touring so that we can be there. I’ve even been on e-mail lists for authors and they don’t e-mail their tour dates.

    So if you want a turn out take the time and a little bit of money to let fans know that the author is coming.

  4. Posted June 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I think that $2500 is a reasonable average.

    Book signings tend to be well attended only if the author has already built up a very, very large following. There’s nothing worse than having to walk past a totally unknown author sitting all alone at a table in a bookstore … except for BEING that author. A lot of stores are looking at group signings, bringing in half a dozen authors with something in common (genre, age group, etc.) so no one author has to carry the burden. And genre authors are MUCH better off going to conventions, where they’re meeting a more dedicated audience than what might randomly wander into a particular local bookstore.

    And Stacey makes a very valid point: If you aren’t really aggressive in getting the word out, you’re doomed.

  5. Posted June 1, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Looking at the cost of author events and signings apart from a total media strategy is kind of a waste of time. The publisher should set a budget for the book or the author and implement a strategy that makes the most of that budget.

    It would be nice if the publisher shared that information — both the budget and the strategy — withe author, so that savvy authors could supplement the publisher effectively. Since the authors for whom this info will be most useful are the new and midlist authors, I expect they will get that information shortly after hell freezes over.

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