See You on the Bookshelf

14. The Book Tour


Lindsay: Hey Jack, can I put you on hold for just a second?
Jack: Sure. Sure.
[ phone clicking ]

Jack: You might know that voice by now – that’s Lindsay Boggs, one of my publicists at Penguin Young Readers.

Lindsay: Jack?
Jack: Yeah.
Lindsay: Hey, sorry about that. I have an author on tour and she’s like, kind of panicking cause there’s like a snowstorm coming and … [ laughter ] it’s a little bit of a –
Kaitlin: Life of a publicist, right?
Lindsay: I know, right? Like I told you, call me anytime because that’s my job. [ laughter ]
Jack: Everything’s cool now? I mean, you don’t –
Lindsay: I have to figure out an alternative plan in case she gets stuck in Boston. But it happens, you know? That’s life.

Jack: In our episode about publicity, we talked about all the different things that a publicist does.

Sophia Rubie: You organize really big events, you’ll be writing press releases and pitches, you’re talking to people all the time, but you’re also paying together strategy … it’s almost a bit of everything really.

Jack: And one of those things, as we heard a moment ago, is planning the book tour. Now, I think when most people think of a book tour, they think of an author going from one bookstore to another, doing readings in front of a crowd, signing books … And that does happen, but when it comes to kid’s books, it can be somewhat different.

Lindsay: So many of our tours are school tours. We just find that we have more success putting authors in schools, rather than putting them in bookstores and expecting the public to come out to them. Because, you know, kids have busy schedules. They’re at soccer practice and like, parents want them in bed by a certain time … there’s just a lot of things that –
Kaitlin: Particularly with that middle grade age set –

Jack: That, once again, is my other publicist at Penguin Young Readers, Kaitlin Kneafsey.

Kaitlin: The school events tend to be our most successful events.
Lindsay: Exactly. You know, when you’re doing schools, then the moving parts just increase so much because you have not only booksellers that you’re talking to, but you also have to coordinate with teachers and librarians and you know, the tech people who are helping set up your presentation, media escorts … there’s just so many things.

Jack: Okay, let’s back up for a bit. First, not every published book gets a book tour. Publishers are paying for flights and accommodations and meals and things like that. It really comes down, again, to the amount of weight that the publishing house is throwing behind your book. The publicity team, like some of the other teams, has a limited budget that they’re working with.

But let’s say the publisher decides that you, the author, are going to go on tour. What happens next?

Kaitlin: The absolute first step to planning any kind of events or tours for our authors is that the sales reps go out to the booksellers, and we have a list of the authors that are touring and they give the booksellers the list. And then those booksellers put in requests for which authors they want to come to their stores.

Jack: And they call this, at least at Penguin, the tour grid.

Lindsay: They put in their requests into the grid and they might say, I really want to do two school visits  or I really want to do an in-store event, or I want to do an off-site event at a library and this is how many people I think are going to come and this is how many books I think we’re going to sell, and I’m going to partner with this organization, and we’re going to publicize it in this newspaper, et cetera. And they put in their best effort to come up with a convincing proposal. Because there’s only so much space on a tour. We have to figure out which booksellers are most passionate about the book and where the author most needs to be.
And in some cases, you have an author who tours every year. And in that case, you don’t want to necessarily send them back to the same market. You want to spread the love. So even though a bookseller in Chicago might have an incredible proposal, if they were there last year, maybe we need to send them to North Carolina instead.
We take the tour grid and kind of plan out what works geographically as well. That’s important. Like for instance, like we try to plan all our tours from East Coast to West, because the time difference makes it easier on travel and we have more time to do events that way.

Jack: At the same time, this tour grid that we’re talking about – it doesn’t make sense for someone like me, a new author, because most booksellers don’t even know me yet.

Lindsay: Established authors often have a fan base that we try to appeal to.
Kaitlin: Yeah. A big thing about debut authors is just getting them out there and getting them known, particularly with booksellers, because you’re kind of just starting from scratch with a debut author and you need to start at the ground level with those booksellers hand-selling those books to consumers, to get the name recognition out there.

Jack: We talked in past episodes about librarians being a group of gatekeepers for the middle grade audience. Booksellers are another group. That’s why, for my book tour, Penguin sent me on what’s known as a “bookseller dinner tour”, which is what it sounds like – it’s sitting down for dinner at a restaurant with a bunch of people who own and work at bookstores.

Lindsay: With bookseller dinner tours, it’s a little bit different. For instance, your tour is not in a grid and we did not get bookseller proposals. There are certain markets that have sales reps that live there, and we know certain markets that have a lot of booksellers within one vicinity. So for instance, San Francisco has tons of independent booksellers. So that’s a popular market for bookseller dinner tours, because we want you to meet as many booksellers as possible.
The sales reps will also tell us, oh, like, I really want to host Jack Cheng, I love his books so much. Please, please send him to me – I have a perfect restaurant in mind. So if there are certain sales reps who feel very passionately, that’s also an important thing for us, because they have the relationship with the booksellers. And they’re the ones who are going to convince them that this is an author that you really need to meet, and you really need to come to this dinner.
John: We give suggestions on where we should have an author dinner, who we should have an author dinner with …

Jack: That’s John Dennany again, our sales rep from Episode 12.

John: It’s a great way to gather a lot of bookstores in a smaller period of time and have them interact with an author. And that way, the bookseller has a personal vested interest in not only the title, but also the author. Aside from talking about the book, they get the background story of the author – of you. Where have you worked? Where have you traveled? What do you like? That kind of thing. So it’s much more of an intimate, almost-family setting.

Jack: So say you’re working at a bookstore and someone comes in and is like, I’m looking for a book for my 10-year-old nephew who’s really into astronomy. Well, if you’ve had dinner with an author and had a chance to learn about them, and learn about the backstory of the book, then that book and author is more likely to come to mind when you’re making a recommendation. These kinds of open-ended recommendations, by the way, are what’s known in the industry as “hand-selling” a book.

Now I want to be clear here. Most of the booksellers invited to these dinners – at least the ones I went to – they had already read an advance copy of See You the Cosmos. They were already excited about it. They came to dinner with some really amazing questions about the book. And part of the purpose of these dinners is to strengthen the connection that’s already there – to just make them that much more excited.

Lindsay: You know, the same bookseller, if they love your first book, will often love your second book and they will hand-sell you for years to come. So, you know, a lot of it is about introduction. We do what we can. It depends when a book is coming out. Like for instance, if your book was coming out in the fall, we might send you to regional bookseller trade shows to talk about your book.

Jack: And these are similar to our library conference from a few episodes back, except they’re more for booksellers as well.

Lindsay: We pitch authors for panels and keynotes, and they talk to booksellers in large rooms. But when we don’t have the benefit of that, because those only happen in the fall – if we have spring books, maybe we do the bookseller dinner tour instead. It’s just – we do what we can to try and seed the market a little bit.

Jack: Okay, so how did my bookseller dinner tour actually unfold? Unfortunately, I didn’t make any recordings while I was on tour, so I’m going to take a few liberties with sound design and try to recreate it for you here.

[ peppy music ]

So my first bookseller dinner was in Michigan, hosted by our sales rep, John. It happened a couple of weeks before See You in the Cosmos came out. I got in my car, drove an hour and a half west of Detroit to a steakhouse in Okemos, Michigan. John and I each made a little speech.

[ fork tinging glass ]

We ate, talked with booksellers from all over the state, and then at the end, I signed their books for them.

[ pen scribbling ]

A couple of weeks after the book came out, I traveled to four different cities: Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

[ plane taking off, car door opening ]

I’d fly in in the afternoon. A car would pick me up from the airport, take me to my hotel, I’d check in and relax for a couple hours, then go to the bookseller dinner.

[ fork tinging glass ]

The next morning, I’d usually do a couple of visits to different schools in the surrounding area. I’d give my presentation in the auditorium, in the library, sometimes in the cafeteria …

[ audience clapping and cheering ]

I’d sign of books, and then get driven to the airport and fly into the next city, and repeat the whole thing over again.

[ plane taking off ]

The whole time, I had an itinerary that Lindsay and Kaitlin put together that had every single thing I was supposed to do, when I was supposed to do it, who is going to take me there … I lived and died by that itinerary; it felt kind of amazing to have everything decided for you.

It was, as you can imagine, a little exhausting, but it was also totally energizing. Aside from meeting all these amazing booksellers, some of the most rewarding parts of the tour were the school visits. We only talked about it briefly earlier in this episode, but getting to meet students and getting to tell them about my path to becoming an author, and interacting with them and answering their questions about writing – that was the first time throughout this whole process of writing and publishing See You in the Cosmos that I really got to engage with the primary readers of the book.

[ hopeful music ]

And that was incredibly special. It was like, okay, I get it. I get why people go into children’s publishing and stay there for a really long time. It’s like what Lindsay said in our publicity episode:

Lindsay: You know, we’re influencing readers who are at a very critical age, and getting books into their hands could make a very big difference in their life in terms of how they see the world, and in terms of their cognitive abilities and reading levels and the things that matter for them down the road.
And it can make a very big difference in a child’s life if they find a book that really speaks to them.

Jack: Thanks to Lindsay Boggs, Kaitlin Kneafsey and John Dennany of Penguin Young Readers. You also heard a soundbite from Sophia Rubie, our publicist in the UK. Music for this podcast is by Saint Benjamin (now known as Ben Johnson Music Factory). This episode also featured sounds from including Shutting a car door by cameronmusic, Car interior / driving on rainy night by Maurice_J_K, and Walking Chicago Midway B Concourse by Corsica_S.

See You in the Cosmos is available now in bookstores and libraries all over.