Book Tour Envy

Category: Blog

Give or take a month or two, “Paris Nights: My Year at the Moulin Rouge,” by Cliff Simon with Loren Stephens was launched at about the same time as “A Gentleman in Moscow,” by Amor Towles. Granted “A Gentleman in Moscow” was released to an expectant fan base – his first novel, “The Rules of Civility,”  was a surprise hit from a first time novelist, who was formerly an investment banker. In 2011 it lived on the NYT best seller list for months.

 Viking is “Gentleman’s” publisher, and as I recall there was a full-page ad for the novel in the NYT in advance of the release.   Our book was published by a small Texas hybrid, Waldorf. We received a huge shout out from Kirkus Reviews and other regional literary journals, five star reviews on Amazon, an excerpt was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and gathered the usual laudatory blurbs from wonderful writers.

I just checked out Amor Towles's book tour schedule, which for me is a form of self-flagelation at worst, and at best envy stimulation.  Past and present stops in bookstores across the US and overseas number 46.  The Viking machine is hard at work, and “Gentleman” is on the NYT best seller list for months.  The book is a door stopper.  Its main character is dignified and worthy of admiration in every respect.  The historical research is prodigious, and the ending is totally unpredictable.  It’s a winner.  I’m a fan.

Book stores and Book Signings

I wasn’t able to attend the book signing for “Gentleman” at Diesel Bookstore in Brentwood in September 2016 , because I was in Santa Barbara with Cliff doing a book signing at Chaucer’s Bookstore, a hodgepodge of a book emporium on the fringes of Santa Barbara, with a stellar reputation and an enthusiastic owner.  In advance of the book signing, we had lined up a TV interview for Cliff with a Cox Cable station.  The program was called “Literary Gumbo,” and the interviewer, Fred Klein, just had to put the microphone in front of Cliff.  Cliff is an actor and knows how to play to the camera.  Notice of the book signing was carried in the local free paper.  It's a well-known fact that bookstores rely upon authors to drum up business – unless you happen to be Amor Towles and your publisher is Viking.   I had sent out invitations to everyone I know in Santa Barbara –  about one hundred people. I expected a respectable turnout.  Such was not the case.  Oh, the traffic was terrible.  I forgot (we had sent out reminders). I had to take my cat to the vet, et. cetera, et. cetera.

An Underwhelming Crowd

Six people showed up, and three bought “Paris Nights.”  An unexpected guest was a journalist for a French newspaper, who asked to interview Cliff.  An article appeared in his newspaper a few days later with a great photo.  Since the book hasn’t come out in French, we haven’t yet seen any sales from the article.  And the one logical place to carry an English language version of the book – the Moulin Rouge bookstore -- hasn’t placed any orders.  Go figure?

Unlike Amor Towles’s 46-city book tour we landed six book signings.  Our most successful was at Diesel in Brentwood, where all our homies showed up and supported us – God Bless them.  The book is now sold out and on order. We also had a great turnout at the Corner Booktore in Manhattan.   I invited Amor Towles, but he was on tour and couldn’t make it. 

To Sign or Not to Sign?

So what are the lessons here? Unless you have a behemoth of a publisher, it’s on you to generate book signings, and sales.  If you don’t have a good fan base in the locale where a bookstore lives, don’t bother.  The book store expects you to bring in the crowd.

You are better off doing a book blog tour.  If you don’t know what they are just google the term.  There are virtual book tours for almost every imaginable genre. We did a blog tour with a service that features French and Paris books.  Right up our alley, of course.

And continue to support your local bookstore.  They will talk up your book, put it in a visible spot and show you their love.  For example, “Paris Nights” was moved from the memoir section of Diesel to the entertainment/drama section, so any performer wanting to learn the secrets of a principal dancer/turned actor will be drawn to its pages.

And by a strange coincidence, I’m working on a historical novel, which has a scene at the Metropol Hotel.  I wrote that section long before “Gentleman in Moscow,” came out.  And I hope that Amor Towles will be my fan, some day.