Conducting a regional library tour is one of the least appreciated ways to sell books and gain crucial exposure at the same time. If you live in a small state, the tour might include most of its libraries. If your state is too large for that, confine your visits to a manageable geographical area. The idea is to arrive at each library, make your presentation, have the book signing, and be back home within two or three hours. The benefits of such visits may include receiving requests for further speaking engagements. It isn’t unusual, for example, for program directors of service clubs (e.g., Rotary, Lions) to be in the audience. Libraries tend to promote their events heavily, so even if the number of attendees is low, your name and the title of your book may be published in local newspapers or mentioned on radio. Multiply this by the number of visits you plan on making, and you will have a sense of your potential media coverage.
The Program and the People
Some people may attend your program with your book already in hand, having bought it in a bookstore or on the Internet. This is still a favorable feature of the tour, because they may have made the purchase in anticipation of your appearance and are there primarily to hear what you have to say, and to obtain your signature and perhaps a personal inscription. The event may well inspire them to spread the word about your book. My tour–for Famous Crimes Revisited, which I wrote with Dr. Henry Lee–took me to 120 libraries throughout Connecticut, where I live. Each program lasted about an hour. I spoke for 15 minutes, took questions (most dealt with details of criminal cases), and concluded with the signing session. The book lent itself to such a format, but you can tailor your presentation to your own subject matter and your own comfort level. For example, in initial remarks, you might incorporate a passage from your novel, short story, or collection of poems; or, in the case of nonfiction, take questions on the facts you’ve written about or the advice you’ve advanced. The number of attendees on my tour ranged from a handful to several hundred, with an average of 50 to 60. About one-third purchased books, but that number often represented two-thirds, because spouses would attend and the couple would buy a single copy. Sometimes a person would buy several books to give away as gifts.
The Library Tour Nitty-Gritty
Obtain a list of all the libraries in your state or region. Any major one of them can help you with this. Make sure it contains the vital information about each library, such as address, phone numbers, names of staff, and operating budget, if available. It’s also helpful to know whether a library has meeting rooms. It’s most important of all to know whether it has a Friends of the Library organization or its equivalent. Library Friends groups are proud of their work and usually put more time into rounding up attendees than the library staffers, who have other responsibilities. Take all these factors into consideration when choosing which libraries to contact. Be selective. Make your own phone calls. Ask for the director, program director, or reference librarian. Explain what you have to offer and that you charge no fee as long as you may bring books along for signing and purchase. Some libraries provide an honorarium; either accept it or offer to donate it back. Others might indicate they don’t allow the transfer of money in the library, but that you’re welcome to put on your program. Do honor the invitation and do show up (it’s good PR, and word gets around). Stress that you’ll bring your own supply of books and mention that you’ll arrange for a press kit to be mailed to them along with a complimentary copy of the book. My kit is a colored folder containing a press release, a bio, a glossy of me, and several reviews and newspaper articles. I’ve found that the ideal times for library programs are weeknights or, occasionally, Sundays, but you also have to be guided by the preferences of the library. Call the library a few days before your scheduled appearance to confirm. Ask for a podium if you need one. Inquire about any interest in the program to date so you can get an idea of the attendance. Some libraries have sign-up sheets, others don’t. Arrive about a half-hour early to set up. My only props were an aluminum collapsible easel and a poster blowup of the book cover. I also brought along a bottle of water, an extra pen for purchasers, and business cards, which I spread on a table. These help in obtaining other talk invitations and media interviews and also assist attendees with the spelling of your name. Arrange for a proper introduction. Check to be sure the introducer will not wing it and will read either from the bio you previously sent or from the one in your book or dust jacket. Then leave the room and perhaps browse through the library or read a newspaper. Return just before start time and sit unobtrusively in the back of the room. After the introduction, walk to the front from that location (a theatrical touch!).
If it’s convenient for you, stand, don’t sit, during your talk. I always requested a podium, even though I never spoke from notes. It provided something to drape my arm over from time to time. If the library anticipates a large turnout or the room is large, check on whether a microphone will be needed and available. Even if the room is small, stand–unless the turnout is also small (like four or five people). In that case, don’t run home. Often, the individuals in the audience are more embarrassed then you are, so you must put them at ease. Here’s how I handled it. Pulling up a chair, I would say something like: "Last week, I was in Hartford and 200 people showed up. The next night, Stratford, and only a handful was there. Last night, New Haven, and 80 or 90 came. And tonight? A handful. So one can never tell. But do you know what? It makes no difference to me. I give it the same energy either way. So if you’re comfortable, I am too. Let’s proceed, then, and who knows? Maybe others will eventually join us." Beware the person who might dominate the question-and-answer period. Don’t be rude, but don’t dwell on their repeated questions. Incidentally, those big talkers rarely buy books, I’ve found. Several recommendations for the book signing: Write a brief inscription over your signature. Keep all receipts unless an agreement has been made to donate a portion to the library (I give 20 percent). Take only cash or checks. Collect the money yourself and allow it to lie on the table, off to the side. Bring along some small bills to make change, and handle transactions from the table, not from your purse or wallet. Round off the amount so you don’t need to deal with coins. And to repeat, if a person arrives with your book in hand, that’s okay. Sign it with a smile. It still represents a sale, and now it also represents enduring interest. Send the library a thank-you note during the following week. State that you look forward to a similar presentation with another book someday down the road. This helps establish a network you can count on in the future. Finally, keep brief notes. I have a card for each library. Somewhere on it, I have a notation like "80/24." That means 80 people showed up and bought 24 books. I’ll contact that library again for my next book. If the notation reads "7/2," I might not.
Summary of Helpful Hints
- Do your own scheduling by phone.
- Weeknights and Sundays work best.
- Try not to include libraries that may be too small.
- Favor those that have Friends of the Library or its equivalent.
- In advance, send a press kit and a complimentary copy of your book.
- Call a few days before to confirm.
- Bring your own supply of books.
- Arrange for a proper introduction.
- Allow for questions and answers.
- Send a thank-you note the following week.