There is an interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor today, called "Why book tours are passé". It claims the traditional promotional book tour by an author is going the way of the dinosaur, partially because of technology.
"…in the past five years or so, observers say the traditional author tour has been in decline: Fewer writers are being sent out, and those who do tour make fewer stops. Among the many reasons for this shift are marketing tools that have made it possible to orchestrate a virtual encounter, without the hassle or expense of travel. Publishers and authors are now touting books through podcasts, film tours, blog tours, book videos, and book trailers."
The article goes on to point out the advantages of the technological 'book tour', and sums up the feeling as "Each is a small experiment, an incremental move, as the publishing industry has begun to embrace the Internet and other new media. It's hard not to wonder, though, whether their cumulative effect will one day render the face-to-face bookstore meeting between writer and reader obsolete."
I hope not.
I like to meet writers face to face, to have a brief contact with the person whose writing I admire, whose vision I envy, who I may hope to emulate one day. I want to know there is a living, breathing person behind the cardboard covers of a book I respect.
I understand this video makeover might be what authors want, no traveling, no hordes of wide eyed fans ready to ask potentially embarrassing questions. "Some authors are really engaging and some authors, frankly, are not," says Dave Weich, marketing director of Powell's Books. Video offers a way around that. "There's a lot of editing that takes place," admits Sue Fleming, vice president of online marketing at Simon & Schuster. "We can forgive a certain lack of mediagenic-ness."
I've seen the look in the eyes of kids meeting an author at our local library. A video clip is just not the same. Television, YouTube, the Internet, they're all one step removed from reality. "podcasts, film tours, blog tours, book videos, and book trailers" are fine, but they will be a carefully packaged image that the publisher wants us to see. Kids and others will never learn that the author has a dog just like theirs, that he/she read comics under the table at school or always wore mismatched socks on Fridays. All the things that make the author human, and therefore accessible to other humans will be stripped away and replaced with a slick marketing persona. Authors will become about as real as the latest presentation of Beowulf. Slightly waxy around the edges, and too perfect to be real.
"The videos have another advantage: They eliminate the humiliation for an author of showing up at a bookstore event only to find the place empty." Sure, I can see that. No one wants to have their ego resized, to be reminded they aren't the most important person in the world. The business wants guarantees, and nothing is as fickle as a book buyer on a sunny day.
Of course, one of the real reasons is contained in the second paragraph of the article. "marketing tools that have made it possible to orchestrate a virtual encounter, without the hassle or expense of travel."
It'll be cheaper.
"These days, a book tour by a well-known author usually travels to just a handful of cities. Chances are, even the most ambitious promotional treks won't reach a small bookstore in, say, Dubuque, Iowa. For that reason, those involved with online marketing suggest that virtual events are actually reaching people who wouldn't otherwise come into contact with big-name authors."
I submit most people wouldn't come in contact with 'big-name authors' anyhow. If their first statement is true, "a book tour by a well-known author usually travels to just a handful of cities", I'm betting it's the same cities year after year. Same fans. Self-fulfilling prophecy.
"It's an interesting paradigm," says Mr. Weich of Powell's Books. "People tend to ask, 'Isn't this just going to replace the author tour?' But most places in America don't get author tours, at least of [McEwan and Halberstam's] caliber."
Since most places don't get them anyways, we should do away with them. Hmm. Interesting logic. Weich goes on to say, "In a way, the author tour has suffered from its monopolist role in book promotion," says Weich. "It's a really tired format." and "He believes competition from other types of marketing may encourage the book tour to be more imaginative, to reinvent itself."
Hey, I'm all for reinvention, and new ideas. Just don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.
"Already, publishers are thinking more strategically. Morgan Entrekin… arranged for the authors of "Halsey's Typhoon," a nonfiction account of a treacherous World War II Navy mission, to visit naval bases and shipmate reunions. It was an author tour, but aimed at a niche audience." Who were probably aware of the book already. I thought the idea was to garner new readers and increase readership and the fan base for an author? 'Who is your target group?' takes on a different connotation. We wouldn't want people to step outside their comfy zone and try something different. Publishers want a sure thing, so why wouldn't readers?
They do, but luckily, people also retain the desire to be surprised, to be intrigued, to want something new and different, or else we wouldn't need new authors - the same 10 would suffice. Readers outgrow an author, reading tastes mature, and interests change. I don't want a slick video presentation of my favorite authors; I want to see him/her, warts and all. How can I connect with the wax effigies on the screen? We're bombarded with advertising 24/7; I'd hate to see writers blend into the cataphony. I think the reader-writer relationship is a symbiotic one, and altering the balance means a loss of that all important human connection.
Of course, your mileage may vary. My experience is limited to poetry readings, which still retain magic moments of reading a line, a stanza, and looking up to see heads nodding in agreement, or the look on the face of an audience member, the smile that says "I'm with you in the moment, we are two of a kind. We have a connection."
So, authors out there, clue me in. Book tours, yea or nay? Multimedia, the wave of the future, or one piece of a broad marketing spectrum? Author, real, or industry imagined?