Your book, your island, your book tour
Often, aspiring, new, and senior authors in St Martin and throughout the Caribbean may think of a book tour and book signings throughout the year as something that only happens, or has a better fit, in big cities and at major bookstores outside of our region. The long-standing idea — based on actual practices back in the day — is that this book- tour business is necessarily managed, directed, and sponsored by big publishers and mega-chain bookstores.
However, over the last decades, traditional and self-published authors, particularly in the United States and Europe, have become critically involved with promoting their own books. This rapid rise in author involvement, the explosion of digital tools, and expanding marketing control have significantly changed aspects of the publishing landscape, especially the author-publisher relationship when it comes to book promotion and book tours.
Caribbean writers today could generate a significant movement of thinking and doing by seeing where they live and write as the perfect place to have a book tour. The bottom line and rallying call would be: “your book, your island, your country, your book tour.”
In addition to the standard and often lone bookstore or stationery store, there are different places within your capital city to start you off if you live in urban spaces and haven’t tried venue varieties before. Hey, you might not be from the capital, and as such, would stand less of a chance of making a contact or having the resources to rent a venue or for the energised promotion to start your island or country book tour in the city.
However, whether you are from “la capital” or not, try moving around to the villages, towns, districts, parishes, and provinces throughout the year.
No bookstore around? Library closed? Don’t worry. Community centres, vendor markets, supermarkets, or small grocery shops are unique places to have a book signing. Lal’s rum shop as well would be great for some book genres and braver author types.
You can arrange an author’s visit to a neighbourhood school. How many children or teachers in our region have ever seen an author from their country or territory in person or had one visit their classroom?
Check for book clubs, writers’ groups, civic organisations, farmers, fishing villages, and women associations, sports leagues, trade unions; prison rehab programmes; church socials with community outreach programmes; literary festivals; poetry slams; hotels and restaurants (those that don’t scorn the nation’s culture; don’t pretend, you know who they are); and youth groups to approach, to invite you, or to work with at their venues and with their members or customers.
Once a tour venue is targeted for the book signing or for the book signing-reading combo, get permission, preferably in writing, from the manager, owner, permits department officer, or school principal. Get ready to pull up a chair and a small table on which to place copies of your new book and perhaps fewer copies of your earlier titles. Along with the sample of your books to show and sell, you might want to pack a tablecloth and a small bottle of water for yourself.
When the date is set, and the time comes for you to stand before that audience, there may be awkward moments. You may stumble, your voice maynot be steady, you may stutter at first, but continue reading from your book, anyway.
Maybe only one person might show up and/or buy a book, but so could two or 10 people. No need to try making jokes (especially if you’re a Capricorn, only Capricorns understand jokes by other Capricorns, so take no chances with that).
No long explanation about your book. Greet your guests warmly. Thank your host by his or her full name or the organisations’ full name for assisting with the leg of your tour. When thanking the owner or manager by name for allowing you in the place, call the venue’s full name.
After the few seconds (or VERY few minutes) of the introduction, just get into reading the text, story, or poetry. Select exciting passages or the shorter and near-medium length poems. Don’t read too long, perhaps no more than 15 minutes, especially if it’s your first book.
Before going over to the book-selling and autographing, allow about 10 minutes for audience questions, no matter the number of people. Answer honestly, with patience and respect for the audience. They are your guests. Don’t be discouraged if there are no questions.
There are logistics and questions not noted above: transportation, accommodations, budget, safety, and health concerns. Building your social media presence along the way is essential, but you may not always have Internet access and Wi-Fi connection. Ask someone to use your cell phone or camera to take a photo of you at each leg of the tour. Or do the selfie thing. Should an MC introduce you? Should a trusted family or friend travel with you to attend the book sales, etc?
Some book-signing venues will be gratis; others will call for a rental fee. You can offer a small contribution even if not asked. Look for places to have your book-signing where the fee is modest, especially if you’re just starting out and you plan several appearances for the year. Or, for goodness’ sake, consider island-hopping as part of your book tour!
Access to traditional and social media for you AND your potential public will matter. What about matching a book with its target market or potential readers?
Consider a supermarket, restaurant, or hotel lobby where you don’t necessarily have to do a reading as part of the book-signing appearance. Should you set up at the entrance or inside the business? Ask the owner or manager. A savvy businessperson will not take long to see how a book signing enhances the customer’s experience and will fit you right in.
HNP authors have told me amazing stories about the helpfulness of grocers on the busy shopping days of the week and during the holiday season.
Other issues will come up that you will manage in time through your well-earned experiences. The main idea of these loosely assembled tips is that the Caribbean island or country where you live and write is the perfect place to have a book tour.
Your book, your island, your country, your book tour.
You got this ... at home.
Lasana M. Sekou is an author and journalist. He is the projects director at House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP), an indie press in St. Martin, Caribbean www.houseofnehesipublish.com.