Friday, 15 July 2011

Thoughts on book touring


2010 Pomona to Penrith Book Tour

 

  • Eumundi Markets, Eumundi, QLD. July 31, 2010
  • Crystal Waters Village Market, Conondale, QLD. August 7, 2010
  • Pomona Country Market, Pomona, QLD. August 14, 2010
  • Landsborough Hall Market, Landsborough, QLD. August 21, 2010
  • Caboolture Markets, Caboolture, QLD. August 22, 2010
  • Redcliffe Jetty Markets, Redcliffe, QLD. August 29, 2010
  • Markets on Bulcock Street, Caloundra, QLD. September 5, 2010
  • Kelvin Grove Village Markets, Brisbane, QLD. September 11, 2010
  • Hunter Valley Village Vibes Market, Pokolbin Hill, NSW. September 18, 2010
  • Kirribilli Markets, Sydney, NSW. September 25, 2010
  • High Street Markets, Penrith, NSW. September 26, 2010
  • Broadbeach Markets, Gold Coast, QLD. October 17, 2010
  • Books & Bits, Beerwah, QLD. December 10, 2010

Back in the cold of July, 2010 I set off on a fourteen week book tour along the east coast of Australia, armed with my latest novel A Walk Before Sunrise. Reflecting on what can be learned from a concentrated period of self-promotion, the obvious question would be was it worth it? I met many people who were truly supportive of an author taking the time to visit the town and share his work with readers, while I also encountered my share of skeptics. So read on while I recount what was a memorable tour.

The Original Eumundi Market is famous the world over. 600 stalls and a staggering 1.6 million visitors a year makes Eumundi the largest arts and crafts market in Australia, one of the Sunshine Coast's leading tourist attractions and the perfect venue to start to my book tour. It goes without saying that where there are lots of people, your chances of being able to sell some books are going to be considerably higher. But the following week by contrast found me at the Crystal Waters Village Market, a dot on the map you could be forgiven for driving past on any day of the week other than market day, situated roughly half-way between Maleny and Kenilworth in south-east Queensland. The only thing I could take with me from the day was the now famous line I received from a so-called guardian of the earth who told me "I only read recycled books that don't harm the environment". They were hardly encouraging words for an emerging writer who had just driven a long way off the beaten track for nothing. Next I headed north on the Bruce Highway to the town of Pomona to appear at the Pomona Country Market, fresh after being featured on ABC Coast FM radio and in the Sunshine Coast Weekender magazine. The response as you can imagine was much better. A week later and Landsborough may have been one of the smaller towns I would visit on my tour, but the Landsborough Hall Markets proved to be one of the most successful venues for me on tour. Perhaps due to my visit coinciding with election day. By contrast, the following day I was lost among the sprawling 500 stalls that make up the Caboolture Markets. But setting up at 5am in front of a toilet block and opposite a curry-puff van was not the ideal setting for an author to spend the day talking to passers-by about his book! I know that Keith Urban might have hailed from Caboolture before he was famous, but I'm sure he would never have been given such a tough spot. Let's just say that despite selling a few books, the day lingered on like a bad smell.

A week later and things were back on track at the Redcliffe Jetty Markets (pictured above - bottom right), although I was lucky not to be blown away by threatening skies. But the crowds were still strong and there was some extra interest in my books thanks to an article about my visit that appeared in that week's Redcliffe City News. My hometown appearance in Caloundra the following week at the Markets on Bulcock Street was a nervous affair thanks largely to the overnight downpour of rain, and crowd numbers were down as a result. Still, I managed to stay dry and chalk up some more book sales for the tour. Next it was time to head south. But my visit to Brisbane at the Village Markets in Kelvin Grove (pictured above - bottom left) strangely turned out to be disappointing due to there being too many people. A nearby festival put on by students from the Saudi community had people scurrying to and from nearby activities all day.

It was time to pack the car and drive south to my next stop in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, an area famous not only for it's Chardonnay and Shiraz but also for the Hunter Valley Gardens at Pokolbin Hill. The Hunter Valley Village proved to be a popular place for my support crew, including my wife Denise (pictured with me above - top left), to spend the day exploring all the village shops and market stalls. Thanks also to an article in that week's Cessnock Advertiser, many people recognized my photo in the newspaper throughout the days that followed while horse riding and visiting the local wineries. Then it was off to Sydney for a week of sightseeing, dining on harbour cruises and taking in a theater production of Wicked. To cap it off, I set up early on a Saturday morning under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, where twice a month at Milsons Point on the North Sydney side of the harbour, the Kirribilli Markets (pictured above - top right) are held. An amazing market full of food, fashion, art and performers kept my wife and daughter busy shopping for the day. I on the other hand had my first brush with a disgruntled unpublished writer. Angry that his manuscript had been rejected by every agent and publisher in town, he decided to vent his anger on me, in the process scaring away anyone within earshot. Honestly, where was security when you need it? By the end of the day I was exhausted, discouraged and desperately needed a pick me up. That came the next day, when an hour's drive west of Sydney the next morning saw me at the base of the Blue Mountains, visiting the High Street Markets in Penrith. It was a smaller market that surprisingly was more successful for me than my visits to Brisbane, Sydney and the Hunter Valley combined. The Penrith Chamber of Commerce had apparently plastered me all over their website in the weeks leading up to the day. It proved to be a great day, and also left the following week free to enjoy visiting the ZigZag Railway, Jenolan Caves, the Three Sisters and all that the Blue Mountains had to offer before driving the 1,093kms back to the Sunshine Coast.

A weekend of heavy rain washed out my two scheduled visits to Jimboomba and Nerang. But my appearance on the Gold Coast the following week at the Broadbeach Markets went ahead in perfect sunshine. After next being invited by new owners Bernie and Linda to do a book signing in a town more famous for Bindi Irwin and Australia Zoo, I arrived at Books & Bits, a little bookstore housed in one of the oldest buildings in Beerwah. The final stop on my tour attracted the attention of the local newspaper, the Glasshouse Country News, and an article appeared the following week bringing to an end a book tour that covered a total of 3,452kms over a period of 132 days.

So what did I make of all this? Was the tour worth the effort? I feel in all it was a positive experience. Even after taking in all the direct costs associated with putting together a do-it-yourself-tour (ignoring the travel and accommodation to Sydney which was already part of my planned family vacation), the book tour did in fact make a small profit. The flow on effect is more difficult to gauge. Besides the immediate magazine, newspaper and radio mentions, there was a massive spike in the number of hits to my website during the months surrounding the tour. Finally, I think there is a real sense of being taken seriously as a result of taking the entire aspect of being a published writer seriously. After all, it is one thing to write a book, and another thing altogether to successfully sell it. Now, where will I head off to next time?

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