As anyone who follows this blog or reads Publetariat regularly already knows, my financial circumstances have been precarious lately. Because of this, I've concluded I simply can't afford to do the self-financed book tour I had planned to support the release of The Indie Author Guide. "But April," you may ask, "how can you afford not to be out there, promoting your new book? Isn't that what all us indie authors are supposed to do?" The answer, as per usual, is, "It depends."
First, let me break down the realities of small-time author book signings for you. By "small-time", I mean pretty much anyone who isn't such a household name that velvet ropes and barricades will be required for crowd control at the event. Having spoken to numerous local bookstore managers, I've learned they consider a small-time author event that sells 25 books to be a huge success. On average, ten copies is more typical, and isn't considered a disappointment. Given that the author is only earning about a dollar, maybe less, on each of those sales, even if the event makes it over the "huge success" bar of 25 copies sold the author's eventual profit from the event will be $25 or less. Remember, the author won't see dime one of that $25 for many, many months---and maybe not at all, if the book doesn't earn back the author's advance (on a mainstream-published book).
Let's go even further, and say every person who bought one of the 25 copies convinces two friends to buy copies, also. Net cumulative profit for the author is still just $75 or less, and this is under ideal, maximum-sales circumstances. Now subtract what you spent on gasoline traveling to and from the event, plus the cost of any snacks or drinks you purchased en route or while there. Your eventual profit probably stands somewhere around $60 for six to ten hours of your time. And again, this is a maximum-sales scenario we're talking about. It's far more likely you'll sell ten or fewer copies, in which case all your royalty proceeds will be consumed by expenses.
If that time would've been spent watching TV, napping, or otherwise devoted to leisurely pursuits, then a signing event can still be a worthwhile alternative for you. Even if it's not super-successful, it's getting you out of the house, giving you more practice in meeting with the public, and providing an opportunity to win over a few fans. It may also provide fodder for pictures and video to post to your website or blog.
But most indie authors have (and need!) day jobs, and mine is freelancing as an author services provider (e.g., editing, formatting, ebook conversions, etc.). I don't work a nine-to-five, Monday through Friday schedule. Since I still have young children at home who require my attention and supervision whenever they're not in school, I get quite a bit of my work done in the evenings and on weekends when they're on visitation with their father---in other words, during the hours when store managers like to schedule signing events. For me, the choice on a given Saturday isn't between burning through a few more titles on my Netflix queue or spending that time promoting my book instead, it's between earning hundreds of dollars or spending that time promoting my book instead.
Right now, I simply can't afford not to be working.
I'm going to honor my commitment for the first date that was set, at the Montclair Plaza Borders from 2-6pm tomorrow, 1/8/11, but that's it as far as my book tour is concerned.
I'm also already set to speak at the Writer's Digest Conference in Manhattan the weekend of 1/21-1/23/11, where I'll be on a couple of discussion panels and will also be presenting a Kindle publishing workshop. My travel expenses are paid, but I'm on the hook for my own meals, parking at the airport, and any other incidentals. I've decided it's still worthwhile for me to do this because of the opportunity to meet up with not only my fellow indie authors, but also with the other speakers. The latter group includes several whom I've "known" through online interaction over a period of years, but have never met face-to-face. I'll be losing money on that weekend, most definitely. But it's hard to put a pricetag on the value of maintaining relationships in the business, or on the value of an opportunity to give more of my fellow indies some of the information or how-tos that can help them realize their dreams of publication. It's also a better promotion opportunity for me than a book signing because of all the national promotion Writer's Digest is doing for the event.
So when deciding whether or not to do a signing or speaking event, you have to weigh not only the matter of how much you stand to earn financially and in intangibles, but how much you will be required to give up in exchange. Sometimes, it's worth it. Sometimes, it's not.
*UPDATE* I did my stint at Borders yesterday, all four hours of it. I spoke to exactly five store patrons, and sold exactly one copy of my book in the store. It's interesting to note that three of the five patrons said they planned to buy my book online, where its price would be lower. Given that I enjoy talking shop and can burn through four hours in a bookstore without even trying any day of the week (and twice on Sundays), it wasn't a bad way to spend an afternoon. Still, it was obviously not a profitable event in terms of book sales, and for me, that time would've been much better spent doing freelance work.