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Chris Register Shares Lessons Learned from a Cross-Country Book Tour

Thursday, July 25, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Christopher Locke
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IBPA member Chris Register speaks to a crowd at Elgin History Museum in Elgin, Illinois, during his cross-country book tour for his new, bike tour-inspired title, Conversations With US - Great Lakes States

In March 2019, IBPA member Chris Register published his book, Conversations With US - Great Lakes States, which is the first in a multi-volume book series that chronicles his experience cycling 16,000 miles through 49 states interviewing a new person each day. When it came time to promote the book, Chris conducted a two-week book tour where he set up book events in some of the same cities he’d visited on his interview tour.

“[The book tour] was sort of like the bike tours themselves,” says Chris. “It was a mixture of being exhausting, rewarding, frustrating, and really fun, as well as a way to feel connected with the rest of America. I’m very glad I did it, but I’ll tweak things and have an even better book tour next time.”

The book tour had high points and lows. For the high points, Chris says, “I think the most consequential aspect of my book tour was that it reinforced my identity as an author, publisher, and messenger; and it confirmed the importance of my mission. The substance of Conversations With US—my 16,000 miles and 400 interviews across the country by bike—taught me so much about our challenges and potential. Time and again during the book tour I would see folks' eyes light up as I described the book, and then the questions would come: Are we really as divided as it seems? Why do you think X believes Y? What do you think we need to feel united? In short, even though I didn't land some huge media interview or sell hundreds of books, I was reminded that readers care about what I did and what I'm doing now. And that notion could not have been more strongly confirmed than when reconnecting with my former interviewees. In fact, the tour's most powerful moment for me happened during an event at the Elgin History Museum, when Ernie Broadnax (whose interview appears in Great Lakes States) stood up and told the audience there that I was his hero for what I was doing with the Conversations With US project and books. Anyone who has read Ernie's interview—getting an idea of some of the monumental challenges and hardships he's faced and what a sterling example of character and resilience and hard work he is—would know why having him call me his hero was profoundly humbling and meaningful.”

Another high point was learning a valuable lesson about pitching his books to potential customers. “I had tabled two or three times before this book tour, and would always just chat with passersby, and politely answer their questions, without ever suggesting they buy a book. A not-so-fun surprise was how often someone would stand with you and take up 5+ minutes of your time and then walk away without buying anything. Also not-so-fun was hearing people ask ‘Can I get this on Amazon?’ ...when I was standing RIGHT THERE ready to sell them a signed copy. On the book tour, I finally got frustrated with a guy who talked with me for a long time and then started to walk away, and I said something like, ‘Well, since you enjoyed hearing about the book so much, why don't you get one to take home and read? Here, I'll sign it for you.’ And he looked at me like ‘you got me’ and bought one. So, that's a permanent part of my strategy now. I had been feeling very uncomfortable as a salesman but my fun surprise was that the ‘hard sell’ actually works, and is not the crushing blow to my character and friendly demeanor I thought it would be.”

As for the lows of the book tour, Chris describes an issue during the final stop on his book tour in Minneapolis. “I wasn’t told the roads would be completely blocked around the venue for the Pride parade. So, I waited for 20 minutes in traffic, like 3 blocks away, and finally gave up and left town without attending the event. It was a combination of my host not taking the extra steps to prepare me, and my failure to ask the right questions (such as ‘Where am I supposed to park when I arrive?’).”

Poster promoting Chris Register's book event.

Chris explains other issues he ran into as well. “A consistent problem I ran into was the venues’ lack of advertising and marketing support, even after they promised to do so. Two or three times I walked into a venue and the employee on shift had no idea an event was even scheduled. Almost to a venue, none had put up flyers or done any physical advertising. Then, when I did bring my own poster boards, I was sometimes shocked to see how an employee or even shop owner would choose to display them, like this bookshop that used random strips of blue painters’ tape.”

In all, Chris attended 18 events in the 6 states that are covered in Conversations With US – Great Lakes States. In terms of attendance at the events, Chris says, “I think I only had one event where nobody showed, and several where just one or two people showed. Then others with 20+ and 50+ people. My events were of all different styles, ranging from a table on the sidewalk in front of a bookstore to being the keynote speaker at a huge organized bike ride so it’s hard to compare.”

Chris Register's upcoming book, Conversations With US – Appalachia & Bluegrass Country

Chris goes on to say, “Several of my interviewees from the book joined me at the events, but only one of the interviewees did a book reading during the event. This was something that surprised me: it almost never felt like a good idea to do a reading. Folks were more interested in my energetic presentation, and then Q&A. I opened up my interviewees for questions from the audience, and sometimes asked them a question or two myself, but getting everyone to be quiet and still and then have some dramatic reading always seemed like the wrong move, so I only did it once with Jackie Mayer. And then, she read just a very short section. I came away with the notion that readings are generally a bad idea unless you’re a really big deal, up on stage in front of hundreds.”

Volume 2, Conversations With US – American Southwest, will be released in late September/early October 2019, and covers Chris’ 1,900-mile tour from Houston to Death Valley. Volume 3, Conversations With US – Appalachia & Bluegrass Country, is slated for publication early in 2020.

Three Questions with Author Publisher Chris Register

IBPA: Can you share three or more tips for how to plan a successful book tour?

Chris Register (CR): Sweet Mary Mother of Jesus it takes a lot of time to plan a book tour. I did it all myself. Scheduling just one event might go something like this:

  1. A phone call to a possible venue, where you explain things to an employee

  2. You will then be transferred to a manager, to whom you will explain everything again

  3. They will then say: why don’t you email me the info?

  4. You will take a half hour to draft and send the email

  5. You will wait several days with no response

  6. You will then email again, with a 50% chance of getting a response

  7. For those non-responses, you will call and say: “have you had a chance to consider the proposal in my email?”

  8. “What email? Sorry, it must have gone to my spam folder. Could you resend it?”

  9. You will resend, and then promptly call again to be sure this one went through

  10. Sometime later, you will call and ask how promotion is going, and will likely hear that they thought YOU were handling everything

  11. I could go on and on, but I think I’ve established why you may go mad before signing any books.

Next time, I am going to call and make that initial contact myself, and then pass on the rest of the work to a hired personal assistant/organizer/intern (if I can find one).

My overall advice is that you, or someone working for you, will have to be relentless in contacting, organizing, following-up, and marketing/promoting to make any of these events worthwhile. Also, forget emails. Call, call, call. Email only after making a good connection with someone over the phone. Then call again after the email.

IBPA: Can you briefly describe the history of how Spoke & Words Books came to be?

CR: My goal was always to give a voice to the hundreds of Americans I interviewed across the 16,000 miles I pedaled. That’s a lot of material (something like a million words), which I had planned on producing in a 1 region/tour = 1 volume plan. I at first was adamantly against self-publishing, since I didn’t want people to look at Conversations With US as ‘just another guy’s bike tour book that he couldn’t find a publisher for.’ But, little by little, I saw quality books being produced by small or indie presses. I’m sort of a perfectionist and fiercely hard-headed and independent, and I loathed the idea of having to listen to someone in New York telling me how to design my book. The decision was easy, though, once I talked with agents who told me they’d never sign a contract for 9 books. They would, however publish one book, if I cut it down to ‘just the important parts’; i.e. leaving out 80% of the people I spoke with. No way. So, I walked away from traditional publishing and never looked back. It’s been hard as hell and I’m not writing as much as I’d like to while trying to run the business, but I am so glad I went out on my own. I love doing it my way. The company started up in December 2018 and my first book was released on March 19th 2019.

IBPA: How has it been beneficial to you to be a member of Independent Book Publishers Association?

CR: I am a 100% DIY neophyte to all of this. IBPA is really my only contact with people in the business side of the industry, and that’s been so helpful; otherwise, I would be totally out to sea. I run a writer’s critique group in my hometown and am a member of a couple of local writing nonprofits, but most folks there don’t really know much about publishing and selling books. The IBPA has filled that niche nicely and, frankly, after starting my own publishing company and attending IBPA Publishing University 2019 in Chicago, I feel like I’m on a different level than most other aspiring authors—a more professional, entrepreneurial level, I suppose.

IBPA: Thank you, Chris, for sharing your story and insight with the IBPA community! We wish you all the best on your upcoming creative endeavors!

Click here to learn more about Chris' independent publishing company, Spoke & Word Books!

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