Report on My West Coast Trip to Promote An Amateur's Guide to the Planet

by Jeannette Belliveau

Here's how I set up a book tour. This is a do-it-yourself tour not involving a PR agency.

My book, An Amateur's Guide to the Planet, appeals to the many independent travel bookstores. I sent free copies to about 30 store owners around the country, not realizing at all, at first, that I had a West Coast book on my hands, due to the many adventure travelers out West. (I was mentioned in last Thursday's Christian Science Monitor about my success in reaching the travel bookselling niche. I pitched an article idea to them on the explosion of the travel book niche and ended up with a nice paragraph mention.)

During followup calls after I mailed out Amateur, two Bay Area bookstores (Easy Going in Berkeley and Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif.) not only wanted to order, but wanted to know, with great enthusiasm, if I was ever coming to the West Coast from my home in Baltimore to do events. Our discussions took place in late November. Allowing a 2-3 month lead time for setting up events, we looked at Feb-March dates. Easy Going even set me up as a featured speaker at the Outside Magazine Adventure Travel Festival in San Francisco, on March 2.

I called back travel bookstores in Seattle and Portland and Pasadena to try to make a more ambitious tour. Both the stores I talked to, Wide World Books and Maps and Powell's Travel Store, had dates available since I worked in advance. Finally, to round out my tour, I booked with two Barnes & Nobles between the Bay Area and Pasadena (in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara). Both were delighted to book dates. Given my subject, adventure travel, I could have also spoken at Earthling in Santa Barbara and Phileas Fogg in Stanford, but both only do events on Wednesday nights, and need loads of lead time. We didn't have a good fit for dates by the time I called them. If I do a second tour, I will re-approach both the owners (extremely pleasant folks).

I did all the phoning around myself.

Logistics: I flew out using frequent flier miles. I took Amtrak from Seattle to Portland ($15.50, a bargain) and Greyhound from San Francisco-SLO-Santa Barbara-Los Angeles ($32 or so with stops permitted). I flew from Portland to San Francisco for $70 on Alaska Airlines because the bus schedule looked too grueling for me. I stayed with friends, at youth hostels and the occasional Motel 6.

I contacted all the book-oriented radio shows, newspaper lifestyle sections, and alternative weeklies along the way. Only had a few nibbles here and there (Santa Barbara paper, Cal Poly student paper, Fran Halpern's radio show in Santa Barbara). This is where being a one-person operation became difficult, in terms of both time demands and the fact that you the author are acting as a PR person: contacting mainstream, alternative, and student print media & radio.

I tried calling the Seattle Times travel reporters, writing their features editor, calling the NPR station in Seattle, etc. No one seems too interested. Even when I sent my book out, it was, of course, hit or miss. I thought Diana Jordan, a book show person at a Portland radio station, would be a definite go. Or Kirstin Jackson of the Seattle Times travel section. Nope. Guess it's how it goes: You get a rave from Women's Books Online and all the adventure travel columnists and people who instantly perceive what's different and special about one's book, but nada in other quarters.

In general, radio seemed tricky to me: it seemed some producers wanted a fax, others wanted a direct call, and if you didn't know which they'd get quite huffy. The switchboard didn't exactly know either what the preferred approach was.

This was one area where I would have loved to have PR assistance but could not afford it. I strongly suspect that all of you who urged the assumption of a second name for PR efforts are exactly correct. One sounds more competitive with the bombardment that these editors and radio producers receive, and pitching the story becomes not an issue of personal rejection.

Also, I think seven cities is a heck of a lot for a one-person outfit to publicize. Still, this author tour seemed like a great move because at minimum, I'll start the ripple effect of word of mouth from those who attend my mini-seminar on adventure travel.

Because I can't count on strong print/radio support, I am writing directly to invite people to my events. Here are some of the groups I wrote to:

Friends of friends.

Buddies of mine who do adventure travel have scoured their address books for people I can invite directly in each of the cities.

University professors of human geography and cultural anthropology. Sending out about 50 utterly personalized letters to profs found on the Internet listings of college home pages who might like my material on crosscultural communication, AFrican diaspora, China, Southeast Asia, comparative world regions, the ethics of environmentalism, etc. Inviting them and their students. Enclosing the letter & a 2-page book flier incl. table of contents & a one-page release on where my event is.

Adventure travel agencies, women's travel clubs, and sailing clubs.

Basically these letters invited the core group that I would hope would find out about me on the radio.

That's how I set up my book tour.

Here is my follow-up report on my 8-city, West Coast book promotion trip for An Amateur's Guide to the Planet. This was a freeloader special, done as cheaply as possible. Air transportation was via a free ticket on frequent flier miles. I stayed with friends and family as much as possible, otherwise in youth hostels or $50/night motels.

Earlier I reported on setting up my trip, without a publicist. Working about three months ahead, I called independent travel stores in Seattle, Portland, Berkeley, Marin County and Pasadena, and called Barnes & Nobles in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Thousand Oaks. Now I will report on how it went.

The bookstore events

I got to the stores early and set up a table with a free tips handout, a book flier, and free travel newsletters from Lonely Planet publications and Moon Handbooks. I walked the tips sheet and book flier to people as they arrived, saying "Hi, I'm Jeannette, I'm speaking tonight. Are you a big traveler?" This way I would find if the audience wanted to talk about Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, or general tips.

My slide show discusses destinations, cultural lessons, and basic adventure tips. I play recordings of lemur calls and Nigerian chants. I tell everyone at the beginning that after the slide show, we'll have a group discussion, and then I'll sign books. Lastly I'll stay for individual discussions of travel interests.

Here are the audience sizes and number of books signed:



Number of Books Signed

Seattle, Washington



Portland, Oregon



San Francisco, California



Marin County, California



San Luis Obispo, California



Santa Barbara, California



Pasadena, California



Thousand Oaks, California






As you can see, the numbers of books sold was quite low, especially in Seattle and Portland. Bookstore staff say there is a tendency in the Pacific Northwest for people at book talks to think about making a purchase and return for it later. Yet these numbers also show a need for me to improve my talk. One can see that sales got easier for me in the Bay Area. And look at the figures for Santa Barbara: Three books for three people! If I'd gotten the same 100% response for the 60 people in Seattle, I'd be showing a trip profit!

With lessons learned on the West Coast, I was able to sell six books to an audience of about 25 last Saturday at a bookstore here in Baltimore. One of the woman who bought An Amateur's Guide to the Planet is an expatriate Madagascan, and I expect she will recommend my book to others in her tightly knit group.

Looking past the bottom line

On the face of it, it looks insane to go to all the trouble of visiting eight West Coast cities to sell 23 books, even if one is traveling as cheaply as possible. I know others on the list have had much, much better results.

However, as a first-time author with a brand-new publishing house, I felt I needed to do SOMETHING to get the ball rolling. I often operate intuitively and in a very long-term manner--that's why I took so many adventure trips (not knowing they'd lead one day to a book), and that's why I set up this book tour (knowing in advance that the payoffs would not be immediate.)

And I see some additional benefits to this book trip than raw sales figures. These are:

(1) Sales to independent book stores

I made sales calls in Seattle (University Books, Elliott Bay Books), San Francisco (Get Lost, a new travel bookstore), Berkeley (Cody's Books, Black Oak Books), San Luis Obispo (the Novel Experience) and Santa Barbara (Earthling). I left complementary books and media kits with the nonfiction or travel buyer in each store. University Books in Seattle particular planned an immediate order of 5 books from my distributor, Baker & Taylor. Thus this sales call netted greater immediate sales than my one-hour public talk did!

(2) Staff goodwill and familiarization

The events coordinators in Marin County and Thousand Oaks bought autographed copies. The events coordinator in Santa Barbara took a flier to her UC-SB professor of Brazilian literature. The Seattle Library (cosponsor of my Seattle event) has ordered 23 copies of my book. A Seattle Library staffer who took An Amateur's Guide to the Planet home is now a big fan and in a great position to talk up my book--she is with the Washington Center for the Book. These are the sorts of contacts that can lead to additional sales, and radio or interview possibilities, down the road. And many booksellers handsell books to clients.

(3) Honing the message

The myriad and rarely overlapping questions I got from audiences provided an invaluable insight into what people want to talk about. I really feel that I can proceed with greater confidence into the next step of radio interviews. Knowledgeable travelers in Seattle, Marin and Pasadena especially filled in gaps in my own knowledge about travel notetaking, the ethics of going to Burma now, and our need for language study.

(4) Learning to sell better

A friend attended my Seattle talk and said that the audience was with me entirely when I told stories and used humor. I tend to be fascinated myself with cultural analysis and geography and wander away from the basics of storytelling.

My audiences may consist of people with somewhat varied interests: I can see some people leaning forward, chin on hand, body language quite alert, when I talk about swimming with sharks. Others look as riveted when I show my map of the descendants of Africans in the Americas, a less storyish discussion but one that the geographer-types adore.

I took out 20 slides after my first night in Seattle to make my talk leaner and leave more time for audience discussion. This seemed to work well.

Louann Kalvinskas of the Distant Lands bookstore in Pasadena gave me some advice: she said, “Don't even talk about your book! Talk about anything else. Or if you talk, tease quite deliberately.”

Louann said travel writer Jeff Greenwald spoke at Distant Lands and left the audience hanging on the resolution of a crisis with a difficult travel companion. One man in that audience got quite angry, but as for the rest of the audience, they bought books like hotcakes, Louann said.

For myself, as a new writer, I do have the latitude to tease, but I don't think I have the latitude to stray hugely from my book at, what is after all, a book talk. But Louann may have an excellent point: I've gotten excellent sales at seminars I conduct on travel writing where I use my book to make points about writing and photography--equal or better sales to when I use my book at seminars on adventure travel.

(5) Contacts

The book tour certainly led to excellent contacts. A travel agent who attended my talk in Thousand Oaks said she would recommend to her boss that I be booked on a cruise they do for professional women.

In San Francisco, both Marybeth Bonds and myself spoke at the Outside Magazine Adventure Sports and Travel Festival. Marybeth edits the Traveler's Tales series. They are doing new anthologies of travel in Japan, Greece and river journeys (Amateur has material in all three areas). I gave Marybeth and her publisher comps of An Amateur's Guide and my business card and media kit.

I also met Robert Pelton Young of Fielding's and Paul Otteson, who writes for John Muir Publications.

I invited the staff of two top adventure travel agencies to my talk in Marin County (Mountain Travel Sobek and the Adventure Center). Both loved the exposure, and both hopefully will remember me when recommending books on Madagascar, Brazil, China, etc.

Students in a class of taught by Neal Baker, Moorpark College professor of geography, and a Pasadena City College geography class were invited to my talks in Thousand Oaks and Pasadena respectively--they came, and they stayed afterward to talk to me about their travels.

I even got a call after returning from my trip from the Seattle offices of asking if I had 1,500 copies of An Amateur's Guide available on behalf of a client. This piqued my curiosity, to say the least. I'm not sure at all what's going on with this call. For all I know, it may be a hoax. The caller said this was not related to my visit to Seattle a week before, but if the call is for real, and if it ties in in any way with my tour, well it certainly makes the activity worthwhile!

Other publishers mutual support

I met with Peter Saint James in Portland. He is working on a fabulous-sounding book on the fallacy of building roads to lessen traffic snarls. In person he is as thoughtful and wise as he sounds on the list. He provided an excellent travel tip: when going between Seattle and Portland, take the train, not the bus. The train is cheaper and has bubbletop cars to watch the scenery.

In San Luis Obispo I met Zardoya Eagles who is just about ready to go to press with her nurses' careers book. The cover is great and she has excellent galleys from Crane, and a very intelligent phone setup for order taking. This was one of my favorite stops because the town is bright and sparkling, surrounded by green hills like Ireland's, and the audience is erudite but unassuming. Zardoya is very happy living there.

In Pasadena I met with Pam Terry, who wrote Around the World: A Postcard Adventure. Pam is very details oriented and knows a lot about color printing and is a whiz at LA media contacts. We had a laugh about how the LATimes fancifully listed my talk as concerning An Amateur's Guide to the Plants and furthermore that I would talk about U.S. trips (the correct final word of the title is “Planet” and I talk exclusively about travel abroad, mostly in the developing world). Pam said only send LATimes one-sentence releases, because if you give them a chance to rework a longer piece, funny things tend to happen.

People have said it before but it is always wonderful to match a real person to the electronic message sender, and to see what creative and energetic people end up in our field.

The bright side

Numerous additional sales are possible in Seattle and Portland, where I had low initial sales, from attendees at my talk. Attendees may buy for friends going to India and other exotic places, and as Christmas and birthday presents.

Getting away from home, and being on the road traveling, as usual juiced up my creative forces. I have three freelance articles in mind either related to my book tour or destinations en route, and think that my next book idea gelled on this trip.

I got valuable practice at speaking and connecting with an audience, especially by giving eight talks in 12 days! I was far more relaxed even after just my first speaking date in Seattle. For a one-time phobic about public speaking, a big tour with eight speaking dates proved to be invaluable.

I also learned that I am freshest and most spontaneous when I VARY MY TALK and emphasize different facets each night. This can be done even with a set number of slides by dwelling on different areas. Or even by editing one's slide show.

Logistical advice

Staying with friends and family, though freeloading, is essential to economics of a new self-publisher. I was mothered and fed and returned to find my clothes laundered and plied with coins to ride buses. I would spend approximately $5-$8 a day during periods I was with a friend. I'm not trying to advocate cheapness per se but we can see by the 23 books sold that, gross, I only made about $250 on this trip,not even break-even when I look at my transportation and lodging expenses for the nights I was not with friends or family.

One of our PMA buddies tells me she is planning her next author tour around, not purely the best markets, but PLACES SHE HAS FRIENDS AND FAMILY. This makes eminent sense for startups like us.

I'm planning a book tour in June to Denver/Littleton/Boulder/Fort Collins, another great area for a travel author, and may actually CAMP on that trip, in June. I like camping, but I also need to WATCH COSTS!!

A luggage tip: I bought a Travel Caddy 3 days into the trip to wheel my box of books and slide projector and boom box. For $23 this transformed my life for the better.

Memorable moments ...

Watching a geography professor at Pasadena City College sit with a copy of An Amateur's Guide to the Planet on his lap, taking notes, for at least 25 minutes after my talk ended, and then not purchasing a copy.

Being praised for my new type of travel book and warmly invited to return with my husband and have dinner with a professor, who is also freelance writer for Lonely Planet, who lives in Berkeley.

Having extremely handsome men smile at me through my entire talk on two occasions Q in San Francisco and in Santa Barbara Q and then buy books Q and then hang around to talk.

Don't worry, I chastely mentioned my husband to each. And I thought to myself, "You are married. This is strictly an ego boost. But I don't know why a serious-minded travel writer dressed in the same faded denim shirt for 5 days straight would have much appeal." (On the East Coast, my audience seems to be primarily female.)

And finally, I remember waiting to talk at the Barnes & Noble store in Santa Barbara. The events person had warned me, “Sometimes nobody comes at all. People have a lot of things they can do other than go to bookstores in Santa Barbara.” Just before my 7:30 start time, no one had arrived. I thought of how a friend of mine had gone to a record store appearance by Howard Stern during his DC-101 days in Washington, D.C., and she was the only fan there. “Howard Stern went from nobody to thousands of people,” I thought in a relaxed way.

Three people showed up right at 7:30. We had an event closer to a relaxed, cozy chat than a formal presentation. Two members of the Barnes & Noble staff also went on break to hear my talk. This happens more and more--it's so gratifying to see bookstore staff ask their supervisors if they can take dinner break during my talk.

After my talk, Scott, a rugged blond sailor, mentioned to Jennifer that he had a boat. They exchange phone numbers. Jennifer liked Scott but she LOVED Jon, an exceptionally striking man who looks like Fabio (except less drippy) with slightly shorter, shoulder-length hair. He might as well have LA Actor stenciled on his forehead.

Jon had been smiling warmly at me the entire talk (Jennifer probably would have been unhinged by the attention; I was nearly so). I soberly, the Married Woman, autographed a book for him, while Jennifer jumped around trying to scribble her phone number under my autograph. Jon continued his beautific smiling, bemused by Jennifer. He seemed used to the fawning female attention. It was fun to see my mini-seminar on adventure travel become the Dating Game in Santa Barbara.

Jeannette Belliveau Jeannette Belliveau, is author of An Amateur's Guide to the Planet and the forthcoming Romance on the Road. Over the past decade, she has visited a dozen countries. She swam with sharks, climbed a live volcano, observed a lion kill, fought terror on a Maya pyramid and started to cry on a horrific rail journey in China. Yet her adventures are only part of a fun, fascinating book that looks at what the developing world has to teach the United States about the family, the environment, emigration, poverty, race relations and even etiquette.

Twenty foreign correspondents and top scholars helped Belliveau examine lessons that the West can derive from each destination. They included Professors Alison Jolly (Princeton), George Reid Andrews (University of Pittsburgh), and Neil Henry and Lynne Withey (Berkeley).

$19.95, softcover, perfect bound, 4-color cover, 272 pages, index, bibliography including Internet addresses for citations. Winter '96-97.

Beau Monde Press, P O Box 6149, Baltimore MD 21231; 410-276-7428; Credit card orders only: toll free 888-817-9522; Fax: 410-342-5131. Email: Web page: