I think one of the questions I’m asked most often by readers, other than “when is the next book coming?” is something along the lines of “will you be coming to my town?” This especially tends to come up when I announce any kind of public appearance.
The answer is usually no, and the reasons apply to other authors, not just me.
For most authors other than big names or those a publisher has decided to really push, we have to pay for our own travel to book events. A few conferences pay travel expenses for speakers, and the guests of honor at conventions have their travel paid by the conventions, but otherwise, we’re on our own. That makes it expensive to travel beyond the immediate area, and few book events pay off well enough to make it worth our while.
For a traditionally published book, the author earns less than a dollar per copy, and most of that will end up going toward the advance that was already paid, so it takes a while before authors will earn extra money by selling more books. A really good booksigning for someone at my level will sell about twenty books. There are indirect benefits, though. Any advance publicity for the signing will help increase awareness, there’s usually a display of the books in the store before and after the signing for more visibility, and once the staff has met an author, they’re more likely to hand-sell and recommend those books. That all might add up to make gas money on a short road trip and a night in a cheap motel worth it.
Conventions may or may not sell a lot of books for an author. It depends on whether booksellers at the con stock your books or are willing to take consignment if you bring books (but then you have to buy those books). There’s potential for good exposure on panels because people come to the panels because of the topic or because of other authors on the panels, and they might be intrigued enough with you to look up your books, even if they don’t buy them at the convention. I have had people make Kindle purchases of my books while I was speaking on a panel. I think attending conventions early in my career did a lot for getting my name out there, so there was some benefit. There’s a little less benefit now that I’m established and people aren’t really discovering me unless I go someplace where I’m still unknown, but those places are farther away and more expensive to get to. That’s one of the downsides to living in Texas. It’s so big that the nearest other conventions in the regional circuit are about a three to four-hour drive away, and anything beyond that usually involves flying. Then there’s the issue of getting on programming at conventions where you’re not known. Some conventions require authors to be invited. Some have an application process, but you have to buy a membership before you can apply to speak, so you don’t even know at the time you plan to attend the con whether you’ll get any visibility out of it.
Most of the book festivals don’t cover any expenses for attending authors. I think some publishers may pay to send some authors, but I had to pay my own way to Louisiana for the one I just went to.
I now make my convention plans based on whether there’s something I get out of the event other than publicity and exposure. I usually attend the Nebula Awards conference because I learn a lot there about writing and the business and it’s a valuable networking opportunity. There’s also a booksigning open to the public, so there’s a potential for meeting fans, but selling books is a bonus at that event. I sometimes travel to go to the World Science Fiction Convention or World Fantasy Convention, but again, that’s more about networking and learning than about promotion or meeting fans, and it depends on a lot of factors whether I decide to go. I’m thinking about doing the WorldCon in New Zealand in a couple of years, mostly because it’s a chance to visit there and take a business write-off for the trip. I probably won’t do World Fantasy next year because it’s in the same city as the Nebulas.
Maybe one day I’ll have a publisher decide to give me a push and send me on a book tour. So far, the biggest push I’ve been given was a $300 budget for travel to booksignings in my region, and I stretched it out by staying at inexpensive hotels (they caught the Austin bomber at the hotel where I stayed for a booksigning on that tour). I’ve been a guest of honor at one convention. I’ve been a speaker at a couple of state library conventions where they covered my travel, and I’ve spoken at a couple of writers’ conferences where they paid for me to travel. Otherwise, everywhere I’ve gone, it’s been on my own dime. It gets expensive, especially when you factor in lost time from work. I’m not someone who manages to write during a convention, and then there are the preparation days before and recovery days after, so I could write about a quarter of a novel (or more) during the time I’d be gone for a big convention, and I could buy a BookBub ad for what it costs to go to a WorldCon, and that would sell thousands of books.
So, if you want to see me (or any other author) in your area and it’s far from where I am, the best way would be to suggest me as a guest of honor at a convention in your area (or toastmaster or writers’ workshop instructor). Or suggest me as a speaker at your local writers’ workshop (if they pay travel). If you’re a librarian, state library association conferences (or the ALA) usually pay for authors to speak, so you can suggest me there. Otherwise, I guess just buy a lot of books and tell a lot of people about my books so I sell enough that a publisher might think it’s worthwhile to send me on tour. I’m unlikely to be doing any bookstore signings until I have a new release that’s in stores.
In the meantime, I’m trying to focus on writing rather than traveling because that seems to be the best use of my time and budget. Maybe if I write something really spectacular, that will catch a publisher’s interest.