Farewell Tour(ing)?

August 12th, 2014 by Max Allan Collins
Books-A-Million Signing August 2014
Barbara Collins, M.A.C. and Matthew Clemens at the Davenport BAM!

We had some nice people stop by our two signings in Davenport this weekend, both new readers and old. But the turn-out was modest, even though we’d scored major publicity in the Quad Cities area, like this article in the Quad City Times.

It was enough for us (Barb and me) to admit that signings just aren’t effective any more. Oh, there are exceptions. If an indie bookstore owner is really a first-rate retailer – like Augie at Centuries and Sleuths in Forest Park, where we will continue to sign now and then, or the remarkable Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona – really knows their onions (and carrots and peas), a signing can be highly successful and worthwhile for the author. Lots of people there, lots of books sold. Enough to justify flying to Arizona? Well, that’s up to the publisher.

But publishers are funding fewer and fewer tours these days, and if you aren’t a superstar author or superstar period (Hillary Clinton, say, whose own book tour was pretty rough actually), a tour is hard to justify. For many years, we alternated funding our own tours with publisher-funded ones. Recently we scaled back to Midwestern tours, typically hitting Minneapolis, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Chicago and Milwaukee. More lately we cut back to just Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Chicago. But Cedar Rapids’ Mystery Cat (where the signings were extremely successful) is closing at the end of this month.

These Davenport signings were at best modestly successful in a way that just doesn’t justify us losing a work (or, frankly, play) day. Last week we lost a day to doing the Times interview and then driving to Davenport to do TV. On the weekend, the signings consumed both Saturday and Sunday. The promo we did for the signings focused on SUPREME JUSTICE and ANTIQUES CON. When got to the Bam! store, we were told they couldn’t get SUPREME JUSTICE, apparently because of the corporate decision not to carry Amazon-published books. No one bothered to call us and inform us of this, and in fact we’d been assured the opposite – I’d called a few days before to see if books were in and was told they were, including SJ. When we arrived, there were stacks of KING OF THE WEEDS (which had not been the focus of our promo), no SUPREME JUSTICE and a handful of ANTIQUES CON. The first customer in the door asked for SUPREME JUSTICE.

The Barnes and Noble did have SUPREME JUSTICE, thanks to the efforts of the hard-working assistant manager who arranged the signing, despite B & N’s corporate attitude toward not carrying a book that has been a bestseller since June (admittedly in the Kindle world).

Barnes & Noble Signing August 2014
Barbara Allan at the Davenport Barnes & Noble Signing

Incidentally, these corporate wars are wearying. I seem to be one of a handful of writers working both sides of this particular street, so I need to keep my opinions to myself, for the safety of my career. But take a look at what my pal Lee Goldberg had to say in response to the New York Times ad signed by lots and lots of writers in protest of Amazon.

All I can say about Amazon is that they – at least their crime fiction publishing arm, Thomas & Mercer – have treated me very well, from involving me in packaging decisions to paying me better royalties than I receive elsewhere. I am frustrated that SUPREME JUSTICE isn’t more readily available as a real book (as opposed to an e-one). But right now we still sit high on several Kindle mystery lists, and have generated a mindboggling 2100-plus reader reviews.

Anyway, touring. Book signings. As I said to Matt Clemens after our Books-a-Million signing for a book the store didn’t stock, “Signings are so ‘90s.” What can we do to replace them?

Well, one of the things is this weekly communication with you. And if you want to get in touch with me, it’s not that hard. Both Barb and I (and for that matter Matt) are happy to sign and return books sent to us, as long as postage and packaging is included. Bookstores are encouraged to send books for us to sign. Barb and I will continue, for the foreseeable future, to do both Bouchercon and San Diego Con. Smaller conventions I will not likely do unless I (or we) are invited as a guest. At 66, I feel no shame at all in suggesting “Guest of Honor” next to my name would feel just fine. (Bouchercon did it back in 1999.)

We love talking to readers. Anybody who hasn’t figured out that I like praise just isn’t paying attention. But our days, our time, is precious to us. I am writing more now than ever, in part because of the sense that time has suddenly become goddamn finite. I still have stories to tell. Barb said, fairly grouchily Sunday evening, “I lost three days I could have been working on the new ANTIQUES novella.”

She’s right.

In the meantime, come see us at Centuries & Sleuths in September. There are exceptions to every rule.

M.A.C.

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3 Responses to “Farewell Tour(ing)?”

  1. Paul.Griffith says:

    Max,
    I love the idea of sending you a book for signing, it made me think-have you thought about selling books out of your place, or Nate’s? Something like Lawrence Block does. You could charge full price for autographed novels and more for past novels. Just a thought, that wouldn’t take you and Barb away from your writing and would allow folks like me to order directly through you. Great pictures of you and Barb, by the way! Really enjoyed SUPREME JUSTICE.

  2. Max Allan Collins says:

    Thanks, Paul. We have discussed selling ourselves or via Nate. It remains a possibility, although what we have in some quantity is fairly limited. I like to keep 10 to 15 copies of everything. And sometimes that’s not enough. If a movie or TV producer contacts us about one of the series, automatically we’re expected to send scads of copies out…and it can be a problem. We’ll see.

  3. Sean Kelly says:

    But if I mail you books, I will never get to meet you in person. I’ve never managed to be in Chicago (or anywhere else you sign) at the right time, and now being in Japan, time there will be even more limited. However, my mom has met you a bunch of times at Centuries and Sleuths to get books signed for me – look for her in Sept. Still, I’d love to thank you guys in person. As to the Antiques books, I’ve been plugging them to my book club here in Yokosuka and will plug Supreme Justice this month. Now if I can just convince the librarian to get Ask Not, because mine went to storage before I could read it.

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