It almost always follows the obligatory question and answer session. The MC of whatever venue that is hosting a published author makes his way to the podium and announces that said author will be signing books in the lobby, the perfect segue to transform an inspired audience into inspired book buyers. It’s not uncommon for book publicists to send authors on signing tours, plane hopping to various locales where the author, if he’s particularly lucky, will have a liaison escort him to a Barnes and Noble where, if he’s even luckier, a large audience of fans will congregate, waiting to purchase books for him to sign.
But what happens when there are no physical copies of books, but rather their digital brethren, the ebooks that are currently harbored on iPads and Kindles? Wouldn’t this turn the whole concept of book signing on its head? And what about advanced review copies (known in the biz as ARCs) that are sent to book reviewers? Will publicists be able to accommodate their ebook readers, and if so, would this increase the chances of ebook piracy before a book’s official release?
Cassandra Ammerman, a book publicist for Tor Books, didn’t seem too worried about these questions. She said that any ebook revolution would be slow and gradual. And besides, most of her seasoned colleagues have been addressing these concerns for years. “I think it was changing before the rise of the Kindle and the Sony Reader and now the iPad,” she told me in a phone interview. “Everything has been kind of moving more online and away from the traditional book tour and the brick and mortar stores. I don’t think [the iPad] is going to make it move any quicker, I guess. It’s just another factor.”
Ammerman asserted that what most influences the direction of book publicity is the decline of newspapers; with so many publications laying off their book reviewers, publicists have increasingly tapped into other venues, many of which are online. And since ebooks are often sold via Amazon and iTunes, this online publicity makes for a smooth transition that can lead to easy impulse buying. “So much of our audience is online, and that’s where they go for reviews and news about their favorite authors. That’s where our authors are. So for us I don’t think it’s that big of a change.”
What about the notion of signed books?
“I think people will find ways,” she said. “There are even some authors who are talking about having people present their ereaders to them to sign. People will always find creative solutions, and I don’t think the book tour is quite dead. We still send authors around on tours and everyone enjoys them. They say you can’t draw a crowd at a bookstore anymore, and that’s just not true. You can’t send a debut author all over the country to all these stores and cities they don’t have any connection to, but if you pick the right store and the right authors, you can absolutely sell books, you can make connections, and everyone has a great time.”
For the most part, book reviewers still prefer physical ARCs, with the exception of a few bloggers. “I think for me I feel like you have more of an opportunity to get a dialog going with a physical copy because there’s so much more there to get someone’s attention … You have the novelty of the thing that’s like the book, but it’s not the book, it’s not for sale. It’s kind of an exclusivity thing, I guess. That said it would be much easier and much cheaper to have digital copies.”
Overall, the people I spoke to for this piece couldn’t point to any monumental changes to book publicity that would result from the iPad, meaning either its influence is overstated or it’s not fundamentally changing how we consume books. But Stacey Miller, a Massachusetts-based book publicist, said that her tactics are changing every few months. “I know we were all talking about doing blog tours, instead of book tours,” she explained. “I was doing blog tours, and my colleagues were doing blog tours, and finally a couple months ago someone said to me, ‘what’s a blog tour?’ I started to talk that potential client through what a blog tour was, and sort of stopped myself mid-sentence and said, ‘but that’s not even what I do anymore, let me tell you what I really do,’ and my whole demeanor changed.”
These days, Miller identifies niche communities related to book topics and encourages authors to enter the comments section and become part of the discussion, linking back to their own book pages in the signature. In other words, book publicity is moving beyond the traditional reviewers and directly to the readers themselves. The iPad, or any other platform, then becomes irrelevant. The medium, despite popular belief, is not the message.
UPDATE: Not long after I posted this article, I came across this post by author John Scalzi, who received a digital ARC and wasn’t exactly happy about it.