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Authors and the Fiasco of Book Tours

With the advent of social media, author book tours have more or less gone the way of the stegosaurus.  Some authors do them, but mainly only the celebrities, Hilary or David Sedaris.  And you might be surprised to know that most authors think their demise is a very good thing.  A book tour sounds exotic – at least it always did to me:  “An Eleven-City National Book Tour!!!”  How good can it get?  Well, actually, it can get a lot better…

Let me preface this by saying that right now is an absolutely awful time to be publishing a book, the worst time in recorded history (well, OK, in my recorded history).   The only way to sell a book seriously is to get serious media attention.  That means TV, radio, and front covers.   But at this stage of human evolution, if your name is not Donald, Bernie, or Corona, it just ain’t gonna happen.   The media can’t squeeze it all in, and books are at the bottom of the heap.  Even if your book is about something everybody in the known universe cares about (like, what happens when we die?).

But I’m putting a good face on it and keeping my humor.   And to that end, I want to tell a funny story about book tours.  (At the end of this post, I will be giving my schedule for book readings for Heaven and Hell, in case you’re interested in coming to one to meet me and have me sign a book or … just get out for some fresh air….).

To make sense of the story, I should say that I’ve never yet met an author who loves or even likes doing the book tour thing (well, the first one can be exciting, though usually disappointing; the second mainly disappointing; and the third a real drag).    You fly to Philadelphia and go to a Barnes and Noble and read from the book to 28 people, stay in a hotel, fly to NYC, read the book to 34 people, stay in a hotel, fly to ….    Really?  And, well, what’s the point exactly?  Sometimes there will be big venues: say, for someone in religion, the National Cathedral; or whatever.  But basically, they’re an uninteresting grind.

And so the story.

I have a friend who is a southern novelist who lives in a town that is not exactly a writer’s colony, but there happen to be a lot of writers there, and they get together socially on occasion.  One time they had a good laugh about their very worst book tour stories.   The one that I thought was best involved a poet from the south

He has published a book of poems and is on a book tour, to bookstores and universities.  He and his agent, traveling with him, come to a university not far from here for a reading.   It is booked in a small auditorium, but when they arrive at the time for the reading, there are only two students there.  The fellow is taken aback, and doesn’t see what the point is.  But his agent says, Look we agreed we’d do this.  You better just go ahead with it.

So he goes up on the stage and introduces his book and starts reading some of the poems.

After about ten minutes, one of the two students stands up and says, “Hey, could you keep it down?  We’re trying to study in here!”

HA!!!    OK, so I never had it that bad.  But there’s really no point in these things any more, and so the vast majority of us just don’t do them.

For Heaven and Hell, due out March 31, my “live performances” are mainly in NC, with just a couple of (separate) events scheduled for Washington DC.     Here’s the schedule, in case you are interested and in the right area  (



All these other events are free and open to the public.  Just show up.

This last one requires tickets ($30) but it involves admission, lunch, and a $10 coupon toward purchase of the book.

  • Waynesville, NC. April 9, 12:00 pm.  Hart Theatre (at the Bistro), sponsored by Blue Ridge Books.  Lunch, book reading, and signing.  (828) 456-6000https://www.blueridgebooksnc.com/



What Did Ancient People Think (a) God Was?
Brief Video Promotion of Heaven and Hell



  1. Avatar
    flshrP  March 1, 2020

    Once your new book makes it to the NYT best sellers list (not a chance in Hell that it won’t–pun intended), it will definitely show up in the Extra Extra section of my local newspaper (the Sacramento Bee) Sunday edition. And I’m sure that the numerous book review articles on it will be there too.

    If your book stirs up a lot of controversy (highly likely), I expect to see pro and con articles in the Features section and probably in the Opinion section also.

  2. Avatar
    craig@corbettlaw.org  March 1, 2020

    Years ago I traveled a lot on business. I learned that the best I could do was either a good meal or a good night’s sleep, and rarely could I do both. It didn’t take too long before I hated business travel. I once had the same dinner meal flying on the same airline five nights in a row. And that was long before all the airport security stuff we have these days.

  3. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  March 1, 2020

    Given the digital formats that are offered these days (and online sales), it is good to see so many bookstores survive.

  4. Avatar
    nichael  March 1, 2020

    > […] in case you’re interested in coming to one to meet me and have me sign a book or …

    Just as an aside, since we’re talking about book-tour weirdness: What’s the greatest number of books you’ve signed at one time? Do you have a limit (I.e number of different books)?

    [For example, I assume I’m not the only reader on the ‘blog who has copies of essentially every book you’ve published. So if one of us were to go full fanboy and show up with a couple suitcases full of books — and a sackful of Great Courses guidebooks — would that be ok? 😉 ]

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 1, 2020

    Good story! Thanks for sharing it. Good luck. You deserve it after so much research and work.

  6. Avatar
    karynwithawhy  March 1, 2020

    Even so, I wish you were coming to NYC:).

  7. Avatar
    Douglasvanness  March 1, 2020

    For what it’s worth, I love book tours and go to as many as I can. It’s unfortunate more people don’t come out for them. I just saw Kim Stanley Robinson at Quail Ridge and I’m looking forward to seeing you at MacIntyre’s.

    What are your thoughts on doing more intimate settings? Occasionally, a book club I belong to is able to get a local author to attend when we read their book. Is that a better experience for the author?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 2, 2020

      Much better! But the problem is that most authors are (and have to be) extremely jealous about their time — especially if they are writing the next book, and most especially if they are writing the next book *and* have a day job (as most do). So intimate settings are *FAR* more enjoyable, but very hard to put on a schedule or justify in terms of how one budget’s one time. If I had infinite amounts of time, I’d do them constantly!

  8. John4
    John4  March 2, 2020

    Your book tour fiasco story, Bart, reminds me of the one about the seminarian who was scheduled to preach to a small, rural congregation. But, on the Sunday morning he was to do this, he was dismayed to look out over the congregation and see that there was only one, old, farmer in attendance….

  9. Tuskensp
    Tuskensp  March 2, 2020

    Will you have copies of your book to sell and sign when you are at Baylor on March 31?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2020

      I”m afraid not — since teh event is to honor Eldon Epp, I’m not going to be blowing my own whistle.

  10. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  March 2, 2020

    Actually, youtube is not bad for attracting an audience for a book. Since google owns youtube, if you structure your youtube presentation in such a way that a google search on relevant keywords will direct someone to your youtube presentation/ad/blurb for the book you could have lots of customers. Books have been written about search engine optimization (SEO) to take advantage of the google search strategies that might lead someone to what you want to promote on youtube. Your youtube video intro to this book was probably already designed with this sort of thing in mind.

  11. Avatar
    crt112@gmail.com  March 2, 2020


    Just direct us to the Youtube video of one of the book signings and we’ll check it out 🙂

  12. Avatar
    RDB5  March 8, 2020

    Mr Ehrman,
    Do you have any podcasts scheduled, pertaining to your new book? I’d pay to see you on Joe Rogan!! I know he’s not an academic but he ask’s great questions and get’s millions of views. Sam Harris maybe?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2020

      My PR team is working on it, but it’s almost impossible to get any media attention right now because of so much else going on.

  13. Avatar
    JacobSapp01  March 10, 2020

    I might try to get up to North Carolina next month for one of these events. Let us know if you are ever near Atlanta, GA. You have a small, but vocal group of readers among my close friends and associates!

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