Outside of writing the kind of book that a publisher decides smells enough like a blockbuster to invest serious money in, I agree that there is very little an author can do to boost his/her sales significantly.
But I think Kelly is being a tad dishonest when he talks about adopting a policy of doing only the promotional things that cost nothing and take no time away from writing. You don’t choose to do interviews because they’re fun. You get interviews because you’ve sent out press releases. Writing a good press release and, no doubt, assembling a press kit with professional photos (or jpgs) of yourself and your book cover, takes time and money. Gathering contact information for your local and area newspapers takes time. Stuffing the envelopes or sending the faxes takes time.
These things, however, are fairly simple to do. They don’t take MUCH time or MUCH money, but this is _not_ the complete laissez faire attitude the previous post seems to suggest.
Also, I think giving new authors the impression that book signings just magically happen is doing a disservice to them, as well. As a mid-list or brand new author, no one calls bookstores on your behalf and sets up signings. That means you, the professionally published book author, has to take the time to find out contact information for your local bookstores and make the arrangements yourself. You either cold call, or have to have the chutzpah to walk up to the information desk and ask for the person who handles their events coordinating. Then you have to sell yourself as a good bet – a money maker. A lot of the time, in my experience, at least, people hang up on you. I’ve had to do a lot of research to discover how to pitch myself – suggesting that I speak to a science fiction book club (if they even have one!) in conjunction to a signing, offering to do signings with a number of other authors, etc. (You’re welcome, Kelly.)
I know some authors who have set up their own book tours. I’ve never tried that, but I usually try to get a signing if I happen to be traveling to a new area of the country around the time when my book comes out. SF/F bookstores tend to be more welcoming but they’re few and far between. I’ve had a very famous Arizona independent bookstore suggest that I needed to pay THEM, if I wanted to have a signing in their store. Luckily, I was able to book the local Barnes & Noble instead.
All this, I should be added, can not happen the day your book hits the shelf. Most bookstores need several months lead time. For instance in June, I booked signings in October and November.
These things are fun, sure, but they take planning and a lot of work. They don’t just happen.
Plus, book signings don’t do you much good if no one shows up – or at least they stop being fun (not to mention the fact that you won’t be invited back for your next book). You need to promote your book signing after you arrange it, too, even if that just means compiling an email list of friends and begging them to come. Still... that takes time, planning, and, if you opt for something printed and mailed, money.
Going to science fiction conventions is fun, too, but they also cost money in registration fees (although many will waive or reduce fees if you volunteer for programming,) hotel costs, and expenses. In the Minneapolis/St. Paul area there are a ridiculous number of well-attended local conventions. So, it’s easy for Kelly to forget that there are lots of writers out there who have to travel a great distance to go to conventions. Even most larger metropolitan areas don’t have six or seven conventions a year that draw thousands of attendees.
Also, as someone who has traveled outside the safety of my own fandom, it’s not as easy to make a huge impression on strangers when you’re in a hotel room far from home with no friends to hang out in the hall with or who can introduce you to the “cool people.” Conventions like that start to feel like hard work. Plus, if you’re serious about using conventions as a marketing tool, you have to decide about advertising in the program book (which costs money and time and energy to design ads), and about things like whether or not you want to print up magnets or business cards or other promotional material to leave around the convention or hand to people as you meet them. When you start adding these things to travel, etc., conventions can become a pretty pricey investment.
A good convention can be wicked good fun, but it’s not free. It’s also a time investment. If you have a family, taking a weekend away can be a hardship or at least a hassle. Especially if the convention is not local. Plus, even if those aren’t considerations of yours, you still can’t just sit like a lump on a panel and expect people to rush to the dealers’ room afterwards to snap up copies of your book. You have to be interesting, or at least informed. There are many panels for which I actually do research, even when the subject matter is something I’m fairly familiar with. At the very least, I prepare some questions I can ask fellow panel members if we get stuck in one of those “now what do we talk about?" moments. Sure, you could say that’s the moderator’s job, but offering up a question or two can make you seem engaged and enthusiastic, especially if the question is a good one.
I agree that an author needs to seriously consider what they want to spent their time and money doing, but you should know that when Kelly says he’s doing very little, he’s actually doing a lot.