Books

These days, authors go on virtual tours, too

Blue van Meer is an impressive young woman – an extremely well-read Harvard student. You can find out more on her MySpace and Friendster pages.

Funny thing is, Blue isn't real. She's the heroine of Asheville native Marisha Pessl's 2006 debut novel, “Special Topics in Calamity Physics.”

Blue's MySpace page is just one example of how technology is transforming book marketing.

Not long ago, marketing often meant author tours. Authors traveled from city to city for signings at local bookstores. Lucky ones scored interviews with local media. The unlucky gave readings to empty chairs.

Now, authors are expected to create Web sites and blogs. They e-mail fans with news about their latest books and chat with book clubs by telephone. They make “virtual” author tours by appearing on other Web sites and blogs. Pessl, for instance, has an interview on bookslut.com.

They're even doing videos. In one YouTube video, you can meet the eccentric mother of “Glass Castle” author Jeannette Walls.

In another, Minnesota author Dennis Cass promotes the new paperback edition of his book, “Head Case,” with a hilarious send-up of what authors have to do these days to get their books noticed.

In the video, Cass explains his meager marketing plan to someone on the other end of the phone: “I'm also going to do a big e-mail blast: ‘That book I wrote last year is out again.' Just send that to everybody – select all,” he says. “No, I never did a Web site. I know, you need to have a Web site …”

The logic of Internet marketing is pretty obvious. It saves money.

But there's a downside, says Betsy Thorpe, who directs marketing for Charlotte's Novello Festival Press. “Older readers, who make up a huge proportion of authors' audiences, do not read blogs.”

Also, chatting online just isn't as satisfying as meeting someone. “I think people who are really in love with their authors really do want to meet them,” Thorpe says.

The good news is that author tours aren't dead yet.

In Charlotte, you'll find the most book signings at Park Road Books and Joseph-Beth Booksellers.

Park Road still averages about 20 a month, says co-owner Sally Brewster, though the store's less likely these days to get big national names. “Honestly, there's no reason. There's no reason to send John Grisham out,” Brewster says.

Joseph-Beth, in SouthPark, averages about seven signings a month, half what it offered a couple years ago.

But the store's trying to book some hot names for fall, marketing coordinator Jamie Thurman says. “We've put in for some really big ones.”

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