How to Sell Books in America

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Baltimore writer Ron Tanner’s mobile hotel room.

Baltimore-based writer Ron Tanner could’ve tried to sell his book, From Animal House to Our House, the old-style way — doing readings in local bookstores,  begging friends and family to buy copies, making it required reading for his writing students at Loyola University Maryland. Instead, he decided to try something a little riskier:  a road trip.

Because the first thing a road trip requires is a sweet ride, Tanner spent six months retrofitting a Sprinter van into a mini-RV, complete with sink, stove, and tiny fold-out bed. Then he set out on the road, hoping to visit 66 (!) cities in 30 states over the next four months. The strategy that Tanner and his publisher came up with is a novel one:  they contact the best indie bookstore in each town, and then try to get a local historic preservation society to co-sponsor the reading. Then they contact local newspapers and radio to set up reviews, interviews, and other press. “The idea is to bring all of these forces together so that word-of-mouth carries the name of your book far and wide,” Tanner wrote on his blog. After the reading, if he’s not staying with friends, he camps out in a Wal-Mart parking lot thanks to his own tiny, mobile hotel room.

This DIY spirit is in keeping with Tanner’s book, which details his and his girlfriend’s attempts to restore a gorgeous Charles Village Victorian that had been wrecked by the fraternity that lived their previously. (Baltimore Fishbowl profiled the couple last year.)

You can track Tanner’s progress via his blog, or check out a map of the road trip so far here. He’s slated to read in Baltimore on August 25, as a part of the New Mercury Reading Series.  Check it out if you get a chance, since, as Tanner writes, this 66-city book tour might be the last of its kind: “The world is transitioning to something else when it comes to book promotion, although none of us knows quite that that something might be. I’ve heard people tout the podcast or the video-cast or the guest blog as the way to go, but can any of these virtual efforts truly replace the power and gratification of a face-to-face meeting with readers in a town you’ve traveled to for the express purpose of making something good happen when a writer meets curious strangers?”

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