Joe is so right about the average sales authors make at book signings. In Canada the numbers are even lower. I've done well over 200 book signings and am considered one of the high sellers. In fact, I was told by Chapters & Indigo managers in Edmonton that I had the highest, most consistent sales at signings for two years straight out of all visiting authors.
It was damned hard work, though I never did the cross-country touring Joe did. And I'm glad. The cost of touring across provinces or states just doesn't make it worthwhile in the end, especially when most authors are responsible for those costs--or at least a large portion of them. If you have to do book signings, start at home and gradually spiral out, without going overboard--unless your publisher is paying for your tour.
I've watched so many authors at signings. I've even organized multi-author events at major trade shows and elsewhere. Most authors were lucky to sell 5 books. Many went home without a sale. My average was a bit higher than the number Joe quoted represented a decent signing. The difference was that I greeted everyone who walked into the bookstore. And I handed them a bookmark. I engaged their attention and enjoyed their company.
I used to do 40 signings a month for 3 months before Christmas, every year. That's a LOT of hours spent with little return. When you calculate hours, gas, travel etc, it didn't pay well. But I have to admit, I do miss the social aspect. I love meeting readers face to face. I loved doing signings. That's what separated me from most, I think.
Now I meet readers online. And I use creative ways to connect. Though I'll always be grateful to all the bookstores that hosted me and I miss the "action" (but not getting asked where the bathroom is), I can use my time far more wisely by promoting my ebooks.
By the way, my last online virtual book tour (for my debut romantic suspense Lancelot's Lady) was 118 stops in 14 days. It took me 3 months to organize and write all the posts. I guess I beat Joe's record. ;-) I know what he's saying about exhausting--even an online tour can leave you feeling like you've just crossed the country...on foot. lol However, I could never have visited 118 stores in 14 days--if I had I wouldn't have been coherent.
I've done mailouts--catalogues, bookmarks, announcements, invitations, etc to sell print books. Again, another time suck. I saw no real return on that investment or on the money spent on it. This is where the ebook revolution makes it so much easier for today's authors. Why spend 8 hours in a bookstore only to sell a dozen books or time and money preparing mailouts, when you can promote online and use social networks to get your name out there and sell books?
Authors who want to succeed must learn to change with the winds, adapt to new technologies and step out of their comfort zone. Take a risk, try something new.