The virtual book tour: virtually useful?

Anyone who thinks that public communication about anything and everything has not changed much in the past few years is clearly living a life of denial.  Organizations these days have learned this lesson – often the hard way. Now, in these days of do-it-yourself book marketing, authors need more than ever to be vigilant for new opportunities.

I’ve talked in the past about how book marketers at publishing companies seem to have a different role than marketers of other products and services.  There is an urgent need for anyone who writes these days – and expects to be published – to be able to articulate clearly how the work can be marketed and to whom.  And this isn’t just for self-publishers.

Traditional publishers these days are even requiring book proposals to have fairly well-developed section on exactly how this book might be marketed.  This means that keeping abreast of the new approaches is vital for writers.

We’ve talked at length about book trailers and have yet to come to any conclusion about their effectiveness.  The next newest approach to book promotion is the virtual author tour.  It is much on my mind this week as I tackle such a plan for my latest book.  So I thought I’d let my blog readers in on the research I’m doing and the action I’m taking.  Maybe some of my work might help you.

Let’s start by defining the virtual book tour.  Any kind of a book tour is a marketing technique that puts a writer front and center in public communication vehicles.  In a traditional book tour, a writer moves from venue to venue giving interviews to media personalities – radio, television and print (newspapers & magazines).  The traditional book tour (effectiveness notwithstanding) is generally predicated on the notion that the writer will tour around and talk about the book.  In a virtual book tour, the tour is virtual (the book usually not!).

And there is a whole cottage industry that has sprung up around the notion of virtual book tours (also known as blog tours).  There are even tour coordinators.  Who knew? Precisely.  The problem in my view is this: no one seems to know much about virtual book tours except the people organizing and implementing them.  Excuse me for a moment, but I thought that the main purpose was to publicize a book to potential readers.  If readers don’t know about virtual book tours or are not tuned into those pieces of social media where they take place, then what’s the point?  I digress…

In his book Plug Your Book: Online Book Marketing for Authors, Steve Weber provides some useful guidelines for setting up these tours.  In his view, these so-called blog tours are “especially valuable for authors unable to travel, uncomfortable with public speaking [remember my discussion about author readings?] or whose dispersed audience makes touring impractical.”[1]  Of course, not only are book tours often impractical, they are expensive and the ROI (return on investment) is often not substantial.

My virtual book tour (because I told my publisher I’d do one) is currently in the planning stages. I’m following Weber’s advice and am doing the following:

  1. I am first building a list of target blogs that might actually be read by potential readers of my book.  I’m looking for content that is congruent with the kinds of things these readers might be interested in – since this is in the historical fiction genre, that’s where I’m looking.  In this case, much of what I’m finding is book blogs – and there are hundreds of thousands of them.  This is going to take a bit of time.  If I were trying to organize a blog tour for one of my earlier non-fiction works, I think the job might be easier.  The smaller the niche, the easier it is to find blogs whose owners might be interested in guest bloggers on their topic
    are (especially if the guest blogger is an expert).
  2. The second step that I’m going to take is to evaluate these blogs.  I need to find out if it’s worth my time to even approach them.  If the blog in question has only a trickle of readers, it’s probably not going to be worth it to me.  I need to find those blogs spaces where large numbers of my readers accumulate.  Weber suggests looking at not only traffic volume, but also reader involvement – this is what I’d call online engagement. (He provides details on how to accomplish this.)
  3. While I’m doing the above, I’m working on the excerpt that I’ll offer to the blog and the Q & A author interview that some bloggers might be interested in using rather than sending along their own questions.

All throughout this process, I’m continuing to question the effectiveness of this marketing strategy.  I’ve been looking for stats on this, but like in the case of the book trailer, no research yet exists on the effectiveness of these tours.  Maybe one of my grad students will take this on?   Hmm?  Anyone out there listening??


[1]
Weber, Steve. 2007.  Plug your book: Online book marketing for authors. Stephen W.
Weber, p. 87.

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