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.

Book promotion…and the fun of an author tour

author tourWhen I think back over the years through all of the books that I’ve published – of different genres – it occurs to me that I’ve learned a lot about book promotion.  There are lots of things that authors themselves can and should (and need to) do to promote their books, but I’m here to tell you that since that first book of mine was published over 20 years ago, everything has changed.  With the advent of social media and online conversations, all bets are off and the tried and true methods for book promotion will never be the same.

That said, at the time when my first book was published, I had a romantic notion of the author tour.  And when my publisher told me that there would, indeed, be a tour, I was delighted – my 15 minutes of fame if Andy Warhol was right.  So, off I went to points west (since I live on the east coast everything is west) to be wined and dined and toured.  Okay, there was actually no wining and dining, but there were publicists who picked me up hotels and took me to media interviews.

I talked to print journalists who took photos and wrote bits and pieces; I did live television interviews; I did remote television interviews (where you talk into a camera lens as if you were really talking to the interviewer all the while with an earpiece that threatens to fall out); I did radio shows.  And, I might mention, I did all of this while increasingly pregnant.

Finding the appropriate and TV-friendly maternity wardrobe was something of a challenge I have to say.  Remember, if you’ve been reading my blog you realize that this backstory is about my first book which was published over 20 years ago – so we’re talking about the late 1980’s.  When it comes to fashion, need I say more?

I flew to Vancouver first and was immediately whisked to two television interviews.

life without end
My First Book

You may recall that the book was about organ transplantation and was actually a bit controversial since I didn’t just worship at the feet of the transplant surgeons whose God-like presence saved lives.  The book asked questions about the ethics of some of the decisions that were made and how they were made.  It made for great television to pit this lone health writer with real experience in the business against the powerful medical establishment.  (I’ll tell you a bit more about how even unwelcome controversy can promote a book in a later blog post.)

Then I was off to Toronto for more television, radio and print interviews.  Notice how the smaller media markets were skipped: all of this to save money on the author tour for which my publisher (and the Canadian government grants) paid.

But the question we need to ask today is this: was it useful to do this (fun  notwithstanding)?  I’m not sure.  There’s little doubt that publicity for this kind of non-fiction book can be generated this way, but this does not necessarily translate into sales, and the publicity machine has changed dramatically since that time.  All the rules and vehicles have been transformed.

In a piece written last year by Carolyn Kellogg for the LA Times book blog, she says this: “As the business of publishing changes, book tours increasingly look like bad risks.” She goes on to say that people these days are less inclined to be drawn to books via the “hype machine” rather they rely on recommendations from others, and we all know where these increasingly come from: our “friends” on social networking sites and searches we do for ourselves online.  This way, our book choices come from
custom-made recommendations for us.  And you know that in these days of social media – it really is all about “me.”  For better or for worse. The latest buzz on the author tour scene is what is referred to as the “blog tour.”  I’m currently researching
this for my new book due out in about six weeks.

An author can set up a blog tour through some blogger link-up sites or through what are now known as blog tour companies (who knew?).  A blog tour is simply a strategy whereby an author “visits” appropriate blogs (book blogs, blogs on the conten
of your book etc.) and either “guest blogs” or provides answers to questions posed by the blogger who owns the site and then this becomes a Q & A blog post for that blogger.

As one book publicity blog I like suggests: “A blog tour is simply one type of online publicity.”

I’ll let you know how the blog tour works out since it’s unlikely that there will be a real tour for this one!

FYI: Read about one author’s blog tour in the New York Times.