By Martha Kennedy, Author of indieBRAG Honorees,
Martin of Gfenn, Savior and The Brothers Path
When you write a novel and follow the indie publishing route, you’re faced with marketing your work yourself. There are a lot of “experts” with advice for reaching your market. When I finished my most recent novel, The Brothers Path, a book about the Protestant Reformation, I was determined to market it as well as any “real” publisher would. I had personal reasons for this, “I’ll show you!” and “V is for Vendetta” reasons, but mostly because I believe people will like it. To like it, readers have to know about it, so…
The “experts” strongly advised indie authors to sign up for virtual book tours. This involves hiring a coordinator, who has extensive contacts with book-bloggers, to set up a “tour” for your book. The tour is a catalog of different book blogs that, for a period of time, feature your work in reviews, interviews, excerpts and prizes — in my case, it was free books — to those blog readers who win the raffle offered by a particular book blog. I believed the experts, and a virtual tour seemed like a good way to get my book read, to get reviews and to reach possible readers. I signed up for two.
The second tour did not happen. Life slammed the organizer just at the time they should have been promoting and setting up my book’s tour. It’s important to know this can happen and you might be out your investment or compelled to ask for a refund (which, hopefully, you get).
The organizer of the first tour did a good job pitching the book to bloggers, keeping them on task, Tweeting and posting on Facebook and everywhere else possible. She incentivized cross posting of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads by offering a prize to reviewers who did that.
Is a virtual book tour a good idea for you and your book? Well, here’s what I learned that might help you decide whether you want to take this direction for promoting your books.
1) The first thing to know is that leading up to a blog tour you will do a lot of work. I spent most of the summer writing interviews, guest posts, searching out interesting excerpts and shipping books to bloggers to review. The blog tour I bought offered me 10 blogs. The organizer set up 17. This was good because a couple of bloggers went AWOL.
2) Second, when you get a negative review, don’t dispute it. That’s pretty easy. My book received negative reviews and my only response was, “Thanks for hosting my book.” What else is there to say? Every writer knows that their work is not everyone’s “cup of tea.” Plus, the people who are hosting your books are all volunteers. Be kind.
3) You will engage with readers on the blogs that are hosting your tours. I found that to be the most fun part of the experience. We write novels and then have to find our readers. When I do, I’m very interested in what they think, what they see, how the story I’ve written affects them and this was the best part of the virtual book tour.
4) Fourth, not all book blogs are equal. When you sign up for a blog tour, you don’t have a choice about which book bloggers sign up to host your book. You can tell when you visit a book blog if it’s aimed at readers who would buy your book. I had a couple of experiences where I was a little embarrassed that my book was on a particular blogger’s blog. I have nothing against BDSM, but The Brothers Path is a LONG way from that world. 😉
As I experienced the virtual tour, I wondered why anyone would be a book blogger. It’s a lot of work for no money, though many book bloggers have “donate” buttons on their sites and paid advertising. Asking around I learned that (as I suspected) people write book blogs out of the goodness of their hearts. One friend, who is a book blogger, said it is “…to share my passions of reading and books… It has been a lifelong dream of mine to be able to interact with the authors of books I love. Being a book blogger gives me that opportunity.” Another book blogger says, “…usually, it’s because I think the author and the book are really wonderful and I want people to know it’s out there and maybe buy it.”
Any writer has to appreciate someone who loves to read and wants to share that love with others.
If you decide to sign on and pay for a blog tour for your novel, consider these things:
- Does your work appeal to a large audience? If it doesn’t, you might want to save your money and direct your energy to more one-on-one methods of book promotion. The Brothers Path does not appeal to a wide audience, something I learned through this experience.
- Do you have the time to write guest posts and interviews? Do you have time to sort through your work for intriguing excerpts? Do you have time to interact with readers and bloggers as your tour progresses?
- Do you want to pay the rather hefty postage needed to ship books to bloggers for reviews ahead of the tour and giveaways at the end? Postage adds up, especially when you aren’t given enough lead time to ship media mail. I easily spent more than $100 in postage to bloggers who would review my book and to the winners of giveaways.
- Are you psychologically prepared for reviews from people who clearly would like to have read a completely different book from yours? Can you accept this graciously?
I doubt I will sign on for another virtual book tour. Including postage, I spent more than $500. It often seemed that I had paid someone money for the privilege of writing blog posts about my own work and interviewing myself and, the blog tour did not lead to sales.
Book bloggers I approached directly were very happy to write about my novel, writing thoughtful and intelligent reviews. One dedicated five weeks of her blog to me and my work.
Ironically, and contrary to my expectations and everything I’d learned from “experts,” I’ve had more success promoting my work conventionally — in bookstores, press-releases, book-signings, readings. And, on the very day I got one of the least comprehending reviews during the virtual book tour, I also learned that my novel had been acquired by a university library in Canada.
There is no question that bloggers can help sell a book. One of our earliest B.R.A.G.Medallion Honorees became a best seller – the author said bloggers picked it up and word of mouth got it going.
I think one of the best points you made was to know your audience. I think an author might be better served on finding a blogger who has a large following of READERS interested in your genre. I emphasize readers because, I do believe many authors spend too much time and money with other authors. Many writers groups and conferences can be helpful in giving marketing advice but most are about writing which I imagine authors already do. Reaching readers is your goal. Book signings and appearances sell books. Many more readers will buy your books at a signing- especially if you can offer it at a discount. Perhaps you can leave a flyer in each book asking them to: leave reviews, tell friends and, if they like your book, asking libraries or local stores to carry it- ask for their support.
I totally agree with Geri’s comment above.
As a book bloggers myself, often times I have authors telling me that making an appearance on my book blog has helped them reach a wider audience.
I am (Layered Pages) no longer participating in book tours. But starting in 2017, a fellow book blogger and I are coming up with an idea that will spark new interest in how book bloggers market authors and the books we promote and talk about. It will be a wonderful project and will be creative. Something that has never been done before.
Martha, thank you for sharing such a insightful and thoughtful-provoking subject with us!
I had a good experience with an “Itching for Books” blog tour with my first book. The cost was $50 then (early 2015) for a two-week tour with 10 – 14 blog stops. It is a lot of work with the interviews, guest posts, excerpts just as this blog indicates. I also had a prize package for the contest that brought my total cost to about $85. Increased book sales made up for about half of that cost and I received reviews from all the bloggers on both goodreads and amazon. (I attributed all sales to this tour at the time as I didn’t have any other promos going on.) I would likely do this again but am unsure of how Amazon’s new review policy works with blog tours. I read one interpretation that these would now fall under the banned “paid for” review rules and could be removed — even though giving free books in exchange for a review has been exempted otherwise. I am having nearly as much luck working with bloggers on my own–it’s just a more sporadic schedule than condensing things into a two-week period.
Geri, really good points. I don’t spend any time with other other writers. Nice people but they tend to talk about writing which can be a huge buzz-kill, but the problem of reaching readers remains. So, Stephanie, if you need a guinea pig for your new idea, I’m definitely in!
I learned a LOT about The Brothers Path when the university library of a Mennonite college in Canada snarked it up. That told me things about my audience I really needed to know, as did the negative and neutral reviews I got on the blog tour. They were far more informative to me as an author looking for readers than were the positive reviews.
That brought home the question every writer has to answer (I think every writer, but I could be wrong) “Do I write for the sake of the story I’m telling or do I write to sell books to people?” I don’t see one as a “higher calling” than the other.
I’m doing a book signing and reading tomorrow evening. I’m selling the books at a deep discount partly because I’m going to be nervous and I’m no good at math if I’m flustered. I’m taking brochures and bookmarks as well as books.
I’ve learned, also, that no matter how small your community is (and mine is tiny) the people around you will care about what you do.
You brought up some good points about book tours. They are not for every one, that is for sure. They are a lot of work, especially if you were to coordinate it as well. At least seasoned tour coordinators can help with that. There is a more hidden benefit of virtual tours that most people don’t think about, SEO (search engine optimization). Every post that is posted on blogs/websites make the author and book easier to search for on Google, Bing, etc. Each time someone, tweets, Pins, posts to Facebook, Google+, etc, that improves your SEO ranking even more.
Full disclosure: I am a virtual book tour coordinator myself.
That’s a lot to take on, wow. What a great post, I always like to know more about other bloggers and the work behind the scenes!
Very helpful article for my site