Authors have found an innovative way to use the Web to promote themselves and their work. Virtual author tours, or book blog tours, are fast becoming an inexpensive way to meet new readers and further develop your fan base.
Blog tours allow authors to post content on a variety of sites during their heaviest marketing season. It’s a great way to get your name up in Google searches, and introduce yourself to new readers. It’s not difficult, but it is time-consuming, and any author who goes this route should be prepared to give up a little writing and a family time to fulfill blogging obligations. Don’t let that time element scare you. With proper planning – and short-term tours – any author can manage to do it.
Standard items you need for your tour:
* One-page bio. You can use the one you have in your media kit, but make certain it is written in Web-friendly language.
* Q&A. Make a list of the most common questions you get from both readers and interviews. Intertwine a few questions unique to yourself, or allow you to offer up unique tidbits about yourself and your writing. Answer them and you’re good to go.
* Columns. Have five to 10 columns about anything – writing, life, balancing career with family, your latest FAB review. Use one column per blog submission. Use the ones that are best suited for a particular blog. For instance, you will want to send a column about writing to a blog about writing. You want a good variety of columns because you don’t want to be too repetitious. Readers want fresh content, and you don’t want them to get bored by reading the same copy on different sites. There will be times when you need to write a new column, but at least you will have a stash to get your started.
* Audio interviews. If you have them, use them, giving credit to the group or business that conducted the segment.
* Book trailers. Be sure these are up and ready on YouTube, and forward the EMBED code to your tour hosts.
* High- and low-resolution JPEGS of yourself and your cover art. Try to include a few different poses of yourself, maybe one relaxed at home and a studio shot. Adjust the size so they can easily email, or post them in the media section of your Web site for downloading.
* A list of blog tour stops. Post this on your Web site, blog, MySpace, Tagged, Ning, Facebook, and give copies to your blog tour hosts. Also send out to your listserve or everyone in your address book.
Leave yourself open for unique items requested by various Web sites. If a site receives thousands of hits per day, you will want to work a little harder for them than a site with 12 hits. Be sure to save all documents with your name and the content. For example: AngelaWilson.Q&A.doc, AngelaWilson.mug.JPEG, etc.
Don’t sweat it if you don’t have everything now. Just get the basics together and add to your tour folder when you can. Remember that Web 2.0 will demand audio and video elements – the two most lacking – for future audiences. Start off with at least three unique columns and add to those when you can.
When venturing out into the blogosphere for the first time, start slow. Plan a three-month tour. Secure space on blogs every week during that time. Check the sites each day to be certain your sponsors post your items. Reply to any comments submitted by readers. The personal touch goes a long way with people in an age of impersonal communication.
Send thank you notes to your sponsors, as well as updated newsletters that tell them where you will be featured. Ask them to post that as well, so readers can follow you throughout the blogosphere.
Do not pay to be placed on a blog. If someone wants cash, get site statistics and feedback from other authors before you cash in. Google the sites and see uninhibited feedback about them; don’t just trust the owners’ word.
Some authors take whatever blog space they can get – which is not a bad idea when you are first starting out. Other authors, both experienced and new, have specific criteria for blogs that feature them, including a certain number of hits per day and demographics. (See Cheryl Kay Tardiff’s blog about her criteria.) When first starting out, some big-name blogs may be reticent to host a small-time author, e-published or self-published novelist. Be prepared to take what you can get, then build on that as your career grows.
Not a blogger but excited at the prospect of using this free interactive tool? Don’t jump into the blogosphere on a tour. It is hard, detailed, sometimes mundane work. It can be overwhelming for authors who don’t have the experience with the programs. (Yes, they are out there!) First, start a blog at a free service like Blogger or WordPress, play around, see how it works and your comfort level with it. Also read other blogs and see what they are saying. If you don’t like to blog, or don’t want to learn how, consider hiring a virtual PR firm. There are those now that specialize only in virtual tours, and work to play your columns and excerpts on sites that fit your target market.
Only experienced bloggers should venture into contests while on tour. The best ideas I’ve seen so far come from authors in different genres. Delia Latham and Michelle Gagnon asked readers to post comments on all blogs where they were touring. Then, the authors collected names and emails from those posts, put them in a hat and chose a winner. Another author sent readers directly to their guestbook, and chose a winner based on signatures during tour time. As a virtual tour host at Pop Syndicate, I can safely say the most streamlined method is using a guestbook. That places all contest entries in one place, instead of over several blogs on the Web.
Do not expect your virtual tour host to handle the contest. Most blogs and sites will not handle details of a contest, but will be happy to post contest details. Write your own contest copy and allow hosts to tweak as necessary for their site.
You may not realize the pay off immediately, but you should see additional activity to your MySpace, Facebook and Web site during the tour and the first few months afterward. You should also have a new network of contacts for future tours, book deals or even critique groups. Track your tour in a spreadsheet so you can see what sites were beneficial and which ones may have been a waste of time. Even heavily-trafficked sites can be duds if they don’t fit your niche.
If you want your blog tour to be a success, then you have to devote the time to it that it deserves. Enlist the help of friends and family, who can easily respond to comments or other general items while you handle the tough stuff. Also check out listings for virtual tour companies and, if the budget allows, think about hiring someone to do the set up so you can concentrate on networking and sales – and writing.