While we don’t offer to do virtual book tours, we do suggest you look into them as one of your book promotion strategies. For many genres, they can be an effective way to synergize online exposure with traditional promotion efforts. We will explain how they work below, and then suggest a few companies or DIY resources that we feel can be recommended. Please remember that every author has a unique experience in the publishing game (with promotion companies as well as agents, editors, and publishers), so our recommending outside companies is not a guarantee that you will have a perfect experience or that the companies will follow the exact procedures outlined below.
Explanation of Services & Process
What is a Virtual Book Tour? When we hear the term “book tour,” we think of authors flying or driving from city to city, stopping in at book signings and libraries along the way. We might also think of long hours, fatigue, and expense. For many authors, the costs and time committed to book tours result in good PR and good relations with bookstores (which might increase their word-of-mouth sales), but not necessarily good return on financial investment (due to travel costs).
A virtual book tour helps with this dilemma in that it takes place on the Internet and removes the travel costs from the equation. An author’s book is featured on blogs which reach readers all across the country. This creates name recognition for the author and title recognition for the book, and it all happens in the comfort of your home or office (or your pajamas).
1. Virtual book tours, or VBTs (or blog tours), allow the author to harness the power of the Internet. More and more people are doing their shopping online every day, and they are utilizing search engines to research the items they wish to buy. When your book is mentioned in several places online, it becomes easier for the buyer to find and the search engines to pull up. Reading bloggers’ reviews invites the buyer to become curious about your book, and it creates a great word-of-mouth recommendation system to carry the news about your release to places you might not ordinarily reach.
2. VBTs are very cost effective. Consider the price of gas or a plane ticket, and add in the cost of meals and a hotel. A physical book tour can be prohibitively expensive, but a virtual book tour can be carried out for merely the cost of review copies of your book (plus shipping), which you mail to reviewers as a courtesy and a thank-you, and the minimal fees charged by your tour coordinator.
3. A VBT is a great way to make new friends and establish new business contacts. An author can’t always get out to conferences or participate in author readings and events, but the Internet, using the vehicle of the VBT, helps you establish similar relationships with potential buyers who, very often, end up becoming your friends and increasing your networking opportunities in the future.
1. First, promotion companies will talk with you about your book and determine your genre and target audience. Then they’ll discuss how many books you can afford to send out (in addition to ebooks for those reviewers willing to read via electronic means). This determines how many reviews will be lined up—how many stops along your tour. Sometimes your publisher will provide the book copies, and sometimes that’s your responsibility. After you’ve talked with your publisher to determine who will be in charge of shipping out the books and how many you’ll be shipping, you can move to the next step.
2. Your chosen company will go through an extensive list of book review bloggers and find candidates whose interests are in line with your genre (if this is your second tour but for a new book on a similar topic to your first, they should find new reviewers so that you’re always gaining a fresh audience). They’ll contact the most relevant bloggers and inquire as to their ability and desire to read your book. For all those who respond positively, your coordinator will then set up a date on which their review of your book will appear (typically six weeks after the books are shipped, to give the blogger time to read the book). The schedule is generally stretched over a one-month time period. This creates an Internet buzz that doesn’t die down very quickly.
3. Next your promotion company will send you, or your publisher, the list of names and addresses of the bloggers who will be participating in your tour. You or your publisher is then responsible to ship the books out in a timely fashion. For estimates on this process if you’re providing the books, add your author price for the book to the cost of the padded envelope (usually around .75) and the cost of mailing (when you use media mail, generally around $2.70). It’s important that you not overextend yourself. You want your book to have a good showing, but you should never bankrupt yourself on your promotion. Once the books are sent, the promotions company’s coordinator checks with the reviewers to make sure the books were received.
4. Two weeks prior to the start of the tour, your coordinator will send out an e-mail to the bloggers with the jpeg of the cover of your book and the purchase link. They’ll also ask if any of them would like to interview you about your book in addition to their straight book review. If so, bloggers send the questions to your company, and they’ll forward them on to you for inclusion in the blog post. (If they send you questions from a blogger, you would be wise to reply with the answers in a timely manner. Not doing so could affect the momentum of your tour, as the bloggers will be waiting on you.)
5. Your coordinator should remind all bloggers of their review dates and make sure they don’t have any other questions. They should also provide them with review/interview guidelines covering what makes a good review (if they do not already follow such protocols, though most already do). A few days before the review is scheduled, they might send out a reminder e-mail, and then another the night before. When the review link is live, they should forward it to you so you can post it on your site or blog.
Most of your reviews will be positive, but they may not be 100% glowing each time; however, you don’t necessarily want all your reviews to be glowing. The savvy buyer doesn’t trust a long string of shimmering reviews; they want to know what they’re getting, warts and all (which is why media reviews are so much more effective than advertising—people are more likely to believe them). (However, if a reviewer really hates a book, they might be asked to return it rather than do the review so it can be forwarded on to a replacement reviewer.)
You should make sure to personally visit each blog and leave a comment thanking the reviewer for their review. No matter their feelings on your book, be polite. Even if the reviewer didn’t care for an aspect of your book, thank them for their review and for sharing their honest opinion. If you become defensive, you will undo the hard work you put into your promotion.
Note: Though 10 stops is an available service at some companies, we suggest trying at least 20 stops, as that seems to be the number at which Internet buzz starts to make a difference.
Resources we recommend exploring:
For LDS books with a local niche market:
Virtual Book Tours: Harnessing the Power of the Internet, by Tristi Pinkston