Saturday, January 29, 2011

Going on Tour? Just go Online With a Blog Tour

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Book tours have always been a great way to connect authors to readers, but with the travel and expense, it’s not something every writer can afford do on their own. It’s also not uncommon for publishers to only send their “bigger” authors on tour, since those are the folks who will draw the largest audience to the store, making it effective as well as cost-effective. Unless you’re one of those breakout debut bestsellers, odds are it’ll be a few books before you’re sent on tour.

My debut novel, The Shifter, came out in 2009. I did four local bookstore signings. One had about 25 people, one had around 15, one had maybe 10 and one had six. That’s actually not bad for an unknown author, but add them all up and that’s 51 people I spoke to about my book. For the second book, Blue Fire, I did 52 blog tour stops. Even if no one but the people hosting the blog tour read my posts, I was already ahead.

So what exactly is a blog tour?

What you’re reading now. An author writes a guest post about a topic, or does an interview with the blogger, and they post it. The author does a lot of these guest posts during a set period of time, usually the month of that book’s release. Readers can “stop by” the blog on their schedule and follow the author from blog to blog. Author and blogger both publicize the tour, drawing new readers to each.  

How do you arrange a blog tour?

Since I already blog about writing, I simply asked my readers and fellow bloggers if they’d be willing to host me on my tour. I also asked my Facebook friends. Most of them are book lovers, so they have blogs that will help me connect to other book lovers. My only cost was postage to send out some ARCs (advance reader copies) to those who were doing reviews.

Most of the people I contacted I “knew” in some fashion (even if it was just a friend on Facebook or someone I saw frequently on a blog or forum) so it didn’t feel as awkward as reaching out to a total stranger. But those friends offered suggestions for other blogs I might want to contact, so I grit my teeth, sent an e-mail, and figured, why not? Worst case they ignore me. But most of them were happy to help out.

How do you pick which blogs?

Book reviewers, other writers, readers who talk about books are all good prospects. If you spend any time online, you may even read a lot of these blogs already. Beyond that, look at your book. If there’s a tie in with, say, cooking or horseback riding, look for blogs about those. You can talk about that aspect of the book and how it inspired you.  

What happens next?

Once you set up your tour, then the hard work begins. You have to write all those posts. Getting them done ahead of time is important, because it takes more time than you’d expect, and you’ll probably have other things to worry about when the book actually releases. You also want to be courteous to your host blogger and get them the post ahead of time so they can schedule it. And don’t forget to include the cover of your book, an author photo, links to your website, blog, and a place to buy your book, as well as a short blurb about the book, and an author bio. Not every blog will use all of it, but it’s nice to offer options.

What do you write about?

Once someone agreed to host me, I asked if they had an idea for the topic. They know their blog readers, so they’d know best what might interest them. As with any kind of blogging, you want to provide content someone wants to read about. No one wants promotional fluff. Most bloggers had an idea and made great suggestions. Those who didn’t said I could pick.

Now, this is where it got tricky. With 50+ blog posts over 30 days, I had to make sure that I wasn’t saying the same things over and over. Each post had to be different so those following the tour would get fresh material every day. The pure guest posts (like this one) were easy. If someone wanted the same topic, like say world building, I made sure I approached each post from a unique angle and covered different things.

Interviews were the hardest ones, because I had no control over the questions asked. For any similar questions, I tried to angle my answers so they focused on a different aspect. For example, if someone asked where I got the idea for the book (very common) I picked one part of where the idea came from instead of going through the whole story every time.  

How did you keep track of it all?

I used a spreadsheet and listed the blogger, the address for the blog, the date, the topic, and the status. Trying to keep it all straight wasn’t easy, and having that spreadsheet made a world of difference. It was also a good way to make notes on folks who still needed to get back to me or who needed ARCs sent. 

How do you promote the blog tour?

I had a master schedule on my blog, plus each day my blog linked to the blogs on the tour stop for that day. To show the different topics, I gave a little description so folks knew this post on point of view was not the same as the point of view post from last week. I also linked them to Facebook, and announced them on a writer’s forum I frequented (Absolute Write). The bloggers I visited usually promote the tour as well, as they wanted to drive new readers to their blog. Just use websites, Facebook, Twitter, whatever networking tool you have available to you.  

What do you do on tour day?

Another important aspect of the tour is to follow up. The whole point is to connect with readers, so make sure I check back and read the comments, join the discussion, answer questions, and be a part of that blog’s community. If the blog offers the “e-mail me on new comments” feature, use it. That way you can keep up with what’s going on and not have to constantly check. It’s also helpful to arrange a schedule for checking back so you know every two hours (or whatever you pick) you click over to that day’s posts, or even the last few days if the comments are still active. Bookmarking the tour in its own folder makes it a lot easier to follow up. If there's a subscribe to comments option, take it, as that way you'll be notified of comments.

Isn’t a blog tour an awful lot of work?

Absolutely. My average post runs about 700 words (this one is actually twice that), and over 50 blogs, that’s 35,000 words. I wrote blog posts every day for weeks, several a day, to get them all done. But here’s the thing—all this work is going to reach more readers than if I went store to store. I’d never be able to arrange 50 book signings, and if I did, I’d spend months going to them. Better still, these posts are on the web now, so months and even years after this tour is over, folks will continue to stumble upon that post. The promotion never ends as long as that blog is active.  

Wait a second, if this is about promotion, why haven’t you said much about the book?

Remember that “no one wants to read promotion fluff?” That’s why. Would you have stayed with me this long if all I was doing was talking about my book? But hopefully I’ve given you helpful and interesting information, and you might click over to see what my book is all about. Most bloggers provide a little bio and some information about their guest bloggers, so there’s probably a little something about my book at the end of the post.

I’m finding the blog tour a fun and effective way to reach out to readers and let them know I have a book out there. It was hard work, but it was work I got to do on my own schedule in my own way.

And I didn’t have to stay in any cheap motels to do it.

Originally posted during the Blue Fire blog tour at Anne R. Allen's blog


  1. Janice: I found you through Jemi Fraser. I'm so glad I did!

    First, I clicked on your book cover, and then read an excerpt, first paragraph of The Shifter. "Stealing eggs is a lot harder than stealing the whole chicken. With chickens, you just grab a hen, stuff her in a sack and, make your escape. But for eggs, you have to stick your hand under a sleeping chicken. Chickens don't like this. They wake all spooked and start pecking holes in your arm, or your face, if it's close. And they squawk something terrible."

    I'm hooked! I look for voice, for lean and compelling prose, including dialogue that isn't peppered with annoying tags--adverbs are the killer. This is an awesome first paragraph, and I'm ready to read the book. I see this one's on Nook, which I have. I can afford to read more books this way.

    Next: I'm so glad to find this excellent post on blog tours. I've been told by my publisher to be prepared soon to begin one. At my age--I'm 70, and this is my debut book, a memoir--this is all very intimidating! But being basically shy and unable to travel (I have a disabled daughter I take care of), I would rather do a blog tour through the Internet. I agree--no cheap motels to stay in!! I've heard a blog tour is a lot of work, but hey, you and others survived!

    I'm printing this post for my personal use, hope you don't mind. And I'll be back to browse through what looks like an excellent blog for writers!!
    Ann Best, Author

  2. Thanks so much for the info! I have to admit I'd seen blog tour posts and had skipped reading them, thinking they were saying the same basic thing over and over ("buy my book, buy my book," in diff ways). But I see there's more to it than that, and the posts aren't all the same.

    A lot of writers are introverts--like me--and while I like connecting to people in real life, I LOVE the idea of doing it all in cyberland! Traveling and moteling is expensive, too. Great idea. Rah!

  3. This has been one of the most popular posts in my archives. I'm glad you're reposting it here. It's the perfect overview. Anybody with a book to sell needs to know the blog tour basics. Thanks for writing it!

  4. Thanks you very much for explaining this! I've been following your blog for a little while, and I always see the "originally posted at _____ during the Blue Fire blog tour" line. The idea of a blog tour seems so intimidating, but you've accomplished so much!

  5. Dig your site. Will put it on the Mother of All Blogrolls, for IT IS WORTHY.

  6. Ann: Welcome to the blog! And thanks so much. I'll have another post on blog tours on Monday, with more detailed result figures. Plus links to the other posts I did so there's more info there to help you on your tours (and grats on the memoir!) Print away, that's what the blog is for.

    Carol: I'm sure some tours are like that, but not all. It's a tough balance since you want folks to buy your book, but you can't really say that. Cyberland is great for connecting with other writers and readers. It's so easy.

    Anne: Good to hear! Thanks again for having me over there and suggesting the topic.

    Erika: Most welcome. I've been running the tour posts on the weekends.

    Epicblackcar: Thanks!

  7. The only problem with this method is that it’s time consuming and there’s definitely a thin line between promoting your product and being helpful.

  8. Oh it is. I spent a ton of work on mine. But it's a great option for some authors. If you don't have anything helpful to offer the blogs you'd be touring on, it's probably not a good option for you.

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  15. How far in advance do you schedule a tour?

    1. I'd suggest three to six months. Many bloggers schedule posts far in advance, so you can't assume they'll have a spot for you when you need it. You'll also want plenty of time to get everything written.