First, thank you for trying to get the word out about your books. There are so many avenues to try that it seems impossible to figure out what the ‘magic bullet’ is. I have heard so many authors bemoan the time commitment required to do publicity when all they want to do is write the next story. That is understandable (and I sympathize because I can’t seem to find enough hours in the day to do everything I want to) BUT those authors who are most successful are ones that have the greatest reach. Many authors have figured out that having street teams to help publicize their work (by writing reviews, telling their friends or strangers about their favorite new story, sharing new releases, requesting books at their local bookstore or library, etc.) gets the word out to the maximum number of people in the shortest amount of time. Others have a newsletter that actually gets opened (often because it has a cute headline or a yummy picture or a giveaway). Some interact regularly on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest. There are those who have great blogs that talk about topics of interest or have pictures of interest or recipes.
When trying to publicize your work, one avenue to try is a blog tour. You may take the extremely frugal route and try to do it yourself (make sure you have a LOT of time and patience) or you may wish to use an established company and avoid reinventing the wheel. Make sure that you look around the blogosphere and check out different companies, talk to your colleagues and find out what they have been most happy and most disappointed with, and find out whether they believe it has been a good return on investment. If you follow a particular blog or you notice an interesting post, visit the tour company or companies being hosted and take a look at the blogs participating in the tour.
Consider a tour not only a method of getting the word out about your book, but an avenue to earn new readers and maybe a reviewer or a street team member. If you notice a commenter who is particularly enthusiastic in the comments and is following the tour…consider whether to reach out and invite more interaction. I’d use caution about offering a review copy to those who are commenting until I researched them a little more, but this would be an opportunity to get to know people and get feedback about your excerpts or posts. If the blogger/reviewer (if you’re doing a review tour) is really complimentary, keep that name as a person to contact about a sequel—as long as you ASK before you send it or read the requirements that blogger has for submission. Don’t forget to thank the reviewer both by leaving comments and by ‘liking’ or giving positive votes on Goodreads or Amazon or wherever the review is posted. It gives positive synergy if you and your friends go by and support the review, and it can generate activity for the review.
Personally, I have hosted for about fifteen different companies but I work with Goddess Fish tours most often because I think they provide a polished product and they are great about follow-up. My perspective is as a host, and authors may have an entirely different opinion, so make sure you contact authors who have had tours there and ask them how they felt about it. If you have a blog yourself, you might consider hosting tours and increasing traffic to your blog that way in advance of using a tour.
Ideally, a group of colleagues will host each other and help cross-promote, but if you go that route, make sure that you can depend on those you choose to work with and that you provide reciprocity. You also may want to keep in mind that if you are only working with those you have in your own clique, you may be limiting your audience. You also want to check out some of the blogs who are willing to host you. Do they seem to have a lot of traffic? Do they feature more than one title a day? Sometimes posts get lost in the massive number of titles a host is showcasing each day. What kind of giveaways seem to attract the most attention? Make sure you review your budget and decide what you can afford, and if you are offering a cute tie-in to your title, how much is it going to cost to ship, will it arrive intact, and are you willing to offer an alternative if the prizewinner is not in your country?
Having made that decision…how you’re participating in a blog tour and what, if any, kind of giveaway you are offering, make sure you are prepared well in advance. Will you do interviews or guest posts? Make sure you have several so it’s not boring and repetitive if someone does follow the entire tour. Do you have several excerpts you can use? Do you have all of the information you need to disseminate? Even though I am a procrastinator, it’s really important to me to have the information well in advance, and, if a review is needed, most of us need at LEAST 4 weeks, if not more, to have time to work the story into our piles and get it read and written up. So, if you are always frantically juggling, make sure you get everything together well in advance of the time you are going to need to provide it. (Maybe work on it while you are waiting for your editor to do the next edit!) It is REALLY frustrating to me as a blogger to be given information only a day or two before I am supposed to host, especially if there are a ton of links or titles being featured.
Make sure that you drum up an audience. Promote in the forums you belong to (on the appropriate days, if there are rules for that sort of thing), post on your social media, participate in chats and mention it, get your friends and family to go by, etc. Please do the hosts the courtesy of going by and at least saying hello or thanking them. Leaving a comment or responding to the visitors is always appreciated (although you may have to figure out how many ways you can respond to… “I liked the excerpt/cover/blurb” because that is often the default comment folks use to cover the requirements for entering the giveaway.) Yes, you are busy…but guess what? So are the folks who are hosting you, and you can stand out by taking the time to interact and thanking your hosts or reviewers and their visitors. Anecdotes that tie in to the comments or the blog’s theme are always great and will make you stand out.
Blog tour elements
Blurb: Please remember that the idea is NOT to tell the entire story, but to pique a reader’s interest. Include key words…lost love, lovers to friends, wounded hero/heroine, etc. that you think will attract a reader’s notice. Please, please, please review your blurb for typos…this is the first impression readers will have of your book, and if it sounds poorly written because the blurb is full of errors, folks are not likely to want to read it!
Buy links (written out or live link). I am only SEMI-computer-literate. For some reason, links don’t always transfer live for me when I copy and paste, so it really helps to have the web address written out in the info I am given. I like my blog neat, so I like to just have the link itself, but I often have to manually put it in, so it is essential to have the entire address. Please remember that it is not only time-consuming but it looks messy when there are umpteen links for your book OR you are trying to promote every book in the series. If you have a website or blog set up, just include a link to the page that lists all of the sites that sell your book.
Banner? If you are using a banner, make sure that it isn’t too large or too busy. If you are using a fancy one that cycles around between different titles, make sure it works!
Author picture or picture related to book. I am camera-shy, so I don’t want my picture out in the ether. If that is you, make sure you have a nice substitute graphic that can either represent your brand or a link to the book or something that represents a key element in the book.
Social media links. I am one of those folks who barely keeps up with the mailbox and, hopefully, my blog. I don’t use the rest of the rapidly exploding social media, and, I find it frustrating when the author I am hosting has more than three or four links for me to make sure are live. I understand that you want your readers to be able to find you, but perhaps you can include one or two AND a link to your social media page that has the rest of the listings. When you have a laundry list of links, that takes away from the focus on the book you are promoting.
Other titles? Some of you are really prolific (congrats), but again, I don’t want to make live links to a myriad of titles. Part of that is my own pickiness. I am an Amazon affiliate, therefore I MIGHT get a small stipend (one of these years) if someone clicks through and buys anything, so I try to make the book titles link to Amazon BUT the other issue is that I highlight and italicize titles so they will stand out, and it is time-consuming. If the title being promoted is part of a series, by all means, mention one or two titles…but please don’t list all 200 of the books you have written!
Excerpts? Various tour companies have different techniques. One of the companies I have worked with assigns a particular excerpt to a group of hosts, thereby making sure that there are a variety of excerpts. I think it is great when at least 3 different excerpts are provided, and make sure you mention if they are PG or R or X-rated, so the blogger can put appropriate warnings up. Some authors do a kind of scavenger hunt and list a different portion of an excerpt for each host, which also encourages readers to go to other blogs.
Guest posts. I usually request guest posts. I am always crunched for time and have tendonitis issues, so having to deal with an interview and highlighting and boldfacing the questions and answers is just too cumbersome for me. Other people prefer interviews. Usually those are pre-written and you can include a link or two in them. One of my favorite types of interviews to read is between the characters and the author or the blog host. If you are comfortable with it, you can give a great introduction to your characters by having them interviewed.
Some folks love recipes. You can tie them into your story, provide pictures, give anecdotes on how you stumbled upon this particular recipe or give hints on how to serve it.
Playlists seem to be popular also. Lists of the music that either connects to the characters or that you listened to while writing the story.
Anecdotes about the story. Readers are always curious how you came up with the story/characters/setting. You can include a picture or two that you used (if you own the picture), talk about where you did research, places you visited.
Some of you are great with YouTube or Pinterest pages, so you can include links to that as well.
Decide how much personal info you are willing to share and how. Euphemisms for family members? Broad statements about where you live? Unfortunately, there are fairly odd people in the world, so make sure you protect your privacy as much as you can.
Giveaway. Some authors are talented and offer something handmade, or something that reminds them of something in the book, a copy of the book (decide whether you want to offer an e-copy or a print copy and don’t forget about price and postage when you budget that in), or a gift certificate to different places.
When figuring out what you want to use in the Rafflecopter or whatever method you use, please remember that not everyone uses all of the social media. It annoys me to no end to be unable to enter a giveaway because I can’t unlock the entries due to my lack of social media presence on Facebook or Twitter. Increase traffic to your website (but make sure your site is current and error-free), get subscribers to your newsletter, blog or Facebook/Pinterest or other social media.
You may have an entry in your giveaway mechanism (Rafflecopter is the one I see used frequently) that asks a question about the excerpt. Just don’t make it TOO complicated, since most people are in a hurry. You can also give an entry for a visit to your website, have the reader answer a simple question (What is the next book in this series? What is my favorite color?) just to make sure they made it to the page you are trying to direct them to.
Timeliness is important (especially if trying to get reviews)—life gets in the way for ALL of us, if you aren’t going to be able to meet your deadlines, have the courtesy to inform the blog hosts (or tour company) so that bloggers are not scrambling at the last minute to either post your material or fill the day with something else. I like my review copies at LEAST 1 month in advance, my blog materials at least a week or two early, because I tend to procrastinate and end up posting a week’s worth of blog posts at a time.
Use relatively clean copy (it’s irksome if there are formatting issues/typos, etc.). Sometimes the formatting doesn’t translate, so the apostrophes, dashes, and quotation marks don’t come through, so make sure you check to see what format you should save your copy in. Personally, I tend to ignore posts that have a lot of machine code in them (especially in the forums) so you may be turning off potential readers.
Again, don’t have too many links, and make sure links work! (I like clean pages, want live links but they don’t always translate live, so should have it both as a live link and written out (with a note to delete one form or the other) but don’t overwhelm the poor anal retentive person such as myself who goes through trying to tidy things up and ends up having to work through 15 different links! If all else fails, use a single link to your social media page that has your Twitter, FB, Goodreads, Tsu, Pinterest, website, etc. links)
Long excerpts…if you really can’t find a short eye-catching excerpt, post a link to a space on your own site that has a longer excerpt.
Authors’ experiences with tour hosts (don’t name names) can be good or bad, and that works in both directions. Talk privately with your colleagues, ask how the experience went.
I tend not to sign up for tours with companies that have not been timely. If I have to poke the hosts in order to get my material, I don’t have time to do that, and I tend not to host for them any longer.
Don’t criticize the blog tour or host in public. I had an author go into some rant about how useless blog tours are and how irresponsible the hosts are…and cite my blog. When I pointed out that he was being really insulting and that he wasn’t scheduled to be on my blog until a future date, he had to retract some of his statements, but he left me with a REALLY bad taste in my mouth, especially since he fails to realize that I do this in my (snort) spare time and I DON’T OWE ANYTHING to the author. If you have an issue, try to contact the person directly, don’t get into a flaming war, and remember that you have no idea how folks can be interconnected, so things can get really sticky sometimes.
Which brings me back to reviews. You and/or your tour company should make sure that the host is reminded that the story given for review is for the use of that reviewer ONLY. It is not to be shared, posted or otherwise used for anything other than the review. Also, diplomatic language should be used to remind the reviewer that you have no problem if they did not like the story, but if they have a negative review, you politely request that they not post it as part of the tour, but to feel free to post it after the tour is over. There is no point in your paying for a tour to bad-mouth your hard work!
I received these comments most recently:
Lately we’ve seen a HUGE difference when authors significantly interact with their commenters and promote the stops in unique ways. I know those should both be a given, but they aren’t. Authors with personality, who are interesting and do things outside the norm really impact readers and increase sales. And, for heavens sake, don’t be rude. We recently had an author who chewed out the people commenting on the tour who this author perceived as ‘contesters’. It was awful, nasty, and uncalled for, and I actually got emails from people complaining (and I can’t blame them). Look — we know who the contesters are. We try not to feed them. Just say thank you and move on. A great number of the people this person yelled at were actually tour hosts who were following the tour (and hosting the book).
Also, be interesting when you answer interview questions. Never answer with just “yes” or “no”. If they ask your favorite sandwich, don’t say “mayo and tomato”. Say instead, “Growing up, we had this amazing garden. I remember my mom picking fresh, sun-ripened, warm tomatoes from the vine at lunchtime, slicing the juicy fruit and serving us this incredibly mouth-watering tomato sandwiches with a bit of mayo. Even now, when I eat them, I think of mom.”
Basically, the best thing on tours is to be interesting and engaging. Cultivate “friendships” of a sort, because loyal friends are more likely to support you consistently. We try to impress upon our authors that a tour is about more than one book … it’s about building a fan base and creating relationships.
I had asked for comments from the two companies I had been hosting for most often when I gave this talk last year and received this information, so please forgive me if some of this is repeated.
The author should take the initiative in opening dialogues on the tour posts … ask the commenters a question to get the ball rolling. The author should be the one that drives the interaction.
Read ALL the instructions the tour company sends you BEFORE you ask a question… there’s a good chance you’ve already been given the answer. (Made with the assumption that other companies send comprehensive instructions like we do — if they don’t they should, and maybe an author should keep that in mind when booking a tour).
Conversely, if you can’t find the answer to your question in the instructions, never be afraid to email with questions and make sure what’s expected of you is clear.
Things that make us a little crazy is getting completed posts a day or two prior to the stop. Not stopping by the tour stops to say thank you. They should always be polite, even when something makes them unhappy — I’m assuming that all tour companies want their authors to be satisfied, so we’ll do everything we can to make it so, but being yelled at for things just makes everyone cranky.
OH … and do everything with the tour company (at least when it comes to us — other companies may be different). I hate when authors contact a host directly for something. First of all, that’s what they’re paying us for and secondly, it’s hard for us to make sure everything is coordinated properly when that’s going on. Ditto hosts contacting the author directly. The tour company is the intermediary for a reason.
Major Pet Peeve, response time to emails! When authors contact you for a tour and you set dates, etc, then never hear back, not good! Be on top of things, if I email for info needed, etc, work to make sure I have the info and the correct info at that.
I have had numerous indie authors who don’t even send the buy links on release day (say if we are waiting to get out to hosts for a blast, etc), I have had to chase down the links myself to get out to the hosts. Which I don’t mind, but you would think the author would want the links to purchase to be a top priority.
Definitely time is an issue always. I prefer to book two months out and sometimes you will get a request from an author for a tour and her book is releasing next week. That is just unfair to the coordinator and hosts. I can work magic when needed but with a full schedule, I usually have to turn a lot of people away or recommend another company that might have an earlier opening.
I thought those were great points, and I admit that I salute the tour companies for their patience as they deal with computer-challenged procrastinators such as myself and interact with authors and try to keep everyone happy.
My review and tour blog is http://thereadingaddict-elf.blogspot.com/ and you are welcome to come by and see what you think. Lately, I work primarily with a single company but I have been a host for about 15 of them over the years, so I have seen a lot of variation.