Virtual Book Tour Lesson One
What is a virtual book tour? Like a regular book tour, you go around talking about your book, yourself, and your writing. The ultimate goal, of course, is to generate sales, but mostly, you're creating a buzz in hopes that people who might otherwise never learn about your work have a chance to "discover" you.
The beauty of a virtual book tour is it's on the Internet: no expense, no leaving home and most of it can be done at your leisure. There are several ways to conduct a virtual tour appearance. The simplest is the book review--your host reads the book and reviews it on his site, or you write your own review for him. The next is the interview--again, your host can e-mail questions for you to answer, or you can write your own interview for her to post. Then there's the guest chat--if your host has a chat room, you can talk to the audience. (Have a general topic in mind and a brief, prepared intro about yourself and your book.) Your host could have a contest for a copy of your book or hold a "reading" where you post a chapter or scene from your book. Use your imagination and ask your host--he or she may have a different idea.
Of course, you'll want to talk about your book, but don't limit yourself to that. Think about the things that affect your readers. For example, Infinite Space, Infinite God is Catholic SF; so at first glance, I should target blogs about Catholicism and science fiction. However, I tried to make this more than just a fun read; I wanted folks to use this book to discuss and learn. So I might reach high schoolers, homeschoolers, other writers, maybe even theology/philosophy-and-technology sites. I'm a writer working with a small press, so I can reach those people by talking about the experiences that led to the publishing of ISIG--and writers are terrific readers! I'm a busy mom, so I can talk about writing and raising kids--moms read or they may be looking for something for their SF-loving husbands.
Before you begin your tour, take a few minutes and brainstorm what topics you have experience with or that your book covers. When you're ready, read on.
Virtual Book Tour Lesson Two
Next, let's talk about some preliminaries before launching a book tour. I've found these to be very helpful not just in the tour but translating that tour into real interest for my book:
#1 Preliminary materials. If you're developing a media kit, these should be in your bag of tricks. These are things you can offer your host to make his page stand out or his interview even better:
--A print-quality graphic (.jpg is good) of your book cover. Ask your publisher.
--A print-quality photo of yourself. (Get a friend to take a good digital photo.)
--50-, 150-, and 250-word blurbs about your book. Hosts can use these to advertise your upcoming tour, weave them into their introduction, or post them elsewhere on their site.
--A fact sheet. This is more for you than them. Just list some of the more vital pieces of info about your book--from website to the chapter names and pages in your manuscript, interesting topics, factoids (Infinite Space, Infinite God took 2 years to find a publisher, for example), and interesting stories. This is one thing I did not do and I'm constantly racking my brain or searching my manuscript in order to answer an interviewer's question. Learn from my mistake.
--Your own set of questions. (Optional) Some bloggers will ask you to write up your own interview. If you know what you want to talk about ahead of time, it's easier. Be sure to tailor the questions and answers to the blog's audience, however.
#2 Create your own website for your book! This has been the single most useful thing I've done. I created a website on tripod for Infinite Space, Infinite God before the tour and I constantly refer to it in the interviews and correspondence. It generated 400 hits in a month. The website holds all the information you'd like to tell folks: summaries, your bio, a calendar of your book tour and other events, a media room, and most importantly, Purchasing Information! There are a couple of places to create websites for free. I have sites on www.tripod.lycos.com and www.freewebs.com. Both have ready-made templates and easy to use editors that let you add text, photos, special effects, contact sites--all the basic website stuff. No programming experience is needed and they come out great! Check out http://isigsf.tripod.com for an example of a book promotion site. It took about 3 hours to build because of all the text to type in, and I add to it twice a week it seems. The editor is so easy, it only takes minutes.
#3 List who your target audience is for your book and who might be interested in you. You wrote the book--if people would find you interesting, chances are they or someone they know will find your book interesting as well.
For ISIG, I'm targeting science fiction fans, Catholics, Christians, people interested in technology and morals, and educators. However, I am a homeschooler, military wife, writer, Mensan, former AF officer, current military wife, Colorado State University alumnus. If I can find a magazine or paper that might be interested in me or my book, I can probably find a blog or e-zine that would be interested.
OK. You have your homework. Contact me if you have questions. Next lesson: how to find stops on your tour.
Virtual Book Tour Lesson Three
So you've got or are creating a kickin' website about your book and you have a good idea who your book tour audience is. Now we can get into the meat of the tour itself: finding the Blogs!
Blogs are essentially on-line "journals" (usually by a person) about whatever interests them. As such, they cover the gamut of exposure, expertise and opinion. Some, like LiveJournal, are more like on-line diaries while others may be specifically targeted toward news. Some are by people who simply want to express themselves (regardless of their knowledge or experience on a topic) while others are serious commentary by experts in their field. Some of these may only have a few faithful viewers, while others may get thousands of views a day. Thus, as you search, you'll also need to evaluate each blog to see if this blog is one on which you'd like to promote your book.
Here's where I went to find my blog stops:
1. Friends. Not only might they have a blog they can host you one, they may know of a blog that would be interested in you. I found several Catholic blogs through friends, some of which have large audiences.
2. On-line groups. If you're on a Yahoo group or other forum, post a request asking if anyone blogs in your target area, or can recommend any blogs.
3. Google. Type in "blog" and your target area. Do more than one search. For example, for "Infinite Space, Infinite God," I searched under "Catholic science fiction blog," and "Catholic fiction blog." If your book has been out for awhile, Google the title name and see if anyone's already mentioned it. I found a blog that didn't show up on a general search when I typed in "Infinite Space, Infinite God."
4. Search host sites. Most host sites like Blogger or MySpace allow you to search just their websites. Sometimes you can find blogs that have a loyal following but don't show up on Google.
5. Check links on websites and blogs you visit.
Once you've found a site, look it over. Do the entries tie in with your book or your interests? Does the person seem sympathetic or potentially interested? Is there a counter--and if so, how many people have visited the site?
If you like the blog and would like to "visit" it on your tour, you try to contact the blogger. A good way to start is to find one of his posts you like and leave a comment. If it applies to your book, so much the better, but at very least, leave your name and your book name and website. For example:
What an interesting post! I didn't realize Dr. Thinxalot has postulated a "human percentage" for determining how much genetic tinkering our DNA can take. Incidentally, that's a topic we've explored in our SF anthology "Infinite Space, Infinite God." I'll have to look for more of Dr. T's research.
--Karina Fabian, editor, Infinite Space, Infinite God http://isigsf.tripod.com
If there's a contact site for the blogger, write her a note complimenting her on her blog and asking her if she'd be willing to host you on your virtual book tour. You may have to explain what that is and how it's done. (I'll post a sample e-mail next lesson) If you cannot find contact information on the site, ask her via a comment. Next: inviting yourself to a blog, being interviewed, generating "buzz."
Here are two letters I sent to bloggers asking to be on their blogs. The first is an initial letter. I introduce myself, comment on the blog (how I came across it and something I liked about it), then ask the blogger if he'd host me. I always make sure I tie myself or my book to the blog, so he knows I'm not just picking him out blindly and that a post aobut me or my book adds to his blog. Then I offer more information. Here's where a website comes in handy! Finally, I offer an advance review copy of the book. This is especially important for any site that you're asking to host you specifically because they blog about something that your book applies to. Sometimes, they'll want to review the book as well as interview you.
Dear Mr. Akins,
My friend Ann Lewis recommended your blog to me and I've been enjoying it greatly. (It was refreshing to see someone else who held a similar opinion on the genocide of the Cylons.)
Since you are a SF fan, I was wondering if you'd be interested in reviewing my husband Rob's and my anthology of Catholic SF, Infinite Space, Infinite God. It's out in e-book right now from Twilight Times Books and will be out in print in August. I'm planning virtual book tours in December and August, so if you are willing, I'd love to have you host us on one or both of those months.
I've attached a short blurb about ISIG, and if you'd like more information, please check out the website at http://isigsf.tripod.com. Then, if you are interested, please e-mail me back and I'll be glad to send you an electronic ARC.
This second letter is a follow-up. The blogger has expressed interest and wants to know more. Virtual book touring is still very new and many people don't know much about it. The thing I try to emphasize is that she is doing me a big favor and as such, I want to make it as easy on her as possible.
Thanks so much for agreeing to host rob and me on our virtual book tour to promote Infinite Space, Infinite God.
By hosting me (or Rob and me on your site), you'd devote a post to us and Infinite Space, Infinite God. We're on a virtual book tour right now and are planning another for August, but any time that's good for you is good for us. We can do this in several ways:
--You send us interview questions that we answer. You post the Q&A.
--You tell us what you'd like us to write about and we write an entry for you to post.
--We write our own interview and you post it.
--You just review the book.
We've done most of these, so whatever's convenient for you is good for us. I've enclosed an electronic copy of the book. Let me know when you plan to post and I'll put it a notice about it on our ISIG website (http://isigsf.tripod.com). You can also find more information on the website, including the other stops on our virtual book tour, where you can see what other bloggers have done in hosting us.
Virtual Book Tour Lesson Four
Another way to conduct a book tour is to leave comments on folks' blogs. To tell you more about that, however, I'd like to share this article by Janet Elaine Smith. Janet is a novelist who also writes about useful tips for marketing your books. Check her out at http://www.janetelainesmith.com.)
Before you set off on a virtual book tour, remember that you are visiting various blogs as a guest. You don't run the show. Always leave a comment about something in the blog before you issuing an invitation to partake of something you have to offer, whether it is to purchase your book, to visit your blog or to hang out at your website. Sadly common courtesy is all too often in short supply.
The best way to find blogs that best fit your virtual tour is with this search: www.blogsearch.google.com. Don't just look for the obvious; be creative. After all, we are all writers, and imagination is our forte. And look for something that you can tie your book into. Let me give you a couple of examples. You know, show; don't tell!
My book Par for the Course is a timetravel that takes a modern day golf pro and sends her back in time to golf with Mary, Queen of Scots, at St. Andrews Golf Course in Scotland. Mary was the first woman golfer--true fact.
OK, so I did a search for Mary, Queen of Scots. History buffs who like to follow her are always looking for new info. Many of them do not know that she was the first known woman golfer. (I found that info in an old kids' encyclopedia.) So, when I find a blog about Mary, I go to it and ask a simple question: "Do you know what sport Mary, Queen of Scots, was noted for? If you don't, you can find out in my time travel, Par for the Course. If you do, or if you want to take a guess, come on over to my blog at www.janetelainesmith.blogspot.com and leave me a comment." Then I leave a comment about their blog, like "I was pleased to learn that Mary was the tallest woman in Scotland at the time she lived. I am a firm believer that I am never too old to learn something new."
Another one I did was for my book In St. Patrick's Custody. I did a lot of similar blog entries to the one above only tied to this book of when it was close to St. Patrick's Day. I then invited the blog visitors to go to Patrick and Grace's website, http://crumbycapers.tripod.com (a fictional website I set up especially for the protagonists of that book--another promotional idea, by the way!) and leave me a note in the guestbook. Happy St. Paddy's Day!
Another one I did for In St. Patrick's Custody was in connection with homelessness, because Grace ended up in a homeless shelter. That one got picked up and noticed by a few print newspapers and it led to a couple of actual print interviews about the issue of homelessness.
I don't always leave a bunch of signature lines in a blog, but I do give the info if it pertains to the book I'm blogging about at the time. For instance, with Par for the Course, I usually include "Named best timetravel of the year by Affaire de Coeur Magazine."
With In St. Patrick's Custody I might end with something like "Responsible for countless new volunteers in homeless shelters across the country."
Virtual Book Tour Lesson Five
We've learned a lot about what a virtual tour is, what it can do for you, and how to set one up. Today, I want to talk about why you should bother.
* Getting the word out. Virtual book tours probably will not get you a lot of sales, but they are effective at generating a buzz about your book. By getting onto blogs read by your target audience, you are using your time more effectively than if you just send out random press releases. In addition, the more your book is mentioned, the more likely it will show up on search engines, increasing the chances that someone looking for something related to your book will have your title or website appear on their screen. --And, of course, it's immensely better than doing nothing at all.
* Learning to approach people for interviews. For many of us, it's easier to e-mail someone who writes a blog for fun than, say, approach a television studio that needs to turn a profit. Nonetheless, you need to be able to present yourself to either with confidence and convince them that interviewing you is worth it to their readers.
* Giving a good interview. One thing books on marketing your novel recommend is to make up interview questions and answers before doing any live interviews. With a virtual book tour, you'll have others giving you the questions. Even better, because you're doing everything via the Internet, a virtual book tour interview gives you a great opportunity to think about your answers, research them, ask others, and really put your best foot forward. You can then use that information when you do a live tour.
I've been amazed on my own book tour how much I learned about myself, my book, and the genre. Bloggers, even those with small audiences, nonetheless took the time and effort to ask me some very thoughtful questions. I found myself having to research for facts to support my answers and even going to my writer friends for opinions on how they'd respond. As a result, I'm going to be much more confident when I do live interviews. (I have one tentatively scheduled this summer on FastForward.)
* Gathering information to use elsewhere. Another way to promote your book is to write articles about the topics it covers. Your interviews not only give you information, but also let you know the kind of things people are interested in. You can then use that to write articles to submit elsewhere. I have an article due on Catholic Science Fiction for Hereditas this month, and I'll be pulling liberally from my many interviews.
* Having fun! What can be more rewarding to a just-published writer than to talk about his or her new book? Virtual book tours let you do that on your own time, in your own home, with the chance to go back, reword, rethink and put your best foot forward. They're a good confidence builder.
That's it for the Virtual Book Tour Primer. If this primer helped you, please leave me a comment! In the meantime, thanks for dropping in and let me know how your virtual book tour goes!