Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Virtual Book Tours

What is a virtual book tour and how can it help authors publicize their books?

What Is a Virtual Book Tour?

Basically, during a time period, say, a month, an author gives interviews, receives book reviews and posts on relevant blogs. It's analogous to the traditional author tour, where you flit about the country doing book signings. But instead of physically traveling, you travel virtually, sitting in front of your computer, surfing from blog to blog.

Radio interviews and podcasts, if done from home, would also qualify as virtual, although I'll concentrate here on the virtual blog tour.

Does It Work?

For some authors, yes. I recall one author who rallied interested bloggers around his book before publication. When it came out, the bloggers made enough noise to make it into a major seller. I'm hearing other authors and experts saying that it's one of their favorite tactics for book publicity.

Would it work for all authors? I'd suggest that it's always good to get out there, making comments on blogs and asking for reviews on relevant, high traffic blogs. Since people blog about every topic imaginable, this should be one of the easiest ways to let people who are already fascinated with your topic find your book. The outcome will probably be dependent on the appeal of the book to bloggers, the author's skill at finding the right blogs, and the diligence of the author in contacting enough blogs to make it work.

Not only should this stir up interest for your tour dates, but since your interviews/reviews/guest posts/comments remain on the blogs with links to your book, surfers may find the posts months or years later and find your book as a result. If you do it right and get enough posts linking back to your book, then your book may become highly ranked in Google for key phrases that multitudes of people search.

According to virtual tour expert Dorothy Thompson, "The key to making your tour successful is to get on as many blogs as you possibly can."

How Much Time Does It Take?

Again, quoting Thompson, "The authors themselves put in an incredible amount of time answering questions and writing guest posts. If you do a month's worth of tours, you have approximately twenty interviews and guest posts to get done."

How to Do a Virtual Book Tour

1) Decide if you want to do it by yourself, or hire a professional. If you do the latter, you'll still need to put time and effort into the initiative. One author who's done both ways told me, "There are definite advantages to going with a PR firm (i.e., hitting hi-traffic blogs and getting the reviews), but if you have a strong network and are not afraid to get out there and ask for guest spots, it's absolutely doable."

2) Brainstorm the types of blogs you want to target. They may be:
  • Book blogs that target your genre.
  • Blogs on the topic(s) covered in your book. Examples: financial blogs for a personal finance book, pet blogs for a dog book, etc.
  • Blogs that aren't on your particular topic, but might include your topic: parenting blogs for a personal finance book, family magazine blog for your dog book.
3) Find key words and phrases that people use to search for your topics.

First, go to Google's tool for finding key words and phrases in Google Ad Words. (If the url has changed do a Google search for a phrase such as "find key words". Several sites have tended to offer these tools.) For my financial book, I did two searches, one on "money" and another on "finances."

I discovered, for example, that the phrase "earn money" was searched 368,000 times last month.

4) Find the most popular blogs in your subject areas. Here are several ways:

  • Visit Technorati , the most popular search engine for blogs. Search some of the key words and phrases you discovered. You'll notice that Technorati tells you the "authority" of each blog, according to how many other sites/blogs have linked to the blog.
  • See if one of Technorati's categories fits your subject matter. Click on the category and you'll find blogs listed according to their "authority."
  • Set up Google Alerts to e-mail you when someone has posted a blog or article on your subject matter.
  • Subscribe (with RSS) to the most popular blogs, so that you'll know immediately when they've posted something new. You'll need a free RSS reader, like Google Reader.
Tip: "I had 20 stops as a goal for my tour, and ended up with 18. Looking back I realize that I could have done less. It really isn't about the number of stops; it is more about the quality you put into each." (Kristin Callender)

3) Incorporate videos and podcasts

4) Make the most of accompanying publicity
  • Send out press releases about your book and the tour.
  • Announce each stop on writer’s boards and social networking sites.
  • Submit the interviews to other publications that might use them.
Helpful Article

Kristin Callender wrote a great article about how she did her virtual tour. Looks like she did it right and has left us with the specifics of how to pull one off ourselves.

Helpful Tools

  • Is a blog getting enough traffic to make it worth your time to pursue or comment on? To find out how much traffic it gets, download (free of charge) Alexa's "Sparky" . This toolbar lets you see the popularity of any blog or site that you're viewing. Warning: if the blogger didn't buy her own url, but instead has an ending like or, then don't get all excited if you see an Alexa rank of #1 to #10. In that case, it's ranking Blogspot or Blogger, not that specific blog.

    To give some indication of how many visits a blog or site might be getting, Alexa ranks my character education site as #741,000. That site gets from 500 to 600 unique visitors ("sessions" rather than "hits") per day.

  • Want to have new blog posts and relevant articles come to one, easy-to-view place? I use igoogle as my opening page in my web browser (Firefox). If you download it, click the "x" on every feature you don't like. Then, click "add stuff" on the right top of your screen to find free applications. Search for "Google News" and then customize it to send you news related to your topic. Download Google Reader so that all your RSS feeds all come to your browser page. Now you're alerted to new articles and blog posts on your topic, all together in one place - the place you first go to when you search the web!

1) Is there really any significance to packing a tour into a month or so? Is it just a way to help authors keep concentrated, or is there some reason that it's actually more effective done over a few weeks than spread out over a year?
2) Any other tips or questions concerning virtual tours?