Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Blog Tours: Do They Work?

Blog Tours: Do They Work?
My co-author and I are currently involved in an extensive blog tour to market our newly released debut novel. I should mention that it is under our pen names, not the name under this blog.
I was curious about whether they work or not. It is certainly taking precious time away from our next book in the series. We had to put it on hold while preparing for this month-long tour.

What is a Blog Tour?
Basically, it’s when an author arranges to go from blog to blog, the online equivalent to going from book store to book store, sit at a lonely table with copies of the book displayed, the author hoping someone will notice them sitting with an insipid smile on their face, hoping to sell a copy or two. 

The benefit of the blog tour is that no one can see the moronic look on your face as you attend, hoping for a favourable comment.

A blog promoting your title (and your name brand) can range from an interview, a review, or an essay type guest blog entry with links to your book and where to buy it. Often, a reward to your readers is involved, from prizes of some material item to gift certificates that hopefully the blog attendee will use to purchase your book. These tours will involve a number of stops ranging anywhere from 10, 20, or even 30 blogs spreading out from a few days to a month. If an author hired a promotional blog tour company, it can also cost a few dollars to over a hundred bucks.
On talking to a few writers and readers that I trusted would not be offended by my questions about blog tours, I have found a range of responses that go from fervent approval to equally fervent disapproval of the process, as well as all variations of colour in between.

The results were interesting, to say the least. I can’t pronounce an expert, since I’m a debut author myself and have little experience save for the current one we are participating in. However, the writers and readers who responded to this rather casual survey are old hands at it, so I had some data to come to my conclusions.

The Pros:
If done right, there is a definite gain in brand and name recognition, which after all is what most new authors aspire towards. This is vital to any new author who needs that recognition to increase interest and sales. The more “hits” you get on a search, the more places your name and title are exposed, the more curious readers become about your book. Name recognition is the bread and butter of writers, so this is a definite plus.

What do I mean by “doing it right”? Well, first of all, pick the right blogs. What good does it do to blog on a writer’s space if the only followers they have are other writers? Yes, writer’s and authors also read (if they’re any good), but it’s also a limited audience and not your main client. Find a blog that specifically targets readers as opposed to other writers. If there’s a lot of “how to” articles pertaining to writing, chances are their followers are there to avail themselves of the information. And who wants that information? Other writers.

But if the blog has information that book readers would be interested in, chances are they will have followers who are looking for books to read. If they have a large following and a long history, chances are that blog is gold for a guest blog opportunity. Readers want books to read, and writers want readers to buy their book. It’s an ideal relationship for everyone. It could also result in more reviews on your book, which research reveals, and most authors acknowledge, is the real tool that results in sales.

If a blog host gets an increase in traffic to their site because of hosting you, chances are very good they will want to host you again when you finish your next book.

And yes, it’s essential you finish another book. On an off-side, if you only have one book, I doubt very much if you’ll gain much name recognition, no matter how many blogs you are on. There may be a flurry of activity that reflects lots of sales at first (and only if you have the success of J.K. Rowling, which is extremely rare, I’m sad to say), but sales will soon taper off, and with no other material on offer, you will soon fade away to obscurity. (Again, see J.K. Rowling, who had a series of books in the same theme, which resulted in her being the spotlight for such an extended period of time. Can you imagine what would have happened if she only had that one book?) The release of a new book also sparks sales of any previous books by the same author that may have languished in the book stores or on Amazon. The more books, the more your name is more and more recognizable. So get writing!

The other pro is the chance to engage with your readers, or any new people who are looking for new and exciting books. If you can converse with these new people in a way that inspires curiosity, you may garner a new fan or two.

The Cons:

And there are many, unfortunately.

Unlike the old style of book tours in person, where the reader can connect with you one on one in conversation, or get their book signed (not at all like the computer generated signing they offer…it’s just not the same), online tours are removed, detached in many ways, and hard to make that connection.

There is also the expenditure of time and money; it takes hours out of a writer’s day to attend these blogs and reply to comments, sometimes arranged by professional tour companies that you paid big bucks for, and some comments from attendees of which are brief and of no real value. Many people come in to comment simply to get their names into the entries for the offered prizes and have little to no interest in your book, and doubtful they would even read it. In other words, Time + Expenditure =  Minimal Results, in most cases.

As I mentioned, if your promotional company does not have the right blogs, these problems are exaggerated. It’s critical that if you’re going to extend the time and effort, the readers have to be attracted. Aside from networking, other writers attending and commenting doesn’t do you a whole lot of good.

If you expect blog tours to increase sales, you’re going to be bitterly disappointed. It’s been proven, even by those greatly in favour of blog tours, that it doesn’t sell books. Yes, one or two in a large blog with lots of response may be intrigued enough to make a purchase (though it hardly ever happens), but that miniscule amount of sales hardly justifies the time and effort it takes. It’s been proven, by both writers and readers, that reviews are what sways a potential customer to buy your book, and certainly not on blogs.

Conclusions:

The benefits of blog tours are mostly for name and brand recognition, and perhaps conversing with your potential fans and readers. It’s also a great way to interact with your readers, and even get a hint of what they’re looking for from you as an author, and you become more “human” to them, especially if you can find that rare blog that has that rare combination of interesting topics, tons of followers and readership who are not just other writers, and engaging hosts who get involved with their guest bloggers to draw people in.

The drawbacks of blog tours are numerous. Time, expenditure, and disappointing futility are the basic reasons to perhaps either cut down on the amount of blogs you sign up for, or to cut them out entirely. A much better way to garner readership is to compose interesting blogs on your own and post them for your fans, or guest post on blogs that encompass your area of interest or work. Engaging articles pertaining to your area of literary expertise, information on how you researched or imagined your world you write about, and any other topic sure to grab the attention of others who share your curiosity and love of that particular subject. I have been fortunate of late of finding that particular ilk of blog, and only by months of careful research and refining my searches, and relying on myself instead of blog tour promotional companies.

I am an e-book published author, and unfortunately book signings are impossible for our kind. It drastically cuts down on the old fashioned but tried and true method of connecting with a reader. 

Also unfortunately, blog tours aren’t much more effective either. I can only speak, on reflection, as a reader, since my first novel was only published a few months ago. As a reader, I browsed for my books, got to know the author somewhat briefly through the odd article that inspired me to look up their own blogs/author sites, but mostly through good writing and interesting stories.

All I can say is, if you want to sell books, it’s more important to write them, and to keep on writing. The more a good book holds my attention and wants me to read more of that author’s work, the more I will be sure to buy their next book. So write…and keep on writing. And do not become so involved in blog tours that you forget to write that next book!

But if you decide to give a blog tour a go-round, here are some hints on how to make it a relative success:

1.  Thank your hosts. They took time out of their busy lives to promote you and your titles. They deserve your gratitude.

2.  Be there. Don’t book a blog tour and then not show up. That just shows you don’t find the reader important, which is arrogant and the biggest mistake you can make. The reader is the one putting bread on your table; don’t take them for granted.

3.  Get involved in the conversations. Readers are far more sophisticated than they ever were, and they demand more from the stories and their authors. Besides, it’s the best way to connect with these wonderful, creative people, and yes…readers ARE creative.

4.  Choose blogs that have a variety of styles built into it, with interesting topics to draw readers in. The same old format with the same old things being said soon becomes boring. That also refers to you as the guest blogger or person being interviewed; make sure you have some new and interesting tidbits to add to the conversation.

5.  Instead of blogs, research and join various sites to promote, with huge readership followings like The Romance Review, World Lit CafĂ©, Goodreads, BookBub, E-Reader News Today, and various others you can find by minimal searching.


Do you agree or disagree? What are your thoughts, based on whether you’re a writer or a book addicted reader? I’d love to hear what you think.