These days, when it comes to book promotion, virtual book tours (VBTs) seem to be the hottest thing on the net. I’m not surprised. In fact, whoever invented them was a genius.
VBTs allow you to make your name and book visible to possibly hundreds of people without having to spend a fortune or ever leaving your home. All you need is a computer and internet connection, and all you have to do is get a bunch of bloggers to host you on their blog while you sit in front of the screen with a nice beverage and enjoy the show… Well, not quite.
Yes, you do need bloggers to host you. And yes, you may sit at the computer with a nice beverage and enjoy the tour. But unless you hire a publicist to plan and coordinate your VBT, doing it yourself will take considerable time and effort. Did I say considerable? Let’s put it this way: Be prepare to spend A LOT of time at the computer, not only answering interviews and writing guest posts, but also making sure everything is moving according to plan.
To promote the release of my first children’s picture book, The Magic Violin, which came out last November, I went on a VBT in December. The tour began on December 1st and culminated on Christmas Day, when I gave away a $20 Amazon gift certificate to a lucky winner. Since the book had a Christmas theme, timing was perfect.
Though I had hired a publicist for another tour earlier in October (this one for another book), this time I decided to take on the whole project myself. From one side, the idea felt daunting; from another, I told myself: ‘If I can get at least 15 kind-hearted bloggers to host me, I can do this.’
Since I wanted the tour to start on December 1st, I started planning in early November (I recommend planning at least 2 months in advance).
So the first step when planning a VBT is deciding when you want the tour to take place. You must also have an idea of how many tour stops you’d like to make. For one-month tours, I recommend at least 15-17 stops. Some VBTs may last one week (these are called Mini VBTs); some two weeks; others two whole months. It all depends on how much time, work and commitment you’re willing to give.
Next, prepare a schedule.
This was my schedule during the month of November:
Four Weeks Before the Tour
· Bought a monthly calendar with big squares and enough writing space to help me coordinate tour stops. (This was very helpful in helping me see the whole tour from above.)
· Made a list of possible hosts—authors/bloggers I know, bloggers I admire, reviewers who are also bloggers, bloggers who keep blogs related to my book’s theme/content, etc.
· Made a list of groups/forums where I could announce my VBT and ask for hosts. In my case, these were http://www.gather.com/, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/publishingandpromoting, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Latino-Hispanicwriters4Kids, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/childrens-writers, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/childrenswriterstoday, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/PumpUpYourBookPromotion, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/booksweloveauthors, and http://www.facebook.com/.
· Wrote a ‘template’ message to use for contacting hosts. (This included a short intro, info about my book with links to the cover and blurb, my request to be hosted on their blogs, etc).
Note: I requested not only interviews, but also guest posts and reviews. Reviews are great tools of book promotion and you can always use them later. Keep in mind not all reviewers will agree to read ebooks and you may have to send them print copies. When you contact the hosts, make sure to tell them you would be delighted to return their favor in the future (You better keep your promise, too! This is all about helping each other, after all). Also, let them know you’ll be aggressively promoting the tour, thus bringing traffic to their blogs.
Three Weeks Before the Tour
· Began receiving responses from bloggers, agreeing on dates, and recording the information on the calendar. The information included the name of the blog, the host’s name, and whether or not it was for an interview, guest post or review.
· Began completing interviews.
· Sent review copies to reviewers
· Started looking for possible material to be used as guest posts. For one host, I used an old article. For another, I wrote a new one.
Two Weeks Before the Tour
· Continued answering interview questions and sending them to the hosts (These interviews can be very time consuming, so don’t leave them for the last minute!)
· Continued preparing/writing guest posts.
A note about interviews: Try to keep the interviews fresh, offering links and information. After a few interviews, they tend to sound boring and repetitive because the hosts’ questions are often similar. For one of the interviews (http://www.sueeves.com/2007/12/interview-with-author-mayra-calvani-by.html), I incorporated a video of a famous violinist playing Vivaldi’s “Winter”, the piece mentioned in my book. Make sure they aren’t too long either. People have busy lives and will not spend hours reading an interview. On the other hand, make sure most of your interview answers aren’t one-liners. My favorite combination for interviews is a mixture of short, witty answers with longer, more thoughtful ones.
One Week Before the Tour
· Continued to answer and send off interviews.
· Double checked the calendar to make sure all was in order—especially dates.
· Posted the complete VBT schedule on the main page of my website and blog. To see my schedule, go to: http://mayrassecretbookcase.blogspot.com/2007/11/win-20-amazon-certificate-on-christmas.html
· Send a reminder to all your hosts. (For this purpose, it’s practical to put your hosts’ contact info in a separate email folder and to email them together when needed).
The First Day of the Tour
· Announced the tour to everybody I know—friends, relatives, colleagues, groups, and forums—inviting them to take a look and follow me about the blogosphere by providing a link to the complete schedule and mentioning the prize giveaway at the end.
· Made sure the links to the blogs on my VBT schedule were hyperlinked correctly.
During the Tour
· On the day of each stop, I announced the new post to all my contacts— including all the groups mentioned before.
· Visited each tour stop to read the comments and interact with the people who wrote them, which meant writing comments myself.
Interacting with the public was great fun and, in fact, I was quite overwhelmed with the response I received. Some people followed my tour from beginning to end, and for that I was deeply grateful. Some posts received close to 20 comments, the highest some of the bloggers had got for any of their posts so far. All together, I think I got over 120 comments. On Christmas, the day of the prize giveaway, I made a hand-written list of all the people who’d left comments in order to draw a winner. Once chosen, I announced the winner’s name on my blog. Being able to give the prize on Christmas Day was extra fun.
· One week before the tour starts, send a press release to your local newspapers/stations and online directories. I didn’t do this with my December tour but plan to do it with all future ones.
· If possible, tie your VBT with a holiday. November and December are great months for Christmas books; October for scary/paranormal books, and so on.
· Don’t just think ‘kit lit blogs’. Think of your niche audience. I realized this late in the tour, so I didn’t have time to search for violin-related blogs. For my next tour, I plan to contact dog/puppy/pet care blogs, since my book will be about a boy caring and finding a name for his new puppy.
· Offer a gift on the last day of your tour to motivate people to follow you around the blogosphere and leave comments on your stops. Never give a copy of the book you’re promoting. If people think they might win it at the end, they won’t buy it. Prizes may include gift certificates, goody baskets, other books, and even free critiques!
· Visit your own tour stops on a daily basis in order to interact with the visitors and answer their questions, if any.
· Always thank your hosts. After the tour, thank them again and offer to return their favor in the future.
· It’s human to forget. Two or three days before a tour stop, send a polite reminder to the host.
· Be prepared to be flexible. Some times the tour stops may not take place as planned and dates must be changed at the last minute.
· Don’t think just interviews. Keep your tour varied—interviews (may be audio, too!), guest posts, reviews.
· Keep the complete VBT schedule on your site and/or blog and update it on a daily basis, adding links and/or hyperlinks as necessary.
Once the tour has ended, put your feet up and celebrate with a glass of champagne. You’ve earned it!