Friday, June 22, 2012

The Business of Writing: Writers as Virtual Book Tour Consumers

A friend forwarded a link to this blog post from June 20th about virtual book tours. Romance author Michele Gorman asked the question, "Are Blog Tour Coordinators Writer Advocates or Exploiters?" In the article, Gorman explains she sent a request to several historical fiction blogs looking for a review of one of her books. She received a response not from one of the bloggers she contacted, but from a virtual book tour (VBT) coordinator who also happens to review books for one of the blogs she emailed. This VBT coordinator then proceeded to outline her services. This led Gorman to wonder how many VBT coordinators use their book blogs as a front for their businesses.

Gorman has a valid point. She requested a review and the person not only didn't have time to review her book, but tried to sell her something. She didn't know the person she was contacting also coordinated virtual book tours. That said, are coordinators truly out to exploit authors?

Gorman's first concern is that many new writers may think they have to pay to get their books noticed. She feels because VBTs have become so popular and new coordinators are popping up all the time, inexperienced writers might assume paying for a VBT is the norm. I don't agree.

Type "coordinating a virtual book tour" into Google and the first four results are about coordinating your own VBT--three of them happen to be a workshop I gave at this year's PROMO DAY and two articles I wrote, but the information is there. Type in "coordinating your own virtual book tour" and you'll come up with a bunch of results too. There's really no reason any author should think they must pay someone to coordinate a virtual book tour.

Gorman also asks if your book is getting on the right blogs. My philosophy might be different from some others, but it's based upon years of experience blogging and promoting books. While I feel it's definitely important to be featured on blogs in your genre, there is something to be said for being featured at a book blog that covers multiple genres. Readers have their own tastes. I read primarily mysteries, Christian fiction, nonfiction, true crime, and poetry at this blog. You don't always know, however,  how a book will touch you until you've read it. I once read a narrative about a man who survived an airplane disaster. I don't like airplane disaster stories (I'm afraid of flying), but because this book was authored by the man's son, I felt it would have a more human element, than other stories in that genre. It's one of my favorite books. If the author had never queried me about it just because I didn't read much in his genre, he would have missed out on a five-star review and I wouldn't still be talking about his book years after I read it.

Yes, it's important to be featured on a blog that has a healthy following, but there is no indication that an author's direct email to a well-trafficked blog will be more successful than one from a VBT company. Most bloggers are dedicated to the VBT companies they work with. A relationship is already in place. The more time I spent coordinating virtual book tours, the larger my database of dedicated bloggers grew. That's an advantage over an author going it alone. Once an author has coordinated her own VBT, however, it should be easier to do the next time.

The last two questions Gorman posed perplexed me. "How do they handle bad reviews? Is there any promise, implied or overt, that a blogger will be favourably disposed toward your book?"

I'm hoping the answer to the last question is no, because if not, I wouldn't want to do business with that company. There is no way any form of marketing can guarantee a favorable review. To do so would be highly unethical.

As for the question about what a VBT company does about a bad review, I can only share how I've handled them. If a client's book received a less than favorable review, I would email her and ask if she wanted me to promote it using our regular methods. Sometimes the answer is yes and other times it is no. I'm not certain why VBT companies would be held responsible for a bad review. If you work with a publicist or even contact bloggers on your own, there is no control over bad reviews. Reading remains subjective and being able to accept all kinds of reviews is part of being an author. Even though I had many contacts by the time Little Shepherd came out, I still had to accept reviews that were less than 100% positive. Just because an author pays to promote her book doesn't mean she should expect more favorable reviews.

I've always seen VBT companies as similar to that of any contractor. My husband and I hired a lawn service last year. Could we buy the chemicals and spend some weekends tending to the lawn? Sure. We did it for years. We opted to pay a lawn care service so that we could spend that time relaxing and enjoying our kids. Some authors want to learn how to coordinate a virtual book tour. Others prefer to use that time in another way, so they hire VBT companies.

We must never forget that while writing is a creative business, it's still a business. Writers are consumers. They need to consider all their options and choose what works best for them. You don't stop calling a plumber when you need one just because of a bad experience. You find a new plumber. It's unfortunate that one bad experience tainted how this author sees all virtual book tour coordinators. Hopefully that will change. There are many wonderful people in the business who work hard for their clients and got into online book promotion because of their love of books.

What do you think about virtual book tours? If you are an author, have you coordinated one or hired a company to put one together for you? What was your experience like? If you're a reader and blogger, do you host authors on virtual book tour? What have you enjoyed most about hosting authors? What would you like to change about hosting authors?


Sun Singer said...

I would be unhappy if I sent a review request to a blog and got back a request for VBT services.

Personally, I am leery of tours that cost money because my experience plus that of authors I know is that the tours tend to cost more than the number of books they will sell.

Blogs are good for books, but unfortunately, most of them do not have the clout to "move" a book. The information I can never get out of VBT co-ordinators is the size of their audience or other demographics, much less any indication of the power of their tours as evidenced by spikes in sales.

Interesting post.


Cheryl said...

Hey Sun,

Great to see you here. I hope all is well.

I understand what you're saying. If I had to pay for it I'm not sure I would do it either. Not because I don't have faith in VBTs, but because I rarely believe in handing over money on something I can do myself.

You're right that it's tough to get to the powerhouse blogs, but I wouldn't discount a larger quantity of smaller blogs either.

First, we have to remember that no form of marketing guarantees sales. Marketing provides exposure. VBTs do that. Even if the blogs are smaller, they still have an impact on Google. When I toured, we used Christmas story retelling as one of the keywords. If you put that into Google now--almost a year since my last tour--my book is on the first page of results. If you type in my book's title or my name there are tons of results from my tours.

I think--and I'm only guessing because I don't know who you talked to--it's difficult to assign a size to the audience or a demographic because VBT companies don't own the blogs. In addition, while they use some regular bloggers, each tour is unique, so the demographics and audience change with each one.

Checking your Amazon rankings during your tour is one way to see if you are selling books; and now that you can get sales information from Amazon through Author Central, you have a better handle on what you sell through them. But what about on other sites or from your publisher directly? The only reliable way seems to be through royalty statements.

The other variable is the longevity of posts. How do you judge that? I have people who purchase books through links on this blog 6 months to a year or more after I host a book. The author and the VBT company won't know a sale came a year later thanks to my hosting the book.

I hope this provides a bit more information. I appreciate you taking the time to post.

All my best,