Book Blog Tours: worth the effort?

Book marketing for unknown authors is a challenge. If the author is going it alone, they have limited resources to use; if with a major publishing house, it is the publisher who holds the marketing purse close to the vest and unlikely to put a lot of time and expense into marketing an unknown. Viral marketing is very popular with authors as the internet reaches so many with a relatively low cost expenditure. However, just as with posting a resumé, it can bring a false sense of accomplishment: ah, my resumé has reached millions of people, now I can sit back and reap the benefits. But, does the viral marketing, whether of you or your book, bring long-lasting tangible results?

Because of the recent release of Flashpoint: Book One of the Underground, and the June release of Light at the Edge of Darkness, I've been entrenched in the marketing mindset. Gotta do a book blog tour I hear from all corners. Well, I've learned a couple of things, a. organizations like the CFBA and the CSFF don't like to tour anthologies—they aren't popular reading amongst their bloggers; and b. the CFBA doesn't tour non-CBA books. (FYI: David Brollier's CFRBlog does tour anthologies AND they are not CBA-exclusive. Kudos Mr. Brollier). But, I ask my publisher, what good does it do?

The virtual book tour or blog tour is a worthwhile endeavor for name and brand recognition, but is it worth the effort? what are the tangible results? The CFBA (Christian Fiction Blog Alliance) is a very popular blog tour organization. How do they judge the impact of their book tours? By Technorati ratings—which may or may not translate into book sales. I think many novelists are under the impression that scoring high in the Technorati ratings means a book is selling.

The blog tour strategy certainly has the potential to bring exposure to a writer and her novels, and therefore a greater likelihood that sales will follow. But, it is far more likely to be successful with well-known names than the relatively unknown author. The Southern Review of Books did some case studies about the effects of blog tours; they used Amazon rankings as their sales indicator. The upshot, after an initial spurt of book buying, the book sales languished as early as a couple of weeks after the tours. One example:

Our second subject was Marta Stephens, who had a virtual tour starting July 31 and running through August. Her tour was aimed at promoting Silenced Cry, a 248-page paperback detective crime mystery released in April 2007 by BeWrite Books in the UK. She targeted 16-18 sites that claimed membership of 15,431 in aggregate, doing the setup work herself.

How did her tour fare? On Aug. 23, Silenced Cry had an Amazon ranking of 843,750. By Sept. 21, a month later, it had slipped to 1,210,025.

COMMENTS on story above:
It was fun reading about my virtual book tour--but you missed the best Amazon ranking for Judgment Fire during the tour, it was 105,763 - the lowest any of my books ever hit. The reason had to be the virtual tour. (Southern Review of Books, November 2007)

You can turn the blog tour into a real marketing advantage. Encourage blog readers to purchase your book on a specific day and give your amazon.com rank a shot in the arm. Who knows, your book could hit the bestseller ranks for a day which means you can call yourself a bestselling author! On Monday evening (though I wasn't on any blog tour), I hit a new high on amazon. I was a kinda' bestseller. Number 12. Wonderful? Well, considering what my rank was based upon, not really. Here is what it looked like: #12 in Books > Religion & Spirituality > Fiction > Science Fiction & Fantasy. The longer the list behind "Books" the less impressive is a #12 ranking. Big deal.

I learned something else about blog tours. There is money in it! well, not for the author or publisher, and certainly not for the blog owners who do so much work to help promote the novel. Where is the money? in pockets of publicity companies. One of the main Christian companies states on their website: authors have reported significant increases in book sales as a result of the exposure received from our blog tours. For the first time ever, we're offering the tours as a separate item from our comprehensive publicity plans. [Note they don't make any claims about success] Oh yes, they were keen on setting up a book blog tour for me. At $1750 a pop (which doesn't include the cost of books that my publisher has to supply)? I don't think so.

The blog tours did bring some exposure to Flashpoint and I am very grateful for all the folks who participated—I do know how much time and effort are put into the tours by these generous people. I guess the lesson learned is not to put all MY efforts and time into one basket.

Now, if you will excuse me, I am off to email Oprah. Oh, and on the heels . . . I am setting up my own company: BBTRU (Book Blog Tours R Us) and undercut the abovementioned company.

Disclaimer: the previous paracgraph was laced in sarcasm.



Terri said...

I spent much of my young life in marketing before I discovered sanity. :-) One of the best words of wisdom I heard was from a car dealer who lamented: "I assume half my advertising effort is wasted. I just don't know which half."

It's an old complaint. The problem with novice marketers is that they are looking for the single promotion or activity which will produce results which can be directly correlated. Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. Most people make a buying decision after they have heard the message at least five times. Very few run out and buy something based on a single message.

So, how does this relate to the blog tour? Well, if you are looking for a direct one on one correlation between being featured on the tour and selling X number of books, you may as well forget it.

However, in raising the profile for your book among people who are interested in your type of book, then it may be worth the effort. The purchasing decision may go something like this. The person saw a review on a web site (not on the tour), then they saw a note in an email discussion group from someone who liked the book, they heard the author speak at a library, they heard the author on a radio broadcast and they read a blog tour post. They buy the book. Which of those sold the book? One of them? Four of them? All of them?

Half of them are probably worthless, unfortunately you can't know for certain which half because cause and effect in marketing are very hard to isolate.


Frank Creed said...

I think I said (too tired to go and check!) something about not putting all my eggs in one basket.

As you say Terri, I don't think one can draw any direct positive conclusions about the efficacy of one specific marketing attempt. OK, bad sentence, what I mean is --sales rank on online books stores showed, on average, a steep increase in sales. Was it the blog tour? or did other efforts, as in your examples, do the trick?
--however, I think it safer to say that if a negative showing occured on the online stores' rankings during and for a month after the tour it does say something about the efficacy of that tour.

What I (finally) see is that marketing online only can brings false sense of accomplishment -- and then a big let down after one considers all the time and effort put into it. Likewise relying solely on other strategies.

Though it is a pain to utilize all different marketing techniques to boost book sales, it has to be done to cover all bases.

Caprice Hokstad said...

You've got eggs and a basket? So that's why you dressed up as the Easter Bunny for your SL book launch? Who knew?

Seriously though, nice article. Sad. But probably true. Alas.

Deborah Cullins Smith said...

I applaud your bravery in all the marketing steps you've taken, Frank. It's the one area I'm still extremely uncomfortable with. I'd love to be able to just WRITE, and leave the publicity to someone else, but in today's market, I understand that that's a very naive mindset. No author can ignore marketing. I just want you to know that you ARE my hero! You've plowed alot of these marketing roads and shown the rest of us the way. Thanks, Frank!

Marta Stephens said...

I truly appreciate your post on my blog about this, thank you. I did tried several times to respond directly to Mr. Creed’s comments using my valid e-mail and blog ID, but for some reason, the site wouldn’t take it. Let's see if it works this time.

Your question remains, is a virtual book tour worth it? For me it most definitely was. Not only did it give me wonderful exposure, but have sales continue to increase. As with anything else, authors will get out of it what they put into it. A person can't post once or twice and expect to get attention in any site or blog, especially the mega ones like Authors Den, Gathers, etc. The key word for me is “network.” It's also all about building relationships with other members—getting to know them and sharing in their interests. Eventually, they'll start sharing information about you with their network of friends and readers.

I’ve given several examples in my previous comments of the benefits I’ve encountered as a result of the tour. I belong to several author/reader groups and my articles continue to pop up on other sites and I’m asked to repost them. Three months later, I’m still reaping those benefits now in the form of increased sales.

Are virtual tours for everyone? Each author needs to make that decision based on their experience, networking know-how, time. The first thing an author should ask him-/herself is, “How much effort am I willing to put forth?”

Will virtual tours generate as you indicated, “immediate and on-going sales … be the end-all and be-all of promotion.” Absolutely not. Virtual book tours should be viewed as only ONE COMPONENT of the author’s marketing campaign.

The second question should be, “Is it necessary to pay someone else to run the tour for me?” It depends on the individual. I don’t personally think so. Then again, I relied on my public relations background to set it up. Another thing to consider is the personality. I’m not shy about approaching others to sponsor me, I post on numerous blogs and sites every day, am never shy about writing to others—especially if I’m particularly moved by their articles, etc. However, not everyone is comfortable with the Internet. I know numerous authors who, outside of their website, shy away from Internet marketing. So for them, allowing someone else to assist in the effort may be their only solution.

Another aspect of the virtual book tour is what an author will learn about him-/herself and/or their characters. It’s one thing to quote the blurb from their book, but when an author must answer interview questions, it’s quite another to sit down and analyze the how, where, when and why of writing it and present it to readers in a concise manner.

At any rate, it’s all a learning process. I would never discourage an author from considering a virtual book tour as one marketing option or from thinking outside the box. I hope many more will consider their options!

Krishna said...


What an interesting way to get people interested in reading! Book trailers are like movie trailers, but for books! You can find them all over the internet now, but here is a site that's featuring them on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/booktrailers