We're bumping up this excellent guest post by Liz Zelvin from several years ago for the benefit of the current Blog Book Tours class which is spending the month of September finding blog hosts for their own tours:
Welcome to Liz Zelvin, author of Death Can Get You Sober. She shares with us tips on developing friendships in the cyber-world to help promote our publications.
Cumulative Cyberschmoozing: The Secret of a Successful Virtual Book Tour
By Elizabeth Zelvin
My debut mystery, Death Will Get You Sober, hit bookstores on April 15 (2008). Since I want to give my novel the best possible shot, I am working hard on a variety of promotional activities. I set up a book tour, and I will be traveling across the country signing books, talking to readers, and most important, meeting individual booksellers face to face, from late April through all of May and June. A virtual tour has a different purpose: to reach and improve my visibility with the many readers who talk about and buy books online.
Setting up the virtual tour was time consuming. But I found it relatively easy to develop a list of blogs and websites that were willing to interview me or host a guest blog, others that offered opportunities to chat, record a podcast, or appear as a featured author.
How did I know where to go and whom to ask? I’ve been networking among mystery lovers for years, on e-lists like Guppies and DorothyL and web-based social networks like CrimeSpace. What gave me the time to build up not just contacts but friendships in the mystery community was how long it took me to find a publisher: more than five years from when I started sending the manuscript out. In retrospect, not a day of that agonizing time was wasted.
All this time, I’ve been schmoozing (a Yiddish word that a friend of mine insists means “to network shamelessly”) in cyberspace and also face to face at book launches, meetings of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and mystery conferences and parties. It helps that I live in New York. It also helps that I make my living in cyberspace as an online therapist and therefore am very comfortable expressing myself in text. I’ve been lucky in having had the opportunity to blog with some terrific mystery writers on Poe’s Deadly Daughters. When I finally did get a publisher, it happened to be one that gives me enormous credibility with other writers.
But anyone can follow a few simple rules that, in retrospect, I think contributed to the effectiveness of my virtual tour.
1. Get out there on the Internet and make friends. Be generous. Post when you can contribute something, not just when you need something. If you like someone’s book, email that person one to one and tell them so. Post comments to the mystery blogs. Don’t just talk about yourself and your book or manuscript or blog. Be thoughtful, informative, and entertaining. These skills will come in handy when you’re ready to write your guest blogs, and they’ll convey that you’re someone it will be a pleasure to help.
2. Keep it fresh. Stockpile blog posts whenever you can. Blogging is like any other kind of writing: it often starts with a spark of creativity, and then you’ve got to do the work. Don’t just write about writing or blogging or promoting books. Write about whatever interests you. During your virtual tour, you’ll want to avoid redundancy—and since you’ll tour around the time your book is published, you won’t have time to write ten or twenty pieces at the last moment. Make sure you say something different or reveal a different aspect of yourself or your work each time. I even write my brief bios from scratch every time, so they won’t all sound the same.
3. Ask your hosts if they’ll interview you rather than host a guest blog. I found every interviewer had a distinctive style and approach. Answering questions allowed me to keep it fresh without having to come up with a different angle every time myself. A bonus: license to talk about myself until the cows came home. I admit I had a grand time doing it. And some of the questions were definitely wild and unexpected. We all had fun, and I think it came across to readers.
4. Keep careful track of the logistics of your tour. A lot of the work, besides contacting hosts and writing the material, was record keeping. I had a master file that included the date of every virtual gig, the host blog or newsletter or website name, what kind of event it was (eg guest blog, interview, profile, podcast, live chat, Q&A), the url I’d need to create a link for the schedule on my website, the contact person’s name and email address, and—most important—the status of the material. Some I wrote and sent months in advance, and the host took on the task of remembering to post it at the right time. Others asked me to send it—or remind them—at a particular time nearer to the event date. All undone tasks appeared in my master file in red, and I duplicated the “Send” and “Remind” dates as notes on two different calendars. Then I posted all the events to the Virtual Tour page on my own website, with active links to the host sites or blogs—a small enough return for their generosity in hosting me.
5. Do it in advance. Get it done. It took me all of February to get my virtual tour schedule set and write the material, with a lot of emailing back and forth to my various hosts. But now it’s done. Unlike a real-life tour, except for the occasional live chat or podcast, when you’ve done the preparation, the work is finished. One or two blog hosts asked me to check in several times on the day my guest blog ran in order to respond to reader comments. And if I hadn’t heard recently from a host I’d set up a date with months ago, I might email to reconfirm as the date approached—or check to see that my blog or interview got posted as scheduled. But basically, once finalized, the virtual tour will run itself.
Elizabeth Zelvin’s debut mystery is Death Will Get You Sober (St. Martin’s, April 2008). Library Journal calls it “a remarkable and strongly recommended first novel.” Her related short story, “Death Will Clean Your Closet,” has been nominated for an Agatha award for Best Short Story. More about Liz, including her Virtual Tour schedule, appears on her website.
And you can keep up with what Liz has to say by regularly visiting her at the Poe's Deadly Daughters blog.