Dani: Hi Roberta and Susan. Roberta, you just completed your second blog book tour for Asking For Murder, third in the Advice Column mystery series. How did it go this time, now that you’re a seasoned pro?
Roberta: Hi Dani! Thanks for hosting me here and for all the tips and support you’ve offered! The tour was exhilarating, but exhausting. Just below you’ll read Susan Albert’s admonition that an author shouldn’t launch a blog book tour because he or she thinks it’s an easy way to promote.
Dani: You hired a professional service your first tour and organized this one yourself. How did your workload differ in each scenario?
Roberta: There are three kinds of work involved, not counting spiffing up your own website/blog before this all begins. First would be locating hosts and signing them on to the tour. Second would be writing the posts for each tour stop. And third would be attending each day’s stop and chatting with your visitors. For a hired tour, many of the stops are standard to a number of touring authors, and therefore, less specific to you and your books. So it was definitely more work organizing my own tour. On the other hand, the stops were better tailored to my specific marketing needs.
As far as writing posts, I probably put an equal amount of work into both tours. There’s simply no point in turning in a shoddy essay if your goal is to have visitors become intrigued enough with your writing to buy books! And the same with visiting sites on the days they host you: You must plan to stop in several times daily and respond to comments. You want to be a cheerful, interesting presence—Iike you would at a dinner party, only in this case you can wear pajamas!
Dani: How did you connect with the host blogs on each tour, and did that determine what kinds of posts appeared?
Roberta: My book, ASKING FOR MURDER, is the third in a mystery series featuring Dr. Rebecca Butterman, advice columnist, clinical psychologist, gourmet cook, and amateur sleuth. So I tried to find a variety of websites that would be seen by mystery buffs, writers, as well as folks interested in cooking, advice columns, sandplay therapy, and psychology. (And here, I must plug Dani who pushed me to explore niche markets! Listen to your blogtour mom—she’s almost always right.) I contacted most of the hosts directly; a few invited me to make a stop on their blog. Some of the hosts had a specific idea of what they wanted. For example, Helen Ginger on Straight From Hel wanted a post on writing openings. Several others wanted to do book reviews or author interviews. But the majority expressed no preference. So my subjects ranged from disastrous dinner parties, to how to avoid giving bad advice, to a discussion about how the media makes psychologists look like buffoons, to a marketing chat between my husband and me. The challenge was to keep the connection between the host blog, my guest post, and my new book firmly in mind as I wrote each one.
Dani: Just for fun, what were your favorite stops on each book tour?
Roberta: My husband was a star on both tours. He’s funny and good-natured and I think it gave people a break from my voice to have him do an interview. The post on White On Rice Couple is hysterical, because they took the idea I sent (disastrous dinner parties) and ran with it. You must go look at the pictures of the gigantic lopsided cupcake. Although this might sound a little far from selling mysteries, the topic allowed me to post an excerpt about my character’s dinner party from hell in Asking for Murder …and hear a lot of funny stories about other people’s disasters.
Dani: And one of their readers commented that they bought your book! Those are the best comments. Now, what do you think you’d do differently on your next blog tour?
Roberta: I was not good with statistics. (Advice—don’t go on vacation right before your tour starts—things slip through the cracks!) If I’d had more time, I should have checked in with the hosts to be sure the comments feature was working. We had a couple of snafus with that. And some hosts were better at promoting the appearance than others—I’d offer suggestions to all the blogsters at the beginning.
Well-known authors will have a different experience with a blog tour than those just starting out. Susan’s books are very popular and her herbal/gardening niche is very well defined. This allows her to be quite selective when choosing hosts—something we all aspire to! Next time I would start even earlier choosing possible hosts, so I could take advantage of the best traffic. One more thing—there were people I approached who didn’t wish to be part of the tour, but they will post a review or an interview in their own time. Just saying, sometimes it helps to shoot high.
Susan: I’m a big believer in a tour that has a strong thematic continuity, so that people keep coming back for the next post. I also try to choose my hosts carefully--which means finding hosts with the right thematic fit, fairly strong traffic (the stronger the better!), and a habit of promoting their blogs. Peggy, my webmistress, puts up an invitation/application page that spells out all the details. I list the topics I want to post on (thinking “theme” with every topic), and invite hosts to pick a couple.
Then I put out the word on the Internet that I’m looking for hosts, and hope that the invitation will land in the right laps. If not, I go out and invite bloggers to “apply,” (I keep a list of people who mention my work on their blogs, and of course, a roll of blogs that are important in my areas of interest.) I schedule the tour. Peggy posts a calendar page (this is important, because it gives people an idea of the thematic “threads” that are involved).
I send out the blog posts to the hosts a couple of weeks ahead of time, asking them to pre-post, if possible. Peggy checks the posts to make sure they work right. Sometimes they don’t, which requires “adjustments.”
I promote the tour by directing readers to the calendar page, which is the “gateway” to the tour. Also, I offer a book prize at each blog stop. Peggy sets up the drawing pages--one page for each tour stop. She random-generates the winners and emails them to get name/address for mailing the prize book.
Now that the invitation/application page, the calendar page, and the drawing pages are done, they can be reused for the next tour, which will cut down my work substantially. Still, this project takes a lot of time and effort. Authors shouldn’t undertake a blog tour if they think it is “easy.”
Dani: One of the things I try to impress on authors planning tours is the importance of blog statistics, your own as well as tour hosts. Susan, I know you have clear opinions about this aspect of a tour. Roberta, how do your stats compare between the pro tour and your own?
Susan: Since I can’t see the blog stats (the host blogger reports her/his stats to me), I track the entries to the prize drawings, which serves as my own statistic. It should be smaller than the blog hit number (some people don’t bother to enter), but at least, it’s consistent. Also, I track the daily hits to the calendar page, since I use it as the “gateway” to the tour.
Roberta: I don’t really have numbers to answer your questions. But many more comments were made on the sites this time around—I imagine this has some correlation to traffic. (Again, listen to your blog mom and ask your hosts to give you numbers before and after!)
Dani: We know the most important statistics are book sales, because that’s what the publishers are most concerned about. Can you both comment on the effectiveness of the blog tours on your sales? Roberta, which of your tours do you think was most effective in that aspect?
Roberta: The only way I have to track sales right now is to haunt Amazon. And of course we’ve all been told that Amazon ranks account for only a small number of sales. That said, the numbers seem better this time. I did send an email out to my mailing list at the beginning of the tour, which coincided with the book’s release date. The biggest surge came then. I sent another email out when I’d had a TV appearance and could offer a peek at the clip. Surge in blog visits. So you see it’s very hard to separate cause and effect when you’re doing many things to promote a book.
Susan: I’ve said this before, but it bears saying again. Unless you are directing purchasers to one single web page for book purchases, it is very hard to separate out the effects of the blog tour on sales from all the other things you are (or should be!) doing to promote your book. Of course, you can check Amazon or Barnes/Noble ranking, but that’s not going to give you much hard data. Also: since I leave my calendar page online and occasionally direct people to a particular post or a group of posts, people continue to read the posts. So book sales from those posts may continue over a long time. It’s very hard to track results from that kind of “delayed” advertising.
Dani: Would you do it again? Any idea of changes you might make to make it easier?
Susan: Yes, I’ll do it again, in March-April 2009. I’ll look for different hosts, improve communications with them, and expand my promotion efforts. I’ll also come up with different post topics. My theory: every little bit helps.
Roberta: What she said (grin). Except I have to write another book first—I’m looking forward to having the time and energy to do that! A million thanks to you Dani for your enthusiasm and support!
Dani: I think the October theme at the Blog Book Tours Yahoo!Group better be working with statistics – at least the ones that are available! Susan is right when she says you can't track exact sales, although this works best with non-fiction and purchase links at each stop that lead directly to a publisher site. I know of one author who had to go into reprint halfway through his blog tour. But other statistics can give strong clues if we use them, like the reports from each of the hit counters. More authors are starting to add widgets like sitemeter and statcounter, but the reports often aren't read and understood. Guess we'll tackle that subject next.
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