Virtual Book Tours

Via S.L. Viehl, I note the existence of Virtual Book Tour, a public relations group which specializes in connecting authors with blogs to complement (or in the stead of) an actual book tour, for a fee ranging anywhere from $225 for a minimal “blogmatching” with three blogs to a three-day “tour” for $3000. Ms. Viehl seems skeptical that this service is worth the money, and I have to say I agree with her. Note that I am not skeptical that blog publicity is good publicity; I’d be a stinkin’ hypocrite if I said that. But I wonder whether doing something like this is a good use of money, and a good use of the nature of blogs.

To address the former: I doubt rather seriously whether one should spend anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to promote one’s self to bloggers, particularly if one is at all familiar with the blogosphere. Indeed, I would go so far as to suggest that if you’re reading this entry right now, and you’re a writer with a book from a genuine publisher (i.e., one that doesn’t make you pay to send out review copies of your own book), you’re probably competent enough to mount a “virtual book tour” at no cost to you whatsoever.

But how? Well, simple:

1. Identify 5 – 10 blogs you like, which are also reasonably well-trafficked and/or well-known to the kind of folks you guess would be interested in your book.

2. Call up the in-house publicist at your publisher and say “I’d like it very much if you’d send an advance copy to the following people,” and then give them the e-mail addresses of the blogger in question or, if you really want to impress your publicist and make her/his life easier, the physical address of the blogger in question. Let your publicist know that you’d also be willing to sit for an interview with the blogger if they’d like, and also tell them to let the blogger know you specified that they should receive an advance copy of the book (it’s flattering).

3. Let your in-house publicist do her/his job and then as you get closer to the release date of the book, follow up with her/him as to who among the bloggers has evidenced any interest.

There you go.

Your cost: $0, less the cost of your time to advise the in-house publicist as to which bloggers you’d like to have your work sent to. But even if you were self-publishing and had to bear all the cost and effort of doing the above yourself, your total cost would still be less than what this outfit is charging; the premium here presumably comes from their knowledge of the blogging field (i.e. what to send to whom). Possibly that’s worth that much money, but I’m doubtful. It’s not that hard to navigate the blogging world and see which bloggers might be useful to you, even if you’re a complete newbie. And the barrier for entry into the blogging world, promotionwise, is almost laughably low at this point. Mining blogs for their promotional value is so new that most bloggers are still excited at the idea of getting free books and stuff.

So: Is this “Virtual Book Tour” business a scam? I wouldn’t think so — from what I can see, the folks running it do what they say they’re going to do, and hook up authors with bloggers. If you want to spend your money with them, I’m sure they’ll do a fine job for you. But again, why would you want to spend that much money, for something you could get (or do) for free? $3K is a pretty big chunk of any first-time writers’ advance, and not an insignificant amount of most book advances on average.

Before you do anything like this, do check with your publisher’s in-house publicist; you may be surprised at how open they are to trying to address the blog/online angle. For example, I had no problem convincing Portable Press, which publishes my Book of the Dumb books, to hook up with for advertising purposes, or to send the Book of the Dumb to bloggers I selected. Neither did I have any problems at all when I offered up a small list of bloggers I wanted Old Man’s War sent to. Subterranean Press, who will be publishing the hardcover of Agent to the Stars, plans to make the blog/online world a substantial part of its publicity push and indeed has already started to work that angle (see this piece at the Agony Column, from Thursday, as an example). In other words, it’s not that hard to make your in-house publicist see the light, if in fact she or he still needs to be convinced. And once you point out the fact that doing this sort of thing costs nearly nothing (especially relative to mounting a real world tour), they may become even more enthused.

Now to the second point, which relates to the nature of the blog world itself, in terms of publicity. However you decide to address online publicity, remember to keep a realistic expectation of how successful it’s going to be in terms of your book sales (or whatever else you’re promoting). For example, with Old Man’s War, I asked Tor to send advance copies to five different bloggers/online sites, all of whom I have had some personal familiarity with in the past, and could therefore not unreasonably expect might make a mention of the book. Two did and the others didn’t. Any publicist will tell you two hits out of five is pretty good; I would have been happy with just one.

Also remember that blogs have their good points and bad points as publicity machines. The good news is that blog readers tend to have a more “intimate” relationship with the blogs they read than they do with, say, magazines and newspapers; I suspect the individual reader of a blog is rather more likely to pick up a book on the recommendation of the blogger than they would on the recommendation of a newspaper review. On the other hand, blog readership is generally tiny, relative to conventional media. The Virtual Book Tour folks, as an example, promise to connect authors with blogs that have readership of 500 and 1,000 daily readers — an almost unfathomably small number of readers compared to even a modest-sized daily newspaper. The non-online publicist that promised to position a book to media outlets with 500 to 1,000 readers had better have a second job lined up to pay the rent.

On yet the other hand, there’s a difference in that the 500 visitors to a blog are reading only that blog during their visit, while the many thousands of readers of a newspaper have a substantial number of articles vying for their attention. But on still another hand, a review of your book from a newspaper or magazine will get slapped on the paperback (or future printings) and helps to position your book and future work to booksellers and the public, while a review from Joe Blogger will not. We can do the pros and cons until you run out of hands.

The other issue to address is how professionalization of blog publicity will change the dynamic between the reader and the blogger. Right now we take it for granted that when a blogger says “I really liked this book/CD/movie/whatever,” they’re being honest about their enthusiasm. But when the “top” bloggers are regularly serviced by publicists, will this remain true? Many people feel professional critics are already compromised by their interaction with the publicity machine, regardless of whether that’s true or not; why would bloggers be any different?

And once a blogger loses personal credibility, what does he or she have left to offer? If you’re reading an entry by a blogger about a movie or book (or whatever) and part of you is wondering if the blogger is writing about it because they are genuinely interested in the work or just because they promised a publicist they would, then the reader-blogger dynamic is already broken, and the blogger is just another shill. That does you no good — and as importantly, it spells trouble for the blogger as well.

These are the things to consider when you think about using bloggers for publicity — and why the best way to do blogging publicity may be to offer your work to bloggers in a realistic, low-key way that respects the independent and curious nature of blogging, rather than mounting a highly-polished, highly aggressive drive for product placement. In other words, virtual book tours that respect the real dynamics of the blog world.

17 Comments on “Virtual Book Tours”

  1. Wow… now when I get my first review copy I’ll have to wonder: have I made it in blog-world, or am I a sellout?

    I guess I can be both!


  2. Wow… now when I get my first review copy I’ll have to wonder: have I made it in blog-world, or am I a sellout?

    I guess I can be both!


  3. I have between five hundred and a thousand readers. I bet you have more than that.

    Think we can get a piece of this action?

  4. I have between five hundred and a thousand readers. I bet you have more than that.

    Think we can get a piece of this action?

  5. Elizabeth Bear:

    “I have between five hundred and a thousand readers. I bet you have more than that.”

    Now I have to check.


    Looks like most weekdays I’m pulling down 5K-7K unique viewers, or so my stats tell me. I don’t know what I pull down on By the Way, although I would expect it’s about the same or more (promotion on the AOL service helps). AOL’s happy with it, in any event.

    And as it happens, I field publicist e-mails from time to time re: books and other stuff. Like anyone else I wouldn’t mind getting more free stuff, and since I’m particularly interested in new writers (being one myself), it would be neat to see more those kinds of books, since — as you know — new writers have to fight to get on the radar.

    But on the other hand — and for reasons I’ve outlined in the piece above — I don’t want to garner a rep as plugging something just because it’s sent to me. If I’m going to plug something, it should be because I like it, not because I’m renting out advertising space in exchange for free books. If I want to run advertising, I’ll put up a banner ad and subscribe to BlogAds.

  6. *g* In fairness, my comment was chiefly tongue in cheek. And I agree–I won’t plug a book I don’t like, but I will plug one I do like.

    One of the reasons I like livejournal is because it’s such a conversational forum. I don’t necessarily feel like I have to generate serious! content when I post–it’s socially acceptable to do things over there (like tracking wordcount) that I would feel funny doing in a more traditionally bloggy blog. If that makes any sense. [/tangent]

  7. Thanks, Kevin.

    If any of you Whatever readers have questions for Kevin, here’s a good place to put them.

  8. Thanks, Kevin.

    If any of you Whatever readers have questions for Kevin, here’s a good place to put them.

  9. I started noticing a couple of months ago that I was getting pitches for my blog mixed in with the normal flood of pitches I get, as a journalist, from PR people.

    I say “my blog” because that’s the way the pitche are written. But I actually have TWO blogs.

  10. Oh, man, that previous post was reasonably illiterate.

    I meant to say I have TWO blogs, but the pitches are written to pitch to my blog. Singular. Which indicates to me that the PR people have very little idea who I am and they’re just including my blogs in the usual indiscriminate shotgun-blast of pitches they send out. I’m not impressed.

  11. I have received several offers from publicists to review books, but somehow whenever I gave my (non-US) physical address, nothing whatsoever was heard from them again, Even though a reasonably large part of my “readership” comes from the US.

    Advance copies of science fiction or fantasy books are always welcome, as long as publicists are aware that this does not guarantee a positive review. And, I hesitate to point out, some of the reviews on my booklog are the first hit you’ll get on google. (Nevermind that this is for books like
    _Space by the Tale_ by Jerome Bixby.)

    I would draw the line at being paid to review books on my blog(s), though I wouldn’t mind doing so for an (e-)zine. My blogs are my own; once you get paid for it, it isn’t anymore.

    In general, I don’t think this sort of thing, receiving free books to review, will actually change the dynamic of blogs that much, as long as you are not paid to shill via your blog.

    Moreover, it is difficult to shill and still be interesting, so anybody who went that route will have difficulties keeping their readership.

  12. We looked long and hard at the “credibility” issue a couple of years ago when the publishers stared flooding us with books. I say flooding, as there’s no way we can read the 6 – 10 books we get each week from various publishers and independent authors. At the same time, we interview two authors each week on our show. Our conundrum: how do we represent books we haven’t had a chance to read yet? And what about the crappy books we wouldn’t recommend? Do we give them airtime just because they sent us a book?

    We try and handle these situations with honesty. If we get an author on the show who’s books we haven’t read, we don’t pretend like we have. (Like Old Man’s War. Still on my “to read” list…) We take an authors standing in the community and influence from people we respect dictate whether or not to interview work we haven’t seen. If the author is new, we do try and make a point to read the book. If it’s good, we get them on the air. It doesn’t have to be perfect nor really appeal to our tastes. But it can’t be garbage. Gotta draw the line somewhere.

    And if we have read a book which we like, of course we throw that into the mix. No shilling, just honest answers. At least, we sure try!

    Ciao… Evo

    The Dragon Page

  13. I think Dragon Page is a special case, Evo. You’ve got a blog, but you’re also a radio show which specifically deals with science fiction. I think people expect you to be a place where people (for lack of a better word) shill their wares. I think it’s admirable you’re up front about what you read and don’t (or haven’t, as the case may be).

  14. My publisher sent me here, and I found the discussion very interesting. My problem is that I live in Australia, but have three books published in the USA. So if it ain’t virtual, I can’t do it.
    So, I have this problem. One of the three books has won a prize, the other two were finalists in contests, but sales are low because people don’t know about them. Any advice will be gratefully acted upon.
    ———————————————— Dr Bob Rich
    Commit random acts of kindness. ————————————————

%d bloggers like this: