Virtual Book Tours: An Interview with Steve Weber

Steve WeberLately, there has been a lot of interest in virtual book tours as a marketing tool for authors and publishers.   We invited Steve Weber, a well known book marketing expert, to talk about the in’s and out’s of virtual book tours. 

Steve, a former newspaper reporter, has been a full-time Internet bookseller since 2000, selling new, used and collectible books on sites such as Amazon.com, Half.com, and eBay. In 2005 he self-published his first book, “The Home-Based Bookstore.”  The lessons he learned from promoting that book inspired this year’s “Plug Your Book!: Online Book Marketing for Authors.”  Originally from Charleston, W.Va., he resides in the Washington suburbs of northern Virginia.

FPP:  What is a virtual book tour?

Steve:  It’s making a guest appearance on a blog that serves likely readers of your book.  Sometimes it’s called a “blog tour” or “guest blogging.”  So it’s a good way of popping up in front of your target market — by going to a place where they already congregate.  Blog tours are especially valuable for authors who can’t travel or are uncomfortable with public speaking, and when touring is impractical because a book’s readers are widely dispersed.  Exactly how it’s done depends on your preferences and the style of the blog.  A plain-vanilla virtual book tour would be like newspaper editorials, but in the best case it’s an interactive affair, and the author provokes a discussion among the blog readers.  Typical blog tours include these elements:

  • An excerpt displayed on each host blog in the days preceding the tour to publicize the tour appearance.
  • A one-day appearance, beginning with a short essay on the topic of your book and then inviting discussion.
  • Follow-up visits for the next four to seven days to answer questions and comments from blog readers.

FPP:   How popular are virtual book tours with publishers and authors?  Are they becoming a regular part of book marketing?

Steve:  Absolutely, they’re becoming very popular among authors who handle their own publicity, and professional book consultants are jumping on the bandwagon too.  Blogs are the place where people who are passionate about something gather to exchange ideas.  So there’s no better place for an author to start a discussion and get people excited about his or her book.

FPP:  What is the best way to find good blogs on which to appear?

Steve:  Perhaps you already read a blog that covers your genre or topic area. But it never hurts to look for new blogs, because they can spring up seemingly overnight and gain popularity quickly.  Unfortunately, there’s no authoritative directory or listing of blogs divided into neat categories.  You just have to research it for yourself.  Three sites are good starting places for your search:

  • Technorati.  This blog tracking site lists the 100 most popular blogs at Technorati.com/pop/blogs. But to find niche content, you’ll need to look beyond the mainstream.  Use the advanced search tool.

To drill down into specific topics try these sites:

  • Google Blog Search.  Type in keywords related to your book.  Ignore results from personal blogs that focus on the author and get little traffic.
  • Forbes’ Best of the Web. This directory reviews blogs with high-quality content.  Also, some of the popular, general book blogs have “blogrolls” on their sidebars, which are long lists of other quality book blogs.  For example, scroll down the right side of the blog Grumpy Old Bookman

That blogroll has links to dozens and dozens of great book blogs, and in turn, those blogs link to more far-flung niche blogs. Also, the blogs you pitch don’t necessarily need to be a “book blog.”  Especially if your book is nonfiction, you’ll find lots of opportunities at all kinds blogs that target people who care about your topic.

FPP:  How should an author or publisher approach a  blog owner about an interview?

Steve:  Send a personal e-mail to the publisher or blog author.  Offer to send a review copy of the book, and explain why this will provide interesting content for the blog’s readers. This is a win-win for the blog author because they get free content that provides value for their readership.

FPP:  How many blogs should a tour include?

Steve:  It all depends on how big your niche is.  You should ask to appear on every blog in your topic area or genre that gets appreciable traffic.  Look at how many reader comments the blog attracts — that’s a sign of an engaged audience.

FPP:  How much time should an author or publisher expect to invest in setting up a tour?

Steve:  It can easily take a week or two. It’s also a good idea to prepare a book excerpt or HTML document that can serve as sort of an online book flyer.  The excerpt can be posted a few days before your appearances at the various blogs to publicize your appearance and get the dicussion going.  I explain this in some detail in my book “Plug Your Book,” where you can see an example of an excerpt.  

FPP:  What things should an author do to prepare for an interview?

Steve:  It’s helpful to read the previous few weeks of postings to the blogs you’re going to appear on.  Since you’re the author, you’re the expert on your book.  Just remember to be diplomatic, and if you get rude or off-topic comments, steer the discussion back to the points you want to discuss.

FPP:  How can the effectiveness of a blog tour be measured, if at all?

Steve:  The only way to measure the results is by posting an affiliate or tracking link, which enables you to see the book sales resulting from a specific site.  The blog owner might allow you to post your own affiliate link, but they might want to post their own links to Amazon, for example, so that they earn a commision (and that’s fair).  It’s always been terribly hard to track book sales, because they depend on word of mouth.

FPP:  Do you see any new trends emerging in the use of virtual book tours?

Steve:  I think a lot of people are catching on to this method of marketing, in the book industry and in other areas. Consumers just don’t pay much attention to traditional advertising anymore.  You’ve got to show up at the places where they are already discussing something that matters to them, like blogs.  It’s getting a lot easier to put audio and video content on blogs, so this will undoubtedly be a trend to watch.  Virtual book tours in the future will go beyong plain text, and into spoken-word interviews, book readings, and visual performances.

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