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Do Book Blog Tours Work (and how do you set one up?)?

| Posted in Guest Posts |

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This is my on-vacation week (where I’m supposedly not working on anything related to ebooks or writing — hah?), so I’m glad to have a guest post to share with you today. Middle grade and YA author, Michelle Isenhoff, is here to talk about book tours and how they help (or do they…?) with promotion and book sales. She’s fresh off a big tour and has learned a lot from the experience. So, without further introduction, I give you…

Michelle Isenhoff on Book Blog Tours

The End

Nope, that’s not a typo. Today is the end. The end of my first-ever blog tour.

Ahem, I see I better start at the beginning…

Let’s see, the beginning would actually be nine years ago, when I penned my first children’s novel. But that would make for a long story involving rejections, rewrites, vastly improved writing skills, four additional novels, and a Christmas present. So let’s just skip to the gift, shall we?

In 2010, my husband gave me a Kindle, which opened up for me an awareness of the whole digital world, including self-publishing. By then I had four novels sitting in a drawer, so I jumped in with both feet, quickly self-publishing all four books in the spring of last year. I may have jumped into the Pool of Publication, but my books slipped in with hardly a ripple. Such a beginning taught me a great deal about what not to do. So for the release of my newest middle grade novel, Beneath the Slashings, I decided to make all the waves I could. Part of that involved organizing a blog tour, which brings me back to “The End.” But instead of writing a how-to tutorial, I’ll just let you in on my experience.

Putting a Tour Together

A blog tour is simply a consecutive run of posts about a particular book on a variety of blogs with an aim to give your book as much exposure as possible. Since I write in the children’s genre, the first thing I did was compile a list of blogs that review middle grade fiction. They’re easy to find, especially when you find one with a long blog roll of similar sites, but I was a bit choosey. I wanted active blogs with a fair-sized audience to get the most publicity for my efforts. I also searched out a few blogs by kids.

It took much longer than I thought. Only about a third of my queries were accepted (or even answered). Also, many of the larger blogs do not review self-published work—but they often accept guest posts. So, in addition to soliciting reviews, I wrote a variety of articles, including character interviews, a post about lumberjack lingo, a few aimed at teachers, and this one, of course. (Thanks, Lindsay!) I even put together a handful of lumber camp recipes on a cooking blog. With a little creativity, you can find many “angles” to write about.

I do have to admit to some bribery. To provide incentive and thank those who participated, I promised a drawing for a $50 Amazon gift card at the end of the month. Any review left on Amazon during August qualified. I also priced my book at ninety-nine cents for the entire month of August so my review bloggers could offer their readers a special price. I avoided giveaways, as those have never worked out well for me.

As the tour progressed, I learned to never assume things will run as planned. Several bloggers backed out or forgot to post. Some didn’t include links. A few needed further explanations. A couple rescheduled. And two dropped off the face of the earth; I never got another response after their initial agreement. My advice is to stay organized and keep in touch with your bloggers as much as possible. Send out reminders, graciously untangle crossed wires, link to their posts, follow up with thank you comments, and roll with whatever happens.

My Conclusions

And now I’m really to “The End,” the part where I summarize results. Honestly, a blog tour is a lot of work. Was it worth it? Yeah, I think so. Here are some of the benefits I reaped:

•    feedback from many different reviewers
•    lots of eyes checking for those last slippery typos
•    new contacts
•    reviews posted on Amazon and Goodreads
•    thirty different blog audiences exposed to my work
•    interaction with my audience through blog comments
•    a spike in Newsletter sign-ups
•    a few more followers on Twitter and Facebook
•    fan input which resulted in a new and improved cover image

But what about sales and Amazon rankings? The increased sales of other books? That’s really what all the effort boils down to, isn’t it? Honestly, I was a bit disappointed. The children’s genre is a tough, tough market for a variety of reasons, and my monthly sales usually hover just under the three digit mark. I had hoped with the low price tag the new book might move a little better than it did. I must take into consideration, though, that it is the third in a trilogy, and even though they are each stand-alone novels, I’m sure that put some people off. I did, however, see an increase in the sale of my other books, particularly the first one in the trilogy, so I may yet reap further sales later (when the book will be priced at 2.99). Overall, my digital sales are on track to double this month, and I netted two bulk paperback orders, but I think the most significant benefits will be long-term rather than immediate.

Will I do a blog tour again? Yes, I will. I still think it’s an effective way for an indie to gain exposure. But I think I’ll top the next one off at two weeks rather than a full month. The prep work took a LOT of time, and though the tour was fresh for each new blog audience, it began to drag out for my regular readers. In the meantime, I’ll be putting into effect a new marketing campaign with the start of school: Teachers get them free (any digital edition anytime). It should be a lot less effort!

Michelle Isenhoff is an elementary teacher and the author of several middle grade and young adult novels. Her new release, Beneath the Slashings, takes place in a Michigan lumber camp and concludes a trilogy of Civil War historical fiction. You can find Michelle and her new free-for-teachers policy hanging out on her children’s literature blog.

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Comments (39)

Interesting.

My scant experience trying to simply get review blogs to review my books generated so little bang for my effort that I gave up the idea of a blog tour altogether.

I had wondered if I gave up too easily.

After reading Michelle’s experience . . . I think not.

Using Dean Wesley Smith’s WIBBOW test – would I be better off writing? – and given that I write fantasy (some YA, some aimed more for adults) I think I WOULD be better off writing!

Michelle, thanks for sharing how it went for you. Lindsay, thanks for hosting Michelle. I’m still learning abut this indie publishing world, and hearing about others’ experiences (rather than just their conclusions) helps me so much.

Hi J.M. It was definitely a mixture of results for a lot of work. If you’re not in a genre that sells well–and I’m not, but it’s my passion–marketing is plain hard work. Would I rather write? Yup. But that doesn’t sell my books, so I figure I’ll have to put in some marketing effort. I’m further ahead than I was last spring, and I do know my efforts will slowly compound. Mixed bag, but I just haven’t found a magic formula yet. :)

Excellent information for someone just starting to contact bloggers (er, that would be me!). Thanks for sharing your experience. And yes, it’s always important to account for attrition. Some folks just won’t pull through.

That was one of the most disappointing things for me, Ilana. The no-shows.

I did a blog tour for my first book, but lately I’ve just been doing interviews sporadically, maybe once a month, just because I enjoy doing them. It’s not as much effort as organizing a tour, and doesn’t really interfere with writing time at all, but I don’t know if it’s really brought a whole lot of extra attention to my books either. Perhaps it would be good to add incentives, like coupon codes for blog readers or something else to incentivize reviews.

If you find the magic formula, Joe, let me in on it! :)

This may sound a little like shamefull self promotion, but I built a website specifically for helping authors go on virtual tour. I don’t charge or anything, though, so you can’t fault me too much. All it really does is allow people to list book that they want to take on tour and blogs that they operate where others can make tour stops. http://www.blogtour.org

Not shameful at all, Bryce. Thanks for sharing the info!

Blog tours work well…when folks can get them off the ground. Hopefully they’re but one part of an overall marketing strategy.

That’s just it, RD. A tour is just one thing, and I want to try many. That’s why it’s on to the next one. Hopefully, with my education niche, allying with teachers will contribute successfully to that overall strategy.

[...] Do Blog Tours Work (And How Do You Set One Up?) by Michelle Isenhoff at Lindsay Buroker [...]

Thanks, Lindsay, for letting me post. I’ve been a quiet follower of yours for over a year, so this has been really fun. :)

And thank you from saving my blog from going post-less this week while I was on vacation kidnapped by terrorists and unable to work despite my fervent desires to do so.

[...] stop #30 Ebook Endeavors Share:Like this:Like3 bloggers like this. Categories: Slashings Blog Tour | Tags: author [...]

Very useful information. My co-author and I are planning a blog tour in December so it’s very timely for us. Is three months enough lead time for most blogs? Or is this something we should have started planning in the middle of summer?

You should be good if you start right away, Margaret. I started contacting bloggers three months out and never had anyone require more time than that. But because of wait time, back-outs, and such, I found I was still filling final spaces six weeks out. That was tough. I filled my last few vacancies with guest posts.

[...] Do Book Blog Tours Work (and how do you set one up) by Lindsay Buroker. [...]

This is really interesting info. I’m launching my debut novel later this year, so thanks for the honest insight on the effectiveness of blog tours!

Ryan

Welcome! :) Good luck!

Thanks for your candor.
Having done three (self-organized) blog tours in this crazy summer of three book launches, I have to say the tours weren’t worth the effort. One upside: I now have a slew of essays I can re-post on my own blog down the line.

Three! AGH! Maybe not the results you wanted, but you can probably say you’re further than you were this spring.

I imagine it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to make “waves” in children’s books through self-publishing. Children aren’t browsing the Kindle store, and even if they were, they don’t usually have the means to purchase whatever they want. They’re mostly restricted to the paper books offered by brick-and-mortar bookstores, schools and public libraries, who only buy thoroughly vetted titles from Scholastic, Penguin, and the like. Parents aren’t likely to be shopping for their kids on Amazon, either.

So I can see why the blog tour fell flat. I think other genres with an older, more internet-oriented audience might do better. There are a lot of popular blogs in romance, for example. And maybe sci-fi, though I’m not familiar with them.

You nailed the challenges right on the head, T.K. That’s why I’m going to trying to ally with educators next. My next book is YA, and they tend to move better than MG.

Hi Michelle – I have just found your post. Really interesting to read. It’s so heartening to find others who share the same issues and challenges and generously share what they are learning. I recently indie published 3 of my backlist titles to kindle, a trilogy of horse and pony stories for children and teens which sold very well in print. Somehow it didn’t occur to me until a whole month after I had published that you have to be 13 to get an Amazon account and that actually this is not a great age group for e-books. I’m working desperately hard to promote the books, especially as I’m donating all the royalties to Redwings Horse Sanctuary, but I am having to accept that if I want success in the long term with e-books I am going to have to consider a different genre. A hard lesson – especially as I planned to publish more of my horse and pony stories! Maybe I just got too caught up in the excitement of it all…..

I think ereader use is on the rise for kids, especially as more and more schools issue ipads. Still, I find my one YA title beats out my MG books every month. Best of luck, Jane. Awesome that you have print copies doing so well.

Really interesting information. I’ve got a big blog tour running November through January for my debut release. Everything is already scheduled, and I now I have the daunting task of coming up with all the posts. I’ve made sure to give at least three days between each posts, so I can get the word out to each. I’m hoping it will help get my name out to a new crowd, but we’ll see how it goes. As a debut author, I’ve got to do everything I can to build awareness.

Best of luck, Stacy!

I did a huge marketing push when my first book came out, including interviews, a blog tour, and signing as many people as would do to an author/book spotlight on publication day. I think I sold about 40 copies as a result.

At the time, that sounded great. I was brand new at it and couldn’t imagine 40 people wanting to read my books!

But it took about a month of full-time work to set all that up, and I believe I would have been better off spending that time writing my next book. (I can write a first draft in about six weeks.) A month of 8-hour days to sell 40 books was perhaps not a great use of my time. I need to be selling books by the hundreds and thousands, not one at a time, which is essentially what a blog tour did for me.

Nothing I’ve done has raised my profile quite so much as having more books out. Now I have four and am working on the fifth. Shelf space means a lot more than blog appearances, in my experience.

That’s not to say that I don’t care about individual readers. I get requests these days to write guest posts, and I will do it if asked. I have worked to build up a newsletter audience, which is pure gold, because these are people who I know will buy my books and want to hear about promotions and release dates. I also answer all email from readers, facebook messages, etc, even though it can be time-consuming and not directly sell any books, because I know those contacts can turn a reader into an avid fan, which is always a good thing. (Avid fans tell other people, and word of mouth is valuable.)

All of this is to say I wouldn’t say “don’t ever do blog tours”, but for me personally, I found it was too time consuming with little to show for it. It may be a good way to launch a completely unknown author (which I was when I did my first tour), but I think it’s so incredibly time consuming and draining, it would be hard to recommend as an effective tool.

Thank you, India, for relating your experience. It’s awesome that you’re doing so well! I don’t feel like I’m at the point to discard any opportunity yet. I put four “trunk novels” out last year, but one mistake I made was not getting a newsletter put together until this spring. I regret those missed opportunities. I guess that’s what happens when we learn as we go. The thing is to move on from here, and that includes starting my new book this fall, too!

I think you’re doing it right. It’s hard to beat shelf space. Even if you get a huge buzz from marketing, it will be limited if you only have one or two books. I’m just focusing on writing and basic social interactions, like commenting on posts :)

This echoes a lot of advice I have read from established ebook writers. I’ve found myself recently drawn less toward worrying about promoting and more toward getting the next book done.

The ROI for me to write blog posts is low, and to coordinate posts with other people, even lower. I’d like to do one or two guest posts next year to help fellow writers, and maybe myself a little, but nothing so intensive as a tour. I can write a polished chapter in the time required for a post on my blog. This is why my blog languishes. I will choose chapters every time. I realize this problem is maybe unique to me, but it is what it is. I find blogging difficult and fiction easy.

So shelf space is my top priority. Nothing beats having more books for your fans to read.

I admire those who are effective bloggers, I’m just not one of them.

Blogging, for me is short and fun. Less involved than fiction. But I am cutting back my posts this fall to make fiction my priority again. Time to get cracking. :)

[...] Do Blog Tours Work and How Do You Set One Up by Michelle Isenhoff [...]

I found people helping me get the word out I published a new book is effective. I think the first blog tour helped with exposure. But the effort wasn’t worth the pay off. So, I’ve not done another tour.

I do guest posts when asked. Mostly I bring other authors to my blog on Wednesdays for a chat. It helps bring people by I haven’t met before.

please me an example how you would construt a letter to the blogmaster asking him/her to host you. I am in the religious/Christian writing genre. What advice you have for someone in my area.

Hi Colin. Many bloggers post their own guidelines for submissions and requests, so check there first. But a general query letter would probably include the title of your book, the genre, target audience, a blurb, the number of pages, when your tour is scheduled to take place, and a sentence or two about yourself. You may want to include relevant links or the cover image as well. And don’t forget to specify how you’d like them to participate (as a reviewer, hosting a guest post, etc.). After you get a positive response, then pass on further details, like specific dates and such. Hope that helps and good luck!

Hi Lindsay, Michelle, and followers…

I have recently started book blogging. When I started, my focus was on YA since I am a middle grades teacher, but my reviews have shifted all over the place. I am participating in my first blog tour in a couple weeks, the whole shabang. Michelle, thank you for explaining how it looks on the other side of the tour!

I know a lot of commenters have questions about reviewers and blog tours/posts. If any of you are still interested interested for future reviewers, I am definitely game. I’m trying to get my blog off the ground and build up reviews for different genres. I also guest write on another blog with a larger audience than my own, so reviews/promotions/interviews would get exposed to two very different groups of people. Drop me a line if you need a reviewer.

My blog: http://girlof1000wonders.wordpress.com/

The guest blog: http://theeclecticbookworm.wordpress.com/

Lindsay thanks for making space for this post and Michelle thanks for writing it. I’m on the verge of launching my first novel and I’ve been trying to evaluate how much energy to put into the marketing of it vs. getting the next book done. Your post has me thinking that a focused and shorter approach may be the way to go.

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