My first book, A Journey into Michelangelo’s Rome (Roaring Forties Press: 2008), hit bookstores without fanfare, hurrah, or splash. In fact, though my local Borders said it had one copy in stock, I never had that pleasure of standing in front of it to admire it. They lost it in the stockroom. Needless to say, my publishing house, like so many out there, produces lovely travel books on a very low budget leaving little room for publicity.
So, like many Midlisters, I have been doing most of my own publicity work, and I have learned a great deal along the way. And because I am not a trust fund baby with millions to burn, I have had to do it all on the cheap. Thank heavens for the Virtual Book Tour!
In September, 2007 the New York Times ran an article profiling Amy Cohen and her blog book tour. I happened to be in the last editing throes on Michelangelo’s Rome at that point, and I read the article knowing that my publicity reality would be similar. Ms. Cohen’s publisher, Hyperion, set up her blog tour, but it was clear that I would have to do my own. So, once the manuscript was put to bed, I started researching. Those long months between sending the book off to the printer and seeing it in my hands for the first time were filled with internet searches and hours and hours of reading.
The idea of a virtual book tour (VBT) is relatively new, and there are several people claiming to have invented the idea, but it really all boils down to one thing: an author blogs for different sites in an effort to drive interest and sales. That sounds pretty simple, but in reality it is much more complicated.
First, I developed a list of blogs and sites to target. In fact, I broke that list down into three groups. I decided that I would have three weeklong mini-tours—one in April, one in May, and the final in June. I targeted different kinds of sites in each month hoping to build some momentum from week to week.
Once I had my list developed, I enlisted some help. One of the sites I hoped to target had some very specific advice for authors: have a publicist do the asking. This site indicated that it would not even consider requests from authors themselves. Fortunately I have a friend who was willing to do a little PR work for me for free, so I took her up on her offer. I supplied her with the list of sites to approach and the accompanying materials, she sent the emails and helped me create a schedule.
One of the critical elements of a VBT is exclusivity: each day should be devoted to only one site. And then you must send readers to that particular site. A VBT, when done right, is mutually beneficial. You reach new readers at each new stop, but ideally you direct readers from your own blog or other writing venues to their sites, too, thus boosting their readership. I kept a schedule at my own website and updated my blog each day with links and teasers sending my readers to the sites where I was appearing. I am also a Red Room author, so I kept my blog and calendar at Red Room updated as well.
Having something different and original to say at each stop is also important so that readers will follow you from one site to the next. The easy thing to do is to deliver the same answer every time the question arises, “How did you get into travel writing?” And while the answer is essentially the same, I tried to vary the response as much as possible.
In the end my VBT has been a lot of work, but it has been totally worth it! I’ve been a guest blogger on so many great sites (20-some in all), and I’ve been able to write posts about a wide range of topics. High Culture on a Low Budget asked me to create a playlist for A Journey into Michelangelo's Rome which you can now buy on iTunes. I did a Micro Travel-Writing Workshop for the readers at Nerd’s Eye View. Europe a la Carte in
I don’t have the budget to go leave the continent to promote the book. And my in-person appearances are all self-funded, so this is a cheap way to connect with readers all over the world. And while I love to meet my readers face-to-face, I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to interact in different and exciting ways while making my way around the blogosphere.
Many thanks to all of you—including Midlist Writer—who have hosted me on my VBT. Rest assured: I am excited to return the favor!