How to Hire a Virtual Tour Service

Why should I plan a virtual book tour for my book?

I’ll start with the easiest question to answer… You should plan a virtual book tour for your book because the Internet is how books are sold. Even if people end up going to a brick and mortar store (and most don’t bother), they find out about books online. Readers are on social media. They’re on Goodreads. They visit their favorite review blogs.

In-person appearances have their place, but they tend to be more effective once you’ve developed a name and reputation. Or if you have some kind of expertise that makes you attractive to those seeking public speakers. The most effective in-person events are only peripherally about your book. Book signings, unless you have a following, are more of a direct public appeal to whoever happens to be in the bookstore that day. Maybe you’re a good salesman and you even manage to sell a few copies. I sold an average of six books every time I did a two-hour book signing event during a high-traffic time. The trouble was, each of those sales was stand-alone. It didn’t grow my brand or the book’s brand.

Books are most commonly sold by word of mouth. The key is to get the right words into the right mouths. Random customer in a bookstore may buy your book, but is unlikely to be the person to influence twenty other sales. So who is?

Thanks to the Internet, anyone can review books these days and many of them do. I’m a book reviewer myself, currently in the top 1% of reviewers on Goodreads. I have hundreds of followers so when I recommend a book, I usually see at least a few people clicking “to read.” And it is just as easy as that on sites like Goodreads – that looks good, I’ll list it “to read.” Getting them to actually buy the book is the next step. Often people need to see the same book from several different sources before they take the real plunge.

Big reviewers such as the New York Times and Publisher’s Weekly still have a solid place in the book world, but mainly that place is to establish credibility. With millions of self-published books coming out every year, there are more books released in a day than many will read in a lifetime. The fact that a “big name” reviewer gave a book the time of day lends some legitimacy to it that can definitely help. It helped me a ton to get a Publisher’s Weekly review for Cassie Scot, which is why I proudly quote it on the front page of my website. But Publisher’s Weekly was only the first step. And thanks to a widespread network of reviewers on the Internet, if that step had never come about, it wouldn’t have been game over.

The Internet sells books. Social media sells books. Book bloggers sell books.

So why should you plan a virtual book tour? Because you want to sell books.

Can’t I just plan a tour myself?

I don’t know, can you? You can certainly try. It never hurts to approach bloggers personally, especially if you have any kind of relationship with that blogger.

But let’s face it: You’re a busy author. You’ve got sequels to write, probably a day job to pay the actual bills, and you can’t spend 24 hours a day on the Internet forming personal relationships with everyone who might help you sell your book. And heck, even if you did it might not work. Where’s your “in?” After you’ve done a few tours and have a running list of reviewers who have left glowing reviews or your book, you may be able to do things differently. But for now…

You have to invest something in your book. It is not free to publish a book, whatever you’ve been led to believe. And I’m not just talking to self-published authors here. Traditional publishing advice often quotes the “money flows to the author” line. The advice makes sense to a point. You certainly don’t pay your publisher to publish a book or else you’ve stumbled upon a vanity press. But if you think your publisher is going to handle all the marketing for you while you sit back and write your next book, you’re in for a rude awakening.

However you publish a book, you have to promote it. Bottom line. The biggest monetary advantage you get by going big press is a small (for first-time authors a few thousand dollars) advance that you can reinvest in your marketing campaign.

There are some ways to use time in lieu of money as an investment tool, but personally I think you need both. There isn’t a 1:1 exchange rate between time and money. There are some aspects of marketing that money can’t buy – personal interaction with fans, for instance. And there are some aspects of marketing that time cannot buy – connections to top-tier bloggers, for example. (At least, not unless you’re living in an alternate dimension with more hours in a day than the typical human living in this dimension has available. If you’ve got a TARDIS, this article isn’t for you.)

I’ve spent countless hours on the Internet trying to personally contact bloggers. This was largely how I handled the marketing for my second novel, The Immortality Virus. (Touch of Fate, my first book, was my brick and mortar store lesson.) I sent e-mails to hundreds of bloggers requesting reviews and interviews. I created my own blog and updated it regularly. I got active on social media.

I’ll give the approach this much – it worked better than the brick and mortar store angle. But for every 100 bloggers I contacted directly, maybe 5 got back to me. I worked with a publicist early on to get me 20 reviews and interviews, which helped. If I had been starting from scratch, I’m not sure I would have goten as much response as I did. I have no idea how many hundreds of reviewers I contacted directly. I had a bit of luck on a social networking site called “Book Bloggers” but this site has since been overrun by self-published authors trying to get attention for their work and the real reviewers have gone elsewhere. It’s a predictable pattern, but it makes it difficult for authors trying to get that free publicity. You have to stay ahead of the social media trends. This requires dedication, persistence, and intuition. I can’t tell you which sites to visit. Next month or next year, all the information will be out of date.

So why should you hire a service to help you with a virtual book tour? Because those services have access to bloggers that you don’t have and that no amount of time or effort will get you.

Millions of new books each year. No exaggeration. If you want in that game you’ve got to be a serious player. The good news is that most of those millions of new books, largely put out by self-published authors, aren’t serious at all. That give syou an edge.

How much money are we talking about here?

How much you got? You can spend as much money as you can imagine. You can pay for publicists and advertising as well as virtual tours. You can buy more expensive tours or cheaper tours.

Parting with money is tough and I’m not trying to scam you out of anything. I’ve got nothing invested in you or your money. I’m not running a PR service! I’m telling you that I think if you’re serious, you may want to hire a PR service. Today I’m telling you why. Next week I’m going to start seriously reviewing some of the many virtual tour services I’ve personally done business with. I have no relationship with any of them other than as a customer and I’m planning to write reviews because I see a genuine need for such information. I will be as fair and thorough as possible in my reviews.

Whatever you do, don’t invest more money than you can afford!!!!!

Your family comes first. The odds of you turning a profit on your book, even with the right marketing approach, are extremely slim. You’ll be lucky to break even. So make sure your priorities are straight. Feed your family. Don’t go into debt for this. Don’t mortgage your house. Don’t run up your credit card bill. (Please don’t run up your credit card bill! Talk about an insane fiscal decision.)

If that means you don’t have any money to invest in your book then so be it. This is a business. You have to treat it like a business. If you don’t have the money then you’ve got to figure out how to get it. Historically, the arts have often been supported by wealthy sponsors. These days we call those wealthy sponsors publishers and you can still approach them with your manuscripts. The top publishers even offer advances you can use to invest in your brand.

I’m not suggesting you do that. This article isn’t about traditional vs. self-publishing. I’m just covering bases here and urging you to understand one simple truth: Publishing isn’t free. Someone has to pay for it, whether that person is you or someone else. If you’ve accepted this truth, then you won’t publish a book unless you have the money.

I used a small traditional press without the resources to pay advances, although I do earn generous royalties on every book I sell. (And I don’t pay any up-front publishing costs.) To earn money for my marketing campaigns, I’ve started doing freelance editing work so I don’t have to dip into the family budget to cover my business expenses. That’s just one approach, but it has worked for me. I’ve earned several thousand dollars from my editing work that I have been able to re-invest into marketing, largely in the form of book tours. This is how I can bring you reviews of so many different services.

Next time: A review of Pump Up Your Book

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One Comment

  1. Christine – I so appreciate your candor and insight into this. Although I’m writing my 21st book, I haven’t learned as much as you and am just now hiring my first publicist for a VBT. Something tells me I need to go a lot further with this, and I will be very interested in your reviews of the tour companies. Thank you!

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