Virtual Book Tours: Wise Investment or Waste of Money?

Across the Internet and around social media the word is out: Authors, virtual book tours are the key to success! I bought into this in a big way last year when Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective came out. I was desperate to make a splash, especially since there’s an entire series behind that title. Since May of 2013, I have worked with not one, not two, not even… but nine different tour companies. Since I rehired a few, paralleling and overlapping along the way, the total of separate tours comes to a whopping fourteen in less than a year!

Was it worth it? I must have thought so at first or I wouldn’t have kept hiring them, but my views have become more reserved after concluding most of my tours for Secrets and Lies (Cassie Scot #2). Both books have done reasonably well (they have certainly been well reviewed), but I cannot draw a straight line from VBTs to success.

This doesn’t mean that VBTs are not a useful marketing strategy, but as with so many things in life the correct answer is “everything in moderation.” I’m afraid the “especially moderation” addendum does not apply here. 🙂

At this point I do not believe virtual book tours are great for *direct* sales. There is no straight line between a book’s appearance on one blog or sixty and subsequent sales.

HOWEVER, there do remain two truths about virtual book tours that tempt me to continue using them in the future, as a significantly lower percentage of my total marketing budget:

1. Virtual Book Tours get a book reviewed. I’ve sent direct e-mails to hundred of bloggers, posted for reviews on some key sites, and failed to get blogger interest. (I’ve literally spent over a hundred hours on fruitless direct appeals.) At this point I do have a long (and growing) list of bloggers who know my work and are more likely to review my books in the future, but the only reason I got these people to look at my book in the first place was that they signed up for a VBT.

2. Virtual book tours make noise. Interviews and guest blogs give me things to talk about on social media aside from direct appeals to buy my book. And there is something to be said for the sheer repetition of your name and book title.

I’m readjusting my thinking on virtual book tours. I believe they provide a framework that I can then use to draw in sales through direct advertising. For example, before Cassie Scot came out it was unknown and unreviewed. Today there are 90 Amazon reviews, and every time I purchase an advertisement, it mentions this fact: “4.6 out of 5 stars on 90 reviews.”

The problem with my original thinking on virtual book tours was that I thought they would make direct appeals to readers, thus drawing in sales. But even “well-read” blogs are not cornucopias of interested readers. A lot of people sign up to “join” a blog but never really look at it, and much of what filters through social media is so much noise.

Yet connecting with bloggers puts information about you and your book on the Internet where it is widely and readily available. It also increases social media contacts.

There is no “magic pill” for marketing. The first thing every author must do (marketing 101) is have a web page, but this web page does not create sales. Then you need to join social media groups, once again creating a framework that leads to indirect rather than direct sales. Almost nothing out there creates sales directly, though there are some advertising options that get you a nice short-term bump and a thrill of seeing cause and effect.

So, should you hire a virtual book tour service in the future? Should I?

I don’t know. How is your current blogger contact list? Is it solid? Do you have dozens of reviewers you can more or less count on to read your book? If the answer to all of these questions is “yes” then by all means, save yourself some money!

If you think you could use more reviews or more exposure, however, then look into virtual book tours. But do so with the right expectations and with these general guidelines in mind:

1. Reviews are invaluable. If your tour doesn’t include reviews, it’s useless to you. These reviews should be independent. That is to say – you are paying for the coordination of reviews, not for the reviews themselves. Bought-and-paid-for reviews are not useful. (Many tour companies ask that a blogger who cannot give a book an honest three-star review post a guest blog instead. This is fine.)
2. Guest posts and interviews are only as good as you can write them. This isn’t always easy, especially if you have a boring interviewer. Try to come up with one-liners that zing and guest posts that will stir conversation.
3. Spotlight posts are typically not useful. These are posts that simply post your book cover, blurb, and autho bio. This is basically an attempt at direct advertising on a single blog, which will not have a big enough readership to make such an endeavor effective. Spotlights do not encourage conversation, do not build blogger contacts, do not build social media contacts, and they fill the Internet with useless noise. They can help with name recognition through sheer repetition, but others types of posts do this and more. Try to find tours that grow the conversation at every stop.
4. Don’t let yourself get fooled into thinking that high-dollar = high-value. Many high-dollar tours suggests that they have access to better blogs — higher traffic, for instance, or more genre-relevant. In my experience they rarely deliver; the stops you get through these companies are not inherently better than the stops you get through cheaper companies. (Although do watch out the other way — if a tour company only has blogs that have been in existence for less than a year, that’s not a good sign.)
5. Look for tour companies that deliver a tight schedule, without a lot of dead space. If they advertise for 20 stops, this should happen in 4 weeks, not 2 months.
6. One virtual book tour at a time is fine. 
7. Do not spend your entire budget on VBTs, or even most of it. I don’t have a specific percentage to recommend at this time, but I personally plan to try 50/50 for my upcoming releases of Mind Games (Cassie Scot #3) and Stolen Dreams (Cassie Scot #4).

One last note about virtual book tours, at least if you skip the high-dollar ones, is that the cost is about $75-$150 per month for your average tour. There are dozens of companies out there — I haven’t used them all and can’t vouch for them all — but they pretty much provide the same thing and can be used back-to-back for a fairly reasonable price. (“Reasonable” does depend upon your budget.)

When you but into a VBT, know what you are paying for: Contacts and coordination. Know too what you are not paying for: Advertising and sales. A virtual book tour is a framework only. A part of your social media outreach.

Note: Next week I will do a side-by-side comparison/review of all the tour companies I worked with.

Posted in Tips for Writers and tagged , , , , , .

13 Comments

    • You’re welcome!

      I just edited my post to mention that next week I will be doing a side-by-side comparison of all nine tour companies. (Got a couple of questions about it.) So be sure to look for that!

  1. You make a good point about VBT not being a direct sales route. We need to see it as an exposure opportunity. The more a reader sees and hears your book, the more it will feel like a buzz book. Readers never want to be the only one who hasn’t read the next big thing. The goal of a tour should be to make your book feel like the “must read” of the year.

  2. Great post! thank you for sharing your thoughts, and I have to admit I am coming to the same conclusion 🙂 I look forward to seeing your next post on the tour companies you have used.
    cheers,
    Dina

  3. Christine,
    Your honesty is so refreshing! Great post with golden nuggets of truth…… I so often wish for the perks of being published by a major publishing house, because the journey we self-published girls are traveling requires an astounding price on our finances, energy, and soul. Really looking forward to your upcoming post to take this conversation higher! Thank you so much!

    • I hear you! I’m with a small press, and sometimes I think I get the best of both worlds, sometimes I feel like the forgotten middle child. Either way, promotion takes a huge toll on my time and energy, and keeps me from being able to write as much.

      I’m glad you found this post helpful. I do think I got some benefit to the virtual book tours I scheduled, but I went way overboard. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Virtual Book Tours: Side-by-side Comparison of 9 Tours | Into the Dreaming

  5. Great article, Christine, and thanks for sharing your experience, which will surely help other authors – that’s a key part of the indie movement.

    You may like to share your post also in our community in the Articles section under Promotion http://www.independent-authors.com/apps/blog/ and/or in the Noticeboard under the Authors Helping Authors section at http://www.independent-authors.com/apps/forums/

    Thanks again for your post!

    Regards
    Mel

    Melanie Walsh
    Director, Member Services
    Association of Independent Authors
    http://www.independent-authors.com

  6. Thanks for the article, Christine.

    My virtual book tour starts today, through Goddess Fish Promotions.

    Your article has provided me with the perspective I need in seeing my VBT as one part of a multifaceted strategy of increasing my online visibility.

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