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Virtual Book Tours / Love 'em or Leave 'em?

Hello everybody. Freddie Owens here with another post - at long last.   Today I want to begin a discussion about virtual book tour companies and whether or not we as authors ought to invest our hard earned dollars to engage them. A virtual book tour is essentially a blog tour set up and designed to promote a book or books (newly released or not). With the explosive growth of the internet, a lot of authors have resorted to using them instead of going it the old fashion 'brick and mortar' way, i.e., traveling about the country to various cities, making appearances at various (sometimes out of the way) bookstores, which it occures to me could be a lot more expensive than a virtual tour (though these too can be expensive, ranging anywhere from a couple hundred bucks to well over a thousand).

Anyway, I have been considering this as a possibility for promoting my own book, Then Like the Blind Man: Orbie's Story  and came across in my research Dorothy Thompson whose company Pump Up Your Book designs and sets up virtual book tours for authors, some of which are relatively inexpensive consisting of 5 to 10 blog stops, some of moderate to high expense ($300 to $600) consisting of from 10 to as many as 30+ blog stops lasting anywhere from a week to a month or two and one exorbantly priced package ($1,400.00) lasting three months with a lot of 'extras' and 45+ blog stops. A lot of my writer-friends cautioned me about virtual book tour companies, asserting (and rightly so) that there were disreputable companies out there waiting to take advantage of the unsuspecting, naive, newbie to the literary world. They rightly pegged me as one of those and so I'm grateful for their warnings, which inspired me to approach this whole thing with a critical, inquiring eye. This is why when I came across Dorothy Thompson I was surprised and pleased to find someone who seemed both honest and straightforward about her business. Reprinted below is an email exchange we had that I have reformatted to look like an interview (me being the interviewer and Dorothy being the interviewee). I think you will find it of interest - because it describes how these tours are set up and says a few things about whether or not and when it is wise to engage them. Enjoy! And please feel free to leave your comments.

Freddie Owens: Hi Dorothy. I have to say that I'm impressed with your website and have been toying with the idea of signing on for a tour with your company for some time now. I've done a fair amount of shopping around and have garnered advice from friends, pro and con, regarding virtual book tours.  Some of my writer friends assert that I'd be making a big mistake to do this, that it'd be a waste of money and that the return on my investment would be next to nil; others are not so negative but encouraged me nonetheless carefully to study the particulars before signing on. I do still have doubts - but am intrigued and so wanted to ask you a few questions.

Dorothy Thompson: Hi Freddie!  I love to answer questions.  I'm not going to sway you either way.  I'm just going to tell you how it is with our company. Virtual book tours are all about exposure.  Without exposure, no one will find out your book exists.  The more your book is exposed the more likely it will sell.  And of course it all depends on the book.  If you have enough online exposure, exposure that makes a difference to people, you won't need me.  But, what I will and can do is make your online exposure stand out in a way that is different from what you are already doing.  It all depends on what you need as the author.  Before I started this business, I used to ask the same questions - what am I doing, will I see a return in my investment?  A return isn't always in dollars and cents, but that's the way a lot of authors see it.  Remember what I said earlier - a virtual book tour is about exposure.  If this is your first book, it will help in selling your next book and your next.  You won't be an unknown author after the first book.  I won't tell you you'll sell hundreds of books but I will tell you that the potential is there.

Freddie: One of my concerns has to do with whether or not you'd be able to find readerly blogs interested in themes as far ranging as domestic violence, religious and racial tolerance, forgiveness and coming of age - themes more commonly found in literary work but maybe not so commonly found in genre works such as those I've come across on your site, i.e., political thrillers, paranormal suspense and whodunit (and/or romantic-comedic) mysteries. Do you think you could find blog sites whose readers would be passionate about themes found in my book? That to me is singularly important - for obvious reasons.

Dorothy: Okay this is what I do.  When I get a new client, I put up a reviewer's page for them. Those on my subscriber's list see it and if the book is what they like to read, they'll query me.  If I have never used them before, I check out their blog.  Appearance is considered but I'm more concerned with other things like do they promote the posts through the social networks?  Have they been blogging a long time so I know Google indexes them frequently?  Do they look trustworthy?  Have they hosted other blog tours before and understand that posts have got to be up on a certain day no ifs ands or buts?  Do they have a lot of followers?  A lot goes into it.  I turn people away every day because they either have a few posts up or quite frankly I didn't like how they reviewed the books that were already up. 

Next, I have a contact email list with over 500 blog hosts.  I send out your information to them, and they get back to me.  Some will review, some will host in other ways but they only do so when and if they are interested in your book.

After a few days, if I don't have enough to fill your tour, I go on blog hunts.  I only query bloggers who are interested in your genre otherwise it would be a waste of my time and theirs.  Time is too precious to waste in this business.

Freddie: I also noticed that some of the interviews seemed packaged or pre boxed in a way that didn't allow for a vivid sense that there was an actual interviewer doing the interview. This led me to question whether the blog had a significant reach. These were interviews I found on some of your author's tours. I realize that one of the main purposes for doing a tour is to get the word out - but one would hope that by doing so genuine passion for the work would be communicated. I didn't get a clear sense of this however, and so found myself wondering how an audience might be affected.

Dorothy: Yes, some of the blog hosts have pre-made questions they send to me to send to the author.  Very rarely will you find a blogger who  will take the time to come up with individual questions.  They're very busy themselves.  That's why you see prepackaged interviews.  The blogger in order to come up with individual questions usually wants to read your book first and we've had that happen but it's very rare.  In the case where an author wants to answer only certain questions, he or she lets the tour coordinator know and what we do then is have you come up with questions and answers since you know your book more than anyone else.  These are  called self-interviews and we've had a few bloggers ask for those as well.

Freddie: I'm also concerned about the work - how much work I'd be required to do to make the tour a success.

Dorothy: It just depends on the length of the tour but for a gold and platinum, it means a lot of interviews and a few guest posts to write (especially for the platinum tour).  If the author doesn't have the time, he or she lets the tour coordinator know and we then arrange more spotlights than interviews/guest posts or all spotlights or a mixture of spotlights with reviews.  The main thing is to get on as many blogs as possible.  Time wise that's so hard to say because it depends on how much time the author is willing to put into it.  Let's take the gold for example.  That's a minimum of 30 sites.  Let's say you get 10 reviews that leaves 20 sites I still have to fill.  I fill them with all sorts of fun things - interviews, guest posts, first chapter reviews, first chapter reveals, book trailer reveals, radio shows for example - and these all take time to fill out, write or whatever. 

How much work would be required to make the tour a success?  The best advice I can give you right now would be to build that fan base up.  The tour will help do that but the more successful authors I have represented already had a following.

Freddie: I went to the Amazon pages for some of the books and authors who've done tours with you and noticed there that very few had rankings that were all that high - with the noted exception of Grossman's Kindle edition of Executive Command. I own this may not be a fair way to assess the success or lack of success of your tours - but it does raise questions notwithstanding the many positive things your clients have said about their experiences with Pump Up Your Book.  

Dorothy: Gary Grossman is out there promoting like a banshee.  His trailer's hits on YouTube is in the thousands and he didn't put it up that long ago.  He's also backed by a publishing house and he has "other people."  That makes a big difference.  Gary has emailed me lots of times to say how much he is loving his tour.

Others, I know Vincent Zandri (Moonlight Falls) became an Amazon bestseller and he attributes it to the tour.  But I watched Zandri.  He was out there in Facebook flirting with all the lady book bloggers like you would not believe.  I sat back and watched him.  They were his idol.  But Zandri also had a way with words which is evident on his blogs and he even has men authors wishing they were his friend. 

These two authors I'm telling you about because this is what will make or break book sales.  Some of the authors that come to me don't have a bit of online exposure, aren't on Twitter, aren't on Facebook and don't have the time to mingle.  What can I do?  And of course when the tour is over or nearly over, they come to me about  book sales.  I do not sell books, I promote books.  Your book sells books and I make sure everyone in the world hears about it so they will buy.

Freddie: I liked your graphics, the banners and the general layout of your site as well as many of the blog sites with which you are working. I particularly liked the trailers your company produced for the authors. They seemed very eye-catching an professionally done. No worries there.

I've been looking at the Gold and the Platinum tours - and wonder why the platinum is so much more expensive. One could do two Gold tours and still come in under the price of the platinum tour. Can you tell me in more specific terms why the platinum is so much more expensive? I understand that making a trailer costs money and that the offering of a Kindle Fire as a giveaway also costs. But what beyond the additional tour stops accounts for its significantly greater expense?

Dorothy: Ha... I don't think people realize that after I pay for the trailer and everything else that goes into a quality tour, that only leaves me making $200 - 300 a month which is about the price of a bronze.

Freddie: Thank you Dorothy for answering my questions so thoroughly and forthrightly.  I think I'll need to consider more deeply what you said about an author's needing to have a fan base before making a decision. I'm working on this of course but there's much more I know I have to do. 

Please do check out my book. It was chosen by The San Francisco Book Review as a 2012 favorite of the reviewers there. It was also a finalist for the ForeWord Review's Best Book of The Year Award.

Sorry for my long-windedness Dorothy. My hope is that we might someday do business together.

Dorothy: Oh you're fine.  I love answering questions.  Keeps me on my toes. ;o)


















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