On Publishing and Publicity: Setting Up a Blog Tour

DavidBCoeDavidBCoe
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In response to Faith’s wonderful post from last week, and her promise of more PR posts to come, I thought I would put in my $.02 by outlining what I did in setting up the Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry Blog Tours during the summers of 2012 and 2013.  This is one of those PR activities that I never even dreamed of doing when I first broke into the business, because there were no such things as blogs.  Today I can say without exaggeration that my blog tours have been the single most important publicity tool I have had in gaining readership for the Thieftaker books.  Whether you’re an aspiring writer trying to figure out how to pump up the volume for your very first release, or an established professional looking to kick off a new project, I cannot recommend this strategy enough. 

Let’s start with the obvious question:  What is a blog tour?  A blog tour, also known as a virtual tour, is pretty much just what it sounds like:  A series of guest “appearances” at different sites across the internet.  You are trying to promote your book or books by tapping into the readerships of other people in the industry.  The blog tour is based on the assumption that the audiences of your hosts will also be drawn to your work.  Simple, but elegant. So, for instance, when I set up my tours I try to get onto the sites of writers who do work that is at least somewhat similar to mine — Faith Hunter, Mindy Klasky, Catie Murphy, Di Francis, Lucienne Diver, Kate Elliott, Joshua Palmatier, Mary Robinette Kowal, Stephen Leigh, etc.  I also try to schedule appearances on sites that specialize in reviews, news about the industry, and discussions of our genre:  Aidan Moher’s “A Dribble of Ink,” “Dreys Library,” “Bitten by Books,” “All Things Urban Fantasy,” “Unusual Historicals,” the site of Brandy Schillace.  And I fill in spots on my schedule by making my regular blogging venues — Magical Words, SFNovelists, and my own blogs — part of the tour.  So this past summer, taking into account all of those venues (and counting some events that never found their way onto the blog tour listing on the D.B. Jackson site) I did over forty events.  Last year I did just about the same.

So, how do I go about setting this up?  Well, it’s a three part process.

1. Scheduling. Thieves’ Quarry came out on July 2, and I tried to build my tour around that date.  I started contacting potential hosts about possible guest appearances in early May.  That way I had plenty of time to get on their schedule on days that I wanted for maximum exposure and benefit.  I envision my blog tour schedules as something similar to a basic bell curve.  I want to lead into the tour with events starting a few of weeks ahead of the book’s release.  In those early weeks I only set up one or two events — just enough to get people talking about the release. For the week before the release, I generally schedule an event for each day; perhaps two on Monday and Tuesday, when web traffic is generally heaviest.  For the week of the release, I schedule at least two and sometimes three events per day, and I try to maintain a similar schedule for the week immediately following the release, before allowing the number of events to begin to taper off.  Unlike a bell curve, though, the back end of the tour continues for some time, stretching through the rest of the summer and even into the fall.  I had a couple of events just a week or two ago.  The important things for me are, a) to get on the schedule at the sites with the most traffic for the prime days — release day itself, the Monday before the release, the Monday after the release.  Those are the days I try to be on big name blogs and sites.  And b) to have my schedule set well in advance of the tour so that I know when I am doing what and can plan my posts and notifications accordingly.

2. Generating Content.  The thing to remember about creating a blog tour is that it’s a tremendous amount of work.  The scheduling itself is tiring.  Generating the content is exhausting. I try to have unique content for every event I set up.  Sometimes the people hosting me are interested in having me write about something specific, or want to ask me specific questions in a Q&A format.  Those, in a way, are the easy ones.  For the rest, I have to figure out what elements of the novel I want people to know about. Then I find two or three dozen different ways to say to convey that information.  So, for Thieves’ Quarry I wanted to stress the historical elements of my plot, the magic system, the mystery element, my lead character, and my villain. I had lots of posts about the occupation of Boston, about Ethan and Sephira’s rivalry, about the magic system and how it resembled 18th century beliefs about witchcraft. Each post was written from scratch, so that each would read differently, even if the content was similar from post to post.  For a few sites I wrote character interviews — those were fun.  For Faith’s site, we did a Jane Yellowrock/Ethan Kaille mash-up.  All Things Urban Fantasy wanted something about setting, so I had Ethan give a walking tour of Colonial Boston.  Many of the posts were great fun to write.  But I was generating 1000-1500 words each day for the month preceding the start of the tour just to have enough material for all my guest appearances.  I didn’t write much fiction during that period.

I also make sure to have prepared:  A brief bio (100-150 words) with links to all my sites and social media; a small and large image of the book cover; and a small and large version of my publicity photo. Most sites want some combination of these things.

3. Showtime!  The day each blog appearance went up, I did several things.  I blogged about the tour on my own sites, highlighting that day’s appearance and giving a preview of the post.  I tweeted every day about the tour, usually several times per day, giving links and using the same set of hashtags for each post (#ThievesQuarry, #Thieftaker).  I publicized each post on Facebook.  And I made myself available at each site to respond to questions or comments from readers.  In short, I spent most of my time during the blog tour shifting from the site in question to Twitter to Facebook to my blogs and back to the hosting site.  I was online all the time, and got very little writing done then, too.  My goal, obviously, was to get as many people talking about the tour, and thus about the book, as possible.  But I also wanted to make sure that my readers, the ones I already have, were going to my hosts’ sites, so that my hosts would get something out of the tour as well, in the form of increased traffic.

Yes, Blog Tours are a lot of work.  But they don’t demand travel, they don’t really cost anything unless you’re doing giveaways and contests on some of the sites (which I actually recommend), and they reach far more people than a signing tour ever could.  (That said, I also did a small signing tour, which I would be happy to talk about in another post.)  They’re also fun, despite all the work.  And they’re a great way to reach out to new internet friends and meet fellow authors. 

Questions?  Comments?  Let’s talk about some of this.

David B. Coe
http://www.DavidBCoe.com
http://www.dbjackson-author.com
http://magicalwords.net
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21 comments to On Publishing and Publicity: Setting Up a Blog Tour

  • Great how-to post, David! I found, when I did my DARKBEAST tour (modeling after you!) that it helped to offer potential hosts a list of 30+ topics on which I could blog. That way, they could choose something they thought might be of interest to their readers, and I could better tailor my posts to their audiences. (It was hell to come up with the list but ultimately really helpful to have a variety of approaches on hand.)

  • Thanks, Mindy. You raise a great point, one that I should have made more explicit. When I am generating all that content in the weeks leading up to the blog tour, I am doing so for precisely this reason. I want to be able to offer potential hosts a wide range of content. Many times, I will schedule in May, but the host and I will not settle on the exact content until much closer to the blog tour. Having all those different posts — which will even include “interviews” that I do with myself, asking questions that are tailored to the new book and to my other interests — makes that final choice of topic much easier.

  • […] Hunter, Misty Massey, John Hartness, James Tuck, Mindy Klasky, and others.  The post is called “On Publishing and Publicity: Setting Up a Blog Tour,” and it is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. This is not just a topic for established […]

  • […] Hunter, Misty Massey, John Hartness, James Tuck, Mindy Klasky, and others.  The post is called “On Publishing and Publicity: Setting Up a Blog Tour,” and it is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. This is not just a topic for established […]

  • This is really useful information. I have to admit, I’m a bit daunted by the idea of coming up with multiple topics, too. I was wondering, what about podcast interviews? I remember tuning in for one of them. Do you just stick to general questions? And do the questions and comments from these blog tours ever give you further inspiration for the world or future stories?

  • Thanks, Laura. The topics are actually a bit easier to come up with than you might think. I approach them this way: I ask myself a) What do I want readers who have never heard of my books or of me to learn about the series from a given post? And b) How can I convey that information in a way that will interest fans of: mystery, or history, or fantasy, or the Revolutionary War, or strong female characters, or tortured protagonists, or crafty villains, etc.? See what I mean. In effect, I convey the same message about the books in a dozen (or two or three dozen) different ways. The content is not identical across posts, but it is similar.

    As to podcasts, those I approach very differently. Most of the time my hosts have a set of questions they want to ask. They’ll run those questions by me ahead of time, to make certain that they’re not straying into territory I want to avoid. But with very, very few exceptions, I am willing to answer any question they want to ask. So the level of generality or specificity varies according to my hosts’ preferences. The podcasts you’ve heard me do are almost entirely unscripted and off-the-cuff. They’re actually more fun for me that way.

    And finally, I would say that there are times when the material I work on for the blog tours does in fact inform future fiction. At least one of my short stories grew directly out of work I did for a blog, and of course, the mash-up that Faith and I did will yield future mash-ups involving Jane and Ethan. But there are other times when the material I generate is just publicity stuff and of no other value. But if I can sell more copies of the current book, I can assure myself of getting to write future volumes.

  • Cool post. Thinking of printing it out for a little later. I’m compiling possible places to contact now, but I won’t even get edit requests back till December or January and the novella’s tentatively slated for August, so I still have a lot of time before I have to start contacting. Some of the sites might not exactly cover the genre, but they have readers of different genres on it, so it could help.

    In the meantime I’ll be going and reading the blogs, interacting with them on social media, and getting a general feel for the hosts. Try to create some positive familiarity toward me. I probably won’t actually have to start asking until closer to February or March. Depending on how long it’ll take to set up a review copy, that could perhaps start in March or April, I guess. Don’t know what the turn around is for the publisher I’m with once final edits are accepted. I do already have one lined up because I’d spoken with her a number of times, but it’s not actually going to happen until much closer to the release. Still, I’ve filled out the interview questions and she even did a cover reveal for me a couple months ago.

  • Yedra

    Really great post, David. One question though – it sounds like the weeks around the blog tour you are working full time publicizing the tour and responding to comments on various blogs. How do/would you change your process if you had a day job during that time?

  • Yerba, I think every writer has to plan carefully for this stage of a writing career. I do it by writing two blogs a week, for months during the build up time before a book launch. I write them on breaks, at lunch time, and before bedtime. As to the weeks of the tour itself, I usually tell the readers when I’ll be checking in for comments, like at noon for an hour and then several times that evening. It should not mean staying online all day!

  • Oops. Yedra. Dang spell check.

  • Thanks, David. One thing I really like about this blog tour vs physical space touring is that it would allow me to stay home and not spend money (or as much money.) No plane tickets or gas to buy, no messing with taking leave of absence from my job. Of course there are a lot of physical book stores in my area, so I would try to get to them as well, but I can see some real advantages to the blog tour. For shyer people like myself, the idea of being able to edit myself before content goes live has real appeal too.

  • Daniel, thanks. Glad you like the post. That sounds like a good plan — getting to know the venues ahead of time is always a good idea, whether you’re starting out, or trying to teach yourself new tricks, as I have been. It’s great that you got the cover reveal; those tend to garner a good deal of attention. Congrats.

    Yedra, as Faith says, it’s possible to specify times when you’ll be checking in at the various sites. The web stuff is one of those things that can take up as much time as you let it. Placing limits on your availability is probably a good idea. I would not skimp on publicizing the posts as they go up, but that is simply a matter of tweeting and facebooking as time allows — you can even compose the posts ahead of time, and just cut and paste them as needed. And with most blogs you can write entries ahead of time and schedule them to post whenever you want. It certainly can be done.

    Faith, thanks for jumping in here. You’re right, the blog tour should not mean being online all the time, though I’m OCD enough that I usually do. I’d be healthier if I didn’t.

    Sarah, I totally understand, and I think that is one of the great things about the virtual tour approach. It’s lower cost, lower stress, and doesn’t demand that you leave home. It is a fair bit of work, as you can tell, but the tradeoffs are pretty good.

  • Nathan Elberg

    Gee, when I first got the idea of writing, I figured I’d write something really good, and the world would beat a path to my door. Hmmm. There’s more to it apparently. A awful lot more… Amazing seeing the work that goes into making a book successful.

  • If only, Nathan. If only. Yeah, I spend a tremendous amount of time on publicity stuff. And I know lots of authors who do way more than I do.

  • sagablessed

    Very informative post, David. This whole PR thing sounds exhausting. I’m with Sarah: in person I am kind of shy, and I hate travel unless really well planned out. Blog tours seem perfect.
    I am saving this session and Faith’s for future reference. :)

  • Razziecat

    Wow. I love this idea, but I also find it very daunting. Not because of the work – most of it sounds like fun – but because of my job. While I do have internet access at work, I wouldn’t have more than one hour total between 9 and 5 to check blog sites, answer questions, and so on; and it wouldn’t all be one unbroken hour. So most of my time online would be after 5 pm (well, after 6, by the time I got home). I would have to try to schedule vacation time around my book’s release date so that I could spend as many hours as needed online. I think it could be done, with a lot of careful planning ;)

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright

    Perfect timing, David! ;-) I was about to write you to ask some questions you covered here!

  • I said something similar to Faith last week about her book tours–this *almost* makes writing the book seem easy :)

  • Saga, thanks. I’m not particularly shy (as you all know), so I hadn’t considered the benefits of the blog tour from that perspective. But you and Sarah are right — it really is good in that way.

    Razz, as Faith points out in her comment, there are ways around the daily schedule issues. I spend my whole day posting and responding to comments and drawing attention to the post, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to. If you let your hosts and your readers know when they can look for comments and responses, you should be fine.

    Jagi, glad to help! You know how to reach me if you have more questions.

    Sisi, yeah. The writing is the fun part. The business side of it is a lot of work, but absolutely necessary.

  • quillet

    My goodness, I got tired just reading this — though it’s a huge improvement over the kind of tour Faith described! I’m another one of those shy people who would prefer my tours to be *virtual.* It’s amazing how much work book authors have to do that doesn’t involve authoring books. Thanks for telling us this, it’s given me lots to think about. My brain is already coming up with possible ideas for blog posts that would suit my WIP… Could be fun (as well as hard)…

  • Quillet, some of the posts I wrote really were a lot of fun. The mash-up with Faith was great fun. The walking tour of Boston that I linked to in the post was really fun, too, as was the interview with Sephira Pryce (my hero’s nemesis) that I wrote for Bitten By Books. I should also mention that I did a bit of both kinds of tours this summer — for part of my blog tour I was also on the road doing a signing tour. And over the course of the summer, from July 1 to September 1, I was traveling for nearly 7 weeks. It was both exhausting and exhilarating.