The Virtual Book Tour: Can I have a window seat?

Our publishers and agents have long poo-pooed the effectiveness of the book tour. What I loved about my 17-city tour for TRUE HOLLYWOOD LIES was that it allowed me, a debut novelist, to win new friends among both readers and booksellers; and to do some important marketing reconnaissance: what type of readers did the bookstore attract? Where was my book located, on the shelf, or better yet, on a front table? How knowledgeable was the staff? How well did the store promote the event?

The book tour du jour is now virtual, via the blogs of others. No travel hassles or expenses is certainly a plus.  But I still feel that there is nothing like pressing the flesh. Bottom line: add it to your list of things to do to promote your upcoming book.

The New York Times has a wonderful article on how it works, and why. I've posted it below.



The Author Will Take Q.’s Now



FOR the publication in July of
her first book, “The Late Bloomer’s Revolution,” Amy Cohen imagined a
promotional tour of bookstores in Sydney, Australia. And Paris. And a
few places closer to home, New York City, would work, too.

Then her publicist at Hyperion told her, as Ms. Cohen recalled
somewhat tongue in cheek, “You aren’t going to Scarsdale.” Instead of
some far-flung Barnes & Noble, there was Prillboyle. Rather than
Borders, there was Bluestalking Reader. Ms. Cohen, a former television
writer for “Spin City” and “Caroline in the City,” was surprised to
learn that most of her “appearances” would be on blogs.

“When you’re not in the book business you think, of course they’re going to send you around,” she said.

Chances are, unless an author is especially high-profile or promising or willing to pony up for expenses, they’re not.

Fortunately for Ms. Cohen, her memoir has made it onto at least one
best-seller list even without a traditional reading and signing tour.
She credits a write-up in People magazine, along with a newer
publishing tool: the blog book tour, in which an author pops up on a
series of blogs, usually over days or weeks, variously writing guest
posts, answering questions from the host or sitting for a podcast, a
video interview or a live chat. The blogs’ readers may comment and
leave more questions. Ideally, they follow links to the author’s Web
site and to an online retailer like Amazon.

Ms. Cohen made virtual stops at blogs related to the experiences she
chronicles in her book — looking for love, learning to cook. At Books
and Beliefs, she answered questions about how Jewish groups can create
more opportunities for Jewish singles (throw parties); on Baking and
Books, she was asked about her favorite comfort food (fried chicken).

Bloggers have written about books since, well, the beginning of
blogging. But a blog book tour usually requires an author or publicist
to take the initiative, reaching out to bloggers as if they were
booksellers and asking them to be the host for a writer’s online visit.
Sometimes bloggers invite authors on their own. In an age of
budget-conscious publishers and readers who are as likely to discover
books from a Google
search as from browsing at a bookstore, the blog book tour makes sense.
Although a few high-profile authors have had their books sent to
bloggers — James Patterson recently promoted a young-adult book this
way — most of the authors are lesser-known and less likely to be
reviewed in the mainstream press.

But the results can be impressive. When Frank Portman, the frontman
for the band the Mr. T Experience, published “King Dork” in 2006, he
teamed up with Andrew Krucoff, a popular blogger, who created a video
“trailer” about the book’s main character, an alienated boy who dreams
up imaginary bands, and asked Mr. Portman questions for a Q. and A.
These files were posted on Web sites like Gawker, Largehearted Boy and
BrooklynVegan, along with a recording of Mr. Portman reading from the
book and performing songs he had written for it. The goal, Mr. Portman
said, was to generate “links and Google-ability.”

He achieved that and more. Tantalized by the Internet attention, USA Today wrote about Mr. Portman and “Late Show With David Letterman” auditioned him as a guest (he wasn’t picked).

“If I had to choose, I’d rather have an author promote themselves
online,” said Felicia Sullivan, the senior online marketing manager of
Collins, an imprint of HarperCollins, who maintains that the Internet
exposes authors to a broader audience than most bookstore readings.

“You can reach at least a few hundred people on a blog, and save
time, money and the fear of being a loser when no one shows up to your

Initially slow to embrace the Internet, the publishing industry has
made up for lost time. It is the rare author who doesn’t have a Web
site or MySpace
presence. In June Simon & Schuster introduced BookVideoTV, which
broadcasts short videos of authors. Another venture introduced in July,, lets authors post
information about their books and tour dates (real and virtual). The
site was founded by Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired and
the author of “The Long Tail”; Adam Goldstein, a 19-year-old sophomore
at M.I.T.; and Kevin Smokler, a publishing expert credited with creating the first blog book tour.

That was for “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” by the
science writer Mary Roach, in 2003. Since then, Mr. Smokler said, “It’s
become de rigueur for public relations to include blogs and online
media as part of regular touring.”

Many publishing houses have now hired Web-savvy publicists or
outside blog tour “producers.” Some blog tour producers say they have,
from time to time, paid bloggers to review an author’s book as part of
a tour. Bloggers may or may not reveal this detail. Producers also say
they may try to dissuade bloggers who want to post a negative review.
But in general, negativity is hard to find on a blog book tour.
Gushiness — on the part of authors, bloggers and readers — is not.

“Wow — I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was when Michelle
Rowen invited me along to do a guest spot on the Midnight Hour,” wrote
Amanda Ashby, a romance author, who, like Ms. Rowen, is a member of the
Girlfriends’ Cyber Circuit, a group of about 40 authors who have blogs
and regularly promote one another’s books. In this post on Ms. Rowen’s
blog, Ms. Ashby was chronicling her attempt to land a publishing deal
for her novel “You Had Me at Halo.”

“The book sounds fantastic and is one I’ll definitely have to pick
up soon,” said a poster named Cory in the blog’s comments section.

“Thanks so much, Cory!!” Ms. Ashby responded.

Although blogging is another form of writing, not all authors seem
equally suited. Joshua Ferris, author of the critically acclaimed novel
“Then We Came to the End,” guest-blogged for a week at the Elegant
Variation, a literary blog, where he declared his fondness for the band
the Hold Steady, rounded up literary news and promoted graduate writing
programs. Still, at the end of the week, he apologized to readers: “I
only posted late at night, and only once a day, whereas other bloggers
keep you returning throughout the day. I didn’t respond to many of your
comments, which seems an important part of the blogger-commenter

Although authors say that the virtual tours generate traffic for
their Web sites and that they have seen their online sales increase, it
is difficult to tell how much blog book tours increase sales.

“I haven’t been following that or charting it in a quantitative
way,” said Dave Weich, director of marketing and development at
Powell’s Books, a bookseller in Portland, Ore., with a strong Internet
presence, adding that he would notice only if a single blog sent a
significant amount of traffic to Powell’s Web site over a defined
period of time. But then, the dirty little secret of real-life author
tours, he said, is that “most of the people who go to events don’t buy

Copyright 2007
The New York Times Company

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