Launching a successful blog tour

“When I was first starting out, I dreamed of being sent on a book tour.

I’d travel around the world—at my publisher’ expense, of course—and hit the major bookstores, where I’d do readings and signings for standing-room-only audiences,” says Jackie Morse Kessler, the author of a four-book YA series with Houghton/Graphia: Hunger, Rage, Loss and the upcoming Breath.

“Then reality hit. My publisher wasn’t sending me anywhere. If I wanted to do a book tour, it would be out of my own pocket.”

Reinventing the book tour

Out with the glitz and glam, and in with the blog tour. As Kessler describes the new approach, “It’s exactly what it sounds like: a group of bloggers agree to “tour” you, invite you to visit their websites and blogs, which helps promote you and your book — and, of course, you’re helping promote your hosts’ websites and blogs, too. Basically, you schedule a day to do a guest post or Q&A on their blog, and that’s your tour stop for that day.

Kessler just finished a marathon 22 stops for her book Loss, and agreed to talk with me about what goes into planning a successful blog tour.

How does a blog tour compare to a traditional book tour, where an author does signings at bookstores and gives interviews at media outlets?

Getting signings in bookstores isn’t easy. The chains were reluctant at best to host them for me. I’ve had more luck with my local indie bookstores…but not much. One store treats me like a rock star and is a true pleasure to work with; others, less so.

And just because you write it, that doesn’t mean they will come. My signings were hardly a case of me sitting in a comfy chair, sipping an energy drink while my eager fans lined up. I stood for hours, hawking my books, schmoozing with customers, and chatting with the booksellers. On a good day, I sold 12 books. On a bad day? No books at all.

Happily, it’s easier than ever these days to do your own blog tour. Setting it up basically goes like this: You start three months ahead. You research a lot of blogs; you create a top-tier and second-tier list of blogs; you contact the bloggers and pitch yourself/your book/your blog tour; you follow up; you slowly book dates; you come up with a tour giveaway. This last part is very helpful: it’s added incentive for people to read your guest posts and/or interviews, and it can stir up excitement, depending on what you give away. For the blog tour on my first book in this series, Hunger, I created small posters of the cover, which I gave away, along with a signed copy of the book.  For the Loss tour just completed, I included the extra incentive of a grand-prize drawing, the winner of which would be named a character in my next book, Breath.

A number of the bloggers emailed right away for the Loss posters. I think my grand-prize giveaway was pretty cool, if I do say so myself. And the grand-prize winner was extremely happy.

The big thing to remember when you’re setting up your blog tour is you must be professional. It’s so easy to think that just because you’re emailing someone who isn’t a New York Times book reviewer, you can be lazy with your inquiry, or sloppy, or even rude. Bloggers who agree to tour you are doing you a massive favor, one that will cost you only your time and effort, as opposed to hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on promotion and advertising. For the love of chocolate, be polite!

Has your publisher helped out? Did they coordinate their publicity and marketing with your blog tour?

I set up my own blog tour for Hunger in 2010, and was fortunate to also be part of the Crossroads Blog Tour (an annual blog tour for authors of paranormal YA books that takes place around Halloween.)

For Rage, the second book, my publisher’s publicist set up a fabulous blog tour for me. My gosh, it was so relaxing! All I had to do was answer the questions/write a guest post to the topic that my publicist sent me! What sweet relief! OK, it was a lot of work. But I didn’t have to query or schedule the reviewers, and I didn’t have to mail out prizes. Whew!

For Loss, my new publicist didn’t set up a tour for me, although she was happy to provide advance review copies. I decided to go ahead and put together a blog tour on my own; it had been almost a year since Rage had hit the shelves, so I wanted to renew interest in the book and the series overall.

How did you select the 22 stops on the Loss tour?  How did you approach them? Did anyone turn you down?

First, I made a list of bloggers who had toured me previously. Next, I researched YA review blogs and made my list of tier 1 and tier 2 candidates. Some of them didn’t do tours but did do reviews; others didn’t do reviews but hosted tours. When I emailed people I didn’t know, the pitch went like this:

My name is Jackie Morse Kessler, and I am a young adult author published by Harcourt/Graphia. Would you be interested in being part of the Loss blog tour in March 2012? The book — third in the Riders of the Apocalypse series, but it can be read as a standalone novel — is about a bullied teenage boy who is tricked into becoming the new Pestilence, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (A portion of proceeds will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Association.) Loss hits the shelves on March 20, 2012.

For the bloggers with whom I’d worked before, I didn’t have to introduce myself, but I did have to pitch the book.

A number of bloggers either said “too busy,” which could mean exactly that or could be a polite way of saying “I don’t like your books”, and only a few didn’t respond, even after a follow-up message. But for the most part, everyone said yes. Which is why I had 22 tour stops lined up, as well as giveaways on two blogs that I participate in: Deadline Dames and The League of Reluctant Adults.

I did mention that I didn’t sleep much in March, right?

What kinds of things can go wrong on a blog tour?

There were a few late posts, or posts that went up a day or two off schedule. When a blogger missed the scheduled date, I sent an email the next day asking if the post would still be going up, because if not, I’d use the guest blog elsewhere. Everyone got back to me, for which I was grateful.

How did the blog tour work out for “Loss”?

I consider the Loss blog tour a resounding success, based on the comments on the participating blogs. Many mentioned that they hadn’t heard of the series before but now were interested; quite a few commenters responded to the specific guest blog I posted, talking about how they agreed, or that it was helpful, or that they were looking forward to reading Loss. A few mentioned that they loved my books, which gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling all day.

Because the tour took place immediately before and during launch week, it’s hard to say whether the tour helped generate sales. But in terms of raising awareness? Yes, the tour worked.

I’m thrilled that Loss is a Junior Library Guild selection for spring 2012, as well as a top pick for RT magazine.

Any last words of advice?

Along with my “be polite” message above, don’t over schedule. In the end, 22 blog tour stops was too much. I’m grateful that the bloggers did so much for me — tweeting/Facebooking the tour and reviews, not just on the tour date but after — but I overdid it. I wrote 17 individual guest blogs, answered four sets of interview questions, did a phone interview, answered questions from commenters all day — all this while writing Breath and finishing my taxes. And working the full-time day job. And taking part in an all-day tae kwon do tournament.

I’m pretty sure that for Breath, and going forward, I will max out a tour at two weeks. Especially when I’m on deadline for another book.

Care to share any other details about your life?

I’m the senior editor and copy chief for a business management journal. My sons are 10 and 8 — and my God, the 10-year-old has his first crush. I may never sleep again! The Precious Little Tax Deductions, my Loving Husband, and I are all testing for our next tae kwon do belt levels in mid-May. Training to be a superhero!

For the record: I write about demons, angels, the hapless humans caught between them, superheroes, the super villains who pound those heroes into pudding, witches, ghosts, and the occasional Horseman of the Apocalypse. And I had a stint in the Buffyverse when I wrote a Tales of the Vampires comic for Dark Horse Comics.

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What about you?

Are you an author who’s tried blog touring?  We’d love to hear about your experience with that and hope you’ll add your own advice for fellow writers here in comments. And if you’re an author whose publisher sent you out there on a traditional old-school book tour, we’d love to hear about that too!  Every last detail.

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Readers, if you liked this post, you might be interested in these:

Attention shoppers: Lessons learned from a book signing disaster

Book bloggers can help sell your book: Tips for authors

15 Responses to Launching a successful blog tour

  1. Jo Lena Johnson

    Thank you so much for what you shared! It was extremely helpful and informative. I’m looking forward to using these tips with my new book, Strategic Planning for Love & War, Relationships and Adult Conversations. I had not had much success getting the interest of “Relationship” bloggers however, now that I read your article, I’m reinvigorated. Thanks again! Jo Lena Johnson

  2. Jackie Kessler

    Thanks, Jo Lena — I’m glad you enjoyed the article. And thank you, Alan, for the interview!

  3. Jen Blood

    Thanks for the great post! I’m just getting started preparing a blog tour for the fall — your tips will definitely come in handy as I begin approaching bloggers. Best of luck on the superhero training; it sounds like you’re well on your way!

  4. Nicole McInnes

    Just wow, Alan and Jackie. Thank you so much for posting this information. My YA novel BRIANNA ON THE BRINK will be released in Spring 2013, so I’m right in the zone of studying how to best promote the book on my end. Jackie, I love the Deadline Dames blog, btw, and it was incredibly cool of you to share your blog tour experiences in such detail here. Now I’m off to check out your books!!

  5. Dean Sudan

    Thank you Ms. Kessler and Mr. Rinzler for aiding us poor wannabees. The practical advice you have given is helping to pave the way. I also had a dream of traveling the world and mega-sucess for my book. your advice may be an alternate route to a happy ending.

  6. Industry News-May 6 » RWA-WF

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  7. Jackie Kessler

    Thanks, Jen, Nicole and Dean!

  8. Nina Amir

    Well,I’m just setting up my blog tour, and we’ll see if I survive something in the neighborhood of 25 stops. I’ve done it all myself, and I’m looking at writing almost original posts about the subject of my book, How to Blog a Book:Write, Publish and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time (Writer’s Digest Books), with the exception of about 3 posts that are Q & A and three that are excerpts. I feel like I need to write a whole new book. There are one or two book giveaways, and my publisher will be handling that.

    I plan to do a second blog tour for the book about three months down the pike, but I’m going to let someone else organize it. Blog tours can be very successful for selling books and raising awareness.

    I’ve been focusing on writing-related blogs for my tour(s). I may switch gears and do a third tour later on focused on business-related blogs.

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  10. Stephanie Carroll

    Awesome information! Very helpful!

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  12. Kira Janene Holt

    Thanks for sharing the information; I found it helpful. I had contracted with a company to set up a blog tour for my new novel. It fell through, and I’m in the mist of working with American Express to recover the money I had sent. Will try again to set up something for Rapid Descent – Nightmare in the Grand Canyon, but will be much more careful in the future.

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