Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Virtual Book Tour: Promoting Silenced Cry
... and how I did it

After I announced the start of my virtual book tour on July 31, I received numerous e-mails a day from fellow authors who wanted to know how I had organized the tour.

First let me emphasize that the following is based purely on my experience. It is not intended as the perfect model, but simply a list of things that worked for me this time around. Keep in mind that there are several sites available that offer to help authors schedule virtual tours for a fee. However, I found that with a few basic communication skills, a little time, and some careful planning, it is not only doable, it is an inexpensive and fun way to promote your book.

The key word is NETWORK and RELATIONSHIPS, but don’t wait until your book is published to begin building a communication network. I joined my first author forum several years before Silenced Cry was released in April 2007, by BeWrite Books (UK). I've build my network of friends and contacts through membership in about 16-18 sites. These sites represent approximately 15,431 members and potential readers. The number of readers increases when I add in the number of people who visit my website, my pages in Myspace, Gather, Squidoo, Amazon, and other such sites. Also not included in that figure are the friends and family on my mailing list.

Join diverse groups that provide different focuses such as some general author forums where anything having to do with writing can and is discussed. Other groups may have a membership with focused interest on your preferred genre, while yet others may have be places where members discuss marketing, agents, and publishing.

Several people have asked me how I find time to stay current with the various posts and keep up with my writing. Getting involved within those networks doesn't mean you have to devote hours a day to each one, but do make yourself known to others. Get involved in the conversations that are of interest to you and ones that you can contribute to. Think of how many people you know and come in contact with every day. Each member in these sites probably knows as many or possibly more people than you do. Get to know them. Pay attention to what is being discussed and follow the links they mentioned. You never know where they may lead you. If a certain link is not to your liking, go on to the next one.

Get Ready:
So, the day of your book launch has come and gone and now you feel it’s time to beef up your promotions. Great! Roll up your sleeves and prepare to work for several weeks on nothing but your virtual book tour.

Step 1:
I wrote a basic announcement and customized it to fit each site based on their criteria for self-promotion. Beware, there are author sites frown on self-promotion. Make the announcement short, sweet, and to the point. Mention that you are making plans for a virtual book tour (give the dates) and indicate that you would like to know if anyone would be willing to sponsor you on their website or blog. Don’t be afraid to ask. Virtual book tours are a win/win situation—more on this in a minute.

Step 2:
Within hours of my announcement I began to receive e-mails from some of my contacts with an “I’d love to sponsor you—please send...”

Remember, everything about the tour is entirely your responsibility.
1. Study the sites of those who have invited you to be a guest writer. Read what others have posted to those sites. What can you write about yourself, your book, your characters, etc., that will fit the site’s format?

2. Don’t make the mistake of accepting the offer to post if the site doesn’t fit your schedule. I turned one offer down because they wanted a book review. I was reading a book at the time, but I wasn’t going to have time to finish it and write a review in time for my tour.

3. Get a calendar and write down the names of your contacts and the blog’s name and URL.
Don’t over commit. If you can’t write more than four or five articles, don’t promise to do seven or eight. It’s better to add events to your tour than to commit and not follow through.

4. I found it helpful to create an e-mail folder titled Virtual Book Tour. I moved all my e-mails (received and sent) into that folder so I could find certain e-mails easily. I also printed the final e-mails confirming the date/time of the event and placed them in a manila folder in event date order.

5. Create a folder in your favorites and save the links to each website and/or blog that is sponsoring you so you can find the links quickly.

6. Try to do a variety of events. Ask if you can write an article for some of the blogs, ask others if they would like to interview you. Check to see if a group has a chat room and would be willing to schedule an hour chat with you and their members. Check into other media opportunities such as radio and/or television. Be prepared to send a picture of your book cover or banner to some of the sites. Remember to include a few local blogs if they are available, such as a community or library blog.

7. Start writing. Type, type, type—breathe—type, type, type—breathe again! Vary the topics of your articles. Your sponsor will more than likely makes suggestions. They may want to know what inspired you to write. Others may want you to discuss specifics about your book. Take their lead, but if they leave the topic up to you, one idea source is to review some of your previous interview questions. Maybe there’s one that is particularly thought provoking that you would like to expand on.

8. When you e-mail your article to the website owner, be sure to remind him or her of your purpose, the name of your article, the agreed date to post the article and which blog to post it in if they have multiple blogs.

9. If your website has an events page, post the tour schedule and links. Join a site such as Booktour.com (mention my name if you join, please!). Book Tour is a super easy site to work with and it has a nice, clean look. It allows you to link to your website and book trailer (if you have one). There may be others, but this one has some other nice features I like such as allowing visitors to send reminders of the tour dates to their e-mails or websites.

10. A few days to a week before the tour, prepare another standard announcement to post on the various websites. This time, list the details of your tour and/or the links to the sites that lists your schedule.

11. Two-three days before each event, contact your sponsors and remind him or her to post your blog. This is also a good time to send out private e-mails to everyone listed in your address book to remind them of the tour. Be sure to ask them to post comments on your blogs and to forward your e-mail to a friend or two.

12. Check your posts for comments and type a response.

13. After each article has been published on the host site for the day, post it on your own website and/or blob. This way, your article will appear on the search engines via the host site as well as yours and your work will be available in one convenient place for visitors to read.

Step 3:
Measure your success in sales, exposure, and new opportunities. I won’t know until the tour is over exactly how my sales compared with previous months. I know I’ve sold more than a few books based on the number of people who have written to me. But sales aren’t the only measuring stick to success. This tour attracted the attention of critical reviewers, additional interview opportunities, and invitations to write for other sites. The tour kick-off was July 31 with a live interview on Internet Voices Radio. The following day, the hits on my website jumped by 44%. To listen to the interview visit, http://www.martastephens-author.com/interview.html.

Don’t be shy. You'll find that most authors or site owners will be more than happy to showcase you. It's a win/win situation. The site owner wins because you’re doing all the work; writing the articles and promoting their site. You win because you will be able to promote yourself and your book to a target audience that you might not have had access to prior to the tour.

Step 4:
Thank your sponsors and make sure you offer to reciprocate their kindness.

All the articles and interviews from my August 2007 Virtual Book Tour are available on this site. I look forward to your questions and/or comments!