Many of you might have heard of a blog tour. These are also known as Virtual Tours, which is the term I prefer, because the sites visited might not all be blogs. So why would you do one, how do you do one, and what is involved in a virtual tour?
I love love love this idea. A Virtual Tour includes one of my favorite methods of publicity: article writing. In article writing, the article is not really about the book, per se, but about some element of its subject and there is usually some tendril that connects it to a bigger meaning. The publicity part is usually contained in the bio segment, a few tiny lines at the end of the article, where it says “Author Mary’s forthcoming book is xx.” The Tour part involves having the author featured on as many websites as possible during a given period of time. Typically this is the month during which your book is launched. But you can do these fairly effectively at any time during your book’s lifespan.
The Virtual Tour consists partly of content that you write yourself, and then offer to appropriate outlets, and partly of reviews that the site owners do when you send them a review copy. It is not a quick thing. Good Virtual Tours are planned months in advance. You need to be mindful of the editorial calendars and typical content of any site you approach, and you need to allow those who are doing reviews time to do the work necessary.
The most comprehensive and perhaps successful Virtual Tour I have ever seen was done by Mary Sharratt for the release of her novel Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. She hired an agency to set up the tour, which ran from Oct 14 to Nov 15 (for a publication date of Oct 15). (Note that the tour linked to here was done for the release of the paperback edition.)
There were a good amount of book blogs (sometimes two a day), most of which only needed to have a review copy sent to them. (But again, this needed to be done months ahead of time, for the busy fall publishing season.) These placements included interviews, giveaways and contests. Because the company that organized the tour specialized in historical fiction, they had a waiting slate of blogs to pitch Mary’s book to. This is half the work of any virtual tour – finding your targets.
But Mary also wrote for many other sites that at first glance had nothing to do with books, but everything to do with her subject matter. By a lucky chance of fortuitous timing, Illuminations was originally released in the same month that Hildegard was named a Doctor of the Church, and right around the time that she was elevated to sainthood. (Actually, luck had little to do with it – Mary knew what was going on with her subject and communicated this to her publisher, and I think the pub date was moved to coincide with these other happy events.)
For the initial release, Mary wrote articles on feminist websites, she wrote opinion pieces, she wrote articles about Hildegard’s music, her botany work, and her relevance to our world today. Sometimes this was done in concert with an independent book review, and sometimes it was done on a website that was not a book blog. She had an article placed nearly every day of her launch month. The beauty of this is that the article would then reach people who were perhaps more interested in the subject matter, so more motivated to read the book.
When I asked her about this tour, she said that she had hired an agency to coordinate all the posts, but the link on her website only points to the book review sites included on the paperback release tour. So I can’t give you a link that lists all of the other sites on which she wrote wonderful articles for the initial launch (she has redone her website since then). However, as you can see from the one I’ve linked to, this went on for over a year after the paperback edition was released – though certainly not at the pace at which she did it right around the initial publication date.
If you find a website or online magazine that has a particular affinity for your subject matter, you might be able to arrange a regular appearance there, as Mary has done with Feminism and Religion. Search for her other articles on that site, and you will see what I mean. They are timely and relevant, and give new life to the extensive research that Mary did for Illuminations. You may even be able to use material that didn’t make it into the book.
In order to organize a Virtual Tour, it is first necessary to find your markets. You should be open-minded about what you can write about, but certainly make sure that there is a tie-in to the site’s main topic. (Make a list of the different areas you can write about, and sub-lists of what you focus on in articles in each area.) You will need to determine who to query, and operate as if this were a regular magazine query process. Writer’s Market can be helpful for topic-specific sites, and for contact information. You can usually find an email in the Contact Us section, or if all else fails, look under the advertising section. Spend some time looking around the site, and make your query specific.
For book bloggers, you will need to familiarize yourself with the blog. Make sure your book is a good fit. Don’t pitch to bloggers on social media, and don’t pitch something clearly not appropriate (like a mystery novel to a historical fiction blog). Support your work by sharing each post on your own social media. Offer giveaways if you can, or original content. This can be a Q&A, an excerpt, or some other piece that you write based on the book (like a character interview, etc).
A Virtual Tour allows you to access an audience that you otherwise would not have. It is ostensibly free – that is, except for the time involved, which is substantial. There are many agencies which can set up Blog Tours for you, but a complete Virtual Tour will take something more. Do your homework on this one.