The Successful Blog Tour: Doing It!

suitcases

photo: Drew Coffman, creative commons license

Authors often take part in a blog tour to promote their new books. Yesterday guest poster F.M. Meredith described the planning stage; today, she describes what happens after you hit the “send” button. She starts with a piece of advice that will bring painful memories to many of us, me included!

Be sure to proofread each one of your blog posts before you send it to the blog host. Send it ahead of time with a mention of the date it’s supposed to appear, and ask the host to let you know whether they received everything.

Your work is not done once you have the tour set up and your posts on their way. You’ll want to make sure the post is up on the prearranged date. Sometimes there are problems. Though most blog hosts set up the post ahead of time to appear on the right day, one or two might not. Send a polite email reminder.

Every day of your tour, you must promote the blog you’ll be visiting. Send announcements to your friends, the lists that you’re on, and to all your social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Facebook groups, etc.

Visit the blog and leave a thank-you. A few times during the day, check and see whether anyone has left a comment, and thank each one for visiting. If someone asks a question, be sure to answer it. This is important. It will make the difference if you ever want to do another guest spot on that particular blog. If you’re having a contest, keep track of commenters’ names and how many times they leave comments.

Does a Blog Tour Work?

I’m sure your biggest question is, does a blog tour work? If you mean, does it result in sales, it’s kind of hard to determine, but I do know whenever I’ve been on a tour, my sales ranking on Amazon has improved—which is a good thing.

One last remark about blog tours, I think they are fun. To me, it’s a challenge to come up with new topics to write about for each blog. I also love going back to see who has visited. And remember, for all those who leave comments, there are many, many more who merely read the blog and didn’t write anything.

Blog tours are another way to get your name and information about your book in front of the public. And isn’t that what we are all trying to do?

The most recent novels of guest blogger—and blog tour maven—F.M. aka Marilyn Meredith, are Unresolved, thirteenth in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, and Seldom Traveled, sixteenth in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series. Find her at http://fictionforyou.com or http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com.

The Successful Blog Tour: Planning

F M Meredith

Guest Poster F M Meredith

Authors often want to have a blog tour to promote their new books. Today and tomorrow guest poster F M Meredith tells us how to do it!

Though there are companies that will arrange a blog tour for you for a price, you can create a better one yourself. Of course, the planning needs to begin long before your book is going to be available.

Identifying the Blogs

Find the blogs that you like best that also host authors. You might want to see whether they have many followers, though I’ve not worried about this much. (Speaking for myself, a lot fewer people “follow” my blog than visit it regularly–Vicki)

Approach each one and tell them a bit about your book and yourself and ask whether they would be willing to host you on your tour. If they say yes, then settle on a date, and keep good track of those dates!

Be sure the blogs you choose allow comments. And it’s best if they aren’t moderating the comments. (If they do moderate, ask them to be sure and do it often on the day you’ll appear on the blog.)

Crafting the Content of Your Posts

Find out what kind of post each host would like you to write for their blog—try to do something different for each one. Some may want to do an interview, and if you have a lot of those, it’s a good idea that after you cover the basics, you add some new information about yourself. Some blog owners have very particular ideas about what they want, be sure to follow their rules. In most cases, they’ll probably tell you to pick your own topic.

Some ideas for blog posts are: an interview with your main character—or the villain; 10 things no one knows about you; what gave you the idea for this particular book; what you are going to do to promote the book besides the blog tour; the setting for the story; your best writing tips; a description of the place where you write or any writing rituals you follow; and of course an excerpt or a first chapter of your book. If a blog host also wants to review the book, that’s great.

Every blog post you send out should include a short bio, a blurb about the book, all of your links including the one enabling readers to buy the book. Add as attachments the book cover graphic and a photo of yourself. I think it’s fun to send a different photo to some of the blogs just for variety.

Add a Contest?

To get people to visit all the blogs on your tour, you might plan a contest of some sort, with the winner being the person who leaves a comment on the most tour blogs. Some authors give away a copy of the book they are promoting, but since you’re having the tour to get people to buy the book, it’s better if you give away a different book or something else altogether. What’s worked well for me is to give the winner the opportunity to be a character in one of my mysteries.

TOMORROW: The Successful Blog Tour: Implementation

The most recent novels of guest blogger—and blog tour maven—FM aka Marilyn Meredith, are Unresolved, thirteenth in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, and Seldom Traveled, sixteenth in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series. Find her at http://fictionforyou.com or http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com.

Detroit’s Music Museum: Hitsville: USA

Motown - Ted Eytan

photo: Ted Eytan, creative commons license

If the button for your car radio’s Oldies’ station is shiny from use, there’s a travel stop for you in Detroit.  The Motown Museum’s headquarters and studio, Hitsville, USA, contained in two connected American Foursquares at 2648 West Grand Boulevard.

Once success arrived, Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr., had offices and operations departments in seven houses he owned on both sides of the street, later expanding into a ten-story office building, and eventually moving his whole operation to Los Angeles in 1972. But these buildings are the original home of the Gordy family, as well as the enterprise that created the soundtrack of the 1960s and 19970s: Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Supremes, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson, The Marvelettes, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5, and so many more.

Gordie’s sister Esther Gordy Edwards recognized the importance of this original spot and founded the museum in 1985. When Gordy lived there, local kids who had a musical idea were welcome day or night, under the theory that “you can’t put a time limit on creativity.”

Gordie recruited a backup band from Detroit jazz clubs, that became legendary as the Funk Brothers (fantastic documentary about them: Standing in the Shadow of Motown). Likewise one of his girl groups, the Andantes, served as backup singers on dozens of iconic records, from “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” to “Reach Out I’ll Be There.” Gordy wanted music and lyrics that were upbeat. “Part storefront church gospel, part jazz joint on a Saturday night, part street corner symphony,” that was the Motown Sound.

Though many Motown performers became major stars, they started as neighborhood kids. They knew each other from living down the block or around the corner, and many of them weren’t out of high school yet. Gordy set up an “artist personal development” program for them, headed by talent agent Maxine Powell, who taught grooming, poise, and social graces, to give these young people the polish that would support their success.

Museum visits are conducted by tour leaders in small groups and include a brief film plus an opportunity to sing in the legendary Studio A, where so much great music was created. The costume display, sample records, and photographs of those early days are amazing, though your tour group will move ahead before you can begin to read all the captions!

Using Images in Your Online Media

Shu Qi, the Assassin, China

Shu Qi as The Assassin

Do we “judge a book by its cover”? Yeah, we do! In a blog post this week, author Kirsten Oliphant focused on the importance of visuals for attracting book purchasers, blog post readers, and social media shares. Posts and tweets with pix are almost twice as likely to be read, regardless of topic, as those without. Facebook users know this, uploading some 350 million photos every day!

Searching for the exactly right photo for my blog posts is a fun part of the process, a reward to myself for completing the writing. When the content doesn’t easily lend itself to visualization, it can be an interesting challenge.

I depend heavily on Flickr images licensed through creative commons, because the terms of use are so clear, and have found great images on Pixabay. Generally, “stock photo” images seem stiff and unnatural to me. The producer had a message in mind, and that doesn’t ever match my message.

Scrolling through my file of images from this year so far, I see several I especially like. One of my favorites is at the top of this post—a still from the movie The Assassin—just because it’s so beautiful. Others favorites: the memorial to Britain’s World War I dead, an art installation around the Tower of London (clicking on it takes you to a description of the installation), below, used to illustrate a review of the play Remembrance Day, which is Britain’s Veterans Day, celebrated with red poppies as in the U.S., traditionally.

poppy poppies Beefeater London

A small section of the 2014 London installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies, each representing a member of the British military who died in World War I (photo: Shawn Spencer-Smith, creative commons license)

Julius Caesar, bust

Julius Caesar (photo: William Warby, creative commons license)

And, this one, at right, such a powerful image of Julius Caesar, used to illustrate my March 15, “Ides of March” post about an exhibit of crime photographs at the Met.

Oliphant’s post reinforces the value of “branded visuals” that have a consistency of style that links them uniquely to an author. The image of the eerie, disused Eastern Penitentiary may be the closest I come to a branded approach, as it’s the header for my website and Facebook page, as well as appearing on my business cards. I snapped that picture; I own it.

Oliphant provides helpful sources for free stock photos, other guidance about using images, and reviews some of the top free image-editing sites. And, just think, if you’re doing a lot of writing, every great picture you come up with saves you, what? a thousand words?  Her complete post appears on Jane Friedman’s excellent website.

Your Website’s “About Me” Page

house, Texas

(photo: Carol Von Canon, creative commons license)

Just in time for a spring spruce-up of your web home, my favorite book marketing guru Sandra Beckwith posted a how-to on upgrading the “About Me” page. On this website, the page is called “Who Is?”—a faint echo of the mystery theme (perhaps should be “Whodunnit?”). The post was written by serial entrepreneur Andrew Wise whose online success means his advice is worth listening to, and it’s of interest to all authors maintaining a web site or thinking about starting one.

The biggest reason not to “create and forget” this page is that our visitors read it. In fact, says Wise, it’s usually one of the 10 most popular pages on a site. I was surprised to learn that’s true of my site, too. New visitors want to know we’re reliable—regardless of what kind of stuff we write. He’s distilled a lot of insight into this infographic (click on it for a larger view).

At a minimum, the About Me page should:

  • Prove yourself to be an authority in your field – a bit of a stretch for me, since I write about crime and am not a former cop or lawyer. But, my publication credentials speak to a different aspect of credibility, and they’re on another page altogether, my “Writing . . .” page. Hmmmm.
  • Show your personality – make your text more of a conversation and less of an information dump; be positive and friendly.
  • Include a picture of yourself – this responds to the human love of visual images. My page has only a thematic picture.
  • At the conclusion, provide a way for readers to be in touch. I do that! But that area need tweaking. The ask is buried.

As blogger Rob Orr reminds us, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” In reviewing many About Me pages, he says the most important common denominator of the best ones is that they make a connection. In that sense, they are less about the author than about the visitors, a point many others make as well. How to translate that insight from commercial sites to the writer-reader experience is something I’ll be thinking about.

If you were coming to my website the first time, what would you want to know about me? Anything? Are you finding it? Come back in a month to find out “Who Is? 2.0”!

New Authors’ Wishful Thinking

wishbone

(photo: Dayna Bateman, Creative Commons license)

The SheWrites website recently posted a Brooke Warner essay on ways aspiring authors can be tripped up by wishful thinking. If you’re an author—or a friend of one—you may recognize these thought patterns. I do! Their root is often simply impatience. After spending so much time writing the book—years, maybe—we want to move on. Warner says:

  1. New authors shortchange the time spent on their query letter, proposal, and marketing strategy, in the hope it can be planned and implemented in “a matter of months.” I am a prime example. I have sent out query letters for my “finished” manuscript, been mostly rejected (or ignored), worked on the manuscript more, revised my queries, tried again; lather, rinse, repeat. Finally, having worked with an external editor, I’m so much closer to having a publishable manuscript than when I was first querying—but I didn’t realize that then!
  2. Authors hope they can avoid doing promotion by outsourcing their social media activities. Although there are services that would do this for me, I’ve never considered it. I learn a lot from doing my own social media, and while I’m not 100% successful, at least it’s me, not a “a hollow message” that potential Facebook friends and Twitter followers see.
  3. As a last resort, they purchase social media lists. At best, a short-term strategy. Doesn’t work.
  4. They hope to avoid the additional delay and expense of having a book copyedited and proofread. I don’t know whose fault it is—ultimately, no one should be more committed to a good outcome than the author—but I’ve seen so many books lately that were not given the chance to be their best. Is this just a cosmetic quibble? When I see a book that consistently calls an Italian gentleman Signore Rizzo, when it should be Signor Rizzo, it shows me the author has a tin ear. And if he makes that kind of error (among so many others), how much care will have been taken with every other aspect of the writing?

Ultimately, authors must not be trapped by wishful thinking, because the competition is so tough. “Take this as a reality check that it’s hard, especially as a debut author, not only to sell books but also to get a book deal, to get serious media attention, to get reviews.” Eyes wide open, says Wagner, give authors the best shot at avoiding disappointment and achieving a satisfying publishing experience. But it’s hard not to wish it were all a little easier . . .

A Bookstore for Invisible Authors

book store

Gulf Coast Books, Fort Myers, Florida (photo: facebook)

A great idea recently came out of Florida—and, no, I am not talking about aspiring Republican presidential candidates. According to a Publisher’s Weekly story by Judith Rosen, the first bookstore dedicated to self-published authors opened in Fort Myers earlier this month. The Gulf Coast Book Store was launched by two self-published authors: Patti Brassard Jefferson, who writes and illustrates children’s books and history author Timothy Jacobs.

The store addresses one of the biggest difficulties facing self-published authors—the near-impossibility of getting their books into stores. In traditional book stores, self-published authors—who conservatively publish some 450,000 books per year—are essentially invisible. Even books published by small presses may have difficulty appearing on store shelves if the publisher doesn’t invest in relationships with book distributors. Distributors’ sales teams are the people who promote a new author’s book to book store buyers. (A useful discussion of the difference between book wholesalers and distributors is here, a distinction many publishing services gloss over.)

At Gulf Coast, which is located in Fort Myers’s Butterfly Estates, self-published authors’ works are not vetted, but writers must be local. They can rent shelf space for three months for $60, plus a $15 set-up fee. In return, they receive 100% of every sale. (Bookstores willing to take a local author’s books typically do so on consignment, and the author may receive only about half of each sale.) Gulf Coast can offer these full returns because it doesn’t need staff. Butterfly Estates—which includes shops, a café, and butterfly conservatory—handles sales and credit-card processing.

In April, the store offered books by 36 local authors, plans to add 16 more in May, and currently has no spaces available. Each writer can display up to 10 books, and the 10 may be all the same title or multiple titles. Authors can display promotional materials—bookmarks, brochures, and the like—and are featured on the store’s website.

Gulf Coast’s space is available for book signings, too. For Jefferson and Jacobs, “the store is about building community and helping other authors,” writes PW contributor Rosen. Though Gulf Coast provides a tiny solution for now, if it caught on elsewhere, indie authors would rejoice.

Categories vs.Tags = Chapters vs. Index

tags, tea

(photo: wikimedia)

No doubt this blog would benefit from a better system of categories and tags (the words that appear at the bottom and let readers search for similar content). Here’s a guide from the Elegant Themes blog on how to make those improvements. My tags alternate between the too general (“book”) and the too specific (the name of a person I’ve written about once). Time for a clean-up.

If you’re a blogger, you may have been as mystified about the difference between categories and tags as I still am, and this post will help there, too. It asks you to think about your blog as a book, with your categories as chapter titles and your tags as the index—more detailed, in other words. That means it’s easier to change and add tags than it is categories, if you already have a lot of content. (Ideally, this should have been done two years ago, when I started, but there you have it. Perfection is elusive.)

The link provides a helpful list of do’s and don’ts, too. Many of which this blog violates. Faced with such a situation I always hear the immortal Jonathan Winters calling, “We’ve gotta get organized!”

The Blacklist: Under Covers

TV, NBC, Blacklist, James Spader, magazine cover

(photo: AP/NBC)

Since the ads on network television drive me crazy, it’s ironic that ads have persuaded me to watch the second-season premiere of The Blacklist, Monday, September 22 on NBC. If you’ve watched the show, you know it’s an American crime drama starring James Spader, Megan Boone, Ryan Eggold, and Harry Lennix. The premise is that Spader, a high-profile fugitive—Raymond “Red” Reddington—emerges from the shadows to make a deal with the FBI. He’ll help them capture a series of hard-to-nab global criminals, but only if they let him use a young profiler (Megan Boone) “fresh out of Quantico” to help.

The show last season received pretty strong positive reviews from the critics, and in a recent Chicago Tribune interview about the upcoming twists, Spader said, “once you start taking all those backroads, the backroads become much more interesting than the destination.” Spader pursues those intriguing backroads with his characteristic intensity—which led Rolling Stone to call him “the strangest man on TV.”

But what about those ads? The first one I noticed was the inside back cover of this month’s Wired, which showed Spader in a typical neon-drenched Wired explosion, with mock-cover headlines like “Get with the Program: Red’s Shocking Next Move” and “On the List, Off the Grid: Tracking the Criminals Still at Large.” Clever. Then I spotted a fake cover in the 9/8 issue of The New Yorker, drawn by popular cover artist Mark Ulriksen (who drew the recent Derek Jeter cover), and you may have seen similar cover spoofs in GQ, Rolling Stone, Time and six other magazines. Spader’s undercover under covers. Ok, I’ll watch once, anyway. (Did. Not an immediate fan.)

Indie-Author Book Promotion Spending Lags

books

(photo: wikimedia.org)

A recent survey of a mix of self-published authors, reported by Dana Beth Weinberg, suggests the extent to which individual authors are outsourcing some of the tasks that in the good ol’ days, were done by their publisher. There’s a range of those tasks, and some authors do a few of them on their own, and some authors engage several people to accomplish the whole shebang. Recently, some formal book-publishing “teams” have been developed, and they can be expensive and low-performing (see the recent update on the class action lawsuit against Penguin-Random House’s company, “Author Solutions, Inc.,” a costly team service many authors complain under-performs.)

The 2014 survey was conducted by Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest and received information from almost 2,200 self-published and hybrid (both self- and traditionally-published) authors about their most recent self-publishing experience. Just under half of these authors obtained outside help. Apparently believing you can judge a book by its cover, most often they hired a cover artist (35% percent); and 20-25% obtained help with formatting, print on demand, and copy editing. Amazingly, since book sales is the biggest problem for self-published authors, only 11% got help with marketing and promotion!

Only 112 of the 1,900 authors who reported their earnings (net or gross? article doesn’t say) made $10,000 or more from this recent book, and there is a definite trend line between spending more on services and higher earnings. However, most of the authors had a median expense of $0, and earned less than $1,000 on their book. Even among the highest-earning group, only 20 percent of authors spent on marketing and promotion. Something wrong here. And it may be in part that authors feel competent to look at a book cover and say whether they think it’s good or not, but not to assess a marketing campaign that isn’t working.