As an author who has toured, and as a blog owner who has hosted tours, I can speak with authority about both sides of the virtual book tour experience.
My motivation for this post is to save budget-conscious authors from wasting their money on tour companies that produce less-than-satisfactory results.
What is a virtual book (or blog) tour?
It is a “blog hop” dedicated to your book (or series). These hops can last for 1 day up to several months. The only limits on the time are the number of available “host sites” and the amount of money that you invest.
To be fair, organizing a blog tour requires a MASSIVE amount of logistics. Therefore, it is not a task for the faint-hearted.
Nevertheless, hundreds of blog tour companies undertake this Herculean task on behalf of authors. Many of these companies are 1 or 2-person entrepreneurs with fancy websites.
Some of these small companies are good at generating high-quality tours. Others are merely good at making excuses.
1) Get References
Get references from authors who have hired the tour company. No, don’t write to the host company asking for references (unless you want a one-sided picture, that favors the tour company.) Surf the host company’s website for recently hosted authors.
You might also check the host company’s Facebook site, where recent tours are likely to be posted.
Privately contact the promoted authors and ask how the tour went.
2) Visit Random Host Sites
Before choosing a tour company, visit sample host sites that your tour company uses. Are previous tour posts easy to find? Are they formatted in a manner that is pleasing to the eye? Can you find a “comments section” with ease?
Many of these volunteer sites are run by readers who want free books. As a result, these hosts sign up with a plethora of tour companies. This practice can pose a problem for you, if your tour company doesn’t have the clout to demand that your tour gets top billing (see Tip #3, below.)
3) Demand Top Billing
Most host sites use the same “blog page” over and over, slapping one article above another. These pages scroll for miles. (BTW: Google only ranks a page based on the first 1,000 words that the spiderbots record.)
To make matters worse, such host sites will post 2-4 blog tours PER DAY on the same page. If a reader isn't looking for your post, she'll never notice your buried content.
So when choosing your blog tour company, make sure it DEMANDS that host sites only post one tour per day – in other words, YOURS.
Alternatively, be sure that your host company DEMANDS that your tour is posted at the TOP of the page.
4) Look for High Standards of Quality
Demand to know what your host company will do to “save” your tour when a blog owner flakes out and forgets to post. (This happens more often than you think.)
You might also consider paying a little more to work with a tour company that has the size and clout to schedule more than one host site per day.
Any tour company that insists it has no control over a post's position or format is telling you:
a) I don’t have enough host sites to deliver what I promise; therefore,
b) I can’t cut any of the crappy sites that repeatedly post crap (er, I mean) that consistently post illegible content or that bury posts deeper than China.
5) Explicit Sex in Excerpts
Most readers enjoy being teased and titillated. However, unless you're writing Erotica, you run the risk of embarrassing or offending readers with explicit excerpts about tongues roaming over body parts.
When sexual descriptions are taken out of context, they lose all their emotional flavor. They're no longer romantic; they're borderline porn. In fact, many blog owners feel obligated to warn their readers that an R-rated passage follows.
I've discussed this topic with tour companies. Their advice?
Excerpt sexual tension.
But don't excerpt graphic sexual content. Make the reader open his or her wallet before handing over "the good stuff."
6) Avoid Weekends and Holidays
Avoid scheduling your tour for ANY holiday week. Who has time to jump online and follow your blog tour when they're prepping for a house full of guests?
7) Get Creative with Giveaways
Theoretically, you offer a raffle to increase tour followers. How much excitement do you think a $10 prize generates? (Especially if it's the ONLY prize?)
By the way: EVERY AUTHOR seems to offer Amazon Gift cards, ebooks and pdfs. Is it any wonder that readers ignore the flood of raffle promos?
I offered $50, plus books, a story critique and character worksheets. I ran my raffle for 6-weeks (rather than the standard 2) and received heavy Tweeting help from my publisher. I also spent $15 to hire a Twitter service to Tweet about the giveaway for 10 consecutive days.
Result: I generated roughly 420 Facebook Likes, 200 new Twitter followers, 75 new Good Reads followers, and 7100+ entries in the giveaway.
That, my friends, is the power of thinking outside the box.
8) Provide Exclusive Content
Would you take the time to follow a tour from website to website if you consistently saw the same book excerpt, interview, or guest post?
Of course not! And neither will your readers.
Invest the time to pull a different excerpt for each host site. (Yes, edit it for length and entertainment value.) By providing “exclusive” content, you increase the odds that readers will follow your tour.
By the way: providing excerpts doesn’t guarantee that your selections will be posted. Some blog owners will insist on running the first chapter from your book, even though that chapter has already been excerpted by every major online retailer!
Obviously, such blog owners aren't savvy marketers: they aren't thinking in terms of growing their readership or yours.
9) Check Comments Daily
If a blog has agreed to host your tour, check several times during the day for reader comments. Even if readers haven’t commented, be courteous: leave a “thank you” for the blog owner in the comments section.
10) Reward Host Site Owners
Do you want blog owners to work for you, announcing your tour on their social media networks? How about top-of-the-page billing? An invitation to come back?
Then offer a reward to the blog owners! Maybe it’s a $5.00 gift card for each host. Maybe it’s a $20 gift card to a randomly chosen host. Your reward will be a token of appreciation, but few authors reward the hosts – so you’ll look like a hero!