The Virtual Book Tour Experience

© Janie Franz 2010 all rights reserved

Every writer dreams of making The Tour—no, not what the affluent used to call traveling through Europe and other parts of the world as a way to find yourself or get away from something. The Tour in the publishing realm is the ultimate ticket to arriving as a writer. It is the book tour that included speaking engagements, media appearances, and, of course, book signings.

It often involved having the publisher’s publicist arrange the tour that could last for a couple of weeks or up to several months. The writer would usually become a frequent flyer and an expert at either driving different kinds of rental cars or really be good at hailing taxis. On tour, the author would stay in a string of hotel rooms that soon looked  alike, making the writer have to look at the tour schedule to figure out what city or even state he or she was in. And then there were the early morning media appearances (sometimes with a 5 am call) that would make the author sit for three hours while behind the scenes people grilled him or her on the writing process or points about the book that was being hawked and then be rushed to the studio (TV or radio) for a five minute appearance with someone who had never cracked the covers of the book the tour was about. Later in the day, there would be a talk or reading at a bookstore and then the stint at the book signing table. Sometimes, the author sat bored silly behind the table at the front of the store (or worse at the back), watching people pick up the writer’s book and ask what it was about. 

This would be all repeated ad infinitum until the tour was over and the writer came home exhausted but wondering whether it was worth it to sell a few books. Yet, the writer would be on the next plane that had been arranged for, just to keep the publisher happy.

Luckily, a better, more economical, and often more eco-friendly way to do a book tour has emerged. And, it reaches far more readers, offering so much more information and intimacy than a face-to-face book tour. It is the virtual book tour. Many traditional publishers, including Simon and Schuster, are even encouraging their authors, new signees as well as blockbuster sellers, to conduct online book tours, too, or at least blog or use social networks.

This has been a boon to writers who have more hammers in their tool belt than just being a novelist. Virtual book tours also allow these writers to promote their other writing activities while they tout their current book.

Virtual book tours have only been around a few years and were the brainchild of independent writers who couldn’t afford expensive tours. They could only exist, however, with the advent of new media technologies (computers, Blackberries, iPhones, etc.), the proliferation of social network sites, and the sprouting up of bloggers like mushrooms after a spring rain. All of these tools have been legitimized and optimized by network media. CNN correspondents tweet and blog, and some bloggers now are given the respect of New York Times journalists.

Since the goal of marketing any book is to expose it and the author to as many people as possible, virtual book tours have the potential to reach thousands of avid readers each day of the tour, without the author ever having to leave his or her office or change into a business suit. And, since most blogs are archived, the author’s tour posts are permanent, often becoming viral, spreading from blog to blog as readers comment about the book or what was said during the tour. This becomes a permanent marketing tool, offering media leverage that can’t be found in an hour booksigning where customers don’t even know who you are.

I’ve done group booksignings before and even helped organize a small town writers conference as part of a larger town event. Not only is the preparation brutal, but the response in comparison to all of the work is dismal. 

In contract, at my very first virtual interview as a published fiction writer, I had more response through blog comments and personal emails than I have every had at any face-to-face booksigning. And, I even sold books!

Though virtual book tours are very good for authors, they offer something very special to readers and fellow writers. They provide a forum for authors to talk about issues that are inherent in the books they write. They can explain nuances of character or reasons for choosing a particular location. They can swap tales about the writing process or offer tips for novice writers. (And they are kept honest because what they write in one blog can haunt them at another.) But most importantly, tours help writers share themselves with their audiences. 

When I cover music in my other life as a journalist, I always try to learn as much as I can about an artist before I review a CD, go to a concert, or interview a band. This gives me something I can relate to when I actually see the band live. I feel as if I know them, as if I might have been riding with them in their tour van, or that they were my neighbor’s sons who played music in their garage one summer. 

Everyone is looking for as few degrees of separation with another human being as possible. When I first moved to North Dakota, people I met in the grocery store or at school events always asked me what my maiden name was or where I went to grade school. There was never anything they could correlate with, but they were looking for something to make us neighbors or, joy of all joys, distantly related.

Authors can achieve this level of intimacy in a virtual book tour. If the author or the book is interesting enough, then a fan is born or a fellow writer finds a true colleague.

In addition, virtual book tours give readers a taste of what the book is about, often posting an excerpt. This allows readers a chance to get a better feel of a book than just what might be on the publisher’s or bookseller’s website or even on the book jacket itself. Talking about the book, the writing experience, or even about personal parts of the author’s life that influenced the work paints a clearer picture. It also is a boon to ebook authors who do not have a print book for readers to pull off a bookstore shelf and handle.

As in the music industry, it has taken the independent artist to revolutionize the medium and pump new life into it. Virtual book tours are doing just that for authors and publishers.

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~ by thebowdancersaga on March 3, 2010.

2 Responses to “The Virtual Book Tour Experience”

  1. This was a very good article and has brought to the forefront the importance of making these books available to the e-reader.E-books have become more and more popular.I hope that this book and others become available on Kindle.The virtual tour can allow all of us to get to know and revisit the authors in a similar way to an actual book signing..I am becoming a fan.Thanks Janie!!

  2. Thanks for posting this, Janie. One of my friends has been urging me to do a virtual blog tour even though the book has been out a while and there isn’t any firm publication date yet for my next one. I do have short stories and anthologies out, and I suppose those would be fair game to talk about too. I really appreciate this blog post!

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