Science fiction and fantasy

Blog Tours From Both Sides

Musings and rants

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In the television series La Revolution, French aristocrats are afflicted by a mysterious disease, whilst peasants go missing in suspicious circumstances.

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As the Covid pandemic rages, it has affected the way we read in a number of ways.

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Penguin Random House Withdraws Union Recognition
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Authors Support Stop Funding Hate
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Women In SFF: Indie Edition
A list of indie and self-published women writing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction genres.

Amazon Finally Makes KU Appealing For Novelists
The new per-page payout for the Kindle Unlimited subscription service makes it a much better deal for authors of longer novels.

Thoughts On The Sieghart Report On Libraries
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A Shout-Out For The Good Guys
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Reading Is Not A Race
Why I will be abandoning annual reading challenges in 2014.

What Book Discovery Is Missing
The current state of book discovery is narrowing our reading choices and squeezing out midlist writers. How can it be fixed?

13th August 2013

Blog tours seem to be the flavour of the moment in book blogging. A lot of authors are wondering whether they should be doing them, whilst book bloggers may be wondering whether or not they should be signing up with one, or even several, of the tour organisers that have sprung up in recent years.

I looked into various blog tour options before releasing my novella, The Secret Eater, in July. I was also curious to know what they're like from the point of view of a participating blogger, so I also signed up as a host with Novel Publicity for a while. Novel Publicity is one of the largest, and most expensive, tour operators.

What's a blog tour, anyway?

"Blog tour" is a new name for an old thing: a concerted effort to organise publicity for a book across a wide range of websites, all around the same time. The tour concept is because in some instances it's better to have one item appear on a different blog each day, sort of like a scheduled stop in a virtual tour. Usually that means an interview, guest post, or review, or some combination of all three.

There are a number of companies dedicated to organising these. Their role is to maintain a list of active blogs that they contact with details of the tours they are organising. They provide bloggers with the materials they need to make the posts, and they co-ordinate when and where posts will appear on certain topics.

Authors pay the tour organisers to arrange things. I personally have no problem with this: it's much more work than you might imagine to maintain a list of blogs, and keep up with which ones are posting regularly and haven't been closed. Many blogs change urls, go on hiatus, or change focus. A tour operator needs to manage their list, as well as recruit new bloggers, and with thousands of book-related blogs out there this is no small feat.

Typical services include review only tours, cover reveals, and longer tours involving both guest posts and interviews. Some companies also arrange competitions and giveaways, whilst others will provide graphics and banners to help with promotion.

The cover reveal

I wanted to test the water, so I booked a cover reveal tour with Xpresso Book Tours in April. This was the cheapest service, and also extremely easy to arrange: all I needed was a book cover, a blurb, a bit about me, and some links.

In the end around 30 blogs posted my cover, and I got a range of comments about the cover and blurb. Some bloggers simply reposted what I had submitted to Xpresso. Other bloggers made comments and critiques of the artwork, said something about the story concept, and/or had lots of comments from visitors.

Was it worthwhile? Well, the jury's still out. In the sense that it exposed my work to a number of people who had never heard of me before (remember, it was relatively cheap, so I didn't expect much) then it had some success. It's not that I might not have been able to arrange these cover reveals on my own, it's that it would have been inconvenient to do so without the tour host's help.

However, I noticed that a lot of the cover reveal posts were very similar, and this is a problem. I don't usually post about SEO on here, but what happens when you get a lot of very similar posts is that the search engines mark them as duplicate, and only show one. This is important because search engines are trying to reflect what users like, and who wants to read the same thing over and over? So around four and a half months on, only 11 of the 30 or so posts turn up in Google for the query "Ros Jackson" "The Secret Eater" "cover reveal" (there are other results, but they aren't the cover reveals.) And it isn't because the other blogs have closed down; they're not appearing in search because those pages aren't unique enough.

Vetting books, vetting blogs

One of the good features about certain tour companies, on the other hand, is the vetting that goes on. This works both ways, for both the blog clients and the hosting blogs. Tour operators expect certain minimum posting frequencies and amounts of traffic, although this is incredibly variable and it really depends on the quality of the tour operator. I was quite astonished, for instance, to find that Warpcore SF fits into their top tier of traffic numbers when I applied with Novel Publicity. This website may have been going for a while, but it's still a one-woman project, and I don't post daily. So when their application form put me in their high traffic category, that told me they are geared towards new blogs, and the traffic numbers aren't that much of a barrier to entry.

When I arranged my cover reveal, the organiser told me that it had to look good enough to take part. This is because bloggers wouldn't want to post a lot of ugly covers. Reactions to The Secret Eater's cover have been all over the spectrum; some people really love it and others don't, but I think in art as in literature you can't please everyone and personal taste comes into play. What this does mean is that participating blogs do have some guarantee of quality.

I found minimum standards also applied when it came to writing. The books Novel Publicity sent my way were of a higher standard than most self-published writing, which is mainly what these blog tour operators are dealing with. So they act as a filter, which is helpful for bloggers inundated with requests for books to review. For self and independently published writers, this serves as a way in to get coverage on blogs that might not otherwise consider their books.

Shared discussions

Sometimes it can be enjoyable to have everyone reading and discussing the same book at once, like a big book club party. You get this with a blog tour, and when lots of people have read the same text it encourages more of them to join in with in-depth discussions. That's good for the author, and the bloggers.

But you can have too much of a good thing. There's only so many times I want to read about what people think about any given book, before all the bases are covered. Anyone writing the fiftieth or subsequent review of a book had better have something really insightful or funny to say, or they should be using it to power a unique discovery system, or something. Otherwise, what you get is more content that may not be literally a duplicate of other pages, but it's similar enough to what other people are producing to be less interesting to read.

There's more of the same when it comes to guest posts, interviews, and especially competitions and excerpts. Some authors will spend a long time writing out fresh posts for each blog, but this doesn't always happen, so sometimes exactly the same content is shared out amongst several blogs. When this happens it's less like information and discussion, and more like advertising.

Some things don't scale

Blog tours have grown in scale in response to the boom in indie publishing, and many indie writers' resulting thirst for publicity. Although I wouldn't dismiss them entirely, I believe they are only a partial solution to this demand, and there's a limit to the number and type of blogs that can take part in blog tours effectively. If everyone is hosting the same content, its value for readers becomes considerably devalued. That's why, after my brief flirtation with Novel Publicity, I won't be working with them in future. It's not that their offering was bad, or that other bloggers shouldn't consider signing up with similar companies, but I prefer to blog in my own way to my own haphazard schedule, and I don't want to follow the crowd.

Similarly, the next time I have a book cover made, I'll be more inclined to arrange to reveal it exclusively on one website, rather than spreading it out over thirty. And the same principle will apply to guest posts, excerpts, and so on: some things don't scale, and you can't cut and paste your way to success.