I'm the kind of guy who likes to jump into things without having any idea how to make them work. As a kid, I tried building model airplanes. My most successful attempt was a model of the Hindenburg. After the crash. In my 20s, I tried something I totally knew nothing about: marriage. Decades later, I know a little, but I'm reluctant to write about it. Too many Hindenburg references. Most recently I once again took a swan dive off the high board before checking to see if there was any water in the pool. I went on a 30-day blog tour. And guess what? I didn't crash and burn. In fact, it went so well, I'm going to do it again.
What exactly is a blog tour and why would any author want to do one? Let's start from the premise that you have a book you'd like to promote, and if you asked your publisher to fund a 30-city tour, he'd laugh you out of the building. Or maybe the industry.
Instead, tell him that you're going to visit 30 blogs in 30 days, and one way to generate eyeballs is to give every blogger a copy of your book to give away to one lucky reader. My publisher gladly supplied 30 copies of my mystery novel, Flipping Out.
Now, how do you pick the blogs that will work best for you? First, research the bloggers who talk about books. Most feature all genres, but some, like Murderati, are genre-specific. If you've been published in the past, and you set up a Google alert with your name and title (ego-Googling is healthy if it's for professional reasons), you already know which bloggers have given you positive reviews. Contact them. They're often floored, because, what the hell—they love to read, and they've just heard from a real live author.
Next, look beyond the book blogs and find a world of take-no-prisoners bloggers who write—often brilliantly—about whatever strikes their mood. Like newspaper columnists and radio talk jocks, they have a fiercely loyal group of followers who read and respond to their daily wit and wisdom.
Some of them get hundreds of comments a day from readers who weigh in on the topic du jour. I found eight bloggers who fit the bill. I sent them each an ARC, and much to my amazement, every one of them raved about it. But that doesn't mean I got to sit back and relax while they pimped my book. These bloggers have an audience to satisfy, so they expect some quid pro quo. They interviewed me, e-mailing eight or 10 questions, and I had to set the bar as high for my answers as I do for my novels. The readers who visit these sites may like the fact that I come highly recommended by someone they trust, but I still have to win them over.
I also fielded interview questions for sites that were book- and author-centric. In one case it took me three days to craft answers for a dozen interview questions. Was it worth it? It doesn't hurt when you get an e-mail that says, “Marshall, that was the best, repeat, the BEST interview I'd had the pleasure of reading in my three years of interviewing authors. I laughed my ass off. Thanks for that.”
Of course, that's just anecdotal. I also had some quantitative results. I had four times as many unique visitors to my Web site, www.lomaxandbiggs.com, during the month that I toured the blogs as I did the two months before. The next month, my site numbers went through the roof when James Patterson urged the fans on his site and in his newsletter to read an excerpt from my book. And yet, as much traffic as I had from the Patterson endorsement, the steady pace of a monthlong blog tour was a 60% improvement on that.
A year ago I had less knowledge of blog tours than Sarah Palin did of Russia. But before I started writing novels, I spent 25 years in marketing, so I am always thinking: how do I push my franchise toward the Malcolm Gladwell point? A blog tour is a big step in that direction.
Do I miss the experience of taking my act to a bookstore? Damn straight I do, and I haven't—and won't—stop visiting stores. But these days a lot of my travel is taking me out into cyberspace, where you can win the hearts and minds of new readers without having to get on a plane. Or get dressed.