Friday, March 4, 2011

What I Learned about Virtual Book Tours from My Own VBTs

This post is long overdue. I've been wanting to sit down and share my thoughts on virtual book tours (VBTs) after I went on mine to promote Little Shepherd. The first tour with Pump Up Your Book! ran from October 1, 2010 through December 17, 2010. There were some days off, but pretty much for those two and a half months I was appearing somewhere online. My second VBT with World of Ink ran through the month of January.

I handled both tours pretty much the same: I announced my tours and posted the schedules before they started; once they started I blogged here each day, or when I missed a day, I doubled up so that readers could find my tour stops; I used Facebook, Twitter, and several other social networks to promote my tour stops; I visited each blog and left comments; and I held giveaways.

Yes, it was a tremendous amount of work, but one thing you'll learn about me if you hang around long enough is that I never go half way, it's all or nothing. I guess that's a good thing, because the book hit the Amazon bestsellers list in its category (Large Print Children's Books) 7 times between September and December 2010. I doubt my first VBT would have been so effective without me blogging and using social media during that time.

I don't want this blog post to become a novel, so here are a few things I learned from my first VBT:

No Matter How Prepared You Are Something Could Go Wrong

This is something I know from coordinating tours for others, but for those with less experience, I can tell you that it's rare a VBT runs perfectly smooth. Someone doesn't receive their review copy, a blog experiences technological issues, a family emergency arises and a post doesn't appear on time. These are all things you can't control. It's not the end of the world. Occasionally you get a blogger who asks for a review copy and then disappears off the face of the planet, never to respond to any of your follow up emails. Even when that happens now, my blood pressure only rises a few points.

Working in the online world is fun because it allows you to reach more readers than you ever could with an in-store event. It's also frustrating because you have so little control over what ultimately happens. Just know going in that there will be a few hiccups along they way.

A Less Than Positive Review Isn't Worth Losing Sleep Over

I've had to say this to clients once or twice in  my time, but it's a bit different when it's your book. I feel blessed that the majority of reviewers loved Little Shepherd and only had wonderful things to say. I still remember, however, the few bits of criticism the book received. At first, I felt defensive; but then I realized that a few less than positive reviews aren't that big of a deal. Reading is subjective. I've read books that I thought were less than great, but discovered many 5- and 4-star reviews on Amazon for them. The reverse also holds true.

As long as the reviewer was professional in his/her criticism say, "Thanks for the review," and move on. Personal attacks on the blogger aren't going to change his/her opinion, and make it sound like you can't handle criticism.

Remember, anything you post online is visible to tons of people. Make sure what you say is the impression you want to give them.

Comments Don't Buy Books, Readers Do

This was very hard for me to cope with during my VBT because I was running what I thought were some fabulous giveaways. I've told clients not to count on a ton of comments while they were on tour. My own blogging experience has shown that you can have hundreds of visitors a week and only a handful of comments. Why I expected it to be different for me, I can't explain. I knew, however, that I had spent over $150 to put together two wonderful Christmas themed gift baskets, plus I gave away a few copies of Little Shepherd. All readers had to do was a leave a comment with their email address so I could contact them if they won Gift Basket  #1. For Gift Basket #2, they had to email or fax me a copy of their proof of purchase for Little Shepherd.

Despite my promoting each blog stop, Pump Up Your Book! promoting each blog stop, and both of us using social media to draw attention to these blog stops, some blogs had few comments. While I didn't think the giveaways required a lot of effort, I believe a few things stood in the way of the success of this part of my VBT:

1) Perhaps readers thought I was creating a contact database using their email addresses. I wrote a blog post stating that wasn't why I needed them, but people act contrary to their words all the time.
2) My tour ran for two and a half months. Maybe running two large giveaways and selecting winners at the end of the tour had a negative impact on participation. Perhaps I would have been better off having 5 or 6 smaller giveaways, and selecting winners throughout the tour.
3) In a society where identity theft is a real scare, perhaps people weren't too crazy about providing copies of their receipts; even though full credit card numbers are no longer printed on them.

Tracking Your Amazon Stats Can Be Addicting

Before my own book came out, I didn't get why many authors were so into their stats on Amazon. Yes, you want your book to sell, but what was the big deal if your book dropped in the rankings?

I began tracking my rankings on September 1st. Creating a spreadsheet, I checked my stats once a day and logged them in. I was okay when it was in the hundreds of thousands, but as soon as my book crossed the million mark, my heart sank. In case you didn't know it, Amazon rankings are like golf scores--the lower the better.

By this time, I was pretty much convinced that I never should have published a book and that no matter what I did the book wasn't going to sell. What business did I have in writing a book anyway?

On September 21st, Little Shepherd hit the Amazon bestsellers list in its category for the first time. Away went all the doubts, I suddenly knew I was born to write, and there was nothing stopping me now.

What can I say? I'm fickle.

It took about a month for the book to appear as a bestseller again. Every day I would check my stats, hoping and praying that they would go down, not up. For months I rode this roller coaster of emotions. I didn't stop tracking my stats until January 14, 2011. By that time I had accepted my seasonal title wasn't going to sell much more until we got closer to Christmas again. I knew that going in, and I don't believe any VBT could change that. The book is for sale at a local church bookstore, so some local sales might be what will carry me through until this fall.

I've already made some decisions about what I'll do differently when I tour again in the fall. First off, I'll only tour in November and December. Granted, since I am coordinating my own tour I don't have to pay for it, but they are still time consuming to put together.

Second, I won't run huge giveaways. I'll run a few smaller ones. Third, despite the fact that I sent out over 30 books to reviewers, only 12 reviews made it onto Amazon. I might run a significant giveaway to encourage bloggers to post reviews there.

Lastly, I'm only going to track my stats three times during the tour: the day before my tour starts, at the mid-way point, and within a week after the tour's end. I need to focus some time on writing my next book, not be so tied up with Amazon rankings.

I hope you found this information helpful. Feel free to share your thoughts about your own VBTs or ask questions about them. I'll answer whatever I can.


Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Very good, Cheryl. I've had some of the same feelings you mention here. Why don't people comment? I wonder. Then I think of myself. I read a lot of posts but don't always leave a comment. Why? Usually I'm rushing from one thing to another and plan to come back when I have the time. Haha. You know how that goes.

Anyway, thanks for sharing your feelings. I'm considering another short (like one week or two) tour for Caves. May be contacting you.

Have a nice weekend.

Nancy Stewart said...

Wow, this is helpful, Michelle. My first tour is coming up next month, as you know, and this is great for me.

Congratulations on all your success in this. You ar a model certainly for me that it can be done with some hard, consisent work.

Kudos to you!

Cheryl said...

Thanks for stopping by ladies. Bev, I'm part of a blogging syndicate now, so that's helping to drive up comments, but it's also time consuming. Need to balance commenting time and writing time. :)

Can't wait until the start of your tour, Nancy.

BarbaraB said...

Thank you for the information, Cheryl. This is going into my promotion file.

Cheryl said...

Glad you found it helpful, Barbara.


Virginia S Grenier said...

Great post. I'm going to add this to the March SFC Newsletter top ten blog post column. The newsletter goes out this coming Sunday so I hope you get a few more readers and possible VBT's too.