If you looked at this space in April, you likely noticed that I ran a blog tour. That’s like a book tour, except that it’s online, involves more writing than talking, and doesn’t give you a chance to sign any books. Now that I’ve had a few weeks to think about how it went, I’ve decided to share my experiences, a peek at my financials, and my thoughts on the practice in general. Hopefully, the information is useful if you’re ever considering a similar endeavor. (And if you do move forward on a blog tour, you can learn from my dumb mistakes.)
What is a Blog Tour?
Let’s start with the obvious: the goal of a blog tour is to develop “buzz.” You’re hoping people will encounter your book online and start commenting, tweeting, posting, blogging, or otherwise chatting about it. The reason you want them talking is that eventually, some of the people talking about the book will probably decide to purchase copies. You can’t measure buzz in sales, but you also can’t deny that sales are related to buzz. So the key indicators of the success of a blog tour are:
- People are talking about or interacting with the book online, and
- People are buying copies of the book.
The second easily-apparent fact is that a blog tour is a lot of work. I mean a ton. You need to find blogs, develop relationships with the communities, request the guest post / review / etc., and then coordinate that content into a scheduled tour. Often it’s best to organize a contest alongside it. That’s before you write a single post. For an author already behind on a goal, the prospect of the workload was daunting. So when I decided to run a blog tour for Orconomics, I hired someone to do it for me.
Let’s call that mistake number one.
Setting Up My Tour
I did online research on reputable blog tour coordinators, and my tour coordinator—we’ll call her Rosemary—was well reviewed and recommended. (If you want to figure our who Rosemary is, it shouldn’t be too difficult. But this isn’t intended as a review of her service, so I’m not using her name or linking to her site.) I emailed Rosemary a few times asking about the plans she offered, what I could get, and whether she thought she could get good fits for a fantasy humor novel when most of her clientele wrote romance. She assured me that she could make it work. So I booked a 2-week tour with 10-12 blog stops on it for $125.
I want to be clear: I don’t believe I was scammed, mislead, or cheated. I could have done more homework by looking at Rosemary’s previous blog tours and evaluating what those authors got. I didn’t. (Let’s call that mistake number two.) Rosemary is up-front about almost everything, and I never complained to her (mostly because I read her FAQs, and I agreed to them when I paid. They’re very clear that if you’re not happy, it’s your problem.) I took a risk. I’m responsible.
Once I had paid, I had a lot of questions for Rosemary in the weeks leading up to the tour. She didn’t have many answers. Sometimes it took over a week to get short responses. In retrospect, that makes sense. $125 isn’t cheap, but it’s paying for a coordinator’s time (as well as a graphic designer’s). If it takes a blog tour organizer 10 hours to set up a blog tour of that size and design a banner for it, she’s making $12.50 an hour. It’s not minimum wage, but that’s not exactly “laughing all the way to the bank” money either. If she adds on 3 hours of long, detailed emails answering my questions and coaching me on a successful tour, her pay drops to $9.61 an hour. That’s burger-flipping money for professional services. So I understand why she was reluctant to spend much time emailing me before she started working. But it was frustrating to be left in the dark.
I decided to run a Kindle Paperwhite giveaway with Rafflecopter to coincide with the blog tour. I hoped that the publicity from the tour and the contest would build on each other. The contest would also help me grow my email list if I shelled out $85 for one of Rafflecopter’s more premium packages. Add on the price of the Paperwhite and hard-copy books I gave away, and this more than tripled the cost of the tour. But I figured if I was going to do it, I was going to go big.
You probably guessed that this was mistake number three.
Once April arrived, I got some orders to fill out interviews and write my guest posts. The tour was underway. Total cost: $330. Goals: Get people talking online, sell books, and get people to sign up for my mailing list. I told myself I didn’t need to make money on this. I just wanted to cover enough of my costs so that I could say the emails on my list were reasonably priced (I’ve read a figure of $0.50-$1.00 per email.) So if 100 people signed up for my list, I’d need to sell $230 worth of books to make it a cost-effective endeavor.
I didn’t even come close.
The Problems with My Tour
It didn’t take long for some of the huge flaws in this model to become immediately apparent.
- Flaw #1: The blog mismatch. Rosemary had done fantasy books in the past. But not financial fantasy satire books (to be fair, I suspect most people haven’t). I envisioned her chasing down blogs that would be “a good fit” for me, but again, if she’s targeting a modest wage of $12.50 an hour, she only had 10 hours for everything. Chasing down genre blogs is time-consuming. And she clearly didn’t do it. I was put on numerous blogs that clearly catered to women looking for romance, including a blog that was expressly about paranormal romance. Can you imagine pitching financial fantasy to an audience looking for lusty werewolves and hunky shamans? I had to do it. It only succeeded in being ridiculous. One of the blogs even reviewed Orconomics in another language, for crying out loud. After consulting Google Translate, I think she gave me a good review. Maybe?
- Flaw #2: The low traffic. The blogs I was posted on generated incredibly low traffic to my site. And from what I can tell, they didn’t have much traffic themselves. I think the tweets from myself and Rosemary were likely driving most of the views to those pages. But since I already have access to my twitter followers, that meant a relatively small turnout there. Most of the blog posts on my tour got no comments and few shares. That’s not how you build a buzz.
- Flaw #3: The “exclusive” blogs. A quick look at many of the blogs on my tour revealed why there was such low traffic. Generally, you want your guest posts and reviews to flow into a steady stream of compelling content. But a majority of the blogs I was placed on were just “parking lots” for Rosemary’s promotions. That is to say, the only things these blogs reliably posted were Rosemary’s promotions. Unless you want to follow who’s paying Rosemary this month, there’s no reason to ever visit those blogs. The worst of these false destinations was a blog belonging to Rosemary herself— just not her “real” blog. Rosemary had one site where she posted compelling content and recent thoughts to her audience and another where she parked reviews and spotlights of the people who have hired her. When you try to separate your product from your personal brand, both look worse.
Now a few of the blogs I posted on were great. One gave me a really thoughtful interview, and a couple of the reviews I got were spot on and hard hitting. But more than half were pretty much venues for other Rosemary authors. If I had clicked through some of her other tours—and I had ample opportunity to—I would have seen what my $125 bought me, and I would have looked elsewhere.
About halfway through my blog tour, it was performing abysmally. I had six entries to win the Paperwhite, and sales were down from March. Almost everyone talking about it online was either already a fan of mine or was Rosemary. The blog tour failed. Hard. By the end, I was so discouraged I didn’t even bother promoting it on social media or my own blog anymore.
By chance, I stumbled upon a mailing list that allowed me to promote my contest for $6. That email list was way more successful than the entire tour. Setting up the promotion took minutes (as opposed to hours of writing), cost less than 5% of what I paid Rosemary, and got hundreds of entries into my Rafflecopter contest. The size of my email list more than doubled, and I even saw a small bump in sales.
If I had run my contest and that email promotion without the blog tour, I would have spent ~35% less for the same results. The results still wouldn’t have been cost-effective, but I could have saved myself over a hundred dollars.
So Are Blog Tours Worth It?
In the proud tradition of noncommittal blogging, I’d say “maybe.”
I mean, heck, my April blog tour was clearly not worth it. My blog tour was more useless than Congress. But that doesn’t mean all blog tours are complete wastes of time, and there are a few other factors to consider here.
The first is that almost every blog tour organizer I found was focused on romance books of one form or another. That genre may just have better results with this sort of tours. It’s also worth noting that I was running a tour on a book that’s almost two years old. It’s possible that a new release would be more successful.
Honestly, though, I doubt it.
I think the real lesson here is that there’s no bypassing community participation. Organizing your own blog tour usually means actively reading blogs, commenting on blogs, participating in discussions, and eventually approaching the blogger to see if you can organize guest posts. And you have to do that multiple times over, or your blog tour will be more like a “blog errand.” All of that connecting and networking is a big task, but short of hiring a real publicist, I think that’s the only way to pull off a successful blog tour.
So my advice for running a successful tour is:
- Go small if you’re starting out. If you’re well-established enough to get onto high-traffic blogs, it may be worth running pricey contests and investing in a publicist. If not, your mantra should be “cheaper is better.” The only thing you can do that ensures the best possible ROI is to limit your costs.
- Do your homework. Research any blog you might post on. Look at their content, and see if it’s a fit. And if you’re going to hire a coordinator, take a long, hard look at some of the other tours they ran. You’ll see if they were successful or not.
- Do it yourself. To quote every cartoon villain ever, “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” Put in the time to coordinate your own blog tour. That ensures you’re a good fit for every stop, and it means you’ll be saving money and doing your homework by default.
If you love blogging and spending time building online relationships, blog tours may still be totally worth it for you. But for me, I spent too much time on this tour as is. With just one full-length novel out, my attention needs to be focused on writing, not publicity. I won’t be doing another tour for a while, and I’ll never hire a one-off coordinator for the tour again. Perhaps someday I’ll organize one for myself. In the meantime, if you know of any financial fantasy blogs that I should be building a rapport with—or if you have any other tips for running a successful blog tour—let me know in the comments below.