Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Look at Blog Tour Companies

Happy Thursday, good people of the blogosphere! Not a lot of lead-in today, because this post will be a long one. Warning you now so you don't get your knickers in a twist over it. Of course, I imagine a good number of people will be rankled by what I have to say below. Hopefully, my words will make you stop, think, and spend your money wisely or reconsider the way your tour company works to truly provide the promotion your authors need. Grab your pens and notebooks and let's get going!

First of all, let me say I won't be quoting prices from any particular blog tour company. We'll use my fictional one called A-1 Super Great Fantastical Wonderbar Blog Tours (A1S). I did a search and they don't exist as of the date this post is going live.


Now, A1S offers a tour that's all inclusive for $300. This money gets you:
  • 1 Month of Promotion
  • 30 Tour Stops
  • 10 Reviews
  • 1 Facebook Party
Your other 20 stops will be guest posts or author interviews. Great! Sounds good to have 30 blogs feature your book over the course of a month, right?

Let's look at the numbers.

A1S has 15k followers on Twitter. 250 people subscribe to their blog. 12k people like them on Facebook. Seems like a pretty good deal, huh?

But... Come on, you knew that was coming.

How many of those followers are readers of your genre? Better yet, how many of those followers are readers at all? Even more intriguing, how many of those followers are readers hungry for exactly what you're offering?

My guess is, most of them are authors who have previously used the service OR are tour hosts with the company and not your target market: readers of books. My second guess is, you'll either get 1 or no posts on their blog. Most often, Tweets are marked #BookTour. I don't know about you, but I glaze over those when scanning my feed.

Before I jump ahead, I'm gonna break down what you've paid for above and show you why there's a flaw in the system.
  • 1 Month of Promotion - This includes all the items listed above on various blogs. I've learned (from speaking with other authors) that you oftentimes appear on the same blog more than once. And you get, what, one tweet a day? Oh, my bad, you get two.
  • 30 Tour Stops - 10 of these stops will be reviews so no work there. But now you have to come up with either a guest post, an interview, or an excerpt from your book for the other 20 days. All of these are things you have to provide. So what? Well, if it takes a day away from your writing and there's no return (I'll get to that in a moment) you just wasted a whole day. Besides that, there's no guarantee these blogs target your genre of book or that the blogs have been alive more than a year (do you know the statistics for blog life?).
  • 10 Reviews - Reviews are an Indie author's life blood. I get it. But if that review doesn't get posted to Amazon, what good is it doing you? A review that sits on a blog, stagnating, rotting in the archives, doesn't do anyone any favors. Oh, and those reviews can be any star rating. While I admire honesty, the tour companies don't guarantee they'll match your book with bloggers who prefer your genre. This could be an EPIC fail.
  • 1 Facebook Party - Really? What are they gonna give away? Free copies of the book you sent? Swag (you have to mail)? Paperbacks (again, that falls to you)? And people show up because they're hungry to win something and go away, never giving two sh*ts about you or your book. It's likely the partygoers are the blog tour hosts.
What's the flaw? These posts aren't targeted. You could have a book about witchcraft that ends up on a Christian blog. Do you really think their readers are going to rush out and buy your book? Is it conceivable to think the blog owner would write a glowing review? No. No. NO!

Another problem with touring blogs is: You can't guarantee your book will land on a blog with a good following of readers. If the blog hosting your book only has 13 followers... Well, you can see where I'm going with that. And is it crazy to suggest maybe those "followers" are previous authors who appeared on that blog? I think not.

Don't even get me started about those tour hosts who don't post when they're supposed to. Dear me...

But, Jo, it's about the exposure!

Really?

Let me clear that up for you with some numbers. We all love numbers because they don't lie.
  • 30 stops where each blog has maybe 100 people that actually read their content (and that's really a generous number). Okay, that's 3,000 right there. You're right. It is. 3,000 random, non-targeted people who may or may not be readers. Most likely, you'll be lucky to reach 10 readers of your specific genre who actually read the content on one of the 30 blogs your book appears on. Oh yeah, I forgot you're on some of those same blogs more than once. Nevermind. See my point?
  • 10 reviews that could all be one or two stars and slam your book into the nether. This is gonna hurt you more than it helps. In this case, you PRAY those reviews don't hit Amazon. Yikes. If the tour host does post the review on Amazon, you've provided a copy of the book. There's no "Amazon Verified Purchase" on the review, and the reviewer has to state that you gave them the book. *shifty* So your 4.42 star average on 35 reviews (20/5*, 10/4*, 5/3*) could plummet to 3.8 stars with just a couple of bad reviews and you have no control over it. As a matter of fact, if your tour company isn't targeting people who enjoy your genre, the likelihood of that happening increases ten-fold.
  • 1 Facebook party that gets you 10 additional likes on your author page by the hosts of the tour company and a lot of stuff to mail out afterward (does the money ever stop leaving your pocket?). Totally worth it. Not. Even if you get 1k new likes, with the way Facebook has changed things up, you'll be lucky to reach 5 of those people.
After day one, your exposure post sits on that blog, buried day after day by new content created. Unless someone searches specifically for your book, they probably won't stumble upon it.

And don't tell me you aren't out there through the whole tour, marketing your rear end off to drive traffic to those blogs. Oh man, are we crazy or what?

After all that, I'm now going to hit you with something you may not want to think about. But I need you to think about it. How many sales did that tour get you? How did you go about tracking those sales? A good rule of thumb here is to use a specific, shortened link with a marker attached. Use bit.ly for this if you have to so you see with your own eyes I'm not blowing smoke up your bum. Chances are, you'll get maybe 20 clicks.

Oh, wait! Most tour companies won't let you send in your own links. Why? Because they add their affiliate code to them and they probably don't want you tracking those clicks anyway. If you still feel you must tour, avoid companies that won't let you use your own links. They're in it for THEM, not for you.

I have a couple of friends who recently paid for blog tours and I'm going to share a little of their experience with you.
Friend A has a very popular YA book with great reviews on Amazon. This friend did a month long tour much like the one above (sans FB party). While the book was on tour, it was on sale for $0.99 (regularly $2.99). A number of great reviews were written, with maybe half of them making it to Amazon. A couple of the tour hosts never posted about the book (most tour companies say they aren't responsible for this if it happens... Like HELL they aren't).

Guess how many sales this author got over the course of the tour?

NONE. That's right, not a single one. And that book hit Amazon's top 100 overall during its free period. It has a very high rating and not a single one or two star review on over 20 reviews. Plus, it's in a popular genre. Go figure.

Friend B has another popular YA book that's been hailed as unique, fascinating, and well written. This one also did a blog tour recently. At least 10 or so reviews went up on blogs during the tour. Very very few made it to Amazon.

Want to take a guess at how many sales there were? This book is also well reviewed with a very high average.

Now that I've completely disheartened you, it's time to tell you where your money might be better spent.

I have no personal experience to back this up with, but I know many people who've used it and they swear by it. Plus, the company isn't afraid to show you their statistics. Best of all? They target people interested in your genre. There's also no additional work needed from you beyond producing a great book! Holy crap!

Book Bub.

I'll say it again:

BOOK BUB.

Take a look at the prices here. Now scroll down to the Teen and Young Adult genre (which both of the books above are in). Look at the average sold numbers.

Why does it work? Because they're in the business of connecting readers to the books they want. Their target market isn't authors.

Now that you know, what the heck are you waiting for? Again, numbers speak for themselves.

Blog tour companies would be wise to follow that business model. Build a list of blogs that target specific readers, have been around a long time, and who are trustworthy. Guarantee you'll put the author's book into the hands of people who enjoy their genre, and, for the love of all that's good, have some sales numbers to back up your business.

Rethink what you're doing.

I'm not compensated by anyone for my thoughts and opinions on my blog. I'm just tired of seeing Indie authors waste their money. We don't have a lot to spare to begin with. Will I be gracing Book Bub with my business very soon? You bet your butt I will.

Guess what else? You have a pretty good author clique going, right? Why not organize your own tour if you want/need exposure? It'll take about the same amount of time and it's free.

I know that was long. I'm sorry. But I hope you were paying attention. I do speak my mind.

What have your experiences been? Did this post help? Leave me a comment and let's talk about it.

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

27 comments:

  1. I'm not totally against blog tours, but I think you raise a lot of valid points. The reviews are definitely the reason many authors consider them and it can be frustrating when a lot of blogs fail to cross-post. Many companies ask for bloggers not to post negative reviews until after the tour but that rule isn't always followed. I've done five tours now and have a good idea of what companies to avoid. Start-ups usually don't have a significant subscriber base (although their prices are cheaper) and I also prefer companies who only tour books in specific genres. But authors can always contact blogs directly instead of using a tour company. Honestly, I'm more inclined to feature and/or review a book on my blog when an author sends me a personal email. Book Bub is awesome BUT they are very particular about what promotions they accept. I was lucky enough to be featured before their boon but now I hear a lot of authors have a hard time getting their ad accepted. They look for established books with a substantial amount of high ratings. I think their acceptance rate is something like 20 percent (according to the rejection letters they send out). Wow this turned into a long comment lol

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    1. Thank you. I'm not totally against them, either. I just think you need to consider what you're really after before you blindly hand over your money. Even if you just want links back to your blog in the hopes of boosting your rank, you're out of luck. Google just did away with backlinks mattering at all.

      I prefer to build my list once a year, with my own contests. I do a LOT of marketing of this blog to readers so I can do my part by reviewing.

      Book Bub has some new competition from what I understand. I'll have to locate them and add their links here. Thanks for the LOVELY comment, Heather!!

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  2. I'm so glad you posted this. My life as an indie author has been wonderful, but the learning curve is steep. There's so much advice out there about what you should do. But, too often, not near enough advice about what you shouldn't do OR the most efficient use of your marketing dollars. Your honesty and willingness to share what you've learned is exactly what we indies need. Hearts and hugs!

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    1. Thanks! Glad I helped! I know, right? Ridiculously steep. I'm just hoping no one else falls into the possible trap. I can totally see the flaming comments heading my way from being bold enough to speak my mind. Eek! LOL! Thanks for the comment, Tia! Hugs!

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  3. Great post! I've been hesitant to do a blog tour for the some of the reasons you mentioned. Especially since it seems most are for YA or paranormal/romance. I'm a horribly shy person when it comes to marketing. I know I'm going to have to use some kind of book tour to yank me out of my shell. This post definitely gives me some things to check on before I give my money away. Thanks :)

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    1. Thanks, L. K.! What I find strange is that most authors can organize their own blog tours with a little bit of elbow grease if they really want to do one. We tend to run in genre packs and oftentimes have a good following of our own readers. You can stay very firmly in your shell and still be successful. :) I was hoping it made some folks pause before dishing out the dough. :D

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  4. Jo,
    Excellent post and very true. There are a lot of small blog tour companies out there that do very little. I wish writers would stop giving some of them money, because they really shouldn't be in business. I have done two blog tours. One was well done, organized, and sent me to blogs that would be interested in my book. The other one sent me to blogs that were YA or sites for "good teen reads", or worse never posted at all. I even had one blog I couldn't access because it made my Norton Security warning flash. Now, there is nothing wrong with YA, but they aren't my target audience.

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    1. Thanks, Rebecca. I agree with you 100%. Perhaps the tour companies should simply focus on a specific genre. You could have a company for Romance books, one for Horror, one for YA, etc... A much more appealing solution that will get better results. Still, the problem remains that these types of companies market to authors and not readers. They need to be reader and genre centric before they sell their services with some great numbers to back up their claims.

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  5. THANK YOU!!! I have really been struggling with this exact topic! My husband and I have gone back and forth, I've read others thoughts and post on FB about it and I've weighed in my own personal experiences (which have been right on the mark with what 'friend a & b' had). I've been all for blog tours, thinking that was what I was 'supposed' to do. Maybe not so much :)

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    1. YOU'RE WELCOME!!! :) I have a friend C, too, but that story is more about tour companies not servicing the genre so I left it out. I think... Not so much. Ask Felicia Tatum about organizing your own tour, she does hers on her own :) Thanks for the comment, Nicole. May your pockets remain full of your hard earned money!!

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  6. I have done my own blog tours for each of my books, and would never ever pay for a blog tour. I do keep putting them together, because I do get reviews and it gives me links to post to my followers. I try to mix it up with reviews, interviews, character descriptions, etc. But I stopped giving swag. Not one has led to a sale. It is great for exposure, and will make your book easier to find when someone types the title in. If you pick the right bloggers, it will lead to reviews (some will even be quote-worthy. But most are not brilliantly written.) The stress of putting together a blog tour is enough to lead some to be willing to pay for not having to do all the work. However, one could simply petition blogs for reviews, rather than setting up a tour. That is the new philosophy I am following. I will petition three blogs a day, and offer unique content or ask for a review. No more dashing about like mad trying to set up 30 spots in 30 days. It isn't worth the stress!

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    1. And we have yet another option! This makes a lot of sense to me, Chick! I love that you shared your experience. Thank you so much!

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  7. Thanks Jo, this is very helpful! Even if I did a blog tour, I'd be unwilling & unable to pay for it.

    As for using Book Bub...I have considered it and looked into it. It's simply not something I can afford. The cheapest cost they have is $280 for a FREE book (and up to $1,200 for a book that is over $2). I can't afford that. It sucks too because it would be perfect exposure. My genre has over 600,000+ subscribers according to them. I wish they were more affordable. I know they do a lot of work, but I (along with many other indie authors I know) are simply not made of money to afford their service.

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    1. I know the feeling, Cassandra. From what I understand, most authors make back their investment plus some when they do it. Again, no personal experience in this area, but I'll be keeping an eye on the results when I find the money to submit my own novel to the service. I'll share all my numbers, in case you want to check out one author's real-time results. Made of money we are not! My suggestion above was for those that are going to spend the money on a blog tour anyway, why not put it where it would have the most impact. :) Check out some of the tips here in the comments to see what others are doing. Best of luck to you, hon! Thanks for the comment.

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    2. I think my Book Bub ad cost $240 and I made that back and more, easily. I agree it's one of the best marketing techniques out there. A NetGalley co-op is another strategy that led to reviews (maybe not so much sales).

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  8. I couldn't agree more. I used book bub to advertise the first book in my series (a freebie). I had over 25K downloads, and the rest of the series (priced at $3.99/book) REALLY took off. You can't go wrong with BookBub!

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    1. That's exactly what I'm talking about. Thank you, Carly, for sharing your experience. You aren't the only one I've heard that from, and that's why I suggested Book Bub as an alternative. Welcome to the blog! :)

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  9. I've always organized my own tours using my social media contacts choosing those with followers in my genre. Excellent points, just had to share on Google+.

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    1. Thank you, Michael! I see more and more authors going that way. I appreciate the share and the comment! :)

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    1. Thanks, Beth! As always, I'm trying my best to help my fellows out. :)

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  11. Hi Jo!

    Now you've had a lot of pats on the back for a great post, but I'm going to put things into prospective from the opposite side of the fence - Someone who does what I call aggressive blog touring and who has also used Book Bub.

    I have used several tour companies - picking the right company takes research and experience. Most of the tour companies I use charge $40-$80/week long tour - and I tend to only do Review Tours - meaning that every stop on the tour will have a review posted. If they didn't like the book, or didn't have the chance to read it, the blog can choose to switch to a spotlight post. The good tour companies schedule 15 tour stops but only "guarantee" 10 reviews so that if some put up spotlights or fail to post at all, they are covered.

    However, the tour companies I've worked with were very honest and fair - one gave me a full refund after 3 people failed to post and another gave me a partial refund when 2 failed to post.

    Additionally I did see a bump in sales on every tour I've done - not huge, but significant. And I attribute my large number of reviews to the aggressive blog touring that I've done - (My two books have 72 and 99 reviews). What I mean by aggressive blog touring? I toured the book with 5-6 companies for 1-2 weeks each time.

    What's the point in doing that compared to just setting a blog tour up with one company or setting it up myself? I want to capture the attention of readers who have never heard of me... and make my name recognizable in several circles. And, mission accomplished.

    I agree that there is a downside and an upside to every venture in the marketing and promotion "gig" but I just wanted to point out a few of the positives.

    For BookBub? It's a great thing if you can get it, but they reject about 70 to 80% of those who request to be in their mailings. Additionally, the book has to meet minimum requirements, including having several reviews before being considered. It's not a feasible plan for a new release - and only does very well for authors like you who have a back list of other titles. For ones like me with only one or two titles, it breaks even and does a wee bit better. Additionally, the effects don't have a long term effect without that back list. :) ~ Sorry to be so long winded - I should write my own blog post!

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    1. It's all good, Pauline! :) That's a ton of cash. If I'm reading that right, you paid an average of $60 to 5-6 companies. Did you break even with those like you did with Book Bub? I haven't interviewed anyone who went that direction aggressively. I'm curious. Like I said, it depends what you're looking for. I still wonder if you (who are awesome on social media) could've set those up yourself and saved the money. Awesome that the one company refunded you. Kudos to them! Thanks for the VERY insightful comment. You totally rock!

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  12. Blog tours are another weapon in an author's marketing arsenal. Those that fail to see it won't be as prepared as others who are on the front lines of publishing.

    If you don't have $50 to lose to see for yourself how they work, you should find a new line of work.

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    1. Hi there, Greg! First of all, thanks for your comment.

      Second of all, I never said I didn't do a blog tour. As a matter of fact, I did two with two separate companies. Neither did anything for me. I find it interesting that you chose to use the term "lose" $50. You're bang on. Only I lost $200. As with anyone, I don't like to lose money. While the last phrase was antagonistic, I chose to publish your comment because I think it's exactly what my readers needed to see/hear.

      Like I said in my post above (and in the comment preceding yours), it depends on what you're looking for that should determine how you spend what you have.

      However, from now on, I'll be putting my money where I get the value I'm looking for (book sales) in return. Do I have the $50 to "lose" again? Yes, I do. Would I be a fool to invest in something that shows me zero return? Yes, I would. While being an author nearly guarantees I'm insane to begin with (aren't we all?), I choose to avoid being a fool.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment! :)

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  13. I know this is an old post, yet still ever so helpful & informative. Thanks for sharing! :)

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    1. Thanks, Kerry! I think it pays to keep our eyes open and look in the water before we end up swimming with sharks :) Welcome to the blog!

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Play nice and have fun. If you're a jerk, I won't publish your comment. My blog. My rules. Thanks for taking the time to chat at me!