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Book Blog Tours That Accept Self-Published Authors

| Posted in Advertising, Blogging |

27

A book blog tour is when you “appear” on a number of blogs over a week or two (some authors go bananas and schedule a different blog each day for a month) to promote your book. This usually involves being interviewed or writing a guest post for the site. Some blog owners will also read and review your book.

You can arrange tours yourself and hand-pick the blogs, keeping in mind that some people won’t respond or be interested in hosting you, or you can pay someone else to arrange things for you. Prices vary, as do the quality of the blogs that participate (naturally, you want to appear on established sites with a solid readership).

It’s been a while since I did a book blog tour (almost three years), but I may check into them again this summer, since I’m working on some new series. As I recall, the two or three tours I did weren’t all that useful insofar as selling books, but they did result in me getting some much needed reviews back in the days when I didn’t have any readers yet. Several of the hosts reviewed my book on their own sites and also posted the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

I’m fairly certain most bloggers and tour operators don’t guarantee reviews, but it’s natural that some of the bloggers will be curious about the authors they host and might check out your book of their own accord (you can also include a free copy with your post or interview).

In case you’re interested in trying out a book blog tour for yourself, I’m posting a list of some of the tours that accept indie/self-published authors and that aren’t hugely expensive (thanks, Elise, for putting the list together for us!):

Book Blog Tours

Bewitching Book Tours

Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy, and paranormal erotica

Cost: $40-$175

Notes: Geared towards the new author, the ebook author, the small and independent press author, and the mid-list author. Also for the author who doesn’t have a huge marketing budget but wants the most bang for their promotional buck.

Enchanted Book Promotions

Genres: accepts all genres (though geared towards scifi, romance, fantasy)

Cost: $29-$249

Fire and Ice Book Tours

Genres: most genres accepted

Cost: $35 – $90

Notes: Not accepting new sign ups at lower package rates.

Worldwind Virtual Book Tours

Genres: accepts all genres (though geared towards scifi, romance, fantasy)

Cost: $110-$340

Notes: Price includes $50 Amazon card giveaway

Pump Up Your Book! Virtual Book Publicity Tours

Genres: all genres

Cost: $299 and up

Notes: Clients have some national media placements; website is difficult to navigate

Jitterbug PR

Genres: Many

Cost: $55 – $180

Notes: Not exceptional website graphics or quality of writing on blog. Also a PR, marketing and publicity company.

Xpresso Book Tours

Genres: focuses on Young Adult & New Adult tours in all genres of both pre-release and post-release books

Cost: $150 – $250

Notes: Professional easy-to-navigate site.

Read Between the Lines Blog Tours

Genres: specializes in fantasy

Cost: $25 – $100

If you have any comments on these outfits or want to suggest any other book blog tour sites, please let us know below.

7 Blogging Mistakes Authors Make

| Posted in Blogging |

21

Whether you’re traditionally published or self-published, if you’re an author, you’ve probably been told you need to blog. There’s a reason for that. A blog can be a great promotional tool if you know what you’re doing.

By tracking my sales via affiliate links, I know that an average of 3-4 ebook sales a day originate from my blog (I also make some extra change as an Amazon affiliate when I promote other people’s books). While that’s a small number compared to overall sales, I think it’s a nice reminder that blogging is worth it and can help an author increase the size of her audience.

When I talk about blogging, I try to keep the posts positive, but I know it can be useful to get a list of what-not-to-do suggestions as well. I’m offering up “7 Blogging Mistakes Authors Make” as a general guideline, coming from someone who blogged for a living for seven years before turning to writing stories full-time.

Common Blogging Mistakes Authors Make

1. The blog fails to offer something of value for the audience

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve checked out authors’ most recent blog posts via their Twitter links (often they’ve retweeted something of mine, and I want to return the favor), and I get to the post and think…hm, I can’t imagine many people finding this interesting or useful.

You can “make it” as a blogger by writing about any number of topics. The important thing is that you can answer the question, “What’s in it for visitors?” Every post should inform or entertain (maybe both).

If you’re a fiction scribe, it may make most sense to focus on your genre (you could do anything from reviews of movies, tv shows, and books in your field to interviews with popular authors to making up lists of books you love and that everyone should try), but there are lots of authors who have done well giving tips on writing, the publishing business, or how to get started with self-publishing. (If, as a fiction writer, you decide to blog about non-fiction, I recommend making it related to the biz — a cooking blog probably isn’t going to sell many copies of your space opera adventure for you.)

You may find that your blog evolves over time, and that’s fine. Just keep a pulse on who your readers are and what they want. I started out exclusively writing about self-publishing and what I was doing in terms of book promotion, but as I sold more books and more actual readers started visiting, I began mixing in news and teasers from my upcoming projects.

2. There’s no attempt to retain visitors or turn them into book buyers

Time to be honest. We authors are an arrogant bunch. We think that people will read one of our books and immediately put us into the stalk-this-person-relentlessly-so-I-can-buy-their-new-books-the-instant-they-come-out category. It’s wishful thinking. How many authors do you feel that way about? And, of those authors, how many only became die-hard favorites after you read five or ten books by them?

A blog is even less likely to make a lasting impression. Don’t assume people who surfed in from Twitter or another blog’s link will remember to come back of their own accord. Encourage people to sign up for your RSS feed, to “like” your Facebook page, to follow you on Twitter, and (perhaps most important) to sign up for your newsletter (you’ve read my Newsletters 101 post, right?). And, yes, I could do all of those things better myself!

3. There’s not enough author in the author blog

I’ve visited a lot of indie author blogs that are full of guest posts, interviews, and book promotion tidbits for other authors on book blog tours. There’s nothing wrong with networking with writing buddies and helping each other out, but those kinds of posts on your blog aren’t going to help you sell your book

I suggest keeping this type of content to a one-day-a-week (or less) type of thing and making sure most of the posts are filled with your voice and your words on a topic that matters to you. As I said, people want to be informed and/or entertained, but they also want to get to know you and come along on your journey. If they like your voice on your blog, they’re going to be more likely to try your books (I’ve had lots of nice folks tell me things along the lines of, “I don’t read fantasy, but I tried your books after reading your blog, and I ended up liking them.”

4. The blog posts are infrequent

For a blog to grow, you need to publish new content on a regular basis. You’ll get more traffic from the search engines that way, you’ll have more to plug on the social media networks, and you’ll get people coming back (most people will stop checking a blog that rarely has new content).

A lot of authors get frustrated, trying to find time to blog and engage in social media and work on the next book. You may need to choose one or the other. That’s okay. It’s probably better not to do a blog than to do a half-ass blog full of content from/about other people.

There are authors who sell extremely well and who don’t blog at all.

5. The author isn’t doing enough (effective) blog promotion

Only in baseball movies from the 80s, do the words, “If you build it, they will come” ring true. You have to build a quality blog and then let people know it’s there.

Guest posting is one way to do this. Being active on social media sites such as Twitter is another way. Applying some basic search engine optimization principles will set up your blog in a way that it’s more likely to rank for various terms on Google and the other search sites.

6. Blog comments are turned off

Comments are a little like book reviews in that most people who read your post won’t leave them, but those who are inclined to voice their opinions like a chance to do so. Often, those opinions can add useful information to the conversation. They can even help bring more traffic to your site (the more content on your site, the more likely one of your pages will show up for someone’s Google search).

Comments can be useful when it comes to social proof as well. If I visit someone’s blog, and they’re getting 50 comments per post, I might assume that the person knows what they’re talking about and that I should seriously check them out. If I see comments off, it’s akin to seeing zero comments. For all I know, no one is paying attention to the blog, and maybe I’d be better off doing the same.

Beyond those aspects, having comments off can be seen as kind of an F-you by some folks, since blogs have, from their earliest days, offered commenting as a built-in feature. People are accustomed to being able to leave a note with a link back to their site as part of the deal (if they leave a useful comment, maybe someone will like what they have to say, and follow the link back to their site). Remember the “what’s in it for me?” question that your blog post should answer? For some people, “a chance to leave a comment with a link attached” is part of it.

7. The blog has barriers to commenting

Things like CAPTCHA annoy the tar out of me, and I’ve heard complaints from many others as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just backed out without leaving a comment because I couldn’t get something I could read. People’s time is valuable so it’s not a good idea to put obstacles in their path, especially when they’re doing you a favor by leaving a comment (even if they don’t say anything earth-shattering, the fact that they’re there makes your blog look more popular, eh?)

If you’re worried about spam, you probably shouldn’t be. I get more than 10,000 visitors a month to this blog, and spam isn’t a problem because Akismet (a built-in plug-in you get when you install WordPress on your own hosting account) catches it. Spam is about as subtle as a sledgehammer, so it’s not hard for a program like that to detect. Questionable comments (those with links, typically) get held for manual approval, but that doesn’t take me more than a few seconds each week. If you find that spam is a problem when you remove CAPTCHA, then it’s probably time to invest in your own hosting account ($5 a month at the most) and a (free) WordPress blog that lives on your own server.

It’s good to remember that people are doing you a favor by taking time out of their days to read and comment on your blog, so it’s worth making things as easy as possible for them. Then they’ll be more likely to come back!

Okay, those are seven big blogging mistakes I see a lot of authors making. If you’d like to add to this list, feel free to do so below. If you’re looking for more blogging advice, please see my posts on How to Use Your Blog to Sell More Books and 5 Tips for Bringing More Readers to Your Blog.

How to Use Your Blog to Sell More Books

| Posted in Blogging |

14

Whether you’re e-publishing on your own or being published through a house, you’ve probably heard that a blog is a must for book promotion.

Writers like to write, so it’s not a big hardship for most of us (though one does have to balance blogging time with writing-the-next-book time), and you can usually find a blog on an author’s site. Unfortunately, that blog usually isn’t doing much for the author.

Why? Not many people are visiting it.

Before we talk about how to change that, let me make an argument for why a blog is worth working on.

When I released my latest novella this weekend, a steampunk adventure called Peacemaker, I posted an announcement with an excerpt on my blog. I also sent out an email to my newsletter subscribers (I’ve talked about email marketing and newsletters before), subscribers who originally signed up through the form on my blog (in essence, if I didn’t maintain a blog and invite readers to visit, I wouldn’t have any newsletter subscribers!).

Because of those two quick announcements, 200+ people bought Peacemaker the first full day it was out and nearly half of those purchases came through my links (one on the blog post and one in the newsletter). I know this because, as I’ve mentioned before, I use affiliate links to track sales (and get a little extra of a cut from Amazon). Those sales mean that Peacemaker paid for itself (insofar as editing, formatting, and cover art expenses go) in the first day it was out. I had a similar experience last November when I released my third Emperor’s Edge book (if you’re new to my blog and haven’t tried those books yet, the first one is free at Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes). Though that was a full-length novel, and my expenses were close to $1,500, it paid for itself in the first week.

Of course, lots of those sales came through Amazon and other stores, but a lot of them, especially those immediate ones, came from folks who heard about the new release on my blog or from my newsletter.

So, how can you make your blog work for you? Here are a few tips:

  • Blog regularly about informative and/or entertaining things — Nobody wants to hear about your writers’ block, your cats, or your favorite dinner recipe (sorry!). Save that stuff for your personal diary-style blog. Your author blog is for selling books. Assume a potential fan is stumbling upon your blog for the first time. What’s there for them? News related to the genre? Interviews with your characters? Interviews with other authors in your genre? Tips related to writing or the book world? Inspirational posts? (You’d be surprised how many readers are aspiring authors themselves, so success stories can be popular, especially when they offer helpful tidbits.)
  • Get links back to your blog — I’m not exaggerating when I say maybe 1% of the authors out there do this effectively, and it’s so key. Blogging isn’t a build-it-and-they-will-come-Kevin-Costner movie. You have to promote it, and the best way is by guest blogging or otherwise convincing people to link to your site from theirs. Links are votes of popularity in the eyes of the search engines (make sure to read my old post on search engine optimization), and every link is a potential pathway people can stumble across that leads to your blog.
  • Start a newsletter — I know I already mentioned it, but this is also key. Far more of those early purchases that I mentioned came from my newsletter than from my blog post. You could even argue that the main reason to have a blog is to get people onto your mailing list. Here’s the link to my newsletter basics article again in case you ignored it the first time!
  • Use your ebooks to promote your blog and newsletter — I put my blog address and social media links in the afterword of my ebooks and invite fans to come say hi. I get mail (through my contact form) from these rocking people, so I know it works!
  • Display your book covers prominently on your blog, along with links to Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords (at the least) — I’m amazed at how often I visit an author’s blog or website, only to have to surf through several pages to get to a link that’ll take me to Amazon. I’m a Kindle-gal, and I really just want to get right to Amazon and download a sample, because that’s what’s going to sell me (or not) on the book. Don’t put a lot of page-clicks between your visitor and a bookstore where he/she can sample or buy. You can have excerpts on your site, too, but don’t make people go through them to find the store link — lots of folks prefer downloading samples to their e-readers.
  • Use social media sites to promote your blog posts — Now that you’re writing interesting content, let people know about it. A lot of authors simply try to sell their books via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites, but people join those sites to socialize, not to whip out their credit cards. They’re more likely to check out free information (and free ebooks, but that’s another story), such as can be found on your blog. And they might just retweet/share those posts, helping you increase the visibility to your blog (other news-hungry bloggers might see your post and include it in a round-up, too — this gets you free links to your site).
  • Do a product launch via your blog — I haven’t talked much about product launches yet (I’m not a hardcore marketer myself, and I don’t do a lot in this arena), but the idea is to get people excited about your new book before it comes out. A couple of weeks before you publish, you might want to post the cover art, then an excerpt, then a longer excerpt, etc. If your snippets are interesting, you might just pick up a few new readers this way, and you’ll have your existing readers ready to go out and get the new book on Day 1.

All right, I could go on (and on and on…), but these are the basics. If you put time into building and promoting a blog, it can pay you back in spades by making it much easier to sell books. Even when I’m not actively promoting a new release, I get a small but steady trickle of sales (measured through those affiliate links) through my blog.

Do you have any blog tips you’d like to add? Please let us know below!

Should Authors Add a Paypal Donation Button to Their Sites?

| Posted in Blogging |

23

One of the great things about being an independent author in this day and age (the e-publishing era) is that you have a shot at making money, maybe even making a living wage, if you have enough books out and they sell moderately well. But for every author making a living there are a thousand more (at least) who can only count their earnings as hobby money. Some indie authors might never even make back their start-up costs (editing, cover art, etc.). And, lest you think the latter is a problem only for self-published authors, there are plenty of traditionally published authors who never earn out their advances and get a deal for a second book.

For those interested in a way to potentially make a few more dollars, Paypal makes it easy to add a donation button to your site. Through them you can even accept credit cards. For those who don’t love Paypal, there are also various WordPress plug-ins that allow you to take “micropayments,” in the form of donations or fees for content (i.e. you could publish a short story or extra on your site as a blog post, give away the first 20% for free and then charge 50 cents or 99 cents or some such to folks who want to read the rest).

But, you’re wondering, do these buttons work? Does anyone actually donate?

I haven’t tried it personally, so I can only share anecdotal evidence from my old job. When I worked as a news/non-fiction blogger, I made money from affiliate links and selling advertising (sort of a magazine model for a business), and I did know of people in the industry who had Paypal donation buttons on their blogs. Most said that few people donated and that their income from that source was insignificant.

But…being an author with a blog is a different scenario, especially if you write fiction instead of non-fiction. Most likely, your blog is designed to attract potential readers who will buy your books, and those books may be your only source of income. As most readers know, traditionally published authors only take home a small cut of the sales price of a book, and even indie authors, who get to keep a bigger cut, have to be selling quite well to make pay-the-mortgage type earnings.

In short, readers who enjoy your stories may be more inclined to donate than folks who simply follow a news blog. Even though you’re charging money for your novels, you may find that some of your fans value them highly and would like to see you earn more than two or three dollars per book.

Here’s one example of such a case, where I had a nice reader, KA Rowell, email me and ask if a donation button was something I’d consider as an author. She gave me permission to post her comments:

“…reason I’m writing is to suggest that you consider adding some kind of patronage button on PayPal…Personally I would have been willing to pay hardback prices for EE3–and I never pay hardback prices!–and would be happy to make up the “difference” between what I paid and what I would pay with a PayPal button. And/or if you want to vet the idea in front of your crew, this might be a nice topic for an e-publishing article. (E.g., does putting a paypal “donate” button on your website look too mercenary? Could it alienate some readers? General pros/cons? What is the likelihood of it actually creating additional revenue?”

“I also wonder about related opportunities for creative fundraising using these buttons. Over the holidays I was at a Starbucks with two tip jars, each with a sticky note attached: one read “Blue Christmas” and the other read “White Christmas.” White was “beating” blue by a handy margin–one-dollar bills were spilling from the sides. I wonder if you might use a similar (book-related) strategy, e.g. asking people to “vote” for Sespian vs. Sicarius? Or to “vote” for their favorite character? This might be a strategy for other authors too, particularly if there are (small?) factors that might go one way or another in the sequel. Maybe (?) it would have some of the charm of those old “choose your own adventure” books, and it’s an interesting opportunity for e-book authors, since the turnaround time is often so much less.”

Lots of interesting ideas mentioned there!

As for whether I’ll do this myself, probably not on my website in general. I am a little intrigued by the idea of having people “vote” for a minor story point by donating one way or another, but I think I’d only do that as a for-charity type event. Or perhaps I could make it so people who donated a certain amount (enough to cover book and shipping costs for me) would get signed paperbacks out of the deal.

Personally, I’m not that comfortable with the idea of accepting random donations (though I certainly appreciate that there are folks who’re willing to offer them because they enjoyed my stories). As with the kickstarter campaigns (where people can crowd-fund projects), I think it’s fine for others, but it’s just not for me. I’m also in a position right now where I’m selling enough books that I can cover my editing and cover art costs with money left over, so there’s less incentive to try donation systems.

That said, I’ve seen other authors do it (I’m not sure as to the degree of success), and it’s actually built into Podiobooks.com (there are donation buttons on each book page, and part of the proceeds go to the site for covering hosting costs and part go to the author).

I would be curious to know what readers think of the practice. Are donation buttons a good idea?

And authors, what do you think? Have you tried a donation button and had any luck with it?

Becoming a Book Blogger (and getting free books!) with Laurie Lu from Bonafide Reflections

| Posted in Blogging |

6

Last spring, I wrote a series of posts on How to Make Money as a Book Blogger, based on my years of paying the bills with my internet income (before shifting my focus to writing stories and self-publishing, I blogged about everything from home improvement to the cruise industry and actually earned a living that way). As I admitted in those articles, it’s not easy to make piles talking about books, but it’s certainly possible to make enough to cover web hosting and pay for a few new reads now and then. At the very least, book bloggers can snag a lot of free stories to review.

Laurie Lu from Bona Fide Reflections started her blog in February this year and has built up a following and managed to acquire a lot of books to review (traditionally published as well as indie offerings). I thought I’d ask her some questions, in case any of you are thinking of starting a book blog (or have one that you’re hoping will become more popular).

Interview with Laurie Lu from Bona Fide Reflections

What prompted you to start a book review blog?

Well hmmm… *taps finger on chin,* I love to read. And one day I found Goodreads, a book community, online. As I looked around, I noticed that a lot of people had links to other websites. I started poking around more. Looked at what they were doing and realized I could be doing the same thing – blogging about the books I read and interacting with an audience of like-minded individuals. So, long story short: blogging is just an extension of my love for reading.

You’re on Blogger, but you have a custom design and your own web address (www.bona-fide-reflections.com), so it doesn’t look like you’re on Blogger. Can you tell us how much those upgrades cost and how you went about having them done?

I have a friend who is a webmaster and I sought out advice from him on how to take my blog one step further than Blogspot. It is important to own your own domain (i.e., .com, .net, .org) so no one else can use that name. I went to Go Daddy and bought two domain names – bona-fide-reflections.com and bonafidereflections.com. The latter to cover all bases for “search” purposes. I think it cost me all of $12 for a year. After purchasing my domain names, my friend had changed everything over for me from my blogspot addy to my domain name. I have no idea how he did that part.

Bona Fide Reflections

Regarding the design of Bona Fide Reflections… when I first started by blog, I used the blogger templates to use as my blog design. But, I was not able to create the look I really wanted. I knew what I wanted it to look like. I just did not know how to make it happen. So, I enlisted the help of a blog designer whose work I had seen around the blogosphere. I really liked her style of design. The cost of having her do my blog renovation was close to $200. However, she did everything for me: Header Design, Column styling (2 or 3 column design), Background Design, Bloggy Button with grab code, InstallationCustom avatar/illustration, 4 HTML installations, 4 extra graphics (winner, interview, guest post, Teaser Tuesday etc.), Custom Style Sheet, Navigation (drop-down available), Signature. There are other cheaper options. This just what I wanted and what worked for me.

Hmm, maybe I should hire her! Okay, now for the good stuff: what’s the secret to getting free ebooks to review?

Great question. Well, I think networking helps a whole lot in getting your name out there. I made sure I interacted with authors and publishers on Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook. Interacting with other book bloggers has also been very helpful in this endeavor because they were able to offer advice and introduce me to some authors. Once you get your name out there, the authors and publishers tend to seek you out to help get the word out on their upcoming release or, in some cases, already published books.

Another great avenue to take is signing up with NetGalley. They offer a lot of ARCs (advanced reader copies) in a lot of genre categories. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for a book you’re interested in from the author or publisher. The worst that can happen is that they will say no; but, you are no worse off than before you asked. In other words: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What do you do if an author sends you a book to review and you just don’t like it?

I approach them first to let them know how I felt about the book and why I felt that way. Then I ask them whether or not they want me to post my review. Most often times…., er, no every time they ask that I not post my review. But, I can completely understand why. Often times, I am dealing with an indie author just starting out and they really don’t need bad press. Just because I did not like the book does not mean they won’t find a following for it and I don’t want to hinder the author’s efforts to sell their work.

I know you’re active on Twitter. What have you done to promote your blog online and pick up followers?

Within the past couple of months I have really utilized Twitter. This a place where like minded folks seem to “congregate” and share information. Once you start socializing, you find yourself developing a larger network. This helps to get your blog’s name out there while having some fun. Plus, Twitter is a platform that can be used advertising your blog when you have got something going on the blog and need some traffic directed there. You pick up followers by putting yourself out there and interacting and following others. Many people tend to follow you back.

I have also gained a lot of followers by participating in blog hops. What’s a blog hop? A blog hop consists of linking up participating blogs which are hosting a giveaway and the blogs link up together allowing our followers to hop easily from one giveaway to another. For followers that means lots of chances to win free books. For host blogs it means lots of new visitors and followers.

Any tips for new readers thinking of starting a book review blog?

Having a blog is a lot of fun. I have enjoyed meeting some really wonderful people who are like-minded in their reading preferences and I have connected with really wonderful bloggers, authors and publishers. However, it has been a lot of work. It is hard not to get discouraged and feel overwhelmed. The most important thing to remember is that you are doing it for fun (or at least, I am) and just focus on that fact. If you have bitten off more than you can chew, always be honest and communicate whether it is with your peers, authors, and/or the publishers when you get to a point where you are overwhelmed. When, you are feeling discouraged, reach out to the peers you feel closest to because often times they have been in your shoes and can offer support or advice to help you get through a rough patch.

Thanks for sharing all that information, Laurie!

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