The Author Will Take Q.’s Now
The Author Will Take Q.’s Now
FOR the publication in July of her first book, “The Late Bloomer’s Revolution,” Amy Cohen imagined a promotional tour of bookstores in Sydney, Australia. And Paris. And a few places closer to home, New York City, would work, too.
Then her publicist at Hyperion told her, as Ms. Cohen recalled somewhat tongue in cheek, “You aren’t going to Scarsdale.” Instead of some far-flung Barnes & Noble, there was Prillboyle. Rather than Borders, there was Bluestalking Reader. Ms. Cohen, a former television writer for “Spin City” and “Caroline in the City,” was surprised to learn that most of her “appearances” would be on blogs.
“When you’re not in the book business you think, of course they’re going to send you around,” she said.
Chances are, unless an author is especially high-profile or promising or willing to pony up for expenses, they’re not.
Fortunately for Ms. Cohen, her memoir has made it onto at least one best-seller list even without a traditional reading and signing tour. She credits a write-up in People magazine, along with a newer publishing tool: the blog book tour, in which an author pops up on a series of blogs, usually over days or weeks, variously writing guest posts, answering questions from the host or sitting for a podcast, a video interview or a live chat. The blogs’ readers may comment and leave more questions. Ideally, they follow links to the author’s Web site and to an online retailer like Amazon.
Ms. Cohen made virtual stops at blogs related to the experiences she chronicles in her book — looking for love, learning to cook. At Books and Beliefs, she answered questions about how Jewish groups can create more opportunities for Jewish singles (throw parties); on Baking and Books, she was asked about her favorite comfort food (fried chicken).
Bloggers have written about books since, well, the beginning of blogging. But a blog book tour usually requires an author or publicist to take the initiative, reaching out to bloggers as if they were booksellers and asking them to be the host for a writer’s online visit. Sometimes bloggers invite authors on their own. In an age of budget-conscious publishers and readers who are as likely to discover books from a Google search as from browsing at a bookstore, the blog book tour makes sense. Although a few high-profile authors have had their books sent to bloggers — James Patterson recently promoted a young-adult book this way — most of the authors are lesser-known and less likely to be reviewed in the mainstream press.
But the results can be impressive. When Frank Portman, the frontman for the band the Mr. T Experience, published “King Dork” in 2006, he teamed up with Andrew Krucoff, a popular blogger, who created a video “trailer” about the book’s main character, an alienated boy who dreams up imaginary bands, and asked Mr. Portman questions for a Q. and A. These files were posted on Web sites like Gawker, Largehearted Boy and BrooklynVegan, along with a recording of Mr. Portman reading from the book and performing songs he had written for it. The goal, Mr. Portman said, was to generate “links and Google-ability.”
He achieved that and more. Tantalized by the Internet attention, USA Today wrote about Mr. Portman and “Late Show With David Letterman” auditioned him as a guest (he wasn’t picked).
“If I had to choose, I’d rather have an author promote themselves online,” said Felicia Sullivan, the senior online marketing manager of Collins, an imprint of HarperCollins, who maintains that the Internet exposes authors to a broader audience than most bookstore readings.
“You can reach at least a few hundred people on a blog, and save time, money and the fear of being a loser when no one shows up to your reading.”
Initially slow to embrace the Internet, the publishing industry has made up for lost time. It is the rare author who doesn’t have a Web site or MySpace presence. In June Simon & Schuster introduced BookVideoTV, which broadcasts short videos of authors. Another venture introduced in July, Booktour.com, lets authors post information about their books and tour dates (real and virtual). The site was founded by Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired and the author of “The Long Tail”; Adam Goldstein, a 19-year-old sophomore at M.I.T.; and Kevin Smokler, a publishing expert credited with creating the first blog book tour.
That was for “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” by the science writer Mary Roach, in 2003. Since then, Mr. Smokler said, “It’s become de rigueur for public relations to include blogs and online media as part of regular touring.”
Many publishing houses have now hired Web-savvy publicists or outside blog tour “producers.” Some blog tour producers say they have, from time to time, paid bloggers to review an author’s book as part of a tour. Bloggers may or may not reveal this detail. Producers also say they may try to dissuade bloggers who want to post a negative review. But in general, negativity is hard to find on a blog book tour. Gushiness — on the part of authors, bloggers and readers — is not.
“Wow — I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was when Michelle Rowen invited me along to do a guest spot on the Midnight Hour,” wrote Amanda Ashby, a romance author, who, like Ms. Rowen, is a member of the Girlfriends’ Cyber Circuit, a group of about 40 authors who have blogs and regularly promote one another’s books. In this post on Ms. Rowen’s blog, Ms. Ashby was chronicling her attempt to land a publishing deal for her novel “You Had Me at Halo.”
“The book sounds fantastic and is one I’ll definitely have to pick up soon,” said a poster named Cory in the blog’s comments section.
“Thanks so much, Cory!!” Ms. Ashby responded.
Although blogging is another form of writing, not all authors seem equally suited. Joshua Ferris, author of the critically acclaimed novel “Then We Came to the End,” guest-blogged for a week at the Elegant Variation, a literary blog, where he declared his fondness for the band the Hold Steady, rounded up literary news and promoted graduate writing programs. Still, at the end of the week, he apologized to readers: “I only posted late at night, and only once a day, whereas other bloggers keep you returning throughout the day. I didn’t respond to many of your comments, which seems an important part of the blogger-commenter contract.”
Although authors say that the virtual tours generate traffic for their Web sites and that they have seen their online sales increase, it is difficult to tell how much blog book tours increase sales.
“I haven’t been following that or charting it in a quantitative way,” said Dave Weich, director of marketing and development at Powell’s Books, a bookseller in Portland, Ore., with a strong Internet presence, adding that he would notice only if a single blog sent a significant amount of traffic to Powell’s Web site over a defined period of time. But then, the dirty little secret of real-life author tours, he said, is that “most of the people who go to events don’t buy books.”