Having posted recently about why I was stepping back from Twitter I am conscious that in the body of the post and via the resulting comments I made several references to blog tours. These by default appear negative, as it was the negative aspects of the tour concept that I was alluding to. Consequently I’ve decided to clarify my thoughts and views to make it clear I am not against blog tours per se, and I’m certainly not being critical of bloggers who take part. In being honest about how I feel, I understand I run the risk of alienating some people and that is not my intention, but I’d rather be criticised for what I’ve actually said, than be judged on what someone assumes from a passing comment without any context.
I think blog tours are an invaluable way to get a group of bloggers together to post their timely reviews and create a buzz about a book. For small, independent publishers in particular, or self published authors, they are a low-cost marketing option which gets the word out to many more people than they could ordinarily hope to reach without taking out expensive adverts or sponsored posts. The positives are not all on the publishing/author side though there are many advantages for a blogger which include unique content for their blog; increased traffic – especially if giveaways are involved; new followers and the ability to build a positive and mutually advantageous relationship with a publisher/author. So all good reasons to participate in and support a blog tour, it can be a mutually beneficial process for both parties, so win, win.
However, just as there are positives, there are also negatives and it is those aspects of the concept that I have always been uncomfortable with. I also think that to a degree they are partly responsible for the increasing number of posts regarding blogger burnout and blogger bullying, which I’ll elucidate on later. These were aspects of blogging that I was unaware of when I dipped my toe in the water and set up this blog at the end of 2015. At the same time, while people were joining in blog tours, I was certainly not as conscious of them then, as I am now. The blog tour seems to be the “go to” medium when launching a book and I’m sure there is a correlation between this and the previously mentioned blogging negatives. To try to keep my thoughts on track, I’ll attempt to deal with the things I’m uncomfortable with point by point.
Length of Blog Tour/Number of Participants
Maybe it’s just me, but I think a well-organized and relatively short tour is far preferable to create an immediate buzz. Now I’m not intending to get into a debate about how short is short, but having trawled the internet to pull up articles and features on blog tours, the consensus would appear to suggest 7-14 days. Penguin (other publishers are available) for example recommends up to a week before and after publication to create a buzz. To my mind this gives an author/publisher the opportunity to collect together a reasonable number of bloggers to review and share their thoughts on a book. I acknowledge from a publisher or author’s viewpoint they may well have a pool of bloggers to choose from, that far exceeds that number, and the temptation is to try to accommodate as many bloggers as possible. However as a marketing strategy does this really create additional publicity or is it overkill. More importantly what about the blogger?
The following is a review of just some of the blog tours I spotted this weekend via Facebook and Twitter. They are all UK-based. I am not ascribing details of the book or publisher I just want to use these as examples of the numbers.
|No of Days in Tour||Number of Stops per Day||Total Bloggers on Tour|
|10||1 or 2||11|
|30||1 or 2||42|
Now there are always two ways of looking at everything, some would argue that the longer the tour the more coverage and publicity for the author/book – I can’t argue with that. But think about how the blogging community works and how to my mind that can actually be detrimental. Here’s an example.
Blogger A is on a 14 stop blog tour. They normally post their content to 2 or 3 book related Facebook pages/forums, to promote the post, which is what bloggers do. However, Reader A is also a member of those forums. This means at worst (or best) depending on your view they’re seeing the same book every day for 14 days posted in 2 or 3 forums by at least 1 if not 2 bloggers. Then we have Twitter, Blogger A tweets their post, which is then retweeted by not only the others on the Tour, but additional supportive bloggers. So on some days we are often batting the same title around between bloggers. Given that ideally the author and the publisher should also be playing their part in promoting the book, they might also be retweeting. That is a lot of views of the same book on an average 14 day tour, multiply that by 30 or 52 and I for one switched off long ago.
From a marketing point of view, I can’t deny the book is being seen, people will remember it, and it’s done the job of creating a buzz, which is excellent – just what the author/publisher wanted. But what about the blogger? I’d be curious to know how many participants in a tour can honestly say they read every post, and yet they invite the reader to follow the tour and drop in on other bloggers. If I was interested I might do 2 or 3, but 21, or 42 or 64 – that’s simply not going to happen. My point is, the later participants on the tour have put as much work in as the first, especially if they’ve read and reviewed the book. Now while they might have unique readers on their blog to read their post, how much traffic, new views, new followers are they really picking up at the tail end of a tour, if other people are like me and have lost interest. The problem is, I suspect they may not even be aware, because in the Twitter age, a like or a retweet is a notification that your Tweet has been seen and acknowledged, but how many people have actually read your content (a problem, I may add, not just restricted to blog tours!).
So let’s be honest, this is just about marketing, read the articles and most authors will admit, blog tours are about getting their book seen and their name recognised, it is not about sales, they are an added bonus if they happen. I had a recent conversation with a publisher who confirmed just that. Blog tours are not aimed at increasing sale, sales are a bonus. Combine this with the increasing use of Q&A’s, guest posts, cover reveals in tours and I start to get uncomfortable. This is pure marketing, I’ve even seen some posts that have a tenuous link to the content of the book. This concerns me because, bloggers have a following, they are respected and they’re good at what they do, but by making this the way forward for the industry to promote itself I worry that it compromises a bloggers integrity. I’ll explain why in the next topic.
Even if you’ve not been on the receiving end, I’m sure you’ve either seen examples on Facebook forums, or heard about it, or had bloggers relate their experiences. One Facebook group, that I was a member of, had a thread that was vociferous and quite vicious in its condemnation of bloggers. Do I agree with it – no, is it acceptable – never, so what I am about to write is not a defence of what went on. It is my attempt to explain why I think these views are held, wrongly in my opinion, but then I’m on the inside. Most of these views, come from people on the outside and to my mind it’s to do with perceptions, and I strongly believe it also links to the increase in blog tours and similar author/publisher promoted posts.
When a publisher simply provided an ARC, it was read and reviewed, ideally to an agreed time frame, but if that slipped a bit, no harm done. As every author is keen to tell us a review is a review whenever it is posted. Now, the blogger, as part of a blog tour, is doing nothing different. They are receiving an ARC, which they are reading and reviewing. The resulting review, would be identical. So what’s different, I thinks it’s the formalisation of the process that puts the author/publisher in control to a degree as they dictate time scale, format, use of corporate logo’s and banners etc. I think this has a knock on effect that skews the perceptions of the validity of the reviews. A blogger ‘signs up’ to a blog tour before they’ve received the book or can gauge its content, which, I stress, would be no different from my downloading from NetGalley. I judge from the author’s previous work, or the genre, or the publisher, whether it is something I’m likely to enjoy, and for the most part I do, and my reviews reflect that. As a result, I rarely write what I deem a bad review. However, it’s the perception with a blog tour, that by default, the review is going to be a good one, that brings into question, from some people, the honesty and integrity of the reviewer/blogger. They are perceived as writing it for the author/publisher and not the reader.
It’s easier to see this at work if we look outside of our own bookish world and lets use for example cosmetics. If a company send out samples of their new product to individuals to sample and the results are positive, you might tweet about it or tell your friends. Now imagine you get the same sample, you like it, but the company says, that as part of receiving the sample, you have to tweet your review using their heading, or linked to their poster, or other users. That starts to look less like an honest review and a bit more like a promotional advert. Even though your thoughts on the product are exactly the same, it’s all about perceptions, and I suggest we might also make assumptions about a product if we saw it promoted that way.
The concept is further muddied by the existence of paid blog tours. I don’t know of any bloggers that get paid for reviewing, but I am aware of bloggers participating in tours organized by individuals (outside of a publisher’s marketing department) who are being paid. This is a perfectly valid and legitimate way to earn money, and to be honest, the sums involved are not a great deal. But again, it comes down to perceptions, combine this with the knowledge that some tour organisers ‘require’ nothing less than a 3 star review and the whole issue might lead people to wonder about honesty and integrity. I will admit, that I have always felt uncomfortable with the notion that someone is being paid (however much that might be) to do a job that directly relies on the unpaid, goodwill and professionalism of others. The input from bloggers is not inconsiderable, it can’t be equated to something like getting opinions from a focus group.
I’m not getting into the issue of ‘free’ books as for me that’s a non-starter. A book that takes 3-4 hours minimum to read, then requires a review, a web post and time spent posting across social media is not ‘free’. It’s a fair exchange for anyone’s time, regardless of whether the review is positive or negative.
So I guess what I’m trying to say, is that I think that as blog tours have become more prevalent, they can appear to make the blogger look less individual and more corporate, and because of paid tours, some people think bloggers also are being paid. It’s not about the reality, it’s about perceptions and what people believe based on what they know or think they know. It doesn’t make it right, and I’m not sure what the answer is, but I firmly believe it contributes to the negative view of bloggers.
Just as many of you will have read the instances of blogger bullying, you will also have read post’s by fellow bloggers saying they are overwhelmed or tired and need to step back from blogging. Some of those may well be due to external influences, that are totally none book related, such as health. But we are also aware of those who are squarely laying the blame at the pressures of blogging and have expressed a desire to cut down on blog tours. This latter comment, chimes with my theory that the increase in the tours is creating some of that additional pressure.
Most book bloggers set up their blog to spread the word about books and authors that they love. For most it’s a hobby as they work either full-time or part-time. For others it’s an opportunity to mix with like-minded people, and for people with health issues, it’s a level playing field on which they can compete. But I suspect whatever the initial motivation, the key thing was, it was supposed to be enjoyable and not a pressure. Admittedly some of the pressures might be seen as self-inflicted, taking on too much, trying to compete, or succumbing to the dreaded ‘fear of missing out’. But I think the growth of blog tours is also to blame, and it’s effects have been insidious.
The main thing a blogger has over their blog is control. Their blog, their rules. This changes when you embark on blog tours. The timing of when to post is allocated, no problem, until the material doesn’t come through; or the date is changed; or worst still life takes over and you’re up till dawn finishing the book to meet a deadline. Once your post is ready to go, you have to conform to the standards laid down; make sure you link to the requisite places; use the designated banner or content provided; and then embark upon the round of sharing with social media. When blog tours were less prolific, this was less of a problem. But as they proliferate this is starting to sound a lot less like fun, and more like work with deadlines and instructions. To some people this is not an issue, but for others, it is.
It’s easy to say, if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen, but it’s not that easy to do. It’s hard for some saying no to an author they respect and have worked with before, or the publisher they want to support. The problem is not necessarily that individual request, it’s the accumulation of pressure that can build over time. There might not be an issue when a tour is accepted, it’s something that might happen along the process, that impinges on a deadline or has knock on effects for others. The issue with the tour is, it’s not flexible, and one is committed and feels responsible, to the author/publisher and other participants on the tour. This doesn’t happen with an ordinary book review in the same way, as it doesn’t have the same ‘contractual obligation’ attached.
So if you’re still with me at this stage, thank you. It wasn’t an easy post to write, and I might not have expressed things as well as I wanted, but I think it sets out the gist of how I feel. You might agree or disagree, with my views, or it might be something you’ve never really thought about. I have (perhaps unwisely) left the comments option open, so you can add your own thoughts. I would however, request that just as I’m allowing you to offer your opinions, you respect my right to have mine and I have no intention of getting involved in any heated debates.