Blog Tours – my thoughts and observations.

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
7 2 14
7 2 14
7 2 14
10 1 or 2 11
12 1 12
13 1 13
13 1 13
14 1 or2 26
14 1 14
21 1 21
27 1 27
30 1 or 2 42
32 2 64
52 1 52

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.

Blogger bullying

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.

Blogger Burnout

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.

 

 

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37 thoughts on “Blog Tours – my thoughts and observations.

  1. I agree with everything you’ve said. Thanks for spending what must have been a lot of time thinking about this and putting it into words. I think bloggers, to coin a phrase, need to take back control, decide what’s right for them and their blogging objectives and say no to everything else.

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  2. You’ve clearly given a lot of thought to this Jill and opened my eyes as a result. I’ve never really understood how blog tours work beyond a basic concept that if you join one, you are agreeing to review the book by a particular date. I never realised that more than one person would be operating to the same time frame so you get multiple reviews all scrunched together. Ok so that creates a bit of a buzz but just like the second ice-cream is never as good as the first, fatigue sets in as you say. Wouldnt it make more sense to space out the tour over a much longer period so each review acts as a gentler nudge that the book exists? I’m even less clear about the purpose of cover reveals – I never get excited when I see these on Twitter.

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    • Cover reveals leave me cold if I’m honest, but then I’m not a marketing strategist. I can appreciate while all these things are done, I’m just not comfortable with the consequences for participants. I think it can weaken their perceived objectivity, which is the very thing that we rely on.

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  3. Well said Jill and I think you make some great points, particularly about those at the tail end of a blog tour. As I mentioned on your previous post, I’m very selective in the minimal number of tours I participate in and in many ways I think it’s sad that this has suddenly become the default for publishers. Who knows the tide may turn back again!

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  4. I agree with everything. I haven’t done many blog tours and I have 2 upcoming, but I’m saying not to a lot because of those same reasons. I do get tired of seeing the same book over and over again…

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    • Thanks for your comments Annie, looks like a lot of us think similarly, maybe this post will allow people to say it. It’s easier for me as I’ve never done a blog tour and don’t have publishers sending me ARC’s so I’ve got not thing to lose. Maybe the blog tour might have to rethink its format as bloggers cease to sign up.

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  5. Jill you have written such a coherent and sensible piece of writing. I agree with much of what you are saying and I do often wonder how small are we in this puzzle. The whole blogging experience has been quite an eye-opener for me and I am learning to say No. I’m also gauging what I feel comfortable with and I constantly need to remind myself that this is MY blog and not an extension of a marketing device. I think I am learning and picking up many useful tips/advice as I go on. Well done Jill on your stand. I admire you for it. x

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    • Thanks for your comments Mairead. I had replied to your response but it seems to have disappeared. I think I’m possibly only vocalising what many others might think. As I’m on the outside of tours and don’t directly get ARC’s from publishers, it’s easier for me to say it, I don’t have anything to lose. Maybe as a concept it’s reached saturation point, so it needs some new ideas or more thought about numbers and usage rather than being the stock response. I’m pleased that the post was accepted in the spirit it was intended as I anticipated a possible back lash as I’m aware that many blogging friends undertake tours. It’s been interesting to see what others think. Just carry on doing what you’re happy with, your blog, your rules xx

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  6. Wow, Jill. What a post! Very well put.

    I don’t particularly mind seeing the same books over and over. If I’m interested I will read it and if not I will scroll on by. I also like some guest posts for the same reason – they interest me. And I find them a good way of providing content on my blog as unfortunately I can’t read a book a day which some bloggers seem to do. I suppose I’m just not as concerned about the things that you are but each to their own. I actually wanted to have a blog so I could participate in tours etc and feel part of the book world and so it suits me although I’m starting to be more careful about what I’m taking part in as I don’t want to lose sight of what I really like in favour of being part of ‘the crowd’.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your perspective on this subject. I have been blogging for over 10 years and the changes in that time to book blogging have been tremendous. Both for better and for worse, I think. I jumped on the tour bandwagon like so many others, and am still on it to some degree–although sliding off, inch by inch, but now ready to jump off.

    I learned quickly who I wanted to work with tour wise–which are the ones who demanded the least from me in terms of “requirements”. I liked it when book tours were still relatively new and the blogger had more control over content.

    I think there are benefits to book tours, as you said, though. I have enjoyed participating in book tours in the past. For me, now, the cons have started to outweigh the positives, and so I participate in very few.

    Anyway, thank you again for this great post.

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    • Thanks for sharing your views Wendy. It’s good to get some perspective from someone who has been blogging for far longer than me, and many of my fellow bloggers. I’ve seen the change over a relatively short period of time, so I can imagine in the beginning it was a far less pressured environment and blog tours would have been innovative and less prevalent. I think they do still have a place, but perhaps with more thought and balance and not as the automatic stock response to a book launch. Good luck with jumping off.

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  8. Jill, I completely agree with you. I have updated my About/Policies page to reflect that I will no longer be taking part in blog tours. Though I can see their value from a publisher’s point of view, the deadlines they impose directly affects my reading and reviewing by causing me to shuffle my review queue. This is turn is unfair to those authors and publishers with whom I have already made a commitment.

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    • I was expecting a lot of disagreement about this post as I know many bloggers participate in tours. I’ve been heartened to see many comments in support. I think as they’ve become the go to medium for promotion, bloggers are becoming more of a cog in the marketing wheel with less thought and appreciation from some that this is not a job for bloggers.

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  9. I’m so late in coming across this post (typical me!) so sorry for a very delayed response. I have agreed with pretty much everything you have said. I have been trying to cut down on blog tours over the past few months and keeping it to an independent publisher whose books I love as they are so varied and to some whose authors I am a huge fan of. My main problem is guilt about saying no, which is ridiculous, and then guilt over the amount of books I have to read but haven’t got around to due to blog tours! I think for independent authors and publishers if all of the reviews are put on Amazon and Goodreads then that is great but I totally get your point about the length and getting bored of seeing the same thing over and over. I find I rarely read reviews as often they are on books I’m going to read myself and I don’t want my opinion to be sub-consciously swayed, if that makes sense. I also have the same feelings towards blog tours that are hosted by blog tour ‘companies’ and do sometimes wonder if goodwill is being used for somebody else to make money? But then I guess the same can be said of the publishers themselves. I have to admit to feeling irked when I have spent the time on a blog tour and all it involves and the publisher doesn’t even acknowledge your input. Maybe that’s just me. A very well written thought out post which I have to say I agree with. All I need to do now is get better at saying no…

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