As newspapers have slashed book sections, we’ve been really lucky that blogs have allowed lots and lots of people to talk about books. At the same time, publishing houses can be tricky for bloggers to navigate (given that we ourselves sometimes find other houses — and sometimes our own — tricky to navigate).
Here are some suggestions for book bloggers looking to obtain review copies of books from publishing houses (and if you are a book publicist, author or literary agent, feel free to pass on this information if you find it helpful):
- Know your imprints. Contemporary publishing houses are behemoths made up of a number of different imprints (departments). If you are regularly reviewing and requesting books, it is important you learn who is who. In most cases, there is no one contact person (or email address) for Penguin or Random House or Simon & Schuster — you’ll need to distinguish between the different imprints and know who to contact. Also, remember that all Children’s / YA imprints are separate from adult imprints. Here are some links to lists of imprints and email addresses at some of the largest publishing houses:
Simon & Schuster (List of divisions and imprints — no emails listed)
- Include a buy link for the book and, if applicable, to the author’s website. Most book publicists don’t care too much whether the buy link is to a publishing house or to an e-commerce site like Amazon or Indiebound, but we do want to see a link.
- Feature the most recent edition of the book. Check the publication date of a book and the cover (and buy link) for the most recent edition of the book. It can be discouraging when we see a review a year after a book has been published … with no mention of the paperback. Keep in mind, too, that many readers prefer to purchase the cheaper paperback edition of a book, so this information is valuable for them, too.
- Feature your country’s edition of the book. Assuming most of your readers are located in the country in which you live (which is often but not always the case), feature the cover of and buy link to the book in the store in that country. So, for example, if your readers are primarily in the US, make it easier for them and feature the American edition of the book; if you readers are primarily in the UK, feature the British edition.
- Be mindful of the book’s on-sale date. In an ideal world, all reviews would be published on or around (within a week or so of) the book’s publication date. Although readers can preorder books, they often will not unless the author is well-known and the book is highly anticipated, so most early reviews don’t generate too many sales. We realize we cannot dictate when someone can run a review, however, but if the review does early, we do appreciate your making a note of this. (Also, keep in mind that just because you receive a finished book from us, it doesn’t mean it is available in stores — we receive finished books six weeks ahead of time and we send these books to journalists, bloggers and others who need to receive books ahead of time.)
- Request current / upcoming titles. In publishing, we’re focused primarily on current and upcoming titles. This means we often don’t have the budget to provide (complimentary) review copies of books that have come out years (or even months) previously. This doesn’t mean we won’t ever provide them — and you can always ask — but it does mean that you will need a pretty good reason for needing / wanting those older books.
Book publicists: what would you add? Bloggers: questions / comments?
An interesting discussion emerged on Colleen Mondor’s blog Chasing Ray a couple days ago about the blog book tour and in particular who schedules them and how they are set up. I caught the tail end of the discussion on Twitter.
Blog tours aren’t new — this New York Times article from a couple years back explores one author’s blog tour experience — and sites like Blog Book Tours or this post at The Dabbling Mum contain some excellent information about what exactly a blog tour is. But beyond that, I thought it might be useful to look at how blog tours are set up and how they differ from online publicity in general.
First, the basics: for those of you who attended the book blogger panel at BEA, you will have heard the blog tour explained as an author going from blog to blog (rather than from store to store as they would on a traditional book tour) which is a great, quick way to explain it. Depending on the author and the blog, coverage may consist of any of the following: book review, Q&A (either posted or live) or book giveaway and then I’m sure some bloggers have gotten creative and come up with other ideas. Blog tours, like traditional bookstore tours, will feature a designated number of “stops” — often 10 to 20 blogs — and can roll out over the course of a week or a month (or whatever other length of time that has been decided upon).
Here’s some more information about blog tours.
How do blog tours get set up?
Blog tours are typically set up either by the publicist of a book or by blog tour companies / coordinators. Since it takes time (and expertise) to schedule blog tours, publishing companies sometimes feel it is worthwhile to pay a third party — an online marketing company, a freelance publicist, a blog tour company, etc. — to set these up. (We’ve been doing this for years with the broadcast industry — we hire companies to set up a series of radio or TV interviews, also known as radio or TV “tours.”)
Although typically book publicists ask authors not to contact the media directly, different rules apply to (some) blogs. For example, Natasha from Maw Books Blog, mentions that authors sometimes contact her directly to schedule a “stop” on a blog tour. (Other bloggers may prefer to work directly with publishing houses — many bloggers will have information about how to contact them on their sites.) Sometimes, a group of bloggers may come together on their own and contact the author (or publishing house) to schedule the tour.
Regardless of who sets up the blog tour, the end result is the same.
What’s the benefit of a blog tour?
As with radio and TV tours, blog tours enable a book and author to generate buzz for a book without having to travel.
How is the blog tour different from online publicity?
A blog tour is simply one type of online publicity. One difference between a blog tour and online publicity in general is timing. Blog tours start and end on designated dates, the goal being to generate a certain amount of publicity within a certain amount of time. A general online publicity push, on the other hand, could start months (or weeks) before the publication of a book and could end months (or weeks) after.
Also, while the goal of online outreach is to generate any coverage of a book — from a mention to a full-fledged review or interview — blog tour “stops” will typically skew on the more robust end of coverage, e.g., a post rather than a one-line mention.
Are bloggers paid to participate in the blog tour?
No — paying anyone to cover any books would be unethical. (Paying for ads is a perfectly ethical practice, of course, but with PR, coverage — good or bad — should come free). To clarify — since this can get confusing — with blog tours (or with radio or TV tours), publishing houses aren’t paying bloggers (or radio or TV hosts) to cover a book; we’re paying someone to schedule the tour: finding blogs that would be appropriate for the book, arranging dates for the reviews / interviews, reporting back to us about who is running what when, etc. It’s like we’re paying a party planner to put together a party and the guest list (but we don’t pay guests to actually attend the party).
What’s in it for bloggers? They have to read the book and write a post and someone *else* gets paid for their participation?
Bloggers are never obligated to participate in a blog tour — like radio and TV hosts (or like bookstores), they cover books and authors only of their choosing and only when they have the time. If and when bloggers do choose to participate in a blog tour, we assume they are indeed willing to take the time to read the book and write a post because they are interested in the book and because it helps the blog (by, say, maintaining / increasing the audience), much like the way a radio host interviews an author because they’re interested in the author and it helps the radio show. (To get back to the party analogy, guests are welcome to accept or turn down our invitations, but if they do accept, they attend because they want to and not because we’re paying them to show up.) Just as some radio shows choose to find interviewees on their own and never accept pitches from PR people, some bloggers choose never to participate in blog tours and only write about books and authors they find on their own, which is fine — to each his own.
The blog tour coordinator (or the freelance publicist or online marketing company) only gets paid for being the liaison between the publishing house and the blogger — for doing the “party planning” that is involved in scheduling the blog tour.
Will all coverage in a blog tour be positive?
It’s understandable that authors who take the time and effort to engage in promotional efforts for their books don’t want to walk the online gauntlet. However, just as you can’t guarantee that a guest won’t get drunk and go on a rampage at a party, you also can’t guarantee that a blogger (or a book reviewer or a radio or TV host) will positively cover a book. Some may love the book while others may give it a more lukewarm reception — the hope, though, is that coverage will at least be intelligent, substantiated and thought-provoking. (This is where the expertise of the “party planner” comes in handy — they will find blogs where book coverage is intelligent, substantiated and thought-provoking.)
Some bloggers who find a book absolutely dreadful — or who feel so neutral about a book to the point of not having much of anything to say — may opt not to participate in a blog tour, but loving a book or author isn’t a prerequisite for tour participation. (I don’t think it should ever be a prerequisite — I don’t think publishers should try to steer coverage of a book beyond sharing our love for it — but should the author or publisher insist on the hagiotour, that should at least be made clear up front.)
I’m an author. Should I ask my publishing house to set up a blog tour or should I try to set up one myself?
First, it depends on the book — some books lend themselves to online discussion; others don’t. Also, what blogs are available in that genre? Are the blogs actively updated and is there a vibrant community of readers?
Second, it depends on the author — blog tours will be most successful if the author has at least some time to participate in either an ongoing discussion or at least to contribute in some fashion (for example, by providing a Q&A).
And lastly, it depends on the resources of the author and publishing house. How much time and / or money are you willing to spend?
How do you promote blog tour “events”?
Just as we promote bookstore events to try to get people to attend traditional author talks, we also want to drive people to blog tour postings. Participants in blog tours will often promote their participation on the blog itself as well as on Facebook, Twitter and other networking sites. Authors should promote the tour on their websites just as they would promote bookstore events. Also, keep in mind that the site Booktour.com can be used to list events for both IRL and online book tours.
Where can I find blog tour companies?
This list (in alphabetical order) is made up of companies I know of, companies I found on Google, and companies suggested by Facebook and Twitter contacts. (I haven’t worked with all of these people, so I can’t vouch for their services, but all reputable blog tour companies will provide details about their services and prices as well as references.)
If you set up blog tours and are not listed here, feel free to add your website in the Comments section, but please do not email me since I may not have a chance to post your information. Also, please only add your company name if you work on blog tours specifically(not in online marketing and publicity in general).
Have you participated in (or arranged) blog tours and if so, what was so your experience?
A few weeks ago, I posted some tips about how book bloggers can work with publishers to get review copies. Although the post itself was fairly straightforward, an interesting discussion emerged in the comments section. Sarah Weinman of Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind made a distinction between two “waves” of bloggers who write about books:
“Wave one are the ‘litblogs,’ the ones who are cited most often in mainstream media. The original bloggers who fit this bill include the Literary Saloon, Bookslut, Maud Newton, MobyLives (which has had several incarnations since), Moorish Girl and LitKicks. By the end of 2003 Ed [Champion] re-started his blog as Return of the Reluctant, I joined the fray, as did Old Hag, the Elegant Variation, Beatrice.com, The Millions, Conversational Reading, The Reading Experience, Bookninja et al. Many of us were either contacted by or solicited book review editors to write for their newspaper sections. There was a journalistic feel to many of the posts on said blogs, and a sense that the blogs were, and still are, a jumping-off point to professional writing.
“Wave two are the book blogs [of which] there are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples. The emphasis is less on ‘blog-as-professional vehicle’ and more on community, on having conversations about books, often active ones, with a small but devoted following of readers.”
I was fascinated by what Weinman and Patrick wrote because although as a book publicist I’m familiar with both the “old” (professional) and the “new” (community) book blogs, I’d never made the distinction between the two except when it came to figuring out whether to stick a blog in the “Lit Blog” or “Book Blog” folder in my RSS reader.
Why is this important?
What it boils down to for us in book publicity is how we pitch — and work with — these bloggers. The other day, for example, a book blogger asked if there was an appropriate “waiting period” between review copy requests. I nearly toppled out of my chair — you don’t get questions like this from someone with whom you’ve worked for years — until I realized that someone new to the book blogging scene would have no reason to have any knowledge about requesting review copies from publishers. (For the record, there isn’t a waiting period.)
Kassia Kroszer refers to a similar issue in her Booksquare post entitled “Bea 2009: A Bit of Deja Vu All Over Again” in which she wonders exactly how many times a BEA book blogger panel will discuss how bloggers can work with publishers. (This year the panel consisted of bloggers from Stephanie’s Written Word, Book Club Girl, Beth Fish Reads, Maw Books, Booking Mama, My Friend Amy and She Is Too Fond of Books.) For the bloggers who’ve been around since the Internet was invented — or at least since book publicists first figured out what a blog was — this panel was indeed what Kroszer calls “hallucinatory,” a bit like teaching a book editor how to, say, read. But for those bloggers who have only recently come to the book scene, the panel provided invaluable information. (For complete coverage of the SRO-panel, you can check #bbpbea or write ups at Edward Champion’s Reluctant Habits or Publishers Weekly. And Firebrand Technologies — best known for their NetGalley product — hosted both the old and new waves of bloggers for “signings” at their booth; Levi Asher of Literary Kicks lists all the bloggers who signed in his Book Expo Wrapup.)
The proliferation of book blogs has been incredibly beneficial for the publishing industry, providing those of us in book publicity with a new tool to promote books at a time when print publications have been forced to slash their books and arts coverage and providing readers with a wealth of information about books. But the evolution of the literary blogging community has raised a few issues that bear consideration.
In this recent Follow the Reader interview with reviewer Bethanne Patrick, who blogs at Still Life with The Book Maven and hosts The Book Studio, she explored the differences between what she defines as “professional” and “amateur” book bloggers. Many others have noted that not all book blogs are created equal, that some bloggers spend a considerable amount of time and care on their sites and others … not so much. I’ve never distinguished between “amateur” and “professional” in the past (although I do recognize “well written” and “not well written”!) but I imagine this will become a recurring issue as more people jump into the game.
Also, with a limited number of promotional copies of books at our disposal, the widening array of literary blogs means book publicists, now more than ever, must pick and choose who receives complimentary copies of books. Recently, one publicist — the recipient of repeated requests from a blogger who asked for dozens of books (yet failed to share a website) — sent in the following suggestions.
First, reviewers — both for print and online outlets — are not guaranteed review copies. Publicists receive a limited amount of promotional copies to mail out at their discretion.
Secondly, depending on the book and the department, publicists may select reviewers based on the circulation and the overall reach and prestige of the publication (online or off) or of broadcast outlet. For online review sites we look for statistics including the following:
- Number of unique hits/page views per month for the blog, NOT the host site (like Blogger or WordPress or Blog Talk Radio)
- How often content is updated—daily, weekly, monthly, etc.
- How many registered users are on the site’s mailing list
- Alexa or Technorati ranking for the blog, NOT the host site
- User comments, i.e., evidence of a vibrant, interactive online community
There’s very rarely any one magic number or cutoff for determining who receives books. Most book publicists recognize there are any number of factors that must be examined to determine a blog’s popularity, several of which are listed above. (It’s also important to note that book publicists hold print journalists to similar standards. There are, for example, a number of print reporters — from large, prominent organizations — to whom I never send review copies because they have a habit of requesting virtually all titles in a catalog, yet repeated Google searches reveal no reviews or author features.)
Publicists — what else do you look at when determining whether to send a review copy to a blogger? And bloggers — how do you toot your horn?
For more information about receiving review copies of books, you may want to check:
Following up on my Sending review copies of books to bloggers post from yesterday, below is some information that book publicists find helpful to have about book bloggers. We realize that some bloggers prefer to remain off the grid — and bloggers, you are free to provide as much or as little of the following information as you’d like — but for those who would like to cultivate relationships with publishing houses, you should know that the more information publicists have, the more likely we are to engage with you (and, equally as important, to pitch you appropriate books).
Email: *Include this separately in your electronic signature. Don’t assume it will appear in your message because it doesn’t always.*
Brief (one or two-sentence) site description:
What types (genres) of books are you interested in?
How do you “use” a book — reviews? Author interviews? Giveaways?
How frequently do you cover books ?
Best way to pitch you a book — do you prefer to receive email pitches first? Or would you like to receive unsolicited review copies?
Snail mail address (if you would like to receive unsolicited review copies):
All publishing houses use media databases, so the key is to get your information in there so you needn’t provide it every time you request a book. (However, keep in mind that large publishing houses employ hundreds of publicists spread out over dozens of departments. You may work regularly with one publicist; it doesn’t mean that everyone at the house will be familiar with your work or will be looking at your record at that moment in time.)
Publicists and bloggers — let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to see (or if there is information here you think is unimportant and should not be shared).