Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Feature: Leveraging Book Review Blogs and Interviews for Promotion

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

In general, this is advice for authors (or their publicists) who a) already have an established audience and b) have an Internet presence on some sort (blogs, Facebook, etc.). I don't proclaim to be an expert however so your mileage may vary.

This is an essay on marketing yourself but there's one point about marketing that I want to stress. People in general (unless they're your die-hard fans or you're Oprah) don't value your opinions about your own work. That's why writing a review of your own book is frowned upon. Or why the opinions of a hundred strangers in Amazon have more bearing than your own, no matter how talented or knowledgeable you might be compared to them. Or simply why blurbs are used in promotion, and why they don't come from yourself or your mom.

This generalization is what fuels book reviews and interviews (whether print or online). It's one thing to be featured in your own site, it's another to be featured elsewhere. This also prevents most authors from conducting interviews with themselves (it's not quite taboo and some have actually done it but for the most part, it's not practiced).

Book reviews and interviews are typically publicity for the author. It's a chance for your name and book to get "out there." Typically, there are two venues in which people want to receive such coverage:

1) Within your field/genre - this is coverage in the market you specialize in. If you're a science fiction author, your book gets reviewed in a science fiction magazine. In many ways, you want to focus your energy here because it's your core audience, and where your market will most likely hear about you or your book.

2) Outside your field/genre - this is coverage in other outlets. If you're a genre author, this might mean a feature/review in your local newspaper, or the famous Oprah. On one hand, you might actually broaden your audience. On the other hand, the publication's audience might not be so receptive.

Writers and publicists will typically work some percentage of these two venues, with some preferring to focus on one or the other. When one gives out review copies of books or accepts interviews, it's a good idea to pay attention to which of the two categories the website falls under, and how it aligns with your overall marketing plan.

Having said that, let's go into book reviews and interviews itself.

Should authors give ARCs and conduct interviews in the first place?

It seems like a fundamental supposition but the question needs to be tackled. As noted above, it's usually publicity for the author and the book. I also want to stress the fact that what you should be focusing on is the cumulative effect of book reviews and interviews. A single book review (unless it's from Oprah) or interview won't make or break you. As a reader, what finally convinces me that an author is worth considering is when I hear about them for the nth time. For the same reason, you want as much coverage about yourself as you can get, in order to attain that "cumulative" effect.

Having said that, there are reasons that prevent you from distributing that many ARCs or conducting that many interviews.

The first variable is time. One can only write so many letters inviting book reviewers to review your book or to conduct a lengthy interview. In the case of the former, if you're mailing the copies yourself, that's another time sink. In the case of the latter, scheduling the interview (time and place) might be another hassle. A balance must be struck between promoting yourself and the rest of your life. Perhaps you can devote a set number of hours per week in marketing yourself, and stick to those hours.

The second variable is cost. In the case of book reviews, you only have so many ARCs to give out, and finances to ship them. Fortunately, there's also eBooks but a) not all book reviewers accept eBooks and b) your publisher might not want you to give them out.

So obviously, there is a finite amount of reviews and interviews any author will receive. Which is why the second question becomes important.

What are the venues in which I should prioritize book reviews and interviews?

You will have a hierarchy when it comes to which publications/sites you prioritize and it's a good idea to think things through (as opposed to blindly sending out ARCs to the first person who asks for them).

High-profile publications/sites have more readers or target your core audience (or possibly target an audience outside of your field/genre). Some authors go for brand name (it's Locus Magazine!) but it's also a good idea to investigate their actual metrics (how many visitors do they get, etc.). The problem with the popular venues however is that they might not necessarily have the time to actually read and review your book. Or that they might be covering so many books/features/news that your review/interview doesn't get the limelight--at least opposed to a less-popular venue.

For the same reason, smaller, less-popular venues (again, feel free to inquire about their metrics) are worth considering. Depending on how you communicate with them, you have a better likelihood that they'll review your book and conduct an interview with you. You might also be occupying a significant portion of their content for quite some time (i.e. their front page for a week).

There's no hard and fast rule on which is better though. Sometimes, you might be getting just 1% of the audience of a very popular site (let's say it's BoingBoing and let's assume it has 100,000 readers--1,000 new readers ain't bad) vs. 25% of a not-so-popular site (a conservative estimate of my blog's readership is 250 a day so that's 63 new readers assuming my stats are correct).

Why should I invest time in low-profile publications/sites?

Now this is really the topic I want to talk about.
  1. The review/interview isn't just used for exposure, you can use it for reference. You can cite it in your website or in your Wikipedia page, or even as a blurb.
  2. You can promote the review/interview through your webpage. Sometimes, whenever I run reviews or interviews, the authors/editors I profile link to my blog entry. I get a sudden surge in visitors. While that's not automatically beneficial to me as a blogger (I don't keep the visitors), it's beneficial to you, the author, since it still means more people are reading the review/interview, even if they're already your existing fans (retaining your existing fans is another problem you have to contend with and constant coverage can help with that). The website might not be popular but if you're popular, you can make that interview at least equal to your popularity (if only temporarily). For example, if the said website has 200 readers, and your blog has 1,000 readers, the review/interview can theoretically have 1,200 readers (assuming there is no overlap or that everyone actually visits/reads the link--which won't happen).
  3. My readers, those that aren't necessarily your readers, hear about your work.
  4. My site might not be popular, and yours might also not be, but news aggregators might pick up on the book review or interview. For example, my blog might not be as popular as I want it to be but when I do interviews, SF Signal typically picks it up and I get a sudden surge in visitors (actually clicks varies depending on who I interview).
  5. It pops up in search engines and it typically makes a good impression when people Google your name.
What can I do to help increase my visibility?

These are the actions you can take to help your promotion:
  1. In the case of websites that review/interview you, ask if they could link to your website. It gives curious readers an accessible venue to learn more about you.
  2. Get a tracker. Well, you can do all the promotion you want, but if you have no way of tracking which methods are effective and which aren't, you're simply being inefficient. A tracker can provide you statistics on how many visitors you get from websites, and give you much needed feedback on which venues or techniques work and which don't. External websites might not share their visitor information with you, but that doesn't mean you can't track those that visit your website (and why the first point is important). For similar reasons, subscribing to Google Alerts and Google Analytics is helpful.
  3. Promote the review/interview in your social media networks. By promote, I mean mention it somewhere, at least once. You'd think everyone would do this but that's not the case. Think of it as a courtesy call to your fans, informing them that there's this interview of you available here. Whether you want to promote negative book reviews is up to you as long as you're consistent (so either promote all the book reviews you come across or just the positive ones, but don't make exemptions--it gives mixed messages; I do advice on the former though rather than the latter).
  4. Create a site that keeps tabs on all your published reviews and interviews (preferably on your website).
  5. Periodically check the said review/interview and leave a comment. By that, I don't mean you patrol the review 24 hours a day for the rest of your life, but checking up on it within a week of its publication is a good idea. Don't leave a comment for the sake of doing so, but it's usually a good idea to thank the reviewer for taking the time to review your book, or answering further questions/inquiries that might arise from an interview.
  6. If you're coming out with a new book, it's a good idea to create a schedule promoting your book. You usually want to start a few months before the book gets released then build up to its launch date--although that's not a hard & fast rule. Some authors have approached me and other bloggers to write reviews or publish interviews on the book's launch date. Others have a more chronological method (starting with January then progressing from there).
Like any endeavor, there will always be exemptions to the rule but hopefully these are good guidelines. What other suggestions or feedback do you have when it comes to book reviews and interviews?

1 comment:

Heather Massey said...

Great post! (I'm surfing in from SFSignal, btw.)

Especially for authors writing in niche genres, I think it's helpful for authors to tap into online communities/blogs that support that kind of work. Contact those bloggers and let them know about your work, because they will often work harder to promote you than your own publicist, if you even have one.

I run a blog on science fiction romance (if I may be so bold). I don't do reviews, but I feature author interviews and all kinds of blog posts based on the books I read in this genre. I do my best to find new books/debut authors, but sometimes it seems as though some books are hiding under rocks.

I'd encourage authors to be proactive in seeking out blogs that are big fishes in a small ponds for niche genres. As a result of my blog, I've had the wonderful opportunity to provide exposure in other venues (i.e., high traffic blog communities, a major romance magazine). So those "small" blogs can can often provide a fair amount of coverage. It's something to try, anyway.