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Crank Up That Computer – Virtual Book Tours Are Here to Stay By C. Hope Clark

You stand by your table, book in hand, smiling at the mother dragging a toddler as she walks into the bookstore. She smiles and moves to the children’s section. She’s in no mood to chat about a grown-up book. Then a teen strolls by, sees you wrote a mystery and turns away- not sci-fi enough for him. A guy seeks a sports magazine and someone else searches the $5 table for next year’s Christmas gifts. In three hours you sell three books.

But you wrote a book. Self-published boxes of them sit in your house, or your traditional publisher calls, demanding to know how you’ll sell the book under contract coming out in the spring. With too many books and too many authors competing for attention, how do you let readers know that yours is worth their attention and hard-earned dollar? Three dollar a gallon gas and hundred dollar motel rooms make tours financially tragic. Time to think efficiently and effectively; determine the biggest bang for your self-promotion buck.

Book tours have gone virtual, and authors spread their messages online to capture the most sales. A writer who does not have an online presence is no different from a writer who writes the book, sets it on a bookstore shelf and expects people to stumble upon it. You won’t make enough to pay for dinner.

Today’s authors scramble to become viral in their virtual book tours (VBT). The term perfectly describes the meaning of spreading the word through contacts, which spread the word exponentially faster. If you understand how a cold spreads through a third-grade class, you get the picture.

Professional public relations experts are selling their clients on virtual book tours. However, it doesn’t take a PR guru to put together the tour. Look at what Kevin Smokler does for his clients. He determines:

1. The audience for the book.
2. “What riches may be gleaned from it” for the public.
3. How the author’s web site can contribute or be improved for the tour.
4. What high traffic blogs and web sites match best with the book and its message.
5. When to send copies of the book to those sites.
6. Content that will accent an author interview, book interview or author essay.

Smokler sets up an online tour, giving his client a dossier containing the calendar timeline and what to expect on each stop, whether it be a real-time interview in a chat or a blog book review or a teleconference.

Penny Sansevieri manages Author Marketing Experts, Inc. and is widely known at writers’ conferences as the expert her title professes. Her Virtual Author Tour promises an author “will be featured on high traffic blogs, social networking sites, web sites and (syndicated) article sites.” She makes a remarkable point about VBTs you should remember: “Everything on the ëNet leaves a footprint, so unlike print media which is here today and gone tomorrow, your blog or discussion will stay on the ëNet forever.”

Just as authors are beginning to appreciate blogs and social networks through their VBTs, individuals are creating sites just for these VBTs. One such site is Virtual Book Tour de ëNet, managed by Karina Fabian. At The House of Blogs, you’ll find a huge array of blogs on publishing news, book reviews and literary commentary, many of which participate in VBTs.

Some VBTs include teleseminars where authors are interviewed during live phone conferences. Some even offer the book for sale with bonuses or discounts. As a minimum the audience is open to ask questions.

Nancy Mills is the owner of The Spirited Woman and offers the “Spirited Woman Circle Conversation Series.” Her monthly, live, one-hour chats involve such authors as romance novelist Carly Phillips, Sweet Potato Queen humor writer Jill Conner Browne and Oprah Book Club winner Jacquelyn Mitchard. Her 2008 series kicks off in March.

(Editor’s note: Website visitors have to pay to participate in and listen to the chats on thespiritedwoman.com.)

Thousands of these sites exist, thus explaining the reason many authors select PR specialists to create a VBT. While you may select a dozen book review blogs, do you know the traffic of these sites? Will they help or hurt your image? As Sansevieri emphasized, consider the quality of that footprint you leave across the web.

If you have the time to investigate these facts, you can create your own tour. You also can search for authors you respect in your field and notice where their tours touched down across the Internet, and add those sites to your VBT list.

While you are planning your tour, don’t forget that VBTs are more than blogs and teleconferences. They include chats, podcasts, web site articles, Internet radio, YouTube, MySpace and social networking communities. Anything on the Web counts. After all, when Harper Collins partners with BlogHer, a women’s blogging community, to promote their book releases and send free review copies to members, you know VBTs are serious business. It’s time to get on board this virtual train and let old-fashioned book signings fade into history.

C. Hope Clark is founder of FundsforWriters.com and author of The Shy Writer: An Introvert’s Guide to Writing Success (2nd Edition).