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There is a new site up advertising blog tours for children's book authors. The pitch is that authors will pay a certain amount to have a number of bloggers all post about their book over a two-three day period. Here's what you get for your dollars:

There is another kind of blog tour–the kind we do here–where we have fifty or more bloggers all linking to the same book for two or three days in a row. We use a special Amazon link that Technorati reads. This causes your cover photo and link to be listed on Technorati's "popular books� page.

This kind of saturation creates a different kind of buzz than the leisurely blog tour where you visit one blog a day. It's like the difference between several weeks of light rains in the morning and one day of hurricane rains. Which one do you notice? We need the constant light rain, and we'd notice if we didn't get it, but the hurricane often receives more attention on the evening news.

Blog tours have been around for several years so that part of this concept is nothing new. But being paid to do them - and having fifty or more blogs in a few days all reviewing the same book - is something I've never heard of before. My concern is that if authors actually end up paying for this service and if a bunch of bloggers are actually willing to conduct reviews in this sort of noncreative, literary machine-gun form of mass reviewing, that readers and authors might wrongly think all other tours operate in the same way. When it comes to the SBBT and WBBT this could not be further from the truth; here are just some of the the many reasons why:

1. The blogs who participate in the SBBT & WBBT choose the authors and books themselves. There is no direction from anyone - not from me, not from an author and not from a publisher - as to what authors we choose to interview. The goal of the SBBT & WBBT is to interview the widest group of authors possible - all genres, all ages, appealing both to straight and gay, male and female, multiple ethnicities and locales. We do not have any idea if Technorati scores are increased by our interviews and honestly - we don't care. The goal is to bring some attention to the work of authors and illustrators whom we personally and individually admire and that is all there is to it. (I can't stress enough how individual this process is - there are always several participants that I've never even heard of and it's pretty much that way for everyone else as well.)

2. No one gets paid. Let me repeat that, no one gets paid. It's not that I don't think reviewers should not be paid for reviewing (I quite happily cash my checks from the ALA every month), but it is hard enough for bloggers to gain any sort of respect from print reviewers so when you throw in even the hint that compensation might be involved with establishing a blog tour, it just makes us look like gullible amateurs who are so excited at the thought of earning a few bucks (or a free book) that we will review something we don't care about. You all remember the dreaded "we can't be bought for cupcakes incident" don't you? That's what I'm talking about.

3. It's about more than the blog hits. When we do the interviews for the SBBT and WBBT we put a lot of time into them - anyone who has seen and read those posts knows this. We link to each other so all of our readers can easily see what other interviews are being conducted that day. If we get brand new readers out of all this, well cool but that's not the point at all. Each one of us does this whole blogging thing for a different reason but at the end of the day, we work hard on the tours because we consider ourselves to be professionals and we want the respect we believe a certain level of professionalism is due. When you organize a tour for money and then pay dozens of bloggers in books with the expectation that they simply say something about the book on a specific day and the payoff is hits well, that's no different than everyone showing up in class wearing the same Coca-Cola t-shirt. You might have gotten a free shirt and now all your friends know you like Coke (if you in fact really do) but otherwise - I'm not seeing much. I'm seeing a massive example of group-think as directed by someone else. If you really wanted to exercise your opinion on something would you agree to do it the same day as fifty others just so you could show you're all on the same mailing list? Is a free book really worth that much?

We don't think so, and we never have. (And please - fifty people writing about the same book at the same time? Do you really think they are all going to have something original to say? Not bloody likely.)

I'll be honest here, this whole concept - of authors paying someone to organize a blog tour in which the ever grateful bloggers simply get a book and then write about it on an appointed day as assigned by the folks making money off the deal - really really bothers me. It makes bloggers look cheap ("will write for books" or "will review for hits") and as it is something that would not happen in print it seems to bring all of us in the lit blogosphere down a serious notch. For those of us who have worked our collective butts off to gain some respect for this medium, this seems like a blow to all we have accomplished. I certainly understand someone trying to make some cash off of authors willing to pay it but I don't like it. Sometimes just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

We continue to be independent in every way, shape and form at the Summer and Winter Blog Blast Tours. I realize that might frustrate some authors who would like a quicker way to get exposure but that's just not the best way for us. I hope everyone can understand, and more importantly, respect our position.

comments

wow. who knew? they contacted me to join up and i found it odd that i would be chosen when my technorati rating "wasn't as high as they'd prefer." i didn't investigate deep enough to see what was really involved because it seemed a bit odd and, honestly, i'm working with enough blogs that i *want* to be involved in without joining some massive group-think.

thanks for the head-up on this.

As a publicist, the first red flag that went up for me when reading this post was: WHICH blogs will be part of the tour?

There's a burgeoning belief in the blogosphere that if you start a blog and hit up a publisher for free books, promising a "review," they'll send some freebies your way. But, for the most part, I treat a blog as I would nearly any media--long lead magazine, short lead newspaper, etc.--I would scope out and consider sending a review copy to. I want to know what their reach is, who their audience is, and what the credentials of the "reviewer" are. This isn't meant to belittle blogging. If anything, I think it treats blogging as a serious media and, as such, gets subjected to the same rules I use when trying to pick the precious few places I send a galley to.

If I were an author considering this service--especially something I'd spend money on--I'd be asking these hard questions. Who is the blogger? Do they have a background in reviewing? Literature? How many hits do they get a day? Who reads this blog? How many other people link to the blog? I know that the great thing about the blogosphere is that it's democratic and anyone can have a voice. But if I'm shelling out money for essentially paid placement, I need to know there's the potential for readership, not the often wrongly conceived notion that if it's posted on the net, it has a readership.

I'm not against the idea of someone taking money to set up a blog tour. There are many honest, independent publicists who get paid to do just that: set up book signings for authors, pitch the book to various media, and represent an author's work. They might contact a blog, offer a review copy, but then all they can do is cross their fingers that the blogger likes it enough to mention it. The problem is that it's hard to guarantee the work. Publicity isn't like marketing that has a tangible end product: you pay for an ad, you see an ad. Publicity means sending out a hundred pitches and hoping that just one person says, 'Hey, this is pretty cool. I want to write about this.' The idea that there's some sort of "guarantee" your book will hit on all these blogs simultaneously is fishy at best.

Thanks for posting about this, Colleen.

I am so happy that Brian F. sees blogging for what it is. Gives me hope :)

Yes--kudos to Brian F., and kudos to you for posting about this and writing so clearly and enthusiastically about what the SBBT and WBBT offer.

I would love to see a list of those "guaranteed" blogs. Most of us would immediately delete them from our bloglist.

I've been out of the loop a few days traveling, but I'm equally horrified at this idea. Fledgling authors know about vanity presses -- pay to be in print. It would seem that any author would also be leery about pay to be praised. I'm hoping that the authors involved in this are involved via their publishing house's PR directors, who maybe think this is what we all do. Thanks, Colleen, for saying this is NOT who we all are...

Thanks for all the comments guys - I have seen on a few other web sites comments about not being paid at all for reviews. I do get paid at Booklist and anyone writing for PW or Kirkus or wherever should get paid as well - whether or not they are a blogger. So I'm not against getting paid to write book reviews. I don't think this issue is about being paid to write a book review though - it's about paying for exposure, and compensating people with no proven track record of writing and reviewing at all just to mention their book.

I didn't get a job overnight at Booklist and there's a reason for that - there's a reason why you have to prove yourself worthy over time for doing the job.

I don't think it's fair to judge something like this just on the fact that they are paid. As a publisher I have paid for a blog tour on a different network in the past. The fee was for the effort of coordinating the tour, not for the reviews themselves, and the network went to quite a bit of effort coordinating the tour among their members and posting wrap-up posts. The reviews themselves were not all positive; most were well thought out reviews that praised the good points and pointed out things that they didn't like. One reviewer flat-out didn't like the book. So there was definitely no bias.

I don't know anything about the new site you mention here, and certainly as a publisher or author I would want to do some due diligence before signing up. Certainly the way they worded their message above does make it seem a little gimmicky. I'm just saying that we shouldn't automatically assume that there's bias - or even an appearance of bias - when money changes hands. Sometimes a payment is just for a service.

As I explained in my second point Sheila, I'm all for reviewers getting paid - I get paid from Booklist all the time. But in this case, to pay someone to organize a tour that is set over a three day period - with everyone reviewing the exact same book - and then not paying the people doing the actual work in anything other than a book, well, I'm sorry it does seem like more of Ed Champion's "virtual sweatshop".

And I completely see that the folks could write negative reviews but I don't see how between 50 and 100 blogs writing on the same book at the same time can write something new about it. (I see the timing as part of the problem because it's not like writing about a book six or eight months later when there might be interviews, etc., to draw further from.)

And it's hard for me to believe that if negative reviews are common this site will stay in business - and it's all about a business, not some one-shot deal.

The money is only part of the issue for me, as I explain above (it could be more of one for others and I leave that to them). This just is not a blog tour as it has existed for several years on the internet - it is more of a blog spam and it's sole goal (as explained on the site) is to increase Technorati numbers for one specific book over a brief period of time. It cheapens what a lot of folks have been doing for some time and working very hard at doing well.

I just don't like it Sheila and I guess we'll just have to wait and see how it pans out.

I'm sorry for misunderstanding your points, Colleen. To some extent I disagree with you about the timing issue; I think having many reviews in a short period of time can help to increase awareness of a book, although I do agree that 50 to 100 in 3 days may be a little much. I don't see how the timing should cause a problem with reviewers having something new to say; each of us takes something different from a book, and I'm always amazed at things that other reviewers pick up on that I might have missed when reviewing a book. To some extent, it's just what many publicists try to do - generating buzz through wide exposure in a relatively short time frame - taken to an extreme (and I guess the extreme is what you're objecting to).

I do agree with you, though, on the Technorati thing. It sounds like a variation of the old link farm scheme to increase a web site's Google ranking. A true blog tour should be focusing on discussing the the book and the author, not trying to artificially raise a book's ranking.

I have not used the service. But I have seen the site. From what I could see, it looked like the author would pay the organizer of the blog tour. Not the bloggers themselves. As an author who recently organized a blog tour of nearly 200 reputable book review blogs for my new fantasy series, I wouldn't be opposed to hiring a service to do the legwork for me.

I easily invested 200+ hours finding bloggers and contacting them to see if they wanted a copy of my ARC. I specifically asked them to spread the reviews and interviews out over the two months before my books comes out to avoid the problem of over saturation. If someone else already had the contacts and coordinated the whole thing it would have saved me a lot of money. I’m not sure I see the difference between that and using a PR person or agency to send ARCs out for print reviews.

I would be very concerned about paying anyone to review my books. There is a difference between a for profit publication (print or electronic) paying a reviewer, and the author or publisher paying the reviewer. How could I possibly expect an unbiased review if I paid the person to review my book?

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts about an author organizing a blog tour. Do you see this as an inherently bad thing?

I'm not against authors doing blog tours Scott - I participated in Margo Rabb's tour for her last book and I think she's awesome. I decided not to participate in conventional blog tours a while later though because along with several other bloggers I was finding that everyone was asking similar questions or writing similar things - that's why we came up with the Summer & Winter Blog Blast Tours which gave us the chance to interview multiple authors over a week and thus give readers a lot of unique content to choose from.

But that's just me and I have seen some blog tours that are very well done. Here's the thing about this new tour deal though. First, the organizer is getting paid to set it up and the bloggers - who are doing all the writing - are getting paid nothing. As I explained in my post, that is not how it works in bookstores. Note also that she is inviting bloggers to sign up and once she has them, she's done. There's no hunting down sites to write about a book like those 200 hours you're talking about. So the work she is getting paid for is to hold a list of contacts and then let her bloggers know what book they are reading and what day they are writing about it. That's not a lot of work, compared to what they are doing.

The other thing is that I hope you found sites that were appropriate to your book (they covered that genre or age group) and that had a decent readership. This is where a lot of authors get in trouble - not all blogs are equal and that's just how it is. She could end up with 100 blogs over there who collectively have 300 readers on any given day and half of them might not ever read certain books (again, genre age group) or - quite frankly - they might not know what they are doing as far as reviewing. (I have no idea at this point and no one will until she has her final list posted.) You could be paying for a similar paragraph or two written fifty times at blogs that few people and carry little credibility. if that's how an author wants to spend his/her money I guess I should say fine, go do it, except in the end a lot of authors seem to think that all blogs are created equal and that's my main issue.

There is no quick and easy way to find the right blogs to cover your book, or connect with the bloggers who can write you solid worthwhile reviews. It just takes a while, and I hate to see some authors get taken advantage of and not receive an honest return on the dollars they put forth.

That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the great feedback.

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