Hey there! My name is Jenna, and I’ve been hosting bookish blog tour stops here on Westveil Publishing since the summer of 2020. Beyond that, I have nearly two decades of experience in web development and social media outreach behind me, and I’m a life-long bookworm. I’d like to share my thoughts on the good and bad I’ve seen so far in indie book marketing and give you some pointers.
Social Media Presence
If you want to connect with your readers in the 21st century and you’re not yet “big” enough to justify passing off the social media relations to an assistant, you should commit to interacting with your audience through at least one social media platform. This doesn’t mean just self-promoting with link drops and teasers for your book, though this is definitely a valid and important part of keeping your book circulating through all of the algorithms out there. The key, though, is to participate in discussions. See a conversation go by in your news feed that interests you? Respond! (And don’t turn it into an advertisement.) A reader shares your book and you see it? Reply to thank them. You don’t have to be on social media all the time, you don’t have to entertain private/direct messages if you don’t want to, and you don’t have to hold weekly “ask me anything” sessions or anything crazy like that; just participate when the opportunity arises and be positive toward your fan base. People don’t want to follow an account that just puts out ads.
In terms of which platforms to participate on, that’s up to you, but the best ones for the bookish world are still Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Of the three, if you’re only going to keep up with one, I would recommend Twitter and add to that learn how to use appropriate hashtags to get your posts seen by the right people. Twitter is active, fast-paced, and easy to grow on. Unlike Facebook, it doesn’t suppress users who aren’t paying to be seen, and unlike Instagram, it doesn’t require a backlog of appealing images to use for every post.
Video platforms like YouTube and TikTok are great too, but don’t rely on those unless/until you have a large subscriber base. Though they’ll deny it, YouTube doesn’t do much to promote content from channels under 10,000 subscribers, so you still need your other platforms to spread the word. TikTok videos that don’t receive thousands of views per hour quickly fall off the suggestions pages. These are not great places to use as your primary platform when you’re just starting out. These are great places to build a secondary following, with or without the hope of turning it into a primary following.
LinkedIn is a professional networking site (or at least it’s supposed to be.) It’s not meant to be just another Facebook. People who don’t have career goal reasons to be there aren’t there. Use LinkedIn to connect with fellow writers, with publicists and agents, etc., but don’t go looking for readers there.
Pinterest has the potential to be a great traffic driver if you know how to work the system, but it’s a steep learning curve. Use it if it works for you.
Blog-based social media networks like Tumblr and Live Journal have loyal hold-out followings but aren’t extremely relevant today. I wouldn’t recommend pushing this sort of platform unless you are using it as your primary blogging platform and want to direct your audience there for blog content. These are probably not the sites to rely on for discovery.
You need one! If you don’t have one, get one. This doesn’t have to break the bank. A free account on WordPress or Blogger will do just fine! Make sure it’s named something relevant to your name (or pen name), your self-publishing company name, or your book series. If you go with the book series name, keep in mind that including unrelated books may feel out of place so you may be boxing yourself into just one series. And no, your readers don’t want to check different sites for each different series you eventually put out. Not unless you’re writing drastically different things with pen names.
The reason having a website is important is because this is your hub, your central place everything should connect to, and the place you are completely in control of. Your Facebook page is not your website. Facebook can take it down at any time without notice or apparent reason. Facebook controls what sort of content you can post and how you can arrange it. Facebook holds your exposure reach hostage for advertising money. The same can be said for any other social media platform; these are not your website. They’re not yours. You don’t have ultimate control over what happens there. If your social media accounts get shut down, suspended, or suppressed, you want to have another way to communicate with your audience. Yes, on that topic, email lists are great, but allowing followers to subscribe to your blog works just as well. The people who are likely to open up your emails and read them are the people who will choose to be notified for each new blog post you make.
If you have social media accounts, link them on your site! Make sure visitors who land on your website can find your social media accounts. Ideally this should be done on some part of your website layout that is consistent on every page (most blog templates have options for this) but at the very least you should make sure they’re on your contact or about pages.
In terms of design, this doesn’t matter as much as some people will try to convince you it does. Intricately beautiful designs that someone paid a fortune for are nice to look at, sure, but minimalist blog templates are just fine. These are the things you need to keep in mind:
- Font face & size: Choose a font that is easy to read (script/handwriting/calligraphy fonts aren’t), choose a size that is easy to read on small screens, and keep contrast in mind. Dark text on light backgrounds, light text on dark backgrounds, dark on dark or light on light.
- Put your menu of links in a sensible place and always include a link back to home.
- Link to your socials.
- Never, EVER do what the link farm listicles do and turn the page background into one big link. Users need somewhere to click off whatever their cursor has focused on to allow for keyboard-controlled scrolling and navigation shortcuts.
Advanced tips & courtesy considerations:
- Include an “alt text” label on your images or a caption under them that is descriptive or reads out the text within an image. This allows screen reader software to inform blind users what the image is. (Facebook side note: The newish options that allow backgrounds and fun colours on status updates make your status unreadable by screen reader software. Avoid these in your professional posts!)
- Don’t hotlink! If you’re embedding an image on your page, save it to your computer/device and upload it locally to your own page. Do NOT use the image’s URL on another website. This uses the other website’s bandwidth (traffic allowance) whenever your page with the image loads. On a similar note, only use images you have permission to use. Just because it comes up on Google image search doesn’t necessarily mean it’s free to use. Pixabay is a great resource for free, rights-released images.
- Links to other pages on your own website can be allowed to open in the same window/tab. That makes sense, your viewer isn’t leaving your site, and if you make these links always open new tabs your user is going to get frustrated. Links off-site, even to your social media profiles, should open in a new tab so that your visitor doesn’t have to fight with the back button or their viewing history to get back to your site.
- If you are using WordPress and you are linking to another WordPress powered site, link to a specific post if at all possible. Many WordPress users turn off commenting on their pages, which means pingbacks to pages will also be turned off. Posts, on the other hand, are usually open for pingbaks. This means a link to your page or post appears as a comment on their post, and they get a notification about it.
Keep in mind that paid and privately hosted WordPress users won’t have “wordpress” in their URL (website address), but there are always clues. Look for a WordPress follow option, a WordPress login option for contributors or commenting, or even mention of WordPress in the layout footer.
Blog Tours & Media Kits
If you can afford it, hiring a blog tour company to arrange a tour for your book is a great way to get your book in front of a lot of eyes. Book bloggers want to drive traffic to their blogs, so they will work hard to spread the word about their stops on your tour. You’ll also automatically be in front of the eyes of everyone who follows their blogs as soon as their posts go live.
Each tour company is different, but to whatever extent you can control what goes out in the media kit, keep these requests from a frequent tour stop host in mind:
- We (usually) aren’t getting paid for this. Don’t be offended if we convert purchase links into affiliate links! I often see Amazon affiliate links in media kits rather than just the plain Amazon listing URL. Some bloggers aren’t going to notice or care and will leave it. Sorry, but I’m swapping them to mine. They’ll still go to your book, and since I want to maximize the chance that someone will use those links, they’re going to be bold and obvious!
- If you want us to mention other books that are not the focus of the tour, send the relevant cover images. We’ll probably grab them off Goodreads if we need to, but we very much appreciate the convenience of being sent everything we need, and whatever you send is probably higher quality than what we can find online.
- If Your Media Kit Is Written Like This With Every Word Capitalized you are guaranteeing that I will avoid your tours in the future, and if I get auto-added to your encore I’m not checking for updates in your author blurb, I’m just going to copy & paste the one I fixed the first time. This looks unprofessional and it’s very tedious to correct.
- URLs: Complete and consistent! Start with http(s):// for everything so we can copy & paste and have working links. Use https if it’s available for your link (all social media links are). The s means a security certificate is live and protecting collected data. (Tip: if your personal site doesn’t allow https, look into getting a free SSL certificate put in place. WordPress and Blogger hosting should handle it for you. If you are paying for private hosting then your tech support contact can help.)
- If your blog and/or newsletter are pages or prominent links on your main website then you really don’t need to request separate links for them in your media kit. Readers who are interested enough to click through to your website should be able to find those things on your site, and readers who aren’t interested in clicking through to your site probably aren’t interested in clicking through to your newsletter directly from my post either. (If these things are hosted separately and not easily found on your site, by all means, send links.)
- Calling back to the social media platforms section of this post, there’s really no need to send a link to LinkedIn in the media kit for your book tour. The audience you want to attract is readers, not agents or publicists. Furthermore, feel free to link to YouTube/similar if you have a channel, but don’t provide a link directly to a single video (especial one on someone else’s channel) as part of your “where to find me” author links.
- Bookbub author links are great if you’re going to have something listed with Bookbub during the tour. If it’s going to be a profile with no books linked, your potential readers don’t care.
- If you have an Amazon author page, please do include it! I’ll always put that link in if I can find it, but I’ve found sometimes Amazon doesn’t want to show it to me from your book listing even though the media kit has one so I know it exists.
- If you’re sending an author photo that’s actually a photo rather than a logo, please avoid sending photos that already have a frame added, especially if it’s a non-standard shape. WordPress and Blogger let us leave images in normal rectangular dimensions or mask them into a rounded frame, which means most of us have established a consistent look for our “meet the author” sections that include a nicely cropped square or circular image. If you’ve got oval, star-shaped or flower edged borders on the image, it’s going to look really weird when we crop down to a square and possibly force it into a circle mask. Look at how Facebook or Goodreads is going to crop the photo and submit one you’re happy with cropped that way.
Review & Feature Requests
If you can’t afford to hire a tour company or if you want to do additional promotion for your book on blogs, good news! Lots of us are happy to entertain enquiries. Keep the media kit tips above in mind when passing on information to the bloggers who agree to work with you. Below I want to talk about how to start your querying with bloggers and things to keep in mind once the conversation starts.
Contacting Bloggers – DO:
- Before you contact the blogger you’re interested in working with, make sure they promote books like yours, make sure they’re open to requests right now, and take note of how they want to be contacted. Most of us have an email designated and aren’t super happy about mysterious message requests from strangers on Twitter.
- When you do send that first email to a blogger, address them by name (don’t send the same impersonal form message to everyone at once).
- Keep track of who you’ve contacted! Sending an impersonal we’ve-never-spoken-before first contact greeting a second time if the blogger already responded once is a sure-fire way to get yourself on the ignore list. Especially if we’ve already accepted your material in some capacity. (Yes this happens.)
Contacting Bloggers – DON’T:
- Do not send a mass query email to multiple blogger contacts at once. This is impersonal, comes off as lazy, and has the potential to set up a situation where responding bloggers accidentally “reply to all” and spam each other.
- Do not start your query by asking for information that has been carefully spelled out on the blogger’s dedicated review policy or contact pages.
- Do not actually send the book in your query email to bloggers. This can come off as too forward/presumptive and it eats up storage space in our inboxes.
- Do not ask us to purchase your book in order to review it for you for free. There are nearly endless ways for us to get free books. Our reviews and promotional efforts help sell your book. We’re not here to pay you for the privilege of working for you. If we end up loving your book we may choose to purchase a copy after all, but keep in mind that you are contacting a blogger for help attracting customers, not to gain that one blogger as a customer.
- If you come across a blogger who does ask for payment (upfront, surprising you with is after is sleazy), do not clap back with an argument that the blogger is being paid in books. See the previous point, remember that books do not pay bills, and a blogger who has got to the point where they can demand a fee probably deserves an even higher one.
- NEVER offer a bribe for an insincerely favourable review, and NEVER drag a reviewer’s name through the mud on social media for giving a polite and constructive but low-rated review.
When the blogger accepts:
- If the blogger you’ve contacted accepts your review request, congratulations! What you need to do now is provide a copy of your book along with any media kit variety materials the blogger may wish to use in their review post. If you are able to send a physical copy of your book, most bloggers will be overjoyed about that! If not, we do understand.
- Books with many images (graphic novels, children’s picture books, etc.) should always be sent as a PDF.
- Books without images should be sent as a properly formatted mobi or epub file if at all possible, not a PDF, and absolutely not a Word document. Why? It’s possible for us to convert PDFs into ebook files, but certain formatting things aren’t convertible. PDF to mobi/ebook almost always results in weird line breaks where the PDF had a paragraph break, and if you’re sending the printing file with large margins and trim marks that can result in conversion software trying to interpret “images” it should be ignoring.
- If you are sending a physical copy of the book it is absolutely appropriate to follow up after a reasonable amount of time to make sure the book arrived. If it’s been a while and the blogger hasn’t let you know it arrived, by all means ask, they may not have gotten around to sending that email yet.
- If you and the blogger didn’t agree to a specific deadline for the review, a polite follow-up every once in a while might be acceptable, but don’t badger the blogger.
- If the blogger started/read your book and chose not to publish their review, they’re probably doing you a favour by not posting what would otherwise be an unfavourable review. Respect this and don’t push for a review you’re not going to like.
When the blogger declines:
- If you’re hoping for a review, understand that the blogger you’re contacting may not have room in their schedule or may not feel that they are the ideal audience for your book. This doesn’t have to be the end of the road! Be prepared to follow up with alternate requests or even present these options in your first message. Bloggers who can’t/won’t review you right now may still be willing to help you get the word out through other post types. Want a spotlight? That just requires passing on your media kit material. Want the blogger to interview you? Easily done, and you can even have a prepared set of questions and answers ready to pick and choose from. Want to write a guest post to be posted on this blogger’s site? Many of us are very open to that!
- If the answer is still no, respect that and move on.
- If you haven’t heard back from a blogger after a reasonable amount of time it may be a no and they struggle with declines, or they may have forgotten, or their spam filter may have eaten your message. Trying again once or twice after an appropriate cooling-off period is fine. Weekly messages until the end of time is a waste of your time and a good way to get your name on the ignore list.
Possible reasons for a decline:
- The blogger isn’t accepting new review titles right now.
- The blogger has read up on your book and determined it isn’t something they’re interested in.
- The blogger let their commitments get away from them and is now almost literally drowning in review copies.
- The preview material you sent was poorly edited and they’ve already decided they would not finish the full book.
- (Rare, not all bloggers) The blogger is uncomfortable promoting your book because of the cover (extremely poor quality, extremely graphic imagery, etc.)
Other things to keep in mind:
- If you request/push for completely honest, spare-no-feelings feedback, make sure you’re prepared for what you may hear and understand that not all bloggers will be comfortable providing that sort of feedback. Bloggers who are willing are not trying to hurt or offend you. You are free to disregard this feedback if you wish. Do not respond spitefully.
- If the blogger has to back out of a previously agreed-upon review commitment, recognize that we’re all human and sometimes life happens. Accepting this gracefully leaves the door open for future cooperation.
- The internet is full of creeps and Goodreads is full of people who mistook the site for a dating service. Be polite/respectful in your emails and avoid affectionate phrases such as “my dear” during initial contact if you do not wish to be mistaken for one of the aforementioned creeps and ignored.
- If you are about to contact me about being featured on my book blog and you not an author or working on behalf of an author then I don’t know why you’ve read this far, but please don’t bother.
I hope this has been helpful and I’d love to see more tips from other bloggers in the comment section!