Reporting Lives

Is there value in a 'Virtual Book Tour'?

So. As my regular (imaginary) readers know, I'm trying different methods of marketing to see what will gain me traction as an author, what will "Build My Platform", find me readers to buy my books and increase the size of my audience.

Here's what happened to me. 

I paid "Free and Discount Books" $60 to promote my book launch of "Shooting Stars". Well, $30, actually. I paid them another $30 to promote my Kindle Count Down of "Flypaper Boy" which occurred at the same time. I got ZERO benefit from it. Okay, part of it was my fault. I got stupid and set my countdown deal to start at 8:00 am on that Monday. According to their site, I needed to start it 12 hours before they were supposed to begin advertising, or I would be S-O-L. Lesson learned.

For Shooting Stars I was supposed to get Tweets throughout the day from their site and their sister sites, thus going out to hundreds of thousands of "Readers". I never saw any tweets. I did twitter searches on my name, the books name, their website and found nothing to do with me or Shooting Stars.

The following day I get a Direct Message from asking me if I wanted to bring my book out of obscurity. What author would not? So I asked what guarantee they had that they would do any better for me than "Cheap and Discount" did. Her eventual response was, "Do you have any books?"

I noticed a tweet that they were looking for bloggers to participate in virtual book tours for some of their authors. I figured this would be a good way to observe someone else's success before committing my own cash. And, hey, they give you the book to read, free. So I signed up to read, "Reporting Lives." EBP asked me what day I would like to post my blog. I said either the 12th or 13th. They gave me the 12th.

The cost is $295 and EBP will provide you with five days of blog posts, interviews and reviews.

Feb 11th was a special day on this tour as the reviewer was Sam G. an "Amazon Top 1000 Reviewer" scheduled to share his or her reviewing magic. After a little research, the honor became a little dubious to me, as Sam G. writes only 5 Star reviews. and wrote three others 5 Stars on that same day. It appears that Sam G. reads 24/7 to be able to write so many reviews. Maybe he/she listens to one on audio while reading another. Maybe he/she listens to two at the same time. I was hard pressed to read the entire book in 10 days, on top of a full time job, caring for family and trying to promote my own work at the same time. Sam G.'s got the skills.

I noted the Amazon Kindle standing of "Reporting Lives" was around 300K at the beginning of the week. I'm familiar with the place. It is truly 'obscurity' and the place from which any author would want their book brought from. On the day of my blog post, I had a Kindle Unlimited Download of "Shooting Stars" and it moved from 300K to 133K (Not exactly 'out of' but definitely 'Less of' obscurity . A single download moved me almost 200K ranks. I watched "Reporting Lives" walk consistently back up the ranks to around 400K as of this writing. My guess is that the only obscurity "Reporting Lives" was brought out of was from the books "Gifted" to the people volunteering to read it for the 'Virtual Book Tour'.

I was told to make sure my post was up by 9:00 am eastern time, on the day I was scheduled. When I was sent the schedule they had put me on the 10th instead of the 12th. I was graciously moved back. I was also told that I should expect to see visits to my sight before and after the scheduled day. I did. I had several visits the three days before from three different ip addresses referred from the author's site, which were all close enough together to have been the same person. I assume this was the author, checking to see if the post was up yet. I posted my review on the afternoon of the 11th. That ip address visited once more after the post and never returned. That's cool. She wanted to see what I'd said. The day of my post, a link on the "Elite Book Promotion" site went active. I got two visits to my site on the 12th directly to the blog post, from twitter, and one today. Two came from EBP.

The EBP site is fairly unimpressive (he with a really boring site says). Every page has the same heading, a huge graphic for EBP. On my laptop, that's all I get--their emblem and links to other pages. If I didn't scroll down, I would never know I was on a different page. I would expect to see the latest and the most important information at the top of each of these pages, like, the daily promoted book, links to videos, what book is on tour, etc. Not their overly large self.

In conclusion, you may ask, "Would you pay $295 real dollars to have your book take a virtual tour?" My answer is virtually, "No way in hell." Another question is, "Was participating in the book tour beneficial?" My answer to that would be, "No and yes." While the book cost me nothing, I spent 10 hours reading it and two hours writing and editing my review, and working with it on my blog. This is all time I could have been writing, recording my podcast, or promoting myself. For my time I got, possibly, one Kindle Unlimited Download and no remarkable increase in visits to my website.

But! Learning that there is virtually no value in a virtual book tour by EBP has saved me a real $295 knowing that they will not bring my book out of obscurity. It's up to me.

"Reporting Lives" - A Book Review

'Reporting Lives' is Debra Picket's fiction debut. She is a long-time writer and award-winning reporter/columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2004-5 she made a series of trips to East Africa to cover the response of the Chicago philanthropic community to the AIDS pandemic and subsequent orphan crisis there. While there, she began developing the idea for this book, which is largely based on her experiences.

'Reporting Lives' tells the story of Sara Simone, a twenty-something single woman and reporter for a local Chicago television channel. She is tall, attractive, and emotionally crippled. As a reporter she's intelligent, intuitive, and extremely confident to the point of narcissism. We never learn if her emotional unavailability is due to a tragic family accident which occurred during her college years. She does mention feeling some guilt for choosing not to accompany her parents on their tragic journey, though the author never ties that into Sara's inability to commit to a relationship or open up honestly to friends or co-workers. Perhaps her behavior is a result of parental unavailability, as she was raised by two highly successful and driven professional parents.

Regardless, it is this lack of human connectivity which sets her up for a fall on an assignment which has lead her to the slums outside Nairobi, Kenya.

After a bus load of Kenyan exchange students die in a fiery crash on a Chicago freeway, Sara is sent to Nairobi to get video of the families' reactions to the loss of their children and brothers. Sara has the unique ability to draw out this type of story. Things don't go as planned and she spends two months traveling the countryside--not quite breaking through her own emotional walls to find meaning to the abject poverty all around Kenya, and the root of her uncharacteristic response to it.

While Sara seems to wander through the story, passively bouncing from point to point--even her crisis in the Mathare slums seemed randomly inexplicable, out of character, and lacking remarkable impact--the strength of the author's prose and African experiences come forward to win the day. 

Descriptions of Nairobi and later at a hotel near a game preserve came alive for me. I had spent a few years in South Africa during its financially independent and economically robust period during apartheid, working in the townships of Soweto, Chatsworth, and others of the Bantu Tribes and mixed races. Then, returning decades later to find a struggling economy with many of the opulent hotels and businesses in disrepair, or boarded up, many of the scenes described in this novel were particularly poignant. There, in the hotels and restaurants, is where we meet the many characters which make this story grandly diverse.

Though Sara Simone never came alive to me as an empathetic and active character, many of the secondary characters did. Trisha, Simon, Vince, even Mr. Handleburg, and many more all came to life with depth and personality. Finally, Ms. Picket's skill with word craft brought the scenes to life--from a horrific accident on a rain-slick Chicago freeway to the desolation of the Nairobi slums, and the marginal existence of post colonial, and post embassy bombing, Kenyan tourism.