Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Beyond Words and Stephanie Manning

Today I'm interviewing amazing book reviewer and multi-site blogger, Stephanie Manning, to talk about her new venture, Beyond Words Book Tours. Because Stephanie loves books and authors so much, she has decided to begin her own tour and author promotion service. Authors will want to take advantage of these early months as she gets her service up and running, because her pricing is extremely reasonable right now. Take a look at her pages and see if something might work for you.

I first met Stephanie when she won a copy of my book, Healing Notes, in a Goodreads giveaway just before Christmas.  Unlike most readers who win a book, Stephanie went the extra step and also wrote a review for my book and posted it in all the places she has access. As if that wasn't enough, she also read the first book in the series, Undertones, AND posted a review about that as well.

What impressed me about Stephanie was that she set herself a goal, communicated with me about it, told me when she had completed the review and then actually posted the reviews in all the places promised.  Though my book has been out to lots of readers, and lots of friends, absolutely no one has gone to this extent and Stephanie didn't even know me. 

So, when she mentioned she'd had a dream to be a book blogger and help authors with promotion I was quickly on board.  She had already demonstrated her organizational skills and follow-through. More than that she is truly a sweetheart of a person. So, I asked if she would be willing to be interviewed on my blog and answer questions readers and authors would want to know. Of course, she said yes. (huge grin of thanks from me).


Tell us a little about yourself, your background in blogging and what you do for fun.

Well, I’m a mommy, a wife, a 9-1-1 dispatcher, and a reader by choice. I also enjoy freelance writing, which progressed into blogging. I have written over 400 articles, run three blogs and two websites- all on a variety of topics. The majority of my articles are focused around gardening and books.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized that there are thousands and thousands of book bloggers who enjoy reading and writing as much as I do. I decided to join the book blogging community and haven’t looked back.

After just a couple of reviews I had a few authors contact me directly to ask me to review their books. Now I get several requests a day and the obsession has grown from there.

When I’m not working, reading or blogging, you can usually find me in the yard tending to my flower beds or in my greenhouse. I have to be careful in my greenhouse, though. I have found that it is a great spot to read when it’s not too hot here in Florida. I can sit in the greenhouse for hours and read, especially on a rainy day, listening to nature and getting caught up in a great book.

I know you as a book reviewer and reader, what made you want to start offering book tours and author promotion?

I have always enjoyed planning events. Whether it be a charity benefit, a car show or a local expo, I have done it, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Mainly because I enjoy the ‘community effort’ involved to make these events come together and help someone in need.

After hosting book tours on my own blog I knew that I wanted to take my book blogging to the next level and start planning book tours myself. This would allow me to keep up with my own book blog, work with awesome tour hosts, and network with authors and publishers to plan a great virtual event.

There are a lot of virtual tour operators out there, what do you think you offer that is different or better than others?

I have hosted several virtual book tours and have several more scheduled over the next few months. One thing that I have noticed about all the tours I have seen or hosted is that they always seem to be about one specific book . Of course there is nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to also offer a variety of new ideas for services such as author promotion. I don’t believe I have ever seen a tour that showcased the author overall. With that in mind, I started thinking of how I could promote an author and still help them sell their books. That’s when the idea of the Author Spotlights dawned on me. 

The Author Spotlight will allow the author to go on tour to promote themselves as a brand. Not just their book. Allowing them to feature themselves during a tour would help to keep them in the spotlight while gaining new followers, readers and increasing their sales, even during their down times where they haven’t written a new book lately.

I also wanted to include a tour page for each tour, not just a blog post. I know most tour operators create a post and then link to it for promoting and scheduling. I actually prefer a professional looking page that includes the tour schedule, author photos, social media and website links for the authors, buy links for their books and anything else I can include that is related to the tour. This allows for easier promotion of the tour for both the hosts and the authors. 

It also allows the author the chance to connect and make sales prior to the tour and after it is completed. The tour page will remain on our site indefinitely, unless the author requests it to be removed.

I also decided to include an Author’s Page under our clients list. Every time I set up a virtual tour for a new author, I will create an Author’s Page to help promote the author specifically.  The page includes the author’s photo, bio, currently published books with buy links, social links and more. If they have video book trailers I will add them as well. It’s just another chance for our authors to network with our readers and promote themselves and their books.

Are there certain types of books you will be focusing on for tours? Or will you take on anything?

I plan on featuring all genres of books, both fiction and non-fiction. I don’t see a need to limit the genres, though I know some tour operators do, with good reason. Finding hosts for childrens’ books and non-fiction can be a challenge. That’s one reason I try so hard to focus connecting with blogs that feature a variety of genres. The more tour hosts we network with, the more successful tours we will have and the more we can offer our authors and publishers.

One of the things I look for in a Book or Author Promo Tour is the types of bloggers willing to host and their reach to readers—blog followers, twitter followers, etc.  Do you have any minimum requirements for your bloggers regarding followers?

Yes, and no... I don’t ‘disqualify’ anyone from being a tour host, as long as they have a legitimate book blog that is well-written, follows FTC guidelines, and active.

I do, however, place my tour hosts into tiers. The highest tier being 1000+ followers and the lowest tier being under 50 followers. When promoting a tour, I send the invite out to the highest tier first, allowing the hosts with the most readership to sign up first. After a week or so, I move on to the 2nd tier, and so on. This allows me to fill the tour from my highest level tier and reach a greater audience.  Followers, quality posts and recent activity are a few of the factors I use in considering host placement.

I didn’t feel it was right to automatically throw the ‘little guys’ to the curb. I, too, like every other book blogger out there, was a ‘little guy’ once. After just a week of book blogging I was signing up for tours that would be ready to host in a few weeks. I do believe this is one of the contributing factors that encouraged me to keep going and helped me increase readership on my blog.

How far in advance should people contact you for your services? Are you booking out a long way at the moment?

To insure a great tour, it’s best to have at least a month to plan and coordinate with the hosts. Two months is better, especially for a tour with 30+ stops.  I have pulled a recent tour together in about two weeks, though I will not guarantee that I can do that every time.

The more notice I have, the more time I have to insure quality posts, find great hosts who want to review, and coordinate guest posts and interviews. In addition to planning, I have found that hosts tend to opt for reviews more often when they have ample time to prepare.

Anything else you would like us to know about you and your new venture?

First off, I would like to thank you for the interview and all of your helpful input while building my site. My site and the services I offer at Beyond Words Book Tours is still very new but I aim to please. I will be updating the site over the next few weeks and adding more services as well. I am always open to new ideas and constructive feedback. I welcome authors, publishers and tour hosts to the opportunity to share their input for new ideas.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview, Stephanie!

If you are an author, I hope you will take a good look at Stephanie's services at Beyond Words Book Tours. If you are a reader, I highly suggest you join her blog at Stephanie's Bookshelf and see her down-to-earth, no nonsense reviews.  Then follow her tours for lots of chances to meet new authors, reconnect with your favorite authors, and to win some magnificent prizes. I predict she is going to get some great books and a huge following in a short period of time!


Evelyn Bohn said...

Cool! I'm heading over to check out the reviews on the bookshelf blog.

Stephanie Manning said...

Thanks for having me Maggie. It has been great reading and reviewing your books, doing the interview and getting your input on my tour site!

Paty Jager said...

Maggie, Thank you for introducing us to someone who will be an asset to the whole reader/author community! I'm headed over to check out your site as well, Stephanie. I love the author tour concept since I write in multiple genres.

Judith Ashley said...

Beyond Word Book Tours looks like a quality service. Thanks for introducing Stephanie to us!

jamie said...

Maggie, thanks for bringing Stephanie into the circle. I have a question though. As a tour operator how can you insure hosts actually review the novel(s)? I haven't done a tour yet, but will in the near future, and I've heard that getting book reviews -- even the tours where the author is essentially buying reviews -- can be difficult. When I asked one operator about this she said she'd get the reviews if she had to personally hunt down the hosts. Like I said, I'm still new to this.

Maggie Jaimeson said...

Hey guys, I'm going to use Stephanie too in a couple months when I want to tour just for my brand and not a specific book.

Jamie, good tour operators have a relationship with their hosts and DO track them down to ensure they do the reviews and get them posted. When I toured with GoddessFish, their policy was to do multiple reminders to hosts and have them verify, by email, they were on track. They also had a policy for posts having to be posted by 4am Eastern Time. Someone from Goddessfish checks every tour post scheduled that day at 4am and immediately contacts the host if it is not showing, as well as contacting the author.

I'll let Stephanie answer as to her process. But I suspect it is somewhat the same. I can say that in any book tour where I asked for reviews (I've done two now with two different hosts) I've never had the host fall through or refuse to post.

As a tour host for GoddessFish and now for Beyond Words, I can tell you that there has been one time when I did not post a review. That is because the tour operators also ask that you not post DURING THE TOUR (you can post after the tour is over) if you cannot say good things about the book. My personal rule is if I can't give the book at least a 3 on my 1-5 scale, then I don't post. In that one situation, I let the tour operator know a week in advance so she could schedule someone else if she wanted/needed.

The one time I couldn't post it's not that the prose was bad or that grammar was horrible. It's because the story structure was all narrative "telling" and in a family saga sort of way. I just didn't connect with the characters, the story, and felt it had a lot to be cut. I probably would have given it a 2. Fortunately for that author, other bloggers felt completely different than me. The author ended up getting a lot of 3s and a couple of 4s.

So, bottom line, it's a matter of selecting a tour operator who knows her bloggers and has a relationship with them where they feel comfortable keeping in touch and posting well in advance.

Karen Duvall said...

Great blog and interview, Maggie. I'm sold! I contacted Stephanie today. Thanks so much for introducing her to us. I'm passing out her name and services to other authors I know.

Stephanie Manning said...


That is a very good question-

I think a lot has to do with the fact that I don't 'ask' anyone to review. If they like what they see they ask for the opportunity to be able to review- which shows their genuine interest in the book. Secondly, I make sure that my hosts know that if they are unable to post a satisfactory review then they should notify me immediately to change their stop to a promo, interview or guest post.

Since the tour is obviously for positive publicity the last thing we want to do is promote a negative post. I can honestly say that just last week I was attempting to read a book and couldn't get through it. I notified the tour operator immediately and switched my post.

I think it goes without saying that most tour hosts enjoy hosting and helping promote authors/publishers and are genuine about it. I think it just comes with the territory. Of course, since there is the chance that a host wouldn't enjoy the book, it's always good to 'over book' the amount of reviews. Say you were requesting a 10 stop tour with 5 reviews, I would be sure to book 6-7 reviews just in case one fell through. With that said, I don't see that being an issue as many tour hosts see the opportunity that lies ahead for them being able to promote their blog as well as the book.

As for making sure they post, Maggie is right. Posts should be posted by 4 am. That gives me time to get up, check to make sure the post is there. If it's not, I have time to track them down (virtually of course) and see what happened. Rather they forgot, the scheduling didn't post, or if they just didn't want to do it anymore. I always have a 'backup' post ready to put on my personal blog in case needed. My main website is set with the tour page but can be edited for the new hosts in about 2 minutes. Any links following the blog would immediately show the new post as if it had been there the whole time. Long story short- it will go off without a hitch. :)

If you have any more questions, please feel free ask!

Stephanie Manning said...

Mrs. Paty & Mrs. Karen, it has been a pleasure working with you ladies! I am excited to work with both of you.

I will be putting your banners and pages together this weekend and will let you know as soon as they are ready for approval. :)