Book launching in the time of COVID-19 #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

My beloved critique partner is launching her debut right now. She came up in the query trenches, won herself a spot in a competition for editing services, got herself an agent, and then, reader, she landed herself a two-book deal with Amazon imprint Thomas & Mercer. This post is dedicated to Elle Marr, whose thriller THE MISSING SISTER is launching April 1, 2020, and to all the other authors launching books in the time of COVID-19. My academic and professional background is in marketing and fundraising, so gather ’round, my wonderful scribes, and I’ll tell you the secrets to marketing during a pandemic.

Here’s the reality
1. In times of economic uncertainty, those of us in the 99% won’t spend our discretionary income as easily. And because employers are cutting hours and jobs, fewer of us have discretionary income to speak of at all right now.
2. Social distancing is critically important, and it’s going to make it hard or impossible for you and your potential readers to attend in-person events.

And here’s my list of ideas for book launching in the time of COVID-19

1. Start a promise-to-buy-when-times-are-better list: I might not have money to spend on your book right now, but I might be thinking, I really do want to read this; I just can’t afford to right now. Why not ask readers like me to sign up for a ‘Promise to Buy When Times are Better’ list? People are wary of signing up for newsletters, so be clear that when the economy is trending upward again, you’ll send those who sign up one email reminding them they wanted to buy the book, then you’ll delete the list. Sure, potential readers are allowed to change their mind, but a lot of readers will keep their promise as long as their finances permit. This is a similar concept to pre-ordering on Amazon, because Amazon typically doesn’t charge you until a book’s actual release date, meaning concept buy-in will be easy for readers familiar with pre-ordering.

2. Make the best of a canceled book tour: remember that bookstore tour you’ve been dreaming about since the first time a relative lavished exaggerated praise on your unedited draft? That bookstore tour, if it’s supposed to happen in the foreseeable future, is going to be filled with cancellations, and the stops not canceled aren’t likely to draw a sizeable crowd, because so many people are rightfully social distancing. First things first: if bookstores are canceling, push for postponements instead and offer to share an event with other authors, because by the time social gatherings are green-lit, bookstores are going to have a backlog of authors with canceled in-store events as well as all the newly launching authors to fit in where possible. There are also opportunities to get face to face with groups of readers online. Partner with the bookstores you were going to be speaking at anyway. I see indie bookstores on Twitter getting innovative with how they’re going to generate revenue during this period of social distancing, so they’re ready for you to pitch them a video-conferenced reading/Q&A event. And since you’ve gained back travel time, might as well put more effort into that virtual book tour you’ve been slacking off on. There are paid services that will organize a tour across book blogs for you, or you can plan your own by reaching out to bloggers. Either way, it will end up looking something like this (scroll down to see author Jacqui Murray’s most recent virtual book tour schedule.)

3. Make it easy for readers to social media your book cover without the actual book cover: it sucks, but readers wary of how long COVID-19 can live on certain surfaces, even those readers who prefer physical copies so they can post beautiful pictures of those beautiful physical copies on social media, are probably dusting off their e-readers or those e-reader apps on their phones and tablets. A big problem with e-reading and audiobooking, though, is that it’s harder to take social-media-worthy pics of devices. If you don’t yet have one, it’s time to get a Media & Reader Resources page up on your website. Throw up pictures of your book, pictures of you with your book, pictures of your dog eating your book; just throw up enough pictures so that readers have a variety to choose from, and so they can post about your book multiple time if they want to. Square is the best shape in terms of social media optimizing, and check out the #Bookstagram hashtag on Instagram for inspiration. Make the pics as beautiful as you can make them given your skills and camera phone, but give yourself a break if you don’t have the same equipment and bookish accoutrements as the bigger bookish social media influencers. And add a link to the page close to the first and last pages of your e-book. Feasibility on this next idea is going to vary, but for those readers who want to be able to photograph your book but don’t want the immediate risk that at the moment comes with buying a physical copy, give them a free temporary or permanent e-reader copy with their physical copy purchase. That way they can read the book now and take pictures of it to post on social media later, because they’ll have a guarantee their book will ship to their home or local bookstore when it’s safer to do so. If your first thought is, I can’t give away an e-copy AND a physical copy for the price of one physical copy, then please move immediately to your second thought, which should be, selling books this way for the time being is more than selling no books at all. If you’ve got time, you could also start a promotion where readers can request a photo of you holding in one hand your book and in the other a chalkboard (or whiteboard or felt letter board) with a personalized message to the reader. “Thanks for reading, Barack!” You know, ’cause you’re ambitious.

4. Collaborative marketing, collaborative marketing, collaborative marketing: budget and work-sharing for marketing, this is not a new concept for authors, whether it be trading space in one another’s e-newsletters, group costing for promotions, or throwing an author Facebook party. The thing about marketing tactics, though, is that most work better when they’re novel to your target market, before tactic fatigue sets in, so, yes, look at collaborations on tested tactics like those listed in this point, but think about how else you can collaborate. Once upon a time, author Facebook parties were the new thing. Be the author that starts the next new thing. Your readers are hopefully spending a lot more time away from public spaces, which for many means more reading hours have opened up, so maybe think up a way, together with a group of authors, to create and trend a hashtag on which you can encourage reading challenges, run a read-a-thon, whatever, but also incidentally promote your book launch. As I write this, #StayTheFHome is trending on Twitter but #StayTheFHomeAndRead is wide open with zero tweets.

5. Audiobooks and e-books as gifts: those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 are being told to stay home and not take visitors. In lieu of a visit, perhaps they’d like an e-book or audiobook, and you have just the one. By the by, sites like Indiebound and and offer ways to shop for digital books directly through your local bookstore.

6. Innovate, innovate, innovate: got a novel but ethical idea to market books within the constraints of an economically faltering and social-distancing society? Then oh my god, do it already.

The title of this post, Book launching in the time of COVID-19, is superimposed over a photo of my critique partner Elle Marr holding her debut novel, The Missing Sister.

About THE MISSING SISTER by Elle Marr: Shayna Darby is finally coming to terms with her parents’ deaths when she’s delivered another blow. The body of her estranged twin sister, Angela—the possible victim of a serial killer—has been pulled from the Seine. Putting what’s left of her life on hold, Shayna heads to Paris. But while cleaning out Angela’s apartment, Shayna makes a startling discovery: a coded message meant for her alone… Alive. Trust no one.

Taking the warning to heart, Shayna maintains the lie. She makes a positive ID on the remains and works to find out where—and why—her missing sister is hiding. Shayna retraces her sister’s footsteps, and they lead her down into Paris’s underbelly. As she gets closer to the truth—and to the killer—Shayna’s own life may now be in the balance…

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.

Are you launching a book this year? What are your concerns? Chat with me in the comments.

61 thoughts on “Book launching in the time of COVID-19 #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. We need to help each other as much as we can – I’ve shared Elle’s book with my Twitter network and will feature The Missing Sister on my log on April 1st 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I saw on Twitter today an announcement of an author signing with a lit agent. I definitely think you still should. My theory is that lit agents will have more time in the immediate future to work on manuscripts of new clients.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great ideas, as always, Raimey. I’m going to share this with the She Writes and SparkPress authors who are launching next month. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First off, I am going to pre-order your friends book, right now. What a great story idea! Second, I really love your tips and I have never thought of a Media and Resource Page. I’ll need to add that when I redo my website.

    I love the idea of a “Promise to buy when I can list” and I think that’s smart thinking and considerate of the author to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Solid ideas all around. I think it’s often easy to trip on “what was planned” and lose sight of other possibilities. In times like these, plenty of people are going to be looking for things to read, watch, and listen to, and many have more free time to get creative. Someone could create a short story or two, perhaps using the backstory of minor characters from a recent novel, as a way of engaging audiences and creating something that can be “given away.”

    I saw a news story recently where many musicians who planned to be on tour have begun streaming live performances from their homes.
    We’re rather fortunate that despite this unfortunate turn, most of us still have electricity and telecommunications, and we live in a time where live streaming and uploading place very few restrictions on how people can interact without ever leaving the privacy of one’s home.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. One of my old mentors used to say “If you aren’t comfortable giving away the whole novel, create something smaller that you are comfortable giving away.”

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Innovation is really the key. Which is kind of what marketing is about anyway–figuring out how to reach people and cut through the noise, right? I feel bad for the authors with releases right now, but this may end up making them wiser and savvier in the long run maybe. Great ideas here, Raimey!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great tips, especially a promise to buy list! Creating pictures for social media is a useful tip for those who only release eBooks too: Quite a few of the review copies I get are eBook only but it’s harder to show them off in reviews!
    Good luck with your release day Elle 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I never thought a promise to buy list, but that is a good idea. Times are getting hard and money will be tight for most with hours being cut. Best of luck to your friend and her book launch. I never thought about a media page for my website either. I’m no photographer so I figure most bookstagramers are better at shots than I would be, but it could be helpful. Though being indie, I’m not all that sought after, so not sure how much those pics would be looked for/used.

    thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Congratulations on your critique partner’s book launch. This is a challenging time to launch a book, especially for those who’d had in-person launches lined up, but there are creative ways to get the word out, and I wish her great success!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great ideas and thanks for sharing. My book is scheduled for a September launch so we will see how the world looks then. In the meantime events, I was to attend have been cancelled. However, social media is still a great way to connect.Will escape into the Rocky mountains for an isolated writing weekend and work on my manuscript.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Not sure how much it will help but just sent out a tweet about the release.
    And one thing that I don’t think you mentioned; I’ve seen some authors do an animated book trailer for their new releases.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. A few authors I follow are in this same boat, and especially with conventions shutting down, I’m really concerned for how they’ll do. I know they’ve all been working really hard to do a lot of the things on this list–I just hope things will get better soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks for this post, Raimey! In these trying times, it’s all about innovating. It’s inspiring see all the creative ways writers, performers, and artists are continuing to get their work out. I really thought that ebooks were falling out of trend, but this might be their time to shine as book stores and libraries are closed.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. No kidding! Elle’s book sounds exciting. All the luck with this launch and the book. Thanks for all these great ideas for marketing our books, Raimey. I’ve noted them. Stay safe and be well.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I guess we could see this as a learning experience. At the same time this is such a crazy world we’re living in, maybe we can all look back and tell others we not only lived through it, we launched our book. Who knows???

    Liked by 1 person

  15. These are great tips, Raimey. I hadn’t thought about the issue of the virus spreading on books and how that might impact preference for e-readers. I hope Elle’s launch goes well. Thank you, as ever, for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Kickin’ post, and congrats to your partner! I’m praying the indie bookstores get through this. One of my favorite things to do on the planet was peruse used book stores, and I’m ITCHING to get to one. But money, um, kind of an issue. I’m just thankful libraries in Wisconsin will be sort of open in a few days, allowing people to curbside borrow. Do you have any suggestions for authors working with libraries for some promo-type events? I probably missed it on your site…


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