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 libre.fm and mymustreads.com 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.
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.