As COVID persists, prolonging closures and social-distancing restrictions, the publishing world soldiers on, continuing to churn out books on roughly the same schedule as in normal times. I feel for the authors, especially the debuts, who have the mixed blessing of their books being released under these trying circumstances, but here we are. As with life in general right now, I think it’s important to count our blessings and look for solutions to the setbacks we’re facing. Here are some tips and examples to help you promote your book during quarantine.
Remember not too long ago, when we were all saddled with the new requirement of getting and maintaining websites and social media accounts in order to hopefully sell more books? That is now our lifeline, an infrastructure ready to support us. Keep that in mind when you’re saddled with the next evolution in communication—it could become what saves you.
My biggest piece of advice when it comes to social media has always been to not spread yourself thin by trying to be on every platform. Find out which few work best for your books, your abilities, and especially your audience, and aim to be a rock star there. If you’re writing DIY nonfiction, YouTube is your audience’s go-to. For fashion or lifestyle, your audience is on Instagram and Pinterest. Invest your time where it will pay off, and build your presence there over the long term.
Then it’s as easy as leaning into what you’ve built. Most social platforms now allow for ways to directly interact with groups about specific subjects, whether you’re hosting a party on a hashtag, posting to an opt-in group, or what I recommend, livestreaming. It’s easier than you’d think, and chances are, you already have a webcam built into your computer or smartphone (if not, you can get a great plug-and-play cam for less than $50).
As of now, livestreaming is the best way to replicate that feeling of being in the room with your audience, whether it’s a neighborhood bookstore, a private book club, or a classroom in another country. You can see each other’s reactions, call on people for questions, and have a conversation in real time, just like with an in-person event.
Kerry Lonsdale, has been doing a lot of this to promote her new release, SIDE TRIP. On publication day, she talked about her book and answered questions on Facebook Live. She appeared on Beyond the Book with Julie on Instagram Live. She was a guest on Publishers Weekly’s new Books on Tap Live program, which streamed on Facebook, YouTube, and their website. You only have to look at the Events page on her website to see how she has adapted.
If you aren’t into social media, or if you’d like a change of scenery, there are plenty of other tools at your disposal, even just for video chats. Zoom, Skype, Twitch, and Google Meet are all great resources with their own abilities and quirks. And not everything has to be on camera. Julie Kagawa rocked a Reddit AMA, completely text-based and outside of the social media ecosystem. Call into a podcast or start your own. There’s so much available for you.
Regardless of your preferred method, I suggest looking for opportunities to increase your reach by sharing the stage. This is an old strategy from traditional book tours, where a handful of authors in a given genre will co-host events in hopes of sharing (and growing) their audiences. You can do that virtually as well, whether you partner with another author, an industry professional, or even a company. Shannon Doleski had her launch party for MARY UNDERWATER on Zoom with fellow debut Loriel Ryon, hosted by fellow MG author Kit Rosewater. Julie Kagawa had public Twitter chats with her agent, Laurie McLean, and the YA SFF subscription box company, Fae Crate. See how they’re collaborating to reach their respective audiences?
As you connect with your audience, remember all that goes into the experience you’re virtually replicating. Folks don’t go to events just to hear the author talk. They want books! Consider your virtual event and what works best for you. You could gift ebooks, use Goodreads, or mail personalized physical copies to contest winners. You could partner with your local bookstore and help support them as well. Arrange to sign their stock ahead of time, and name them as the official vendor for your event. Or even participate in an event for them. Lots of local indies, especially now, are hosting virtual author events and then selling the books for them. This is how we maintain a strong community during tough times.
See how your community is evolving, and lean into what fits. MariNaomi took part in Socially Distant Comic Con via Instagram Live, which was not only a great way to connect with fellow comic creators and fans, but as a charity event, it helped raise money for BINC Foundation’s efforts to help ailing indie booksellers (donate here). Lots of cons are going virtual, and pro-tip: that often means they’re lowering ticket prices, too.
Likewise, see how your publisher is evolving (yes, publishers evolve), and angle for the appropriate resources. Kerry Lonsdale recorded some videos for her publisher’s new YouTube series. Macmillan Kids just started hosting virtual writing classes held by their authors. It seems like every day now that the trade news reports a publisher’s new initiative. See what yours has to offer.
Get creative and think outside of the box. You can livestream a writing session or tell ghost stories around a virtual campfire. Kerry Lonsdale shared a Spotify playlist for her new book. Patricia V. Davis is allowing her fans on Twitter to help name a new character. A central rule of your online presence as an author is that the majority of what you say should not be, “Buy my book.” Have fun connecting with like-minded people.
And while you’re being creative, don’t lose sight of the tried-and-true opportunities that aren’t as affected by COVID, like writing freelance articles or using your newsletter. Toby Neal has a great newsletter, if you need an example, and it has really helped her in recent months.
In short, don’t worry. You can still promote a beach read when the beaches are closed, you can still reach a crowd when we’re all distancing, and just because we’re all stuck at home doesn’t mean we have to be alone.