As authors we know all about what goes into writing a book in the first place, right? You may be a writer who plans out everything down to the semicolons. You may plan only the broadest strokes and rely on your improv capabilities to fill in the rest. Both of these are valid methodologies for the writing of a book.
But for the launching of a book there really is only one option. You need a PLAN.
I’m in the middle of this process right now, and I am reminded of the old adage “no plan survives contact with the enemy“. Six months ago, my team and I had pitched some ideas, set some early wheels in motion, sussed out a few venues and conferences. Then in February….
And so our promotional plans no longer fit the new normal, we had to rethink everything. This is what the Silicon Valley crowd call a “pivot”. A pivot is what you do when either your business idea proves to be untenable, or your market gets eaten by a newer, sexier market. It’s a response to the fact that your business plan, whatever it may have been, is now well and truly f*cked. You collect all your resources. You sit down and have a long uncomfortable talk with your engineers and investors and marketing team. You hike up your skirts like you’re walking through a swamp with no borders and you make a change.
The same thing applies in publishing.
It would be one thing if we could have retooled our launch plans towards a known end, but even now there is still a massive amount of uncertainty. It was entirely possible that all the stay-at-home orders could be lifted and all the in-person opportunities will be available again. It was also entirely possible that we’d be stuck in a fresh round of lockdowns because of the secondary spike in new cases that always seems to accompany an epidemic.
So how do you plan for Schrodinger’s book launch?
Your first step is to get on a video call with your team. Zoom, Hangouts, Rooms, whatever you all have access to. All these apps are easy to get at and they have been kind enough to lift their 30min time limit for the freebie versions. Which you’re going to need. Because your team is awesome and once awesome gets to brainstorming it’s really easy to lose track of time.
You’re going to want to pull apart the old plan and figure out every bit that can still stand on its own two feet. Booked on podcasts or vlogs? Great! Those likely won’t be cancelled. Are there podcasts you WANT to get booked on but haven’t pulled the trigger yet? Don’t wait because now *everybody* is switching over to digital.
The next step is to find all those holes in your plan that would have once contained physical, face-to-face interactions and look at how those can be done from the relative safety of your own home. Videoconferencing is seeing an unprecedented rise in use and what this means is it is now super-duper easy to get started, and if you are having trouble, there are now tons of resources available to help you out.
Right now all of those physical locations, all of those hand-selling opportunities are up in the air. But, whereas 10 years ago, all those opportunities would quietly disappear (along with any press for your book) now the entire world is interconnected. So the first piece of your re-design is to lean in to the virtual opportunities you can find. And if you are having a hard time finding ones to participate in, then you are absolutely free to create your own (there is no content-gatekeeper on the Internet).
You can host a kaffeeklatsch, and get a round of authors you know to do the same. Talk to your favorite bookstores and see about hosting readings or interviews. In fact most of the things that you might do in the “real world” to promote your book can, with a little cleverness, be replicated in a virtual environment. And, as a bonus from the fan point of view, where you once might have had to sit in the back of the room and strained to hear the words, or waited in a forever line to get the signature, you now have the equivalent of a front-row seat.
Readings that once took place in quiet bookstores on sunny weekend afternoons and murky evenings are now being broadcast live on the internet, and as such are bringing in more people than they might have as real life events.
You can absolutely argue that “the real deal“ is always the best option. Getting to meet your favorite author face to face, getting a wet-ink signature right away on a copy of the book you bought right there in the store are powerful draws. They create an innate, physical, connection to a time and a place and a work and an author. But those connections can also take place in the virtual world. You can absolutely host a book-signing in Zoom or on YouTube or another Vlogging platform. You can have a face-to-face with a fan or fans. They can pay to purchase the book right through the web interface and they can watch you sign it for them and pop it in an envelope to go out in the mail.
The biggest, most important piece of a virtual book launch, however, is content. It can be big, like Gary Whitta hosting interviews during quarantine by using Animal Crossing: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgSHm5EbCawxL9Z3JBye2_g
Or it can be small, like simply posting photos of your book’s cover in new and exotic locations on Instagram as part of the ongoing #Bookstagram hashtag: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/bookstagram/?hl=en
If you’re having trouble finding ways to reach out online, or coming up with ideas of what to do or what to say, the real life examples are multiplying by the day.
The comedians of SNL are designing sketches and delivering them each from the comfort and relative safety of their own living rooms:
Daniel Radcliffe, Patrick Stewart, LeVar Burton all have daily or weekly videos of readings from favorite works. As an actor trained on Shakespeare, Stewart is working his way through *all* of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, for example. Does he have a play running that he needs to promote? Nope. But it’s a part of what makes him special as an actor and he’s leaning-in to stay in contact with his fans:
The stunt-doubles of various famous action stars teamed up with those stars to create the most epic action video-exchange ever. Do they have movies coming out soon? For most of them, no. This is just a little something extra that people can talk about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCO0DXAc0tk
Since my novel, Nucleation, uses virtual reality as one of it’s prime sci-fi tools, I got together with my publisher’s publicist (just try to say that ten times fast! and coordinated a series of readings using the different AR/VR avatars which we then posted on YouTube as a way to engage with any potential readers.
The trick is to find a way to develop a regular cadence, a beat of authentic mentions and posts that will help keep your launch top of mind for those who are already interested and to find those people who might *be* interested, if only they knew a little bit more. While what you and your publishing team put together to reach out around the upcoming launch of your book absolutely should relate to your book (or at the very least give you a place to promote your book), don’t be afraid to expand into the things that give your work some “secret sauce”. It can be difficult when giving a single, bookstore-centric live reading to talk about the vintage Romanian bread recipe you tried in order to get the right adjectives in your book. Take a page from the efforts of other professional creators and show off what makes you special as a writer.
This might be a time when we are all being kept apart, but the opportunities to come together have never been greater.