If you’re anything like me, the COVID-19 pandemic has raised some questions about your book marketing strategy. Self-help writers might wonder how to stay relevant, yet avoid looking like we’re trying to make a quick buck from this crisis (gross). Fiction writers want to connect to readers seeking an escape from — or a way to process — current events. Those of us with a calendar of in-person events scheduled for the spring and summer need to recalibrate our priorities and find new ways to keep our book’s momentum going.
Regardless of your situation, this pandemic — like any major event — will require flexibility, generosity, and an open mind. As out-of-control as our lives may feel right now, there’s plenty we can do to keep our books alive.
Host a giveaway
Immediately before the pandemic I stocked up on my conference table swag: buttons, stickers, and copies of my book. While I’ll need it for conferences again someday, I can also use some of it now.
Do you have books or swag items sitting in your house? Incentivize mailing list signups, book reviews, or social media participation with a fun raffle or giveaway. You don’t even have to go to the Post Office. Re-use packaging from those deliveries you’ve been getting and create printable postage labels online. Your readers will love having a special delivery to look forward to.
Optimize your metadata
I’ve found myself craving the occasional tedious job lately. Suddenly, organizing my computer’s hard drive and cleaning the surface of my desk sound a lot more appealing. My brain, it seems, needs a break.
Book metadata might seem like a boring topic, but don’t overlook it. Metadata ecompasses everything from your personal bio on your website to the keywords attached to your book’s ISBN. In a world where most people discover books online, metadata can have a huge impact on book sales.
While you’re stuck at home, take some time to learn about book metadata (self-publishing platform IngramSpark offers a free online course) and how yours can do more marketing work for you.
Order book postcards
It may not feel this way right now, but we will eventually come out of this period of social distancing. Prepare for the return of in-person events by stocking up on book postcards.
I always have a few book postcards tucked inside the back cover of my notebook. You never know who you’ll run into and what connections they’ll have. My book postcards helped me leverage a conversation with a friend at a local event into a radio interview that garnered lots of exposure and book sales.
Platforms like Canva make it easy to create a simple, elegant postcard design. If you’ve been putting it off, up your postcard game before you get caught empty-handed.
Reduce the price of your ebook
If your book has an ebook version, consider running a promotion and selling it at a reduced price. Print book pricing has to account for production and shipping costs, but individual copies of ebooks don’t cost you anything. Many readers are facing both financial uncertainty and increased time and desire to escape into a book. Lowering your ebook price is a gesture of goodwill that could attract a lot of new readers.
Keep your relationship with your local indie bookshop
Indie bookstores can be great partners to help sell your book. Make yourself a presence at one near you — even during social distancing. My local shop is offering book recommendations by email and phone and shipping books directly to customers. If yours is, too, buy some books. Make it clear you’re here for them and value their role in your community.
Also, make it easy for them to recommend and sell your book. Consider a book distributor that’s not Amazon (e.g. Ingram, a wholesaler used by many bookstores) and offer a competitive wholesale discount. When you link to book purchasing options on your website, include the IndieBound link and encourage readers to support their local bookstore. Make choices that value the relationship between author and bookseller.
Host a virtual author event
Speaking of indie bookstores, mine has announced several virtual author events to take the place of their usual in-person gatherings. Check your local shop’s email newsletter and social media to see if they’re offering virtual events. You may be able to propose one for your book.
If you have a decent following (or relationships you can leverage) on social media, you can organize DIY events to host readings or talk about your writing process. People seem to be craving opportunities to see and hear others, making this an ideal time to let them into your creative world.
Do an interview on a friend’s podcast (or pitch your favorite shows)
While I discourage you from starting your own podcast — assuming it’s not already part of your long-term plans — you probably listen to at least one that would be a good fit for an interview about your book. You may even have podcaster friends who’d have you on as a guest. Since podcasts can be produced remotely, they’re a great way to get that in-person experience while social distancing.
Just remember the first rule of collaboration: think first about what you have to offer the other person. Everyone needs help right now and no one needs someone knocking on their (virtual) door for a favor. If you want to collaborate on a podcast episode, pitch it in terms of what you will bring to the table and how your interview will benefit the target audience.
Talk to beta readers
People who love your writing enough to read the rough cuts — often many times over — and give you feedback are likely avid readers whose friends look to them for book recommendations. They’re also excellent ambassadors for you and your writing.
Have you explicitly asked your beta readers to recommend your new book to their friends? If not, do it! I read a lot of books and sometimes recommend one to a friend I think would particularly enjoy it, but I’d do it more often if I had reminders.
If you’re looking for more beta readers, now is the time. People are looking for new reads. You or your current betas probably know someone who’d love to take a look at your draft. When your next book is finished, you’ll have new champions waiting to help promote it.
Be a good human
While there’s a lot you can do to preserve book marketing momentum, resist pulling out all the stops. Don’t go all-in on a pandemic marketing angle, especially if your work is brand-new. You won’t make any friends giving the impression you see this global disaster as a perfect opportunity to drum up business. Much of the world is enduring considerable suffering and anxiety. It’s okay to continue wanting to sell books — we haven’t stopped needing good books — but don’t lose sight of the gravity of the situation while you do it.