Not only are scores of people getting sick and dying, a pandemic messes with all parts of life. Our work and school lives are in upheaval, our mental and emotional health is impacted, our ability to see a clear path to the future has been diverted through a cold, swampy darkness of uncertainty and massive insecurity. And when was the last time you saw you best friend or your grandmother in real life?
Throw into that mix a little thing us authors are prone to do from time to time – a book release – and it’s as if the Earth will swallow you whole just from the vortex of anxiety surrounding you. How do you do it? How do you launch a book in the middle of one of the biggest crises of modern times and not look like a complete asshole for doing it? Do you even try, or do you slink away and hope next year is a better year?
That’s what many of us thought 2021 would be – a better year. Well, so far it’s looking to be on a par with the Annus Horribilis, 2020. The virus is worse than ever, there’s dramatic politics happening almost on a daily basis and, in case anyone forgot, climate change IS STILL VERY REAL!
I can only tell you how I managed to get a few things done last year and hope you glean enough from my own experiences to forge ahead with your own; even if it’s not with confidence, but rather with the reasonable assurance you’re not going to become a pariah for daring.
Firstly, CALM DOWN. BREATHE. Realize you have no control over any other aspect of the drama soup we are in than the piece of carrot you are floating on (a lot like Rose on her door after the Titanic sank).
Think for a moment and take note of the aspects of your life you can control and focus ONLY on those. And there is no UNTIL attached to this snippet of advice. I’m serious when I say, you can only effect change on the things in your immediate range of influence (Thank You Stephen Covey – solid piece of advice. Solid). When you have a greater sense of control on your world, you can begin to see the possibilities beyond yourself and your immediate circle.
As an author, this means engaging your community (whether it’s your family you regale with evil plot twists, or the local author group on Zoom who are helping to beta-read for you). Social media is a wonderful place to find people of a like mind who are going through things just as you might be. Your sphere of influence can include people in this environment that you feel you are connected to in more than just a superficial capacity. And dive into your stories. It’s a world you have absolute control over. I find writing very soothing when there are big problems I can’t do anything about.
Secondly, do everything you can to SHOW EMPATHY. This is not the same as being sympathetic, although empathy can incorporate sympathy as a by-product. Being empathetic requires you to listen and understand someone else’s point of view. This is not to say you need to stop and take on every person’s sob story out there. No, it means opening yourself to really seeing the people around you; imagining their struggles and problems and realizing their actions and words are influenced by those struggles. We can’t be empathetic if we are solely focused on our own point of view. But we can also treat ourselves with empathy and adjust our expectations.
We cannot work the same way under current circumstances that we did before the pandemic. The massive upheaval, the uncertainty, the restrictions – all make for a hostile environment and experience. We cannot be expected to perform at peak levels with everything else that’s going on. Try to remember to dial back your expectations for a book launch, for a book’s success at this time, for page reads on KU and even reviews – yes, reviews. This ties back to empathy – there are employment issues which affect people’s income. There’s illness which affects people’s ability to work and earn an income, or focus on anything else if a loved one is sick. There’s an ocean of distraction out there – the relentless news cycles (which has become more like reality tv lately), streaming TV (frankly a mind-numbing and soothing distraction which I don’t blame anyone for binging), the endless slog to remember all of your Covid rules (social distancing, mask-wearing, hand-sanitizing/washing, don’t touch your face). And the big one – dear God, I have a cough and a tight chest – what book launch??!
Best we can do, author friends, is ADAPT and HUNKER DOWN. It’s going to be a very long while before life is back to pre-pandemic, in-person anything.
With that said, how DO you release a book in a pandemic, market a book in a pandemic and generally not give up on your dream of being a published author in a pandemic?
Yes, I know – it’s not pretty and it’s overflowing with everyone else’s soundbites (from sea shanty tik-tok sensations to celebrity book launches). It seems it’s harder and harder to be seen and in the process to be relevant and based on that, sell damn books! (*screams into the abyss*)
I released a book in December – the last book in a three-part series (Break the Dark of the Rubicon Saga. You might have heard of it. No? Here it is). I used a three-part strategy.
Long lead-up time to launch with consistent (and interesting) messaging on social media.
Engaged with my fan base (I freakin’ love my fans, man!).
Lowered my expectations of what I considered a successful launch (I mean, it is Book Three of a series. It stands to reason it’s not going to do as well as Book One, We Are Mars).
A couple things I could have done better was arrange more advance copy readers (people who will read copies you send them prior to launch), use my email list more effectively, engage on all social media platforms. You may wonder why I didn’t do these things. Well, the answer is simple – EMPATHY.
I launched Break the Dark at the beginning of December. The American elections were ongoing and becoming a huge deal for reasons we all know and I don’t wish to get into right now. I knew it would be a strain on people if they committed to advance reading.
I knew the pressure on them would translate to worry in me.
Did I really want to be anxiously awaiting their comments as I was preparing for Christmas? No. The same reason applies to me not spamming my email contact list or bugging all my local friends to READ MY BOOK – I simply felt people were dealing with enough already (seems counterintuitive, right? Well, it is. No two ways around it – see end of this blogpost for explanation).
Lastly, for my own sanity, I ditched Facebook. I almost ditched Instagram too, but I just took a break from that for a while to re-centre myself. The social platforms had become toxic and anxiety-inducing. Everyone was screaming bloody murder 24/7, and it was increasingly difficult to be heard in any legitimate way. I focused all my effort on activating my fans on Twitter, gently reminding people I had a book coming out and NOT sweating it if the release was a damp squib.
I pushed through launch day (December 1st) and made a concerted effort to engage and support. Reciprocity is a wonderful and positive force. People naturally want to help each other. I gave some, I took a little and for the most part, I was grateful and happy with how it went. People, under difficult circumstances, will gravitate towards the light. Be the light. Don’t add to the darkness if you can help it. And celebrate even your small victories.
Lastly, I have one piece of advice you may not want to hear. It’s a tough one and it’s one I’m also grappling with, so I know it’s a struggle to come to terms with it.
Here it is: If all else fails, wait.
It might take another year, it might take longer, but if you’re unsure of whether you want to do book releases or actively market during the pandemic, wait it out. The delay may help or hinder you and only you know how much you want to get a book out there. You have to weigh the pros and cons, do the math, count your chickens – whatever it is that helps you justify taking the plunge or sitting out the rough game. (WOW – mixed metaphors reign!).
Whatever you decide to do, don’t forget, we’re all in this together. We all want our books to succeed, and we all want to be productive and useful members of society. But these are not normal times and sometimes, extraordinary times require extraordinary action. You have to decide what that looks like for you. Good Luck!