PANDEMIC PUBLISHING – THE DOUBLE EDGED SWORD

Publishing a book during a global pandemic has been – like much else in life – a dizzying rollercoaster. Publicity strategies I’d been working on for months collapsed overnight. But there are always two sides to the coin:

ON THE DOWN SIDE…
The big conferences at which I’d planned to speak (and which provide a sizeable part of my income) were cancelled. One event which would have seen a bulk order for 1,000 books was scaled down and shifted online. Virtual conferences just can’t match the engagement of a physical event.
ON THE UP SIDE…
The boom in online gatherings means I can attend many more, smaller events. I’ll be honest: prior to coronavirus I’d have been reluctant to spend an hour talking to 30 people because, including travel time, it’s a half-day out of my schedule.  But over the internet I can easily do several such events per day.
In addition, companies desperate to engage with their clients are launching their own podcasts and webinars, providing more opportunities to speak.
And during such webcasts I can send out a direct link to buy the book online – something I couldn’t do at a physical event.

ON THE DOWN SIDE…
The market is getting tougher. Big titles that were going to be published in March or April have been shifted back into summer – apparently there’s a glut of book releases coming in late August.
Ordinarily, mid-August is a very quiet time to release a non-fiction hardback (summer holiday reads tend to be fiction paperbacks). In 2019, for example, in order to scrape into the Sunday Times bestseller list for a non-fiction hardback you’d need to sell about 1,000 copies. This year it’s likely to be nearer to 1,500 – and that’s a demanding increase.
ON THE UP SIDE…
There’s evidence people are consuming more books during the pandemic. Waterstones and WH Smith both reportedly saw a 400% rise in online sales in March. However, it’s worth noting that both of them are hybrid retailers with a bricks-and-mortar-plus-digital presence, so their online sales may have been rising from a lower base than the likes of Amazon, hence the big jump.
Also, US retailers reported a slump in sales in the early days of the pandemic, so it’s a mixed picture globally.
One thing’s for sure, though: spending more time inside means more time online, potentially offering greater opportunities to reach people with tweets, Facebook updates and other social media content.

ON THE DOWN SIDE…
The book review process (a big part of any book marketing effort) has been badly disrupted. Reviewers are often working from home, so book copies sent to their offices may not reach them. And thanks to the rescheduling of book releases, some reviewers and book editors have said they’re overwhelmed with offers.
ON THE UP SIDE…
Sending out digital versions is becoming more acceptable – a trend which is welcome given the expense, effort and environmental cost of posting out dozens of books in the vain hope that some of them will get reviewers’ attention.

Indie book stores, of course, have been struggling with the double-punch of vanishing footfall and the “tax-minimising” tactics of competitors like Amazon. Which is why it’s great that my local store, West End Lane Books, is not only going strong, but selling my book Crime Dot Com for pretty much the same price as Amazon: £15.

It’s also going to be the venue for my online book launch on 10th August, a Q&A with the self-described “Original Internet Godfather” Brett Johnson. Hopefully see you there!

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