Guest post from Desiree Villena
The first half of 2020 has wrought havoc on all our lives, writers and non-writers alike — but for professional authors in particular, the chaos and uncertainty of the past few months have been incredibly daunting. Book launches have been delayed, releases that forged ahead have gone unnoticed, and for some authors, even previously solid contracts have been compromised.
Everyone is wondering the same thing: what will the publishing industry look like when this is all over and, perhaps more importantly, how can authors adapt early so their careers aren't sunk? This post provides tips on how to do just that, based on what we're already seeing in the industry and what we're likely to continue experiencing over the next several months.1. If you haven't self-published, now's the time
Even before these unprecedented times, as they're so often called, traditional publishing was not the golden ticket to success that many of us have believed. Despite the resources this path can provide, plenty of traditionally published books flop every year. Some even get stuck in the literary version of development hell: a book's release is postponed for months, even years, and the author has no choice but to wait it out.
Self-publishing authors, meanwhile, maintain complete control over everything from their first round of edits to their release date — and in an unpredictable market, this level of control is more valuable than ever. It makes it possible to adapt your publishing plan from day to day, without interference (or inaction) from those who don't view your book as a priority.
For example, if you were lucky enough to have written a survival or homemaking guide in the midst of the pandemic, you could have expedited your launch to reap the rewards of quarantine reading trends! A traditional publisher would have simply pushed its already-popular titles in these categories, leaving yours in the dust (perhaps literally, in a warehouse somewhere).
It also seems pertinent to note that, though the world is starting to open back up, many of us will still be spending a great deal of time inside over the coming months. So if you don't want to learn baking or knitting, now might be the perfect time to dive deep into learning the ropes of self-publishing! Even if you're not ready to commit to this course, it won't hurt to familiarize yourself with the process so you can make a more informed decision.2. Seek new sources of support
Those considering the self-pub route may be concerned about a lack of support. After all, when you publish traditionally, you have a whole in-house editing, design, and marketing team at your disposal. Not to mention that you may be missing the encouragement and enthusiasm of friends and family in real life, which can be hard to come by these days.
But just because you may lack these particular forms of support, doesn't mean you're out of luck. In fact, on the professional side, you might be better off without an in-house team. One of the greatest benefits of self-publishing is that you'll get to handpick your own pros from a pool of highly talented, newly available freelancers (an unfortunate but author-advantageous effect of recent layoffs). Play your cards right and you could end up with an Big 5 editor-turned-freelancer in the wake of COVID cutbacks, giving you the best of both worlds: industry experience and an individual relationship with them.
Speaking of which, on the personal side, it will always be sad not to be able to share your publishing highs and lows with your loved ones in person — you can Zoom and FaceTime all day long, but it's not the same. Still, there's a silver lining here too: other authors are facing this challenge as well, and you can commiserate with them.
On that note, now could be a great time to get involved in an online writing community, especially if you've never been part of one before. You'll be amazed at the well of sympathy and advice they have to offer about writing, publishing, and life in general. Combine these uplifting writerly interactions with your other regular chats, and you'll soon find yourself feeling much less alone in your authorial journey.3. Go all out with social media
Social media was a crucial marketing tool for authors even pre-pandemic, and it should go without saying that it's more important than ever now. If you've only been a sporadic social media user in the past, now is the time to up your game — and even if you're fairly active, there's always room to grow!
Start investing more hours in your preferred platforms, creating and/or scheduling content based on each platform's particulars. For example, you should Tweet and post to Instagram Stories several times a day if possible, but you can keep permanent IG posts to a few times a week. If you're a social media rookie with no idea where to start, you can't go wrong with sharing brief tips and glimpses into your own #writinglife, and responding to other people's social content.
And of course, make sure to follow your active fans and fellow authors on these platforms! The former will build loyalty and the latter will build useful connections, not to mention spark ideas for your own social content — especially when it comes to book promotion. For instance, I'm sure we've all seen preview text of upcoming releases featured on authors' social media, but what about prettily formatted pull quotes from positive reviews? (I saw this recently from an author I follow on IG, and the simple-yet-elegant social proof really impressed me.)4. Capitalize on virtual events
Finally, when it comes time to launch your book, don't underestimate the power of virtual author events! Even if you've traditionally published before and felt the palpable energy of an event with people present, you'll be pleasantly surprised at everything a virtual event has to offer.
For one thing, you don't have to travel anywhere and neither do your readers, which means more people can attend — an unlimited number, in fact, since you won't be restricted by room size. You'll be able to spend more time actually speaking about your book, rather than setting up the space and doing a bunch of hand-cramping signings. And people can type their questions and comments to you live, rather than waiting to be called on in the audience, for a more dynamic and comprehensive Q&A experience.
Also, don't think virtual events are only for full-on book launches; far from it! You can host classes, workshops, writing sprints, book club discussions, and so much more once you have a fairly substantial following (and as part of your strategy to increase it).
Indeed, this is one of the rare joys of living through our current time: the many ways we've realized we can be together, even when we're physically apart. Keep this at the forefront of your mind as you press on with your authorial journey, and try to stay practical yet hopeful as the publishing industry enters this, yes, unprecedented — but not all bad — era of existence.
Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace and resource hub that assists authors with everything from getting a great cover design to finding literary agents. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction, writing short stories, and giving (mostly) solicited advice to her fellow writers.