You Can’t Launch in a Pandemic: 2 Disagree

textCan you still launch a book during a pandemic?

We’ve got two accomplished indie authors who show it can be done.

After spending all the time, effort, and money required to publish a book, no author wants to release it to the public when it’s likely to land with a silent thud. Promoting a book during a pandemic might seem like a non-starter in terms of drawing an audience. But that doesn’t have to be true if you’re smart about your timing, and use your contacts and technology to your advantage.

Two authors associated with Amelia Indie Authors launched their books successfully during 2020. Co-op member Esther Jantzen released her children’s book, and Donna Overly, a client, released the first book in her second ‘Knot’ series. Both found their efforts worthwhile, and shared their experiences with us.

Contacts from Around the World

Esther’s book, WALK: Jamie Bacon’s Secret Mission on the Camino de Santiago, is a travel adventure mystery written for grades 5 – 9. It’s a tale about the missteps, adventures, and heroism of an 11-year-old American boy who walks the 500-mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain with his home-schooling family.

Her book launch relied largely on Zoom — the platform many of us have come to know well over the past several months. She wisely had two people helping her with content and technology, and invited her contacts from all over the world, resulting in 54 participants.

I had a very good Mistress of CeremoniesLinda Heiderera long-time friend who loves to be on stage, teach and communicate. We have Camino connections; her enthusiasm and respect for the book really carried the day,” Esther said. “Linda insisted on a script for the launch—which at first I resisted, but in the end, I found it really helped the flow and allowed me to say what I wanted to say. We went through three or four drafts to get it to the place where it was presentable.”

Tech Support to the Rescue

She also hired a technical helper so that she and Linda could focus on content. “It’s wonderful to have someone admit people to the Zoom space, conduct the poll, spotlight other speakers, call on participants with raised hands, put up visuals, and make sure there’s a recording. That was invaluable!

Esther thought about how to keep the event engaging and involve participants. This included having her grandkids do the readings—appropriate since it is a children’s bookand a Two Truths and a Lie’ Q&A game which people responded to via Zoom’s polling feature. This broke up the speaker parts while transferring information about her book, and it gave participants something to do.

I actually hired a very, very expensive coach because I really had no idea how to do a launch. She’s the one who came up with the idea of having my grandchildren read, and helped me figure out the things I needed to communicate up front. The game was my idea, and if there’d been more time, it would have been fun to play more.

Esther provided all participants with a graphic poster to share, and asked them to support her efforts by promoting the book to their own contacts.

Drama, Suspense, Romance

Donna’s book, The Shackle, continues the King family saga from her first trilogy, and is also a stand-alone novel mixing the elements of drama, suspense, and romance against a backdrop of human trafficking.

She struggled with the timing of her book launch, thinking that if she delayed her launch until the pandemic was under control via a vaccine, she’d be able to benefit from direct sales during a book tour.

red and white UNKs restaurantWithout knowing how long the pandemic would last and knowing that I have goal to release one book a year, I honored my timeline. Studies show that people are reading more with the pandemic and the stay-at-home, isolation, quarantine, and social distancing.

By proceeding with her launch plans, she could make her book available online to those readers much sooner than if she had decided to wait.

Donna also used technology to advantage during a limited launch event at a local bookstore. Only 20 people could attend, wearing masks and social distancing, but the event was live-streamed on Facebook for virtual participants, and was recorded for later use in promotions.

Goodreads Give-away

Meanwhile, she continued her list of traditional marketing activities, which included her website, blog posts, e-mail newsletters, and Facebook posts. “I launched a give-away through GoodReads, promoting it 10 days ahead. I chose the dates and the number of copies I would be giving away. There were three winners. I got 800 people to sign up, so that is marketing to 800 folks,” Donna said.

She also attempted a book signing at a local bookstore on a main thoroughfare. “I feel that the mask limits interaction with people on the street, making it harder to initiate a conversation. I did this one day and sold no books, but I will be doing it again.

More people have bought my book online since they realized that I could not get to them on a tour. I still hope to be able to tour in Pennsylvania and Texas with my book in 2021. Maybe waiting until the fall I will have another book to market as well.”

Lessons from Our Pandemic Launchers

And so, what are the lessons we learned from these wise authors?

1. Life goes on, and readers continue to read. Stick to your plans, but be flexible and adjust them according to current situations.
2. Be prepared. Both Esther and Donna did extensive planning and preparation before launching their book.
3. Don’t give up. Even if your book sales aren’t what you hoped for, keep reaching out to your audience, and get to work on the next book.

Indies: Does a Personal Brand Help Reach Readers?

How can you create a personal brand and use it to your advantage?

Just as corporations build brands to promote specific products, you can build a brand based on what do you love, why do you do what you do, and the values and aspects about that connect you to your audience.

Your Personal Brand Communicates a Strong Identity

The structure of a personal brand is much the same as corporate branding. First, a strong identity is developed that represents the entity and suggests black and yellow ringed target with dart at the centerthe value a customer would want. If the entity commits to that value and consistently delivers it, customers learn to recognize and trust the entity. Over time, the symbol of the entity can by itself trigger a feeling of trust. And trust, in turn, generates more business.

Corporations typically generate many products. They may have whole families of brands that fall under one overarching brand, like Microsoft or Kraft. As an author, you also may be selling multiple products, but in truth, you are always selling yourself—who you are. You are the creator, the manager, and the face of your brand.

As an author, you may be selling multiple products, but in truth, you are always selling yourself. Click To Tweet

How can a personal brand help you?

Selling books is not easy for independents. You need to reach a lot of people. As much as you might want to or try to, you can’t physically meet thousands of customers and talk to them directly, right?

Your personal brand helps communicate who you are more quickly, broadly and efficiently to the people you do meet. It also makes it possible for your brand to go places you cannot: a poster in a window, an ad in a magazine, your business card, your website and all across the various social media accounts.

When readers approach you at a book signing or book festival, they won’t ask about your book so much as they will ask about you. Maybe they’ll ask why you chose your genre or settings, what led you to write, what is your work style, your inspiration or heritage. They may try to find something quirky in your personality. This is your brand persona, and what readers are looking for to make a personal connection.

Selling books is not easy for independents. You need to reach a lot of people. Click To Tweet

On the basis of your values and personality, and the qualities you bring to your work, readers might give one of your books a try. If they like it, they may buy anything published in your name to continue reading your voice, your style and your command of storytelling. The next thing you know, they’ll be asking you when the next one’s coming out. It’s the consistency of quality that will keep them coming back because they trust that you will deliver.

Personal Brand: it’s not about a logo

Personal branding does not mean that you sit down and design a logo for yourself. I know, designing a logo seems like the fun, easy part of branding. But believe me, good logo design is not easy. What makes a logo effective is the meaning that is embedded in it. The design comes only after the meanings are clearly defined, understood and supported.

The imagery of your brand should be based on serious soul searching and groundwork. Click To Tweet

The imagery of your personal brand should be your last consideration. When properly developed it will be based on serious soul searching and groundwork. Once that is done, the rest of your brand elements fall into place more easily and naturally. You will have a basis on which to make solid decisions and follow them consistently.

And in truth, for an author, your name is your logo. You may choose a pen name, and you may choose a special typeface to consistently show your name in a recognizable way, but remember, it is always yourself you are selling.

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Nancy Blanton’s award-winning handbook, Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps, will guide you through the process of creating your own personal brand. She also provides occasional author workshops and presentations.

Wait, Does RSVP Really Mean “Respond, Dammit?”

Remember learning that RSVP meant “répondez s’il vous plaît?” And, if you learned that as a kid, do you remember how cool and
sophisticated it made you feel? I sure do. Not only was it French — the most romantic of the romance languages — but it was like I had been given yet another key to open another secret grown-up door. And, in this case, I was picturing a very swanky, high-class door. How cool was that? All I had to do to become part of the club was to communicate. Usually in writing. Even better, am I right?

All I had to do to become part of the club was to communicate. In writing. Click To Tweet

Do You Care About Getting Your Stuff Read?

So what does RSVP have to do with writing? Not much — if you don’t care about having your stuff read. But if like many of us, your goals include getting your beautiful book babies in front of readers, then you are probably engaged in far more marketing, outreach and networking than you ever dreamed possible. You may still not be seeing the connection but, trust me, I’m getting there.

You post on Facebook and Instagram. Or Pinterest and Twitter. You interact with readers and other writers. You re-tweet and re-post in support of good people, products, or ideas but, when it comes to your own work? You’re frequently committing professional malpractice.

I’m going to break one of the cardinal rules of online communication. I’m going to (virtually) shout at you. Ready? Click To Tweet

And, to make sure you don’t miss it, I’m going to break one of the cardinal rules of online communication. I’m going to (virtually) shout. Ready?

When someone offers you an opportunity for increased exposure? RESPOND, DAMMIT!

What forms of increased exposure, you ask?

  • You’re offered an interview? RESPOND.
  • Someone asks for your author photo? RESPOND.
  • A reviewer has requested a copy of your book? RESPOND
  • A Twitter chat leader invites you to co-host and needs a bio for the promos? RESPOND
  • And what do you do when one of your contacts asks for a high-resolution copy of your book cover? Let’s hear it from the tenors, now: RESPOND.

And, for the hundreds of other opportunities that might come your way? Let’s hear it in unison, loudly, for the people in the back… RESPOND DAMMIT!!!

And Here’s a ‘Respond Dammit’ Don’t

And here’s what you shouldn’t do: DO NOT WAIT.

Believe me, I am well-aware of how busy a solo practitioner (aka indie author) can get. And, I promise you that I’ve dropped the ball on more occasions than I can count. That’s probably why I get so agitated about it: I always hate to waste a good mistake.

What no longer works is an e-mail auto-responder — or slotting these things for “later, when I have time.” You’re not going to have more time later — and email is not where many of the requests will come from. (It is, however, useful for longer communications, such as the Q&A for an online interview, but more about that in another post.)

Believe me, I am well-aware of how busy an indie author can get. And I've dropped the ball too many times. Click To Tweet

But… HOW to Give a Fast Response?

So how does a busy, perhaps traveling, author make sure she’s able to respond? The answer, my friend, is in the cloud. Not only do I keep author photos, bios, and book covers on my desktop, I’ve got them stashed in various locations in the cloud: on a private page of my website, in a documents folder in my iCloud, and in the DropBox folder that comes with my Amelia Indie Authors membership! (shameless plug).

Why does a fast response matter so much? As stated before, you’re busy. We know that. But so are the people making the request. And the longer it takes for them to assemble the pieces they need to reference (or feature) you, the less of a priority you — and your beautiful book — become. And, if you sit in virtual limbo for long enough, the initial idea becomes untimely. Or irrelevant. And it takes more work to figure out how and what to do with you. You’ve gone from being an interesting addition to a mildly annoying loose end. And that’s surely not your intention. Or your wish.

So how about looking at those requests as invitations? Invitations to a more grown-up, professional place in the writers’ community; invitations that come with an RSVP.

How about you just RESPOND, DAMMIT?

Merci beaucoup. 

 

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Not only does Andrea Patten speak French, she is our Director of Operations, currently tasked with keeping all of the plates spinning. In her “spare time,” she does her level best to keep up with her dogs — and her own writing.

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