Authors, publishers and booksellers on the future of book promotion

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The publishing industry has long been on the brink of one crisis or another, whether it’s its lack of diversity or its perpetually questioned results. But as the global health crisis unfolded in the spring of 2020, authors and publishers found themselves faced with a whole new dilemma. With in-person discussions and autographs – once the backbone of the book promotion machine – out of the question, would the whole system crumble? Wouldn’t publishers find new solutions? Wouldn’t the work of authors sell? Are independent bookstores going bankrupt?

Before the pandemic, the book’s promotion strategy had remained unchanged for decades. The idea for the book tour was simple: When readers see an author in person, they’re more likely to buy a book that day, get a signature, and maybe stick with it at the time. ‘to come up. It might sound glamorous, like a chance for the writers to appear in front of fans across the country. But the reality is much more trying – if an author can even take a book tour in the first place. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, publishers cut their marketing budgets, leaving most writers responsible for their own advertising efforts. The lucky few who receive financial aid from a publisher are usually transported from bookstore to bookstore and from state to state in a flurry of travel and hotel reservations. Yet publishing is a notoriously poised and risk-averse industry, and was in no rush to look for alternatives.

So when editors and writers were forced to pivot amid the mask-filled New World Order, change was easier for some than for others. No one has handled it better than romance genre royalty Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, who write under the singular pen name Christina Lauren. The couple have long been active on social media, hosting giveaways and responding to posts from readers, which paved the way for their transition to a virtual-only promotion. They also had time to troubleshoot issues, as they published three huge books during the pandemic (The honey don’ts list in March 2020, On holiday in October 2020, and The soul mate equation in May 2021). “I have the impression that the Zoom case happened very quickly. Everyone was like, “Okay, we’re going to go virtual, but we still didn’t really know how to interact,” Billings told Bustle of the duo’s first foray into digital promotion. By the time of their most recent book’s release, they were at a science, running a mix of paid Zoom events in partnership with bookstores and Instagram Lives to get readers excited.

But just because writers can do a million live broadcasts, virtual Q&A, and digital panels every day doesn’t mean it’s good for their well-being. Last spring, YA fantasy author Tricia Levenseller found herself pinging from one Zoom event to another to promote her new novel, Blade of Secrets. “I have social anxiety so I thought doing virtual events would be so much easier [than in-person ones], “she said.” If I couldn’t see my audience, then there wouldn’t be anything to scare me into saying or doing something embarrassing. But it’s actually so hard not to see if your jokes land, not to see if you connect with the audience. Not to mention that a number of crowd control issues can arise during virtual events. The authors have dealt with “Zoombombing” and have been subject to sexist, racist, xenophobic or just plain rude comments “People are much nicer face-to-face than they are on the Internet,” Levenseller notes.

All this virtual community building doesn’t necessarily translate into sales either. Leah Koch, co-owner of Los Angeles romance-centric bookstore The Ripped Bodice, says she dragged her feet to switch to digital events early on, when it seemed possible the pandemic would end in a matter of weeks. . She feared that the loss of book sales at IRL Author Meetings could be a disaster for her small business. “When people come to an event in person [at a bookstore], I would say about 80% of them are going to buy the book, because the person is going to sign it there in person. There is also a component of social pressure, ”she says. “It just goes away completely when you’re online. We don’t sell what we would typically sell at an in-person event.

Yet despite this loss of income generated by the events, Koch actually saw its sales increase last year. She says community support has a lot to do with it. “People [put] really serious and focused effort to support small businesses. On each order, you can leave a comment when you checkout, and each order would say something like “Supporting you from North Dakota!” “

Likewise, Hobbs and Billings say many of their most avid readers don’t live near the big cities where they typically stop on tour – and others just can’t make the time to attend. Now authors can reach readers they would miss on a traditional visit. “A reader usually has a very busy life,” says Hobbs. “They have children and their jobs, and [virtual events] allow them to attend events that they might not otherwise have been able to attend. It also benefits writers who previously had to ignore touring altogether due to lack of funds. “It’s a huge equalizer for [authors] who may not have this chance to speak and interact with their readers.

Despite these positive points, a year and a half after the onset of the global health crisis, the state of the industry remains grim. In December 2020, event production company Reed Exhibitions announced it would “reprocess” BookExpo, BookCon and Unbound, three major book publishing fairs in the United States that have brought together authors, readers and publishers under one roof while driving major books. Sales. Their reasoning? The pandemic had turned the future of IRL gatherings upside down, and the organization wanted to “explore new ways of meeting the needs of the community through a fusion of in-person and virtual events,” although there was no still a word on what it really means. (Reed Exhibitions did not respond to Bustle’s request for comment.) Additionally, bookstores across the United States, especially independent bookstores, continue to struggle.

In the new normal, the buzzword for book promotion that springs from authors, publishers and booksellers is ‘hybrid’ – as in creating a new book tour model made up of in-person events and booksellers. virtual.

Brittany Pearlman, press secretary at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, says she doesn’t want to lose the more experimental mindset that has surfaced in the industry. Forced to rethink long-standing strategies and be creative in reaching new readers, her team pivoted, hosting intimate virtual discussions between authors and media and creating special digital events where readers could interact in mind – one-on-one with their favorite writers – two ideas she department might not have fully committed to before the pandemic. “I have no doubts that we will never go back to pre-pandemic thinking,” she said.

But while the idea of ​​a hybrid model is fresh in everyone’s mind, Koch isn’t convinced that promoting the book after the pandemic will really be that different. “There could be changes, but I think most people just want to go back,” she says. “I guess we’ll see if that happens.”


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