Marketing in the time of Covid

Since the pandemic began my already sporadic social media forays sputtered to a halt – partly because I had nothing to say and partly because of the strange sense of apathy and introspection that seemed to accompany the social withdrawal associated with pandemic lockdowns. Now that I just got my second vaccine shot (yay!) and my boys are back to in-person school it’s time, it’s probably a good time to reassess my social media presence (or non-presence as the case may be)…which got me thinking about the whole issue of marketing and book promotion in the pandemic and post-pandemic world.

Sadly, some authors had the misfortune of having a book come out right when everything went into lockdown – which must have been extremely challenging. Even before the pandemic though many writers had already moved away from in-person book events (which rarely had great attendance levels anyway!) and turned to the virtual world to help bolster their marketing efforts. For many book-related businesses adapting to the pandemic was a necessity – one that was also accompanied by a host of new opportunities and options (I mean who would have thought about Zoom based author events before?!). Over the last year, I’ve been particularly impressed by how bookstores like Murder by the Book have adapted to the pandemic situation, holding virtual author interviews and other events, which I think helps foster an ongoing sense of community and support. The question is, what lasting (or at least lingering) effects will the pandemic have on the way authors (and bookstores) market and promote their work?

I still see author newsletters in my email, and many of my favorite writers are active on at least one social media platform. Only occasionally do I see a book promo video in social media, and print ads still seem reserved for the bestsellers. While there is obviously growing interest in online author events (like author Zoom visits to book groups) – it will be interesting to see how these pan out as we move into the ‘new normal’. You only have to look at the rise and decline in author/writing related blogs to see that there is constant evolution when it comes to marketing/promotion and connection building within the writing community. We here at TKZ are one of the few writing blogs that have really withstood the test of time (I remember how many more blogs there were when we first started out!) which indicates just how much the online landscape for books/authors continues to change.

So, TKZers what marketing or social media changes are you seeing for authors as a result of the pandemic?  Has Covid changed the way you market and promote your own books? Looking to the future, what do you think the ‘new normal’ might look in terms of author/book marketing and promotion?


21 thoughts on “Marketing in the time of Covid

  1. Great food for thought, Clare. My 2021 focus is on long-neglected marketing–never my favorite activity and even more challenging these days.

    Prior to Covid, I really enjoyed meeting in person with book clubs and had standing invitations to return with each new book release. Those plans tanked but Zoom became the alternative.

    While I miss personal contact with readers, the upside is Zoom allows meetings to far flung locations that are otherwise unreachable. I’m looking forward to upcoming appearances with Arizona Mystery Writers and the Whodunit Book Club in San Diego.

    The downside: we have to bring our own refreshments!

    Podcasts are hot right now. I’m looking for book venues that want to interview authors.

    BTW, I ran across an excellent post you wrote for 2015 New Year asking readers what new directions they wanted TKZ to cover.
    Interesting how much the writing world has changed in those few short years.

    • Debbie, time certainly flies -and look at how different the world was in 2015! I like how Zoom allows for greater reach but do miss real world interactions. Hopefully the new normal will be a great blend of both!

  2. COVID certainly cut back on going to conferences, although I’d already cut way back on my own. If the keynote speaker/presenters/workshops weren’t a big draw for me, or I wasn’t selected to present, I passed. Budget issues didn’t make it worthwhile (and yes, Mr. Gilstrap, I know about the importance of networking, but even that, for an unheard of not-even-midlist author, lost its appeal.)
    Social media sites became all about marketing or ranting, so I stopped being as visible on all other than Facebook. I still send my newsletters when I have actual news, and keep up my blog as well as contributing here.
    But I’m not sure most of what I’m not doing now is COVID related. More like I’ve always hated the marketing side of things, and I still do.

    • I think marketing is the least favorite side of things for many authors! I do like how the Zoom/online explosion allows us to attend events in a way that’s much more budget friendly – hopefully this won’t disappear in the new normal as I’ve enjoyed enrolling in things that I would never have been able to afford to attend in person!

  3. Not an author, but a highly creative person I know has been experimenting and pushing limits on new ways to get his humorous music out there. As a member of a Canadian band, he already had a following. When the pandemic hit in the middle of a tour (they had just shown up at one tour stop when they were turned away because of lockdown), he had to find another way to support his family.

    He started livestreaming on Twitch a few times a week, cross-posting to Facebook and YouTube, performing requests for tips. He’s friendly and funny, so these livestreams are very entertaining. Doing so many, though, were having an effect on his throat, so he had to cut down, and now does maybe one per week. He also does a ‘talk show’ on Twitch every couple of weeks, on topics chosen by his followers. He’s started doing interactive entertainment parties on Zoom, which are a lot of fun. He’s been using more Facebook and newsletters and patreon to keep in contact with fans, and he’s organizing full band livestreams (there’s 3 singers in his group), to keep the group afloat.

    Trial and error has been showing him what works, and what things take too much time for the return. I think he’s doing a great job of navigating what tools are available and useful – and monetizing them.

    If you’re interested in what he’s doing, you can Google Trevor Strong of the Arrogant Worms. With all that, plus teaching comedy, plus writing a thesis for a degree in humour, he’s been keeping himself busy – and learning a lot.

    • I’ll definitely have to look him up and kudos for him for navigating these new tools and using them to his creative advantage. I do think one of the pandemic ‘upsides’ (and there aren’t many…) is that people have been able to use online media in fun, creative, and savvy ways that have really appealed to people.

  4. Excellent question, Clare. Pre-Covid I appeared at the same venues year after year, and always had a great turn-out. In 2020, my true crime book released, and all my plans for a New England-wide book tour tanked. But then, I received invitations for Zoom events at bookstores and libraries. What started as a bummer morphed into exciting opportunities at places I couldn’t reach without getting on a plane or driving umpteen hours. The other benefit is many of the venues record the book event for their YouTube channel, which gives the author wider exposure.

    As for book marketing, I’ve been recording video excerpts. Readers love them. Who knew? 🙂

    • Sue – sounds like you’ve been able to adapt and use online marketing options to your advantage which is great! Video excerpts sound like a great way to reach out to readers – but as you say, who knew?! I’m really hoping the new normal means these new online events can continue (especially given they are more budget and travel friendly options!) but that we can also use in-person events effectively too (when we can do them!)

  5. Excellent question, Clare. I think that we are looking at Zoom conferences as the major marketing tool for the foreseeable future. There are a lot of moving parts involved as far as conferences and book tours being utilized to the extent they were prior to last year. It’s not just a matter of people feeling “safe,” whatever that is. There is also the issue of the appropriate venue being available, which depends to some degree on its location, the ability to staff people, and the number of people it can accommodate. While we are social animals (at least some of you are!) Zoom and such are easy. No travel hassles, no crowds, no obnoxious behavior, and it’s free or something like it. It’s tough to beat free. It’s an interesting subject. Thanks for bringing it up.

    • Joe – I’ve attended a couple of zoom conferences and to be honest I think I enjoyed some aspects more as I didn’t have to travel or stay at a hotel or dress up to attend:) I did miss the casual conversation and interaction but I think in the future I would be more likely to attend more conferences online and then pick and choose just a couple to attend in person. I like this new flexibility and cost savings! I think some conferences also managed to get far greater international reach than they’d ever had which means more people are getting to attend and learn virtually – which can only be a good thing!

  6. For my writing, 2020 was the best thing ever. I made the decision to move my mindset from a part-time hobby to a full-time business. The pandemic was a coincidence, but I believe it caused more people to spend more time reading and looking for new material. I supplied that with more products and more exposure. I also think more conventional (paper) readers discovered how efficient e-reading devices are. My e-book downloads went from mere hundreds to over thirty thousand. More products on the market and more marketing with pay-to-play ads really works.

    • Garry – sounds like you were able to have a great year with bigger exposure as well as output. Your new business focus paid off and I think you’ve hit an important point that more products/works out there helps give you both greater momentum and exposure. Kudos to you!

  7. Good morning, Clare. This is an excellent question. As self-published author I largely marketed through my newsletter and various promotion sites, like Book Bub Featured deals and Freebooksy. I do have an author Facebook page, but I’ve never been able to gin up much interest there, though I have friends who do well with theirs. I use Twitter largely to connect with other creatives, much like a virtual water cooler. Because of my workshopping and sci-fi convention background (as well as short story sales to various “speculative fiction markets” I’ve done a number of convention appearances.

    The pandemic up ended my convention appearances, and I struggled with my newsletter, though I’ve managed to get it out semi-regularly. I published my latest book last May, and have continued to use promo sites. I had a Book Bub Featured deal on Boxing Day which did well.

    This past Easter weekend I did my first convention appearance since the pandemic began, Norwescon, normally held at the SeaTac Doubletree in Seattle, but virtual this year. The convention used Airmeet, which is a Zoom-like video conferencing with a lot of nifty bells and whistles. I moderated two panels, was on two more, plus a children’s event, and gave a reading. The convention was well attended, I made some book sales on the various eBook retailers, and came away feeling refreshed and recharged.

    I *attended* an excellent panel discussion on “fantastical mysteries” which included a former editor (and author) of cozies and urban fantasy mysteries. Virtual Norwescon felt more than half-way to the real deal, and there were advantages (Airmeet sessions have text channels for “chat,” and “Q&A” and the moderator can, if they want, even set up audience polls, which I did for one of my panels. A fun way to engage with people, and the Q&A was a wonderful alternative to having to wrangle all the upraised hands packed rooms might have an in-person convention.

    A hybrid model going forward would be great, where webcams would allow virtual attendance, even for panelists.

    Other than that, I think reader engagement is more important than ever, while reaching those readers in the first place will remain the big challenge (after writing the best books we can, of course 🙂

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post. Have a great Monday!

    • Dale – Norwescon sounds like it was a highly successful event and does show (I think) how the new normal could present great opportunities for writers. As you say though reaching readers will continue to be a challenge – I like the hybrid model of online plus in-person events to gain greater reader engagement. Like you, I’m not sure about FB as a marketing tool – and I find on Twitter I tend to be more of a passive observer (especially given how toxic Twitter can be!).

  8. Good post, Clare! For me, the pandemic allowed me to focus more. On research, story outlining, and ultimately, completing the writing and designing of my latest novel. But not more on marketing. Why not? Because (online) marketing is ongoing for me. It’s part of the process of being an Indie author/publisher. And since I never do in-person events, conferences, etc. anyway, there was nothing to give up.

    In terms of the future, I’m sure I’ll investigate and maybe try out new marketing platforms/channels as they appear, but I basically follow management guru Peter Drucker’s 1973 advice: “… the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. … Ideally, marketing should result in a customer who is ready to buy. All that should be needed then is to make the product or service available, i.e., logistics rather than salesmanship.” And the online world provides those logistics. At least for me.

    • Harald – such sage advice and the online world has really become a much more useful tool as it can expand your reach in a way in-person events can’t… Love that the pandemic allowed you to focus more on the actual writing process – that’s great!

  9. Morning, Clare! You posed some great questions about marketing in our post-Covid world.

    When my first book was published, I had several events at libraries and book stores where I gave a talk, showed a video about the book, and played a mystery game with the audience. Those events were well-attended (because most of the people were friends and acquaintances already) and they were great fun. While they weren’t efficient means of selling books, I loved connecting with the people who came. However, given the limited ROI, I doubt I’ll do any more of these in the near future.

    I also enjoy conferences because of the chance to meet with experts and other novices. I think being in a different setting is conducive to learning. However, I also like zooming because of the cost savings and ease of use. Maybe there’s a hybrid of those two in my future.

    I primarily use book promo sites to market my books now, and that’s where I’ve found the greatest sales. I’ve done one podcast interview and have another one scheduled within a week. I enjoy that venue because it’s helping me prepare and speak extemporaneously about my stories. I hope I can schedule some more soon.

    Social media? I’m not particularly good at it. I post things to Twitter, FB, and Instagram. I think Insta is my favorite platform. I tried FB marketing a while back and didn’t get any traction. I won’t use that service again.

    I use BookFunnel and BookSweeps to get newsletter subscribers, and I host a monthly interview on my Craft of Writing blog. I’ve had the good fortune to interview JSB multiple times as well as other distinguished experts in the writing community. My blog is not designed to sell my books, but to develop a network of relationships within the writing community for me and my readers.

    • Kay – you list some great options and useful online ways of marketing that certainly have better ROI I’m sure than even well attended in-person events. Thanks for sharing – I didn’t even know BookFunnel or BookSweeps!

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