Summary of Panel Discussion held on May 13th, 2021 via Zoom
Many CVWS authors have published books during the pandemic and experienced frustration at the restrictions in their marketing plans. The North Island Writers Conference committee hosted a panel with three CVWS members: Terry James, Marlet Ashley and Teresa Hedley. Seventeen members attended the event.
The aim of the event was three-fold:
- Create an opportunity for sharing marketing information and innovations
- Foster an event to give members a chance to connect and discuss the possibilities
- Build a network of support for emerging authors
The following comments reflect the panelists’ responses to three questions:
Question 1. In this COVID-world climate, what limitations have you observed in the publishing market and with marketing your own work?
I have three book projects that have been affected:
- Eagles in my Life
- No difficulty self-publishing but distribution has proved limited as I could not deliver in person as planned
- Biography of Dr. John Bindernagel
- Signed contract Sept 2019; timelines have been difficult
- Still no editor assigned as there is a backlog due to COVID-19
- Where His Thumb Led
- This is a Fiverr* contract which has met with many interruptions
- Normally it takes hours to get cover done; suddenly the cover artist, who lives in Sri Lanka went offline for weeks; I wondered if she had COVID-19
*Note: Fiverr is a Freelance Services Marketplace for Businesses
- The obvious is no face-to-face venues such as craft fairs, book launches, speaking engagements, book clubs, etc.
- More and more people are writing during these times, and publishers are overwhelmed with submissions, so even with traditional publishing, new work goes to the bottom of the slush pile
- Networking, the all-important factor in selling books, is quite limited
- I have not published a book before What’s Not Allowed? A Family Journey with Autism.
- So, I had no limitations because I had no expectations; this time of COVID is “my normal”.
- The media was COVID-saturated; if you weren’t talking COVID, you weren’t talking; it was consuming the public.
- I couldn’t focus on anything but what needed to be done.
- Certain demographics were not reading, others were treading water, working and home-schooling vs. ordering books.
- I worked around the traditional methods to get my message out to the public; details to follow in Question Two.
Question 2. What solutions have you found to address the limitations?
- Because we, (Kate Brown and I), have done so much networking in the past, we have been able to rely on that to carry us through. We’ve had people call us for books. Between the two of us, we have made presentations to various groups, organizations, and book clubs, and have attended numerous craft fairs (even those where we knew we would not sell very much). All have helped get our names and our books out in the public eye. All of this has served us well during these lean times.
- What I have done to promote my novel is to send it out to as many publishers as I can. It is hard work and usually takes up much of a day because every publishing house wants a different format for the work, wants a cover letter addressing different elements, and/or wants the author to do some research into readership demographics.
- I continue to send out short stories to various literary journals and contests.
- Most of all, I continue to write. I have one novel that I’ve self-published, another novel on the verge of being ready for self-publication if I don’t have a publisher soon, and one in the early stages of the editing process.
- I cannot stress enough the importance of networking, joining groups, agreeing to make presentations (even though you are scared witless to do so). Say yes and work out the details later. Although groups are not meeting in person right now, many are holding Zoom meetings. My art group has set up mini galleries much like the mini libraries seen around town. One individual showcased my collage and my novel that had the collage on the front cover. It made a nice display.
- Freebies! If I couldn’t sell my novel, I decided to give some away. I put a couple in two mini libraries, and I got a call from a friend who told me she was reading it and passing it along to another friend of hers. I figured if my name and book were out there, when the next book comes along, they will be recognized.
- Also, social media is not going away, so we might as well embrace it. I had my son set up a web/blog site for me because I was having such difficulty doing it. I was willing to pay someone to help me with that part of social media. Many of those who look at my work ask for a website, so I felt if I didn’t want to be left behind, I’d better learn how to do it. It turned out to be not as difficult as I had first believed.
- Finally, I had to be reminded by another of my sons about gratitude. He reminded me how gratifying and humbling it is if even one person out there wants a book that I have written. It is not the quantity of readers but the quality that makes the writing worthwhile.
- I decided to reframe from limitations to an invitation to evolve from the current normal
- My plan included a soft launch: seeking endorsements and garnering interest (lean on previous groundwork and collaborations to become potential endorsers)
- Endorsers become seed spreaders via word of mouth and social media
- “You don’t need to be smart; you just need to know smart people,” says my husband.
- Same with social media. You don’t need to have a large social media following, you just need to know people with large social media accounts / followers (less self-promoting that way if others host and share news of your book)
- Nobody loves your baby like you love your baby (i.e., no one is as interested in / invested in your book as you are)
- Therefore, to be noticed you need to make your message their message: address or solve a public need
- Become subject matter “expert” and a source of knowledge
- An example is my “pandemic battle plan” for autism. People with autism don’t like change, so I made a three-part plan to help those with autism cope with the new normal. My publisher and I wrote a press release based upon filling the need (pandemic battle plan, in this case); book becomes backdrop
- I used the press release to pitch to media, magazines. Suggestion: use press release and topical issues to pitch to magazines; can send ready-made articles
- Podcasts are useful; search podcasts by theme and pitch to podcasters; have a conversation around themes in the book; can share podcast link later, on social media
- “Freebies” – be willing to give samples of writing away
- Eg., “ASD Snapshots” – posted on Vocal Media – shared via LinkedIn; also sent to endorsers
- Marketing poster: instead of bookmarks; can be hung in offices and or shared electronically; I had some printed as 5×7 prints and hung on community bulletin boards throughout Vancouver Island
- Library: ask your friends and family to request your book at their local library; a book ordered is a book sold.
- Online reviews: ask those who have read your book to post a review online at Amazon and Chapters Indigo; make it easy for them to do this by sending links to the sites and also sending them a few lines of feedback that they have sent you (typically, their immediate response is the most natural).
- Zoom presentations: filling a need; dovetailing the messages in the book with messages that are important to an organization
- Eg., Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC) presentation re. creating a military family toolkit (creating smooth moves for families supporting children with diverse needs)…book becomes backdrop for points made in the presentation
- Website: showcasing advocacy and other projects; currently building this as a way of staying connected with readers
- Perpetual launch – an example is Neil Garvie (garvie.ca); requires a website and video
- Serialization – Ray Garford recorded 11 episodes and put them up on YouTube, expressly to reach students in Africa; (search: Teacher Sir…Garford)
- Federation of BC Writers Wordworks magazine – four of our members have their books listed in the April issue; if you are a serious writer, join the FBCW
- Virtual book launch – I experienced one from the Campbell River library for Diana Stevan’s book, Lilacs in the Dust Bowl
- It included out of province and out of country participants
- Potential audience greater than local attendance event
- Amazon – I received a query this week from England about a book published in 2010; it was easy to refer him to book availability on Amazon; Amazon reaches the world market
- Self-publishing – the author retains control over content, timeline, price
- It is important to know target audience
- This requires the author to do marketing, but the financial rewards are worth it
- Book reviews – We need to find sources to post or publish book reviews
- I propose that we train our own book reviewers
- Don’t pay for commercial review services online
Question 3. What innovations do you foresee we will use in the post-COVID era?
- Messaging around book marketing is going to need to be:
- Portable (multi-task): e.g., podcast conversations… people can listen while going about their day
- Authentic: real and relatable conversations; if they like what you say, they may be apt to purchase your book
- Efficient: broader reach for same amount of effort
- Seinfeld: “We used to say more to less people…now we say less to more people…” Perhaps more online marketing as it reaches more people faster…more efficient, however, less personal
- The likelihood of a hybrid of traditional and virtual marketing methods moving forward – share hologram virtual reality example with voice and language translation capability
- If COVID has taught us anything, it has taught us how to use Zoom. What a wonderful innovation. I foresee using Zoom as well as in-person meetings. Imagine if a person is ill or unable to get to a meeting and it is being broadcast on Zoom while being held in person? That individual could also participate and both they and the gathering would benefit.
- I envision social media playing an even more important role in our marketing. I plan on expanding my social media presence.
- I also envision the thrill of once again being with people. Most, if not all, writers are introverts and have used the COVID years as they have always dreamed of—uninterrupted writing. But even we are longing for human interaction. Because networking is so very important for marketing, I see myself once again promoting my writing via speaking engagements, book launches, media promotions, as well as becoming more proficient with social media. If I want my writing to sell during lean times, I have to make these connections during good times. I find self-promotion very hard, but I force myself to do it. I will continue to take small steps to get my writing out there, even if it means only including my web/blog site as a signature on every email I send.
- Audio books – This is a fast-growing area for development
- The Federation of BC Writers (FBCW) has purchased equipment for loan to its members
- It is an easy way to keep previously published books alive
- I propose this as an area we need to explore
- E-books – Allow for multiple options
- Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, IngramSparks, Kobo, Smashwords
- Self-publishing – Print, E-book, audio books
- Gives author control over timeline
- Allows for manageable low-cost investment with print-on-demand
- Authors need to know Book Store selling price before setting your price (40%)
- I encourage you to establish a relationship with Printorium in Victoria
- Anthologies – Look for opportunities to contribute portions to an anthology
- Lots of opportunities exist for poets
- Can work for all types of stories, usually themed
- Speaker’s bureau – Authors need to be able to read their work
- Maybe CVWS should revisit the idea of a list of speakers and circulate to community groups
- Book reviews – CVWS needs volunteers to review members books and a place to post or publish those reviews
General points to be made:
- Writers are good at writing and not necessarily good at self promotion and marketing.
- It is really hard to have significant sales without social media.
- Building an email list is key.
- Web site is essential (e-commerce, user friendly, attractive like book cover).
- Everything begins with the author platform which is built over time (e.g., web site, email list, blogs, conference speaker, publications success, honours).
- Publishers expect: professional editing to be done, author’s platform, readings and appearances.
- There is a two-year window of opportunity to promote a new book.
- Publishing is a for-profit industry: author, agent, distributor, bookstores all want to make profit (authors should not expect more than 10% royalties with traditional publishers).
A recording of the event is available. If you want to view it, please email me through our website: cvwriterssociety.ca. Hit the contact tab, pull down the “I want to contact” tab and choose “NIWC”.
Thanks to our panelists, webmaster, the NIWC committee and the participants for an enjoyable and informative evening.
North Island Writers Conference (NIWC)