What Authors Are Doing to Sell More Books During the Quarantine

If you’ve wired into the general publishing world, you’ve probably heard about the double-edged sword that coronavirus quarantines mean for writers and readers worldwide. On one hand, it has been incredibly disruptive for bookstores, promotional tours, and launch schedules within the traditional publishing venue. Agents, owners, and publishers are experiencing lost revenue like they haven’t seen in a long time. 

On the other hand, ebook and audiobook sales are spiking, including among self-published authors. It might feel a little crass or insensitive to market during times like this, but think of it another way. People stuck at home need something good to read. If you’re confident your work is good, you should be certain people know about it. 

Over the past two weeks, we’ve taken a look at what authors are doing to promote their books effectively and sensitively during this crisis. With them, we’ve created a handful of golden rules for you to do the same. 

1. Give Books Away

Apex Author writer and freelancing consultant Jason Brick gave away four of his titles over a single weekend in March, and received over 500 downloads in 48 hours. Those led to an approximate 10% conversion to new fans buying the next book in each series, plus a flood of reviews on Amazon. 

This is a strong model at any time, proven to work for authors time and time again, but can be especially powerful during the current crisis. It can brand you as somebody trying to help people out by providing entertainment while folks are stuck indoors, while also getting you in the front of peoples’ minds while they’re looking for something to read. 

Of course, this only works if you have at least two books out. If that’s the case, you give the first one away and the increased sales on the second make up for the lost revenue on the first. If you only have one book, then you’re giving away your stock in trade. Instead, take advantage of the extra time you have to buckle down and get that second book finished. Also be sure to check out our training on different ways to profit from giving away free books.

Some ways authors can make books free include:

  • Enroll it in KDP Select for free pricing up to five days
  • Announce it on social media and direct message takers a PDF copy or send them a Book Funnel link
  • Use it as a lead generator for your author newsletter

2. Partner With Locals Who Need It

Although full-time writers are experiencing little disruption in their daily lives, and many are enjoying increased sales, almost everybody else is in the middle of extremely trying times. Anything you can do to support and help those people is both good karma and strong marketing. 

Two of the biggest examples of people who need help include small publishing-related businesses (like independent bookstores), and families who have lost revenue and can’t afford groceries until unemployment kicks in. Whatever you do to help those  vulnerable parties can help get your name out in the world while also doing the kind of good we should be doing anyway.

Some examples we’ve seen in action:

  • An author who partnered with a local bookstore to ship signed copies for online orders, splitting the profits with the bookstore
  • Jason dared people who downloaded his free books to donate to their local food banks instead of paying for his work
  • A writer who gave a free ebook to anybody on social media who worked in health care (even though they won’t have time to read it any time soon)

3. Become More Accessible

One of the things most of us like about writing professionally is we get to embrace our inner introverts, and spend whole days with very few social demands. At this time, though, with our extroverted fans and friends trapped indoors, we can overcome that impulse and get ourselves — and our books — out there. 

Not literally out there, of course. We’re supposed to stay indoors and practice social distancing just like everybody else. But try making yourself  more available to your fans, and people who don’t yet know they’re your fans. Getting your face, your story, and your voice out there now is one of the best ways to build a truly loyal following. 

We’ve seen a few authors experience success with ideas like:

  • Hosting a weekly Q&A on social media where they answer fan questions
  • Reading their work on Facebook Live or a similar platform
  • Classic “ask me anything” chats over social media

4. Create Related Activities

As the weeks of the quarantine go on, people will be more and more desperate for new things to do. They’ve finished Tiger King already, and watched every episode of The Office twice. As May approaches, they will be done joking about boredom and legitimately desperate for new things to do while stuck in their homes. 

You to the rescue! Offer activities, shared online via your channel, to give folks something to do. Capitalize on skills you have, or ideas related to your books…or don’t. Just your name, and a mention that you write, can be enough to get the word out about who you are and what you do. 

Some of our favorite shenanigans we’ve seen include:

  • A children’s picture book writer giving drawing lessons via YouTube videos
  • A scavenger hunt where the author named their book and a phrase, and the first person to find what page it was on got a prize
  • An author arranging watch parties around shows and movies that inspired her writing

5. Hold a PSA

Some fear we’re experiencing the first months of an apocalypse, but most experts (and simple optimists like us) believe what we’re seeing is something scary, but infinitely better. We’re watching what happens when, for the first time, humanity is facing a pandemic while having a communications infrastructure capable of helping them fight it. 

Be part of that communications infrastructure by amplifying the most important news of each week, wrapped in references to and offers for your books. You won’t get the word to as many people as the New York Times or Stephen King’s Twitter account, but you might convince somebody among your readership. 

Here are a few news topics worth your time, attention, and amplification:

  • Reinforcing staying at home, and social distancing
  • Directing people to local food banks, unemployment information, and other resources
  • Sharing stories of heroism and ingenuity during this scary time

6. Go On a Virtual Book Tour

You can’t go on an actual book tour, or hold an actual reading in your favorite bookstore or pub, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go on a book tour where you don’t get in the same room as your readers. This takes some creativity and planning, but can be both effective and fun if done right. Here are some models that will be effective in the coming months.

Blog Tours, where you book a guest post or interview on multiple related blogs over the the course of a single week, usually tied to a free or discounted book offer for people who read the blog. 

Social Media Tours, where you post something about your book — even a virtual reading — every day for a week, celebrating and announcing its debut. 

Book Launch Event Tours, offering some kind of prize for buying the book from a specific city, one city after another, just like if you had gone physically from town to town. 

The benefit of a book tour is to create limited availability for some kind of benefit or experience with you and your work. The internet is somewhat hostile to limited availabilities, but with some creativity and work you can absolutely make it work. 

Be sure to check out a recent live training on book blog tours for a quick primer on them, or our full Book Ninja Academy course on How to Create a Virtual Book Tour.

7. Collaborate

Get together with other authors during this period of isolation to create combined book offers. This gives you three awesome advantages.

First, it puts your work in front of fans of other authors. If you’re strategic about who you partner with, they will be fans who also like what you write. Some of them will become your fans, too. 

Second, it gives you something new and exciting to announce to your fans. A few weeks from now, you’ll probably be running out of ideas. This can put some fresh energy into your book sales. 

Third, it helps you connect with your fellow human beings during these lonely times. It’s not as good for selling books as the other two, but just as important for many of us. 

A few of the best, most reliable collaborations for authors include:

  • Putting together a box set of related titles to sell as a unit
  • Newsletter boosters where you share each others newsletter offers to your individual fan bases
  • Recommending one another's books on social media, especially if it comes with a free or discounted book offer

8. Use Humor

We’re not talking about crass humor, or tasteless jokes about the pandemic (unless you write that kind of humor and your audience expects it, in which case go for it, we guess). Those jokes will fall flat with most potential readers and lose you more fans than it could possibly gain. 

Instead, aim for something that riffs on the shared hardship of this experience or that pokes light, self-deprecating fun at yourself. Some examples we saw that really hit the mark included:

  • A very famous author (who asked to remain nameless, and shared this only with close friends) making dioramas of famous stories using fruit in her kitchen
  • A writer holding a “public reading” in front of ranked groups of teddy bears
  • A writer working from home with the schools closed posting about her kids but calling them his “co-workers”, a la “My coworker is working bottomless, but only because he recently pooped his pants.”

9. Acknowledge What We’re Feeling

A lot of authors we work with have expressed concerns about how tacky it might seem to promote their books in the middle of all this, despite how much readers need new books and writers need income (especially if they’ve been laid off from their regular jobs).  

One of the best ways to overcome this — both in your own mind, and in the eyes of your fans — is to acknowledge the fear and uncertainty of these times. Call it out. Share the hardship, and your feelings about the hardship, with your fans. This kind of transparency is what makes social media so powerful, and is power you should use. 

Besides, speaking honestly about what you’re feeling can lead to people reaching out to help alleviate your own fears and worries. 

A few great ways to do that include:

  • Using trending hashtags about the virus
  • Simply mentioning the situation as part of your messaging
  • Sharing honestly about your feelings and experiences

10. Stay Flexible

As the news continues to grow and change, our plans and needs will also grow and change, and we need to be able to roll with those punches. Most visibly in our field recently, a lot of authors have delayed book launches or cancelled appearances in light of COVID-19 and its impacts. As things develop, your own plans may have to change from reasons ranging from a big news story making a launch unwise, to lost income meaning you don’t have enough for an ad spend. 

Whatever the reason, we recommend being flexible in two ways. First, do your best to not be emotionally invested in the changes needed to your plans. The more energy you spend on being frustrated by it all, the less you’ll have left over for making the new plan work. 

Second, learn how to “one-up” whatever your previous plan was. If one thing falls through, come up with ways to make the new thing that much better. After all, in most cases this will be a delay…which means you have extra time to put together even bigger, better promotions.

It Doesn’t Matter Which One You Do

It just matters that you do at least one of them. The increased demand for entertainment, hope, and connection this quarantine has created is not just an opportunity for you to get your books into more hands and in front of more eyes. It’s a responsibility for authors worldwide to step up and make scared, suddenly lonely lives a little brighter. 

You should be one of those authors. 

Image by Gerd Altmann.