Excerpted from our new guide, Book Marketing In The Age of COVID-19, we have answers to key questions authors are asking as we approach the holidays.
I’ve always believed that there’s never a bad time to publish. Indie authors must ignore the “when” question for self publishing. In fact, the worst thing self-published authors can do is not publish their book because of some perceived timing advantage. For new authors, your first self-publishing journey can be an invaluable learning experience. For already-published authors, it’s critical that you continue to add new content — new inventory — to your literary brand. It is often said that self-publishing is a marathon, not a sprint, and authors shouldn’t worry so much about the placement of the starting line. Just publish it!
Can I rely on Amazon to distribute my books during the holidays?
Judging by the recent history of the first COVID-19 lockdown in the spring, the answer is no. But don’t worry — self-published authors have many other good options.
Last March, Amazon sent a letter to its vendors that said it had officially “deprioritized” delivering books and listed many bestsellers as not shipping for several weeks. It got to the point where author/publishers couldn’t send any more shipments into Amazon warehouses as they were prioritizing space for medical supplies and other essential “high demand” products.
Here is Amazon KDP’s official message:
We have seen increased demand as people have been guided to stay at home. Because of this, you may experience delays in both manufacturing and shipping for all books, including author orders.
We are working hard to reduce this to meet customer demand and return to standard manufacturing and delivery times.
Will it happen again during the upcoming holiday season? Even during past, i.e. normal, busy seasons, authors saw many titles go into “out of stock” status on their Amazon pages due to the sheer volume of merchandise going in and out of Amazon’s facilities. I can’t predict what will happen come November, but I strongly recommend you seek other options to hedge your book-fulfillment bets.
- Use BookBaby’s BookShop to sell directly to readers. Authors make more money and get paid faster when they sell through their own BookShop page, a free eCommerce page for all our published authors. Best of all, your printed books are always in stock because BookBaby prints, binds, and ships the books direct to your customer!
- eBooks are a must. Converting your books to digital formats is important for all the reasons listed earlier. A likely inventory problem with printed books via various online retailers makes this format choice mandatory for self-published authors who need a reliable distribution stream.
- Diversify your distribution. Smart authors don’t put all their eggs in one basket. Sure, offering your books through Amazon is a must, but over 40 percent of book sales are coming from other retailers like Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Google, Kobo, Walmart.com, and others.
- Subscription services are taking off. Many authors are actually making more royalties through Kindle Unlimited page views than outright purchases on Amazon. Meanwhile, Scribd is starting to make good on its goal of becoming the “Netflix of eBooks.” Launched in March 2007, Scribd now has over one million monthly subscribers in over 100 countries, featuring over one million premium titles to attract readers.
What are readers buying? Printed books or eBooks?
The COVID-19 crisis has dramatically changed the way all of us do business and live our lives. But there is one activity where millions of people are finding solace during this difficult time: reading a book.
If you’re an author, this is not the time to crawl into a hole and hide. Instead, you are in a noble position to help people navigate this unprecedented challenge. How? By providing books that offer much-needed entertainment, education, and inspiration.
And with people avoiding crowds, shopping from home, and desiring instant gratification, will there be a surge in demand for eBooks? Book lovers haven’t embraced their digital cousins to the extent that was predicted when Jeff Bezos first introduced the Kindle in 2007, and while eBooks never became the “printed book killer” they were touted as, sales have taken off in the last few months.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, eBooks are selling near “the level we would see during the holidays,” says Michael Tamblyn, CEO of eBook and audiobook seller Rakuten Kobo, in a piece in Publishers Weekly.
NPD PubTrack Digital reported that eBook unit sales in April 2020 — the first full month of COVID quarantine — rose by nearly one-third (31 percent) compared to March 2020. All major categories experienced eBook growth in April 2020, compared to the previous month, with adult fiction posting the largest unit gain of 1.8 million units.
“With brick-and-mortar retail bookstores shut down in the U.S. this spring, the eBook format became more popular during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Kristen McLean, books industry analyst for NPD. “They’re easy to purchase, can be read instantly after being downloaded, and eliminate any concerns over infection or availability.”
There are a lot of reasons for the surge in digital books.
- You can’t get sick downloading an eBook. Even as bookstores reopen, there will be a lingering reluctance to touch books pawed by other customers.
- With so many local book stores closed and physical book deliveries delayed in the spring, many readers made the switch to digital books. Book lovers who hated the aesthetics of eBooks and never felt comfortable reading on screens have, after forced exposure, started to change their tune.
- Most readers are feeling an economic squeeze during the COVID-19 crisis and eBooks are a low-price option.
- Libraries also announced that, from now on, they are going to concentrate more on digital books.
- I expect that eBook subscription services will gain in popularity. Newly budget-conscious readers will gravitate more quickly to subscription services such as Scribd and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.
If an author makes the smart move of self publishing today, I would recommend they make eBooks a “must have” product for their sales page. Moreover, if you’ve only published printed books to date, you should consider converting those volumes to eBooks as soon as possible because, as you’ll learn later in this guide, there may be supply chain issues with printed books sold via Amazon during the holidays. BookBaby authors, never fear! We have your printed book sales solution through our BookShop.
Which genres of books are selling during COVID-19?
First, a word of caution: Writers should always write what they need to write. Write about what excites you. Write about what you know. Chasing trends or trying your hand at another genre just because it is selling well will drive you crazy.
That said, there are many genres or book types that are selling extremely well during these challenging times. And others… not so much.
Some trends are obvious. Books about travel and foreign languages have dropped like a rock — it’s a terrible time to release a guidebook, for instance. Business books are a mixed bag. Some titles from established business leaders are selling well, but, during these uncertain economic times, it’s not where new self-published authors should go.
Readers have avoided psychological thrillers that are a little too close to reality. And while pandemic fiction was up for a while, Amazon stopped running or refused ads for pandemic fiction, making it difficult to take advantage of increased interest.
Here are the types of books that should sell well during the upcoming holiday season:
- Religious books
- Gardening, sustainability, and eco-centric books
- Cooking and homemaking books
- Health, nutrition, and fitness
- Self-help and how-to books
- Romance, including erotica
- Medical history, including books on the 1918 flu pandemic
- Fantasy and sci-fi
- Crime and thrillers (excluding dystopian themes)
Of course, children’s books are in high demand as parents have moved en masse to homeschooling. The growth extends far beyond textbooks, with juvenile nonfiction and fiction segments up strongly. Game books — including coloring books and sticker books — are included in the surge. Study aids for middle- and high-school students across all subjects have also posted impressive sales.
If you’re still in the writing stage of your manuscript, my advice is to continue with your work-in-progress as planned. As quickly as COVID-19 has changed our world just months ago, in a few weeks or months, there will be more changes.
For more about publishing this holiday, including book sale tactics you can use today and inspiration for the quarantined creative mind, download your free copy of our special edition, Book Marketing in the Age of COVID-19.
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