Publishing And Book Promotion

author promoting a book online

The publishing industry — for indies and traditional publishers — has survived and even flourished during the pandemic as people rediscover the pleasures of reading and authors and publishers harness digital technology.

While the long-term impact of the COVID pandemic will take years to unravel, we can see the immediate effects in just about every industry on the planet, and book publishing is no exception. Writing as a career is morphing and the fates and fortunes of authors are increasingly intertwined with evolving digital technologies and communication tools. Let’s look at some of the effects the pandemic has unleashed in the publishing world.

Reading habits and book buying have been significantly affected in the last two years, and some of that spells good news for authors and publishers. Disruptions to publishing at the start of the pandemic included interruptions to the supply chain, cancelled book fairs and expositions, curtailed book tours for authors, and the move to curbside pickup for retail bookstores. Ultimately, the mainstream publishing industry has enjoyed heightened interest in books and surprisingly strong sales in some sectors. Publishing observer and analyst Jane Friedman reported these 2020 financial results for the Big Five publishers on her blog:

  • Penguin Random House: 4.6 percent increase in sales, 23.3 percent increase in profits.
  • Harper Collins: 7.9 percent increase in sales, 33.2 percent increase in profits.
  • Simon & Schuster – 10.7 percent increase in sales, 11 percent increase in profits.
  • Hatchette – 3.9 percent increase in sales, 11.8 percent increase in profit.

During the same year, print sales in the U.K. increased by approximately five percent.

At the same time, many independent bookstores have struggled to survive (such as City Lights in San Francisco and Anderson’s in suburban Illinois). A GoFundMe drive launched by City Lights in April 2020 met with a strong response from the public, raising $511,132 (which was more than the $300,000 goal) to support employees and operations during lockdown. Having weathered the assault of COVID, City Lights is open daily once again from noon to 8 pm.

Part of a new trend?

In Publishers Weekly, Thad Mcllory noted patterns emerging in book publishing that may correlate to large-scale changes taking place in the entertainment industry. “Gaming, streaming video, and streaming music companies all had significant subscriber, revenue, and engagement growth in 2020. What do these three segments have in common? They are for the most part companies with subscription-based business models. Homebound consumers have shifted to online discovery and consumption of this digital content, behavior that may continue beyond the pandemic.”

Independent authors are publishing titles in increasing numbers, presenting a nimble movement and greater diversity than in the mainstream publishing sector. In discussing the New York Times’ annual book sales figures , Jane Friedman notes, “What you won’t find the New York Times discussing: the fortunes of self-published authors (many of whom reported growing sales during the pandemic)… The Bookseller reported in January 2021 [on its subscription site] that debut novelists performed better in 2020 than in 2019, by a whopping 151 percent.”

Shifts in the traditional publishing world

While independent publishers have been busily carving out survival strategies to thwart the effects of the pandemic, publishing mergers have continued to create megalithic empires with enormous marketplace power. The proposed acquisition of Simon and Schuster by a primary competitor, Penguin Random House, is being blocked by the U.S. Justice Department to enforce antitrust regulations.

In a press release discussing the suit, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland states, “Books have shaped American public life throughout our nation’s history, and authors are the lifeblood of book publishing in America. But just five publishers control the U.S. publishing industry. If the world’s largest book publisher is permitted to acquire one of its biggest rivals, it will have unprecedented control over this important industry. American authors and consumers will pay the price of this anticompetitive merger — lower advances for authors and ultimately fewer books and less variety for consumers.”

Digital media drives new opportunities

Indie authors are witnessing an explosion of tools and technologies to help attract and retain readers. Video conferencing tools make it remarkably easy for authors to speak to book clubs, give readings to groups, attend library presentations, be present at online expositions, and more. (Check out PC Magazine’s favorite video conferencing tools.)

The expanding reach of video storytelling by a wide range of companies is creating fresh opportunities for authors and publishers to communicate more directly and compellingly the nature and character of their books. The State of Video Marketing Report 2020 compiled by Wyzowl includes statistics showing how marketers are increasingly turning to video. Of those surveyed, 74 percent said that the pandemic made them more likely to use video, and 68 percent of consumers said the pandemic has impacted the amount of video content watched online, with 96 percent saying their viewing increased.

Are we about to witness a surge in book trailers?

As part of this trend, book trailers are rising in popularity among authors and publishers looking for an impactful, stimulating way to generate interest in their books. On Writing Atlier, Meghan Fuentes writes, “The concept of the book trailers is not new. But much like QR codes have skyrocketed in use since the pandemic demanded everything becomes contactless, I believe we are about to witness the rise of book trailers.” Fuentes goes on to cite the following forces driving this change:

  • Video activity on TikTok, under the hashtag #BookTok, is building a strong community around books and reading.
  • Facebook and Instagram are responding to meet viewer demand for more video content through Stories, Instagram Reels, and Facebook Watch.
  • Thriving subsets of the YouTube community are designed to bring topics of interest to readers, including BookTube and AuthorTube.

While obtaining reliable statistics about the success of book trailers as a vehicle for generating sales is tricky, there are numerous statistics about the effectiveness of videos to generate interest in a product. Clever, well-produced book trailers are becoming a measure of communication art that, similar to the mechanics of short stories, must use every second of time, every note of music, and every moving image to deliver a storyline effectively and spark interest by potential readers. An annual awards program has even been launched in Germany to spotlight the best book trailers of the year.

Book trailers for independent authors

The path to an effective book trailer is remarkably simple these days with both online and desktop tools (the latest version of iMovie even features a set of templates for creating trailers). If you elevate the proposition to the professional level, video production companies like Film 14 can provide actors, scripts, and high-end production values and have earned a solid niche in the book-publishing world by consistently producing compelling, professional book trailers.

The publishing industry — for indies and traditional publishers — has survived and flourished as people rediscover the pleasures of reading during the pandemic. As an indie author, the road to success invariably incudes using the latest media technologies, including video outreach, book trailers, public readings, discussion group appearances, and book club presentations. Books matter and the ideas they convey matter. Your writing can inspire, illuminate, and communicate ideas that reach people at the deepest levels in the hardest times.

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