How Authors Can Survive COVID-19 by Judith A. Yates

While Killer Nashville is dedicated to protecting the health and safety of our attendees, we are proceeding as scheduled with the 2020 conference. The general consensus is that the current threat will have passed well before the conference takes place in late August. We are in close communication with our local government, our host hotel, and health officials to ensure that we will provide all our attendees and volunteers with a safe conference experience. We will keep an eye on the situation as it develops but we are optimistic that the current outbreak will not affect our event, which is still nearly half a year away.

Above all, we place the safety of our attendees first and are taking all necessary precautions. We fully expect to have a fun, educational, and unforgettable conference this year. In the meantime, Judith Yates has some helpful tips below for authors marketing their books and interacting with their audiences during these isolating times.

How Authors Can Survive COVID-19

by Judith A. Yates

COVID-19 is upon us all, significantly reducing social activity, including attendance at book signings, author appearances, lectures, conferences, and writer’s events. These events are the author’s “bread and butter” because it is the best place to sell books and network. However, authors can overcome these restrictions with a bit of creativity and using social media.

A new virus called SARS-CoV-2 has caused a disease known as “Coronavirus disease 2019.” (COVID-19). COVID-19 has now been detected in over 100 locations internationally at this writing. 49 of the 50 United States have confirmed cases, resulting in mass shutdowns of public places and strict guidelines for personal behavior to restrict disease spreading. A state of national emergency is declared. It has changed the way we do business, conduct ourselves personally and professionally, and revamped the education system. All of this has had a significant impact on authors. Working with people and traveling is how we all work to make a living. So how are we to survive in a COVID-19 world?

Most importantly, we must understand what the coronavirus is—and what it is not. We need to look past the political views and personal ideals and refer to professionals. As one doctor friend put it, “Don’t confuse your Google search with my medical degree.” Furthermore, all of us need to take safety precautions. This virus is not a joke, not a conspiracy, and it should be taken seriously. People are dying.

There are restrictions on public places, travel, and businesses, with schools, places of worship, and nonprofit organizations either closing or restricting attendance; this means less people, cancellation of events, and no advertisement. Authors have to cancel or reschedule book signings and presentations. Because of the recommended practice of “social distancing,” it is best to cancel face-to-face interviews, particularly in nursing homes, jails and prisons, and even people’s homes as anyone with a weak immune system is highly susceptible. With people’s jobs on hold, it can mean loss of wages; this means personal budget cuts. Who can afford to buy books when rent is due? So here we are on indefinite hold, fingers poised over the keyboards and pens in still hands. However, this does not mean we cannot sell books or continue with work.

It is time for authors to get creative. Sure, we have to cancel book signings, but that doesn’t mean we can’t sign books or meet fans. The World Wide Web has made it possible to hold live “meet-and-greets” and yes, even book signings. Using PayPal, Zelle, or any other “instant cash” system, set up a way readers can pay for a book while chatting with you online; use Skype, for example. Authors can be signing their books as they interact. I have done “Live Facebook Q&A” that includes book giveaways. Add a “book signing” to your “Live Facebook” event. 

The same concept can be used for presentations. A filmmaker friend of mine has canceled several appearances, and a big convention where he was to appear has canceled. Now he is putting together podcasts where, for a small fee, his fans can “attend” his presentations. Attendees will receive a percentage off one of his DVDs or books. 

While conducting “live” interviews is the best way, in my opinion, of gaining information, now we have to change our methods. Using social media for “face to face” interviews is the next best thing. We can at least see facial expressions, read some body language, and connect with people. Still, some folks do prefer written interviews. Some crime survivors I have interviewed preferred emails, at least initially. Others I have never met in person—their choice. The telephone can be one of the best interviewing tools: people both stay in their element, and sometimes it is the only way of communicating; if the subject lives far away or incarcerated, hospitalized or incapacitated, a telephone call is the best tool regardless if the world is practicing “social distance.” And it may help re-learn some “listening skills.”

Notice on so many Facebook pages for writers and authors the posts are mostly ads for an author’s book? Start a trend. Begin posts that ask questions for other authors. “When do you seem your creative best?” Ask readers about their reading habits. “What do you look for when you are perusing a book cover?” “What makes you select one book on a shelf over the others?” Questions start a dialog, lets the other writers and new readers get to know one another. Maybe they are not fans of the author’s genre, but they know others who are, and will recommend that work. The majority of readers select their next read because someone recommended it, either another reader or the book appeared on a list as a “top read.” And specific questions can give authors insight into what people look for when selecting a book—ideas they may have never considered. 

I always say, “If you price your books at ten cents, you just told your readers how much your work is worth.” Right now, we can’t afford to focus on making millions (oh, do authors make millions?) but surviving the next few months. Cutting costs on our books will not reflect on our work, but will reflect on the fact we respect our readers may be on budgets. Dropping our prices—but not too steep—helps everyone. Sponsoring the occasional book giveaway is fine, as long as it helps make you money. There are clever ways to market this. Look around at how retail outlets use “cost cutting” ideas to make more sales and use your own spin:

“Buy one for you – get one half off for a friend” with a photo of two people reading your book.

“Buy one get one half off” if you have more than one book on the market. 

“20% off because my dog signed it, too,” accompanied by a photo of my dog with my book in his mouth (My dog is famous among my readers. He has gone on book signings!)

Authors can survive the restrictions caused by COVID-19. They must understand the new virus and respect it. Then, they have to be creative. They can use this fantastic tool called social media to overcome barriers. It may even lead to new pastures we have yet to graze.

An excellent resource on COVID-19, see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Judith A. Yates is a criminologist and award-winning true crime author who has lectured and presented across the country, to include the 2019 Arnold Markle Symposium hosted by Dr. Henry C. Lee and the H.C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science. She has appeared in several television shows to include the Oxygen Network and Investigation Discovery. She writes true crime and some fiction. Visit Judith at her website.