Three Ways the Pandemic Has Changed Book Publicity (For Good) by Marissa DeCuir

The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed industries across the world, and book publishing and promotion are no exception. When the U.S. government declared a national emergency in March 2020, our literary publicity team at Books Forward began to work through the rapid, sweeping changes that would define our lives and work until this moment (and for the foreseeable future).

We’ve seen plenty of changes in the book publishing and PR industry during our more than 20 years in business, always adapting to stay ahead of the trends. This time, we—as well as countless authors, booksellers, and publishers—have had to adapt like never before. In some ways, the publishing world will never be the same—and we are working hard to stay three steps ahead of the challenges, opportunities, and innovations the pandemic has presented.

Here are three ways the pandemic has changed the book industry, most likely for good:

Virtual events are here to stay.

We’ve known for a long time that book tours aren’t always the splashy money-makers they used to be. But the pandemic has simultaneously a). put the nail in the coffin of traditional book tours and b). resurrected book tours from the dead—still benefitting our beloved indie bookstores.

Virtual events have undeniable perks, not least of which is the fact that authors and audiences are no longer inhibited by physical distance to the store. Click To Tweet

With facades shuttered to the public, many bookstores underwent a crash course in rapidly transitioning to virtual programming, from experimenting with various video chat and streaming platforms to finding fresh ways to reach audiences on social media. Virtual events have undeniable perks, not least of which is the fact that authors and audiences are no longer inhibited by physical distance to the store. In fact, bookstores reported significant increases in virtual attendance vs. in-person attendance. In August 2020, Third Place Books’ events manager, Sam Kaas, told our staff that their event attendance was higher than average (70-80 online, vs. 20 in-store), although sales were lower. Over time, Kaas said attendance “settled into a more normal pattern” and sales increased, with variation from event to event.

Françoise Brodsky, Director of Community Outreach and Events at Shakespeare & Co also confirmed sales have varied, but “participation has increased, because it is not linked geographically anymore.” Doloris Vest at Book No Further confirmed that although attendance fluctuates, their event pre-sales have been comparable to sales at in-store events.

All three stores confirmed that they intend to host virtual events long term and will most likely offer “hybrid” virtual/in-person programming into the future. At the start of the pandemic, Books Forward introduced a Virtual Learning Author Program that successfully connected our authors with homebound teachers, parents, librarians and booksellers in new ways. We feel confident and excited about the opportunities that virtual events present, and we are happy to digitally connect our authors with readers around the globe.

Audiobooks and ebooks are on the rise.

It should surprise no one that the demand for audiobooks and ebooks keeps growing. During the pandemic, downloadable book sales increased across retailers. According to Good E-Reader, in the U.S. during January to September 2020, ebooks sales increased by 15.8%, (with revenues for the children’s and YA genres in particular up by 69.7%). Downloadable audiobook sales increased by 15.0% during that time, finishing 2020 with an approximate 17.6% boost for the year as a whole.

Recognizing the need for downloadable books early on, our firm launched the #BooksForwardHelpline in March 2020 to help readers and authors support indie bookstores and libraries, troubleshoot their reading or listening devices, and connect with great new book recommendations.

This year we’re thrilled to launch specialized Audiobook Production and Promotion services to help our clients connect with ever-expanding audiences of readers in new ways, and get a share of what has become a billion-dollar industry.

Paying attention to the news cycle is more important than ever.

In the second quarter of 2020, Covid-19 dominated the headlines. Getting media attention for new book releases is always challenging in this competitive environment. Getting media attention during an unprecedented worldwide pandemic? We all remember the news cycle being 24/7 coronavirus.

But our authors never cease to amaze us with the variety of perspectives and stories they have, and our publicists were able to help our authors share constructive insights with the media during such an unprecedented time. Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D., author of #Chill: Turn Off Your Job and Turn On Your Life, helped Forbes readers cope with pandemic anxiety (an article that has been viewed over 147,000 times). Professor Peter Ward explained the evolution of handwashing with Vox, based on his book The Clean Body: A Modern History. Novelist Christine Meade (The Way You Burn) shared a poignant personal story about her pregnancy fears during the pandemic with HuffPost. And gardening expert Monique Allen contributed to Good Housekeeping’s advice on isolation gardening and victory vegetables patches thanks to her book, Stop Landscaping, Start Lifescaping.

You never know when you can contribute in a meaningful and authentic way to a journalist’s story. Click To Tweet

Now that a measure of “pandemic fatigue” has set in and the news cycle is more varied, our media outreach has become a bit more normalized. Nevertheless, we’re always working to stay on top of the rapidly changing headlines, and we would encourage all authors to do the same. You never know when you can contribute in a meaningful and authentic way to a journalist’s story.

Marissa DeCuir is the president and partner of Books Forward publicity and Books Fluent publishing. As a former journalist with stories published in USA Today, National Geographic and other major publications, she’s always looking for the best hooks to utilize in author publicity and book marketing. She values fostering the relationship between writer and reader in an organic way, and believes in taking a personal and strategic can-do approach to help authors reach their goals. Under the 21-year-old JKS Communications brand, Books Forward and Books Fluent are committed to elevating voices, breaking barriers and promoting books that empower, inspire and move the world forward.