• E. Rachael Hardcastle

Publishing Through Covid-19: Experience & Advice For Creatives In Difficult Times

Through my company, I work closely with writers to help produce and sell their books, and have noticed some changes recently due to the Coronavirus that has greatly impacted the way we—and the bookshops we work with—can do business. If you're in the self-publishing business as an author, publisher or one of the many other roles within this growing industry, our experience here at Curious Cat Books may be of some interest.

Sales are unavoidably affected, and here's why...

Usually, with planned events and scheduled interviews to look forward to, book sales are steady and the work done prior to a new release often leads to a successful launch, offering new opportunities for authors. Over the past few weeks, however, sales in general have (or will, depending on if the book is already published) automatically drop. Sadly, most—if not all—of the author events have had to be cancelled, meaning debut releases cannot properly be introduced to the public. In this industry, we rely heavily on book signings, meet and greet events and in-studio interviews with radio stations across Yorkshire; these have all been postponed or cancelled completely as nobody knows when normality can resume. Here at CCB, we've recently had to postpone an exciting launch party with a well-known UK retailer, meaning the chance to meet and socialise with important contacts is now no longer possible. However, it's vital that we continue to encourage telephone and Skype-type calls, podcasting and live footage to stay connected not only with customers and clients, but with each other. I worry about all my authors and check in as often as I can; their well-being and satisfaction with the service they're receiving means the world to me. We find face-to-face engagement with readers in shops massively changes the public's view of self-published books; when they can see the high quality and hold a book in their hands, it helps readers to understand how indie books can still stand proudly against those from traditional, larger houses. Readers can not only connect with authors but take ownership of the books on display, suddenly realising this is a story they have to have. If customers chat with the author, get their autograph and/or a selfie and shake their hand, it encourages that unique relationship which, in turn, leads to sales. Somehow, a video or live broadcast doesn't have that same effect but my argument still stands... without the Internet, how would the indie publishing world be faring? How will our use of the Internet help? Independent authors can rely on online orders of course, but we are now seeing delayed delivery times and issues with availability—even if a paperback or hardback book is in stock and purchased through a major retailer, readers may not receive them for several weeks now (which won't meet the demand for entertainment during self-isolation and lockdown periods). Even huge retailers like Amazon are postponing replenishing non-essential and unnecessary stock for the time being. And can we blame them? You may have noticed some of our books are showing temporarily unavailable, out of stock or are listed, but through third-party sellers only. This is certainly not always the case but seems to be increasingly common, even for popular and bestselling titles. Luckily, we are in the 'print on demand' industry, so we can print what we need and no more to avoid waste. Physical stock has never mattered much to the indie community in theory, because it doesn't technically need to exist all the time. But, with three releases planned before May 2020, Curious Cat Books is still opting to promote e-books more at the moment to ensure an author's hard work and dedication can still bring joy to those who want access to their work now. If you can, it may be an ideal time to stock up on copies if companies are offering discounts or deals to ensure their own services continue—it can't hurt to be well-prepared to reboot your events when the government allow. Digital content doesn't fall victim to delayed delivery times or require human contact, so it's arguably the preferred and safest way to enjoy fiction right now (plus, of course, there's always audio!). I've recently purchased an Audible subscription and have been pleasantly surprised with the experience. Previously, I've been sceptical as I do love a good paper or hardback. Here at CCB, we're turning our attention to free and discounted books, extra content, activity sheets for children and other internet-based events in an attempt to generate some excitement and raise morale on our social media platform, particularly Facebook where a lot of our activity takes place. Can you do a book cover reveal, a live reading, quiz or blog tour? Powering through regardless! As a publisher, I must admit that bringing release dates forward has been on my mind when organising upcoming titles, even at the expense of that author's first publishing experience—without readers and a way to reach them successfully, there wouldn't be much of an experience anyway. It's important to me that writers thoroughly enjoy producing their first book; there's nothing quite like seeing something you created in print for the very first time. Wherever possible, I like to physically attend at these times to capture reactions and 'unboxings' on camera to share with our readers. Despite being unable to do this myself now, I'm thrilled the CCB authors with upcoming releases still seem to be taking part, roping family already sharing their household to film and photograph instead. Some of my author's books have been up for pre-order during the outbreak of Covid-19. They are continuing to remain positive, working hard behind the scenes whilst taking the precautions they need to. I have also noticed as I work with authors to edit and format their books that there is a lot of activity on social media—people are writing more, reading more and generally using services that can be provided via e-mail rather than trying to promote their existing titles, such as requesting cover designs and proofreading. Some companies and freelancers may be lowering their prices to attract new customers, hoping to continue business as usual. Others may be increasing them, realising so many will be focusing on their creative projects whilst stuck at home and it may be an ideal time to make some money. So, consider if it's a good idea, timing-wise, to get all your 'behind the scenes' tasks done now. Looking Forward Overall, it's nice to see so many have turned to writing to keep them entertained or for self-therapy, and it leads me to feel excited that with everything we have lost and all we are giving up, when this is over we may see a wave of new, fresh talent that can bring joy and inspire people in the future. No matter what, stay safe, stay positive and keep writing.

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