5 Ways to Adapt to the “New Normal” of Publishing

By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard the news. Traditional publishing took a one-two punch from 2020. Already over-worked, skeleton crew publishing teams faced even more layoffs and had to scrap much of their 2020 marketing plans when all in-person events—including the now-defunct Book Expo and Book Con—disappeared for the foreseeable future. Indie publishing didn’t fare much better in 2020 thanks to paper shortages, supply chain breakdowns, and even their #1 fans being so stressed out that they didn’t have the attention span to read a recipe, much less an entire book.

And then there is me. Like a growing number of people, I’m a hybrid author straddling the publishing fence. My first two books are indie-pubbed, and my second two are trad-pubbed. My third young adult book, EVERY REASON WE SHOULDN’T (Tor Teen), came out on March 3, 2020, just in time for it to fall into the COVID-OMG-Where-Am-I-Going-to-Find-TP Abyss. My book launch event? Canceled. Tucson Festival of Books? Canceled. Phoenix Fan Fusion? Canceled. Ugh!

The bad news: COVID19 isn’t disappearing anytime soon. You can read my second book, BREATHE, set against the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, to see how eerily similar the 2020 pandemic is. Before you curl up in the fetal position and cry though, hold on.

The good news: Your audience needs you more than ever! Whether you write swoony romances, blood-chilling thrillers, action-packed sci-fi, or something that defies classification, keep going! The best thing that you can do for the world—not to mention your mental health—is to keep creating.

I am determined to come out the other side of COVID with an even stronger business and a backlog of new projects. Here are a few tips to help you keep rolling whether you are a trad, indie, hybrid or aspiring author.

  1. KEEP WRITING!

Yes, our industry is moving at snail speed, but it *is* still moving. The worst thing you can do right now for your career is to wait for things to go back to “normal.” It’s not. Sorry. Things are changing, and honestly, not all of them are bad. For example, I’d love to see book festivals continue to have an online component now that we are all proficient at Zoom. So, instead of binge-watching somebody else’s art, create your own. Want to write completely off brand? Switch genres? Dabble at screenwriting? Go for it! 

2. JOIN A PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION

Have you been on the fence about joining a professional writers’ organization? There are lots of local, national, and even international organizations for writers. Because I write YA, hands down, my membership to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has been my go-to this year even more than usual. Not only for the personal connections but for all the writing craft events they’ve provided this year for free or at a low cost. They’ve even helped my business! In the spring, SCBWI asked its members for educational content based on our books to be offered for free to teachers/parents/educators. It took me five minutes to load up the history and science lesson plans I had two of my high school teacher friends create for BREATHE back in 2018. In turn, I sold more copies of BREATHE in three months than I did in the two years that BREATHE had been out!

3. MEET YOUR READERS WHERE THEY ARE

Did your publisher go out of business? Have the rights on your backlist books returned to you? Is your indie book only available in paperback? Now is the time to look into e-books and audiobooks. E-books are easier to create and cheaper to produce. But as more people *finally* tackle their garage—because they’ve already done The Home Edit on the rest of their house—readers are consuming audiobooks at an unprecedented rate. Tor Teen thankfully launched the audiobook for EVERY REASON WE SHOULDN’T at the same time the book and e-book dropped. Meanwhile, I’m working on turning my indie-pubbed books into audiobooks. That’s a whole different blog post, though. It can be done and bears serious consideration to help grow your business.

4. STRETCH OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE AND GET READY FOR YOUR CLOSE UP

I will be the first to admit that video is my LEAST favorite form of marketing, but TikTok is A Thing in the teen space, and even my technophobic, flip-phone-carrying 74-year-old father knows how to Zoom now. Video is king, and it’s here to stay. I’m still not joining TikTok or busting out trendy dance moves on camera, but I am experimenting with micro-storytelling via Instagram’s TikTok knock-off Reels. One of the best investments of money you can make right now is a ring light and a tripod for your phone. That’s what I’m asking Santa for Christmas this year. In the meantime, I will continue to sit next to a sunny window and put my phone on a stack of books. One of the best investments of time you can make right now is learning how Zoom works. If you want to do virtual events to help promote your newest book, it behooves you to learn at least the basics of Zoom. Can you share your screen? Do you know how to boot a troll out of the space? What if your slide deck won’t load or you don’t have enough internet bandwidth for the video part of your presentation to run? Now is the time to practice with your other video-phobic author friends. I assure you there are a bunch of us struggling with video too.

5. FIND YOUR SQUAD

All your author friends are floundering right now. COVID has been the great equalizer. Whether you are the biggest fish or the tiniest minnow at your Big 5 (possibly Big 4 soon) publisher, nobody is going out on a book tour right now. Those expensive endcaps your publisher bought in B&N this spring…nobody saw them. Conferences and book festivals are experimenting with online events with varying results. This is where being an indie author first saved my bacon. I’m used to doing my own marketing and have been building my platform for years. After I procured enough TP, had a good cry, and got my feet underneath me again this past spring, I rolled back into my regularly-scheduled program. Tor Teen can do things I can’t (like getting an NPR review), but there are also things I can do that they can’t (like grassroots marketing with other local YA authors).

Beyond writing the next book, the best thing trad-pubbed authors can do is to have a frank talk with their editor and marketing team about what everybody can do in their Sphere of Influence to support their book. For me, Tor Teen asked me to continue to do what I’ve been doing plus create more videos (ugh, but I’m going to get over myself, by golly). We’ve also spit-balled some fun ideas to support EVERY REASON WE SHOULDN’T’s paperback release in March 2021 and my newest book FAKING REALITY, coming out in July 2021.

Be open, even if it is uncomfortable. For my scrappy indies…as you were. Seriously though, now is the time for you to double-down on your local connections. If video is king, then content is queen. Indies, you own all the rights to your work, so build that book funnel, hire a voice actor to do a fireside excerpt from your book, shoot a book trailer featuring local talent, or offer up a free novella featuring beloved characters. Indies can move quickly and autonomously, so use it to your advantage to create engaging content.

Everybody can buddy up with others in your genre for giveaways. You can pitch to online conference organizers the idea of your friends doing a group panel. My local YA/MG Mastermind group decided to strengthen our relationship with local Barnes & Nobles. We still can’t do in-person events, but we’ve offered to come in to sign stock and do Zoom events/launches with their stores. In return, they’ve offered us a special table/endcap featuring “Local Authors” (This is HUGE, by the way). Be the author who adds value and supports their store now so that when your new book comes out in the post-pandemic world, they will be your biggest champion.

There you go. Five tips to keep your writing career rolling during a pandemic whether you are a traditional, independent, or hybrid author. We’re all in this pandemic boat together, so let’s row. Now, write that book!

Sara Fujimura writes for teens and the young at heart. She is the American half of her Japanese-American family and spends about a month each summer in Japan with her children. Her first YA contemporary novel TANABATA WISH is set in Nagoya, Japan. Her second book BREATHE is YA historical fiction set against the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. EVERY REASON WE SHOULDN’T (with Tor Teen) is for fans of THE CUTTING EDGE and YURI ON ICE and was named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2020. Her third YA contemporary novel, FAKING REALITY (Tor Teen, 7/2021), is for fans of HGTV and the 80s movie SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL. Sara is a creative writing teacher and literacy advocate. She is excited to support the next generation of authors. www.sarafujimura.com

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