PUBLISHED JULY/AUGUST 2020
by Maria Dismondy, Founder, Cardinal Rule Press —
What indie publishers and self-published authors can take away from COVID-19 and how they might learn new skills along the way.
I don’t know about you, but when all this COVID-19 stuff started to take shape, I rushed out to stock up on my one must-have essential: books. (I can scrimp on toilet paper, but not books!) Kidding aside, things got real for me when it was announced that our local library was closing in one hour and would stay closed for at least four weeks.
As an author and publisher, National Reading Month (March) has always been my busiest month of the year. When school closures and national lockdowns occurred smack dab in the middle of March, I immediately went into crisis mode as a business owner. We had a book in the middle of its tour and another set to launch in another month. I was stressed. But instead of spending time online getting wrapped up in the hysteria, I began looking at the situation from the perspective of our purchasing target: parents, caregivers, and teachers.
This group didn’t want to spend money during the pandemic. They were frightened, too. And now their children were home from school with no end in sight. Taking some time to sit in the perspective of my customers helped me to see how we needed to move forward.
What follows are three things that helped me do just that.
1. We Leaned on the Digital Community.
We connected with our community during school and business closures in the following ways.
Virtual Visits: While I couldn’t connect with my community in person, I still could connect via video. My new parenting book, Sunny Side Upbringing, was the perfect fit for parents needing to home-school children. I began teaching classes for children based on the concepts in my parenting book. Of course, my background as an elementary teacher certainly came in handy with this effort.
Online Book Tour: We had a book tour scheduled in California for one of our authors launching her new book, Evie’s Field Day. We worked with local bookstores to take the launch online because we didn’t feel postponing the entire launch was our best choice. The book is about a little girl’s field day, so the idea was born to host a nationwide at-home field day, complete with prizes, because everyone likes prizes! We normally offer a stipend to our authors during their book launch for items they may want to purchase for events like balloons, cookies, candy, and stickers. So, instead, we used the stipend for the prizes to fuel this online event’s excitement. It was simple: We asked families to participate in a field day at their homes on a specific date. We shared it on social media and said by using the hashtag #athomefieldday, you would receive one entry to the event, but by using a second hashtag, one that advertised our book title #eviesfieldday, you would receive a second entry.
Live Author Readings: Indie bookstores got in on this one in a big way. On the day Evie’s Field Day was released, we had a special reading by the author online. Then, anyone who wanted a signed copy of the book could order it from the indie store near the author’s home. She picked up copies of the book using their pickup and go system, then signed them and shipped them right from her home.
Provide Valuable Content: Our company’s established social media presence came in handy during the pandemic. We posted often on our social media outlets and created a family fun quarantine checklist for our readers as a way to provide hope and optimism while reinforcing our mission to be a source of empowerment for children.
Preorder Campaign: This was a new one for us as a team, but we decided it was a great time to try. As the person organizing the materials, I was able to order all of the prizes online, weigh them, and ship them right from my home office. In the past, this was not a strategy we had used, but we always considered trying it, and it became a great time to do so. We kept it simple and said that with proof of purchase of the book we were launching, customers would receive a swag pack that included a notepad, stickers from the book, a bookmark, and a button.
2. We Offered Support for Free or for a Minimal Fee.
Sunny Side Home School: The free digital learning I offered in lieu of my book tour brought in 6,000 interested families. Nearly 2,000 signed up and, on average, with 200 families logged in to the weekly lessons, it equated to around 400-500 children receiving positive messages of kindness, hope, empathy, and more. This leap in trying something new connected me to new readers and allowed me to offer my expertise to more families.
Product at Low Cost: The back of the new parenting book comes with a poster filled with 101 must read picture books for families. It is interactive, as it comes with stickers to mark off which books have been read. I remind families that they still have access to books in many ways: YouTube readings as well as digital check-out through programs like Hoopla and Libby. I had 200 of these posters separate from the book and was able to sell and ship them right from home.
3. We Ramped Up Collaborations.
Consider New Partnerships: Those emails you may normally delete or pass by may be wise to reconsider during trying times, as they could offer the opportunity for unique collaborations. I had several emails lead to online speaking engagements and unique business collaborations. For example, we started reaching out to Facebook groups geared toward parents and offered a 30-minute live program I could give from excerpts of Sunny Side Upbringing. One of these actually led to the booking of a keynote presentation later this year!
Organize a Virtual Summit: You can ask your friends in the industry to join forces in an effort to teach something to your online communities and offer added value. I recently released a parenting book and, as a result of online networking during this time, I was invited to speak at a Parenting in the Pandemic Virtual Summit where over a dozen parenting experts were featured in an effort to share valuable content to readers.
Virtual Readings for Access to All: We collaborated with an American Sign Language educator for one of our author readings on social media, providing access to our books to different abled individuals. A great partnership for the future!
In conclusion, the experience of COVID-19 this year has taught us several things. As a publisher, we are reminded of how important our digital strategy is, and we will continue to strengthen it in the future. We now see that in a time of crisis, we can support our community of readers in many ways.
Maria Dismondy is an author and founder of the publishing company, Cardinal Rule Press. When she isn’t working, she can be found embarking on adventures throughout Southeast Michigan and beyond, where she lives with her husband and three book-loving children.