Any author will tell you that launching a new book creates anxiety. For several weeks prior to publication and several after, the author’s life is obsessed with bringing that new book into the world. She wants to give it every chance to succeed.
Most of us have a series of steps that we take each time, a path forged through trial and error. We know our readers and think we understand how to engage them without overdoing it.
What happens, however, when the world turns upside down? When the norms are no longer in place? When the readership is under unusual stress?
I faced that with the release of my most recent book, Heiress for Hire (April 28). There I was, smack dab in the middle of the worst Covid-19 numbers coming out of this pandemic. My normal ways of launching my book no longer felt right.
Many of my readers were not leaving home for groceries, let alone to buy books. Not to mention that the stores that sold them books were either closed, or had limited hours. Many of them had lost their jobs. Others had medical crises. Under those circumstances, how should I communicate with them?
One of my core activities around a release is sending out my newsletters. I have a large email list, accumulated over years of being published. I now had to think long and hard about how I approached my readership through those communications. It meant changing the format, the emphasis, and even my own comfort level with engagement.
Regarding the format, it went without saying that I was not going to do a lot of “selling” in that newsletter sent on launch day. So, first things first, the promotion of my book was moved down the page, “below the fold." The cover was still prominently on the left margin, along with the vendor buttons, but the actual email did not lead with “Wow, I have a new book out! How cool is that?”
Instead, I wrote about our shared experiences during this most unusual time. I didn’t want to be a downer—there is enough out there that is depressing already. However, I did not think it would be appropriate to pretend nothing had changed either.
This is where going beyond my comfort level came in. I am a private person. You won’t see pictures of my family on my website or social media pages, with few exceptions. I don’t document my life online. For this newsletter, however, I talked about MY experiences while acknowledging others had it much worse. I tried to keep the tone light, even humorous in an “I’ve become a little weird” sort of way.
It was perhaps one of the most personal and authentic paragraphs I have ever put in a newsletter.
I then debated whether to include something else. I had decided to donate the royalties from my first week sales to several charities that help those in need, and that were experiencing unprecedented demands on their resources. Should I inform my readers about this?
I’m very sensitive to companies that tie donations to sales. It can easily look opportunistic. It is a very delicate balance.
However, I had no intention of making this a case of “for each book you buy, send me proof and I’ll donate the royalty.” I was just going to do it, no matter how many sold or who bought them. The only question was whether I would reveal that I was doing this.
I finally decided to chance it, and trust that my readers would understand where my heart was. So I informed them of it in that newsletter, and explained how I would calculate the donation.
After that I returned to typical newsletter material, with my writing news, the announcement of my new release, and the value-added content that I normally include.
I think that newsletter was very well received. I had more email responses than I typically do. A few readers even misunderstood and did inform me they had bought the book, so I would know to donate the royalty. It was clear from some of their emails that they appreciated that I had shared the same disruptions to life that they were experiencing.
I am now preparing another newsletter. I will report on that donation, and let my readers know that after it was all settled, and I knew what I would be donating, Kensington Publishing informed me that they would match my donation. This was a wonderful surprise and makes this the best launch ever. I am touched by my publisher’s generosity. I think my readers will be too.