How Indie Book Marketing Has Evolved Over the Past Year [Guest Post]

Guest Post submitted by Savannah Cordova of Reedsy

After more than a year of COVID-19, authors and publishers are all too familiar with shuttered bookstores, reimagined events, and unpredictable cancellations. But as we emerge from a world in lockdown, the question of how indie book marketing will adapt to our new reality has become even more prominent. Has the pandemic caused a permanent shift in the way we buy and sell books? Are there any benefits to be eked out of its many malfunctions? 

As a writer and content marketer at Reedsy, here’s how I think book marketing has evolved — along with some tips that I hope will help indie authors and publishers effectively escape the chaos of the past year, and move forward successfully.

An emphasis on community

When the collective struggle began, indie authors started to really recognize other authors, publishers, and readers as their people: book people. As we came to understand the value of community throughout periods of isolation, connecting and supporting fellow “book people” (online, of course) became central to indie book marketing.

Fostering a connection with your audience — by focusing on socializing, not selling — is one major element of “COVID book marketing” that’s here to stay. This virtual but personal interaction has proven to be the key to success on social media platforms for authors. 

Because let’s face it, when we were all a little lonely, social media promotion became more about interacting on a human level than about speaking at your audience to buy your book. It was also about reaching out and partnering with other authors; sharing their events, liking their posts, reading their books — then hoping they’d share your stuff, too.

The best way to build trust — and relationships that will yield results — is to be open and authentic, and to have fun! Which is why I recommend engaging with readers on whichever social media platforms you prefer. If you can curate aesthetically pleasing book stacks, Instagram is your stage. If you’re good for a laugh, Twitter is your pulpit. The best social strategy for you is the one that plays to your strengths and builds you a like-minded audience.

The take-off of TikTok

One platform I imagine not many authors would say they feel comfortable on is TikTok. But over the past twelve months, the short-form video platform has really taken off — and among the dance routines, pranks, lip-syncs, and pet videos, there’s a plethora of book-related content. 

TikTok’s bookish community uses the hashtag #BookTok to share recommendations, reactions, shelf tours, and short reviews — all useful marketing tools that indie authors and publishers should learn how to leverage. Younger authors, especially those with a young adult audience, might find TikTok a natural place to interact with readers! Its discovery-oriented feed allows anyone who might have an interest in your content to find you, even if they don’t follow you.

In other words, TikTok can be a very effective way of getting your name out there. Even authors who don’t “go viral” can still get value out of the platform by keeping their finger on the pulse of what’s trending, and using that to position their author brand.

That said, having spoken about the importance of authenticity, I should mention that most well-received TikTok videos are genuine and off-the-cuff — not overly scripted or heavy-handed with the marketing. So if you enjoy being in front of the camera and want to share a slice of your personality with readers, TikTok is a fun platform to try!

Camera-shy authors, meanwhile, might try their hand at a bit of influencer outreach via the platform. One common TikTok tactic is offering influencers free books in the hopes that they’ll feature your title in one of their videos. For indie authors, it’s definitely worth a shot.

More creative content sharing

During the pandemic, the amount of creative content on the internet multiplied exponentially — as did the number of ways to share it.

When online events began (readings, Q&As, shelf tours, etc.) it was hard to see why we hadn’t been doing them before. Not only are they much cheaper, but they can mean meeting with authors or specialists you’d never meet in real life. And as an author, you can reach an audience you wouldn’t find at your local bookstore — plus thousands more who watch the replay.

There are downsides, of course — the main one being that you miss out on readers who don’t have access to the required technology, or struggle to use it, as well as those who simply prefer buying books and meeting authors in person. Still, odds are that the best book marketing campaigns will continue to involve some virtual element.

To that end, it’s time to get creative with the content you produce and the ways in which you share it. Collaborate with other authors on Instagram Live and read snippets of your work; start a podcast with a friend who’s interested in the same topics as you; or stick to writing and start a blog or pitch articles to websites like LitHub and Electric Literature. Creating this content that’s related to your book is both valuable in itself and a great way to reach new readers!

If you’re stuck for ideas, you could even write (or talk) about your publishing journey, teaching other writers about self-publishing. The audience for this sort of content is always going to be stuffed with book-lovers, so you’ll be tapping into a new pool of readers. And who knows — some of your fans and followers may be useful contacts at some point in the future.

The growth of other formats

As well as changing how people consume short-form creative content, COVID-19 has also impacted how people consume books themselves. Despite big-box stores continuing to drive paperback sales — and the support shown for indie bookstores on social media — ebook sales have risen, as have audiobook sales.

And it’s not just because people couldn’t get to a bookstore. Now that shops are open, these formats continue to thrive: they’re convenient and accessible to a wider audience, not to mention that COVID-19 continues to pose long-term problems to the supply chain of print books. So if you’re an indie author or publisher, and you know how to publish an ebook or make an audiobook, don’t waste any more time. Already got them, you say? Shout it from the rooftops!

Most indie authors know the value of running price promotions on ebooks and audiobooks, getting a coveted spot in a newsletter like BookBub’s, and maybe even running Amazon or BookBub ads. But (sorry to harp on about it), don’t forget that social media channels like Instagram and Twitter can be used for more than just pretty pictures of paperbacks. 

Thanks to the pandemic, ARCs have been hard to come by for a while — which meant that authors who previously used them to stage photos during their pre-order period have had to get creative with ebook covers and e-reader photos instead. The results have been gorgeous, so I imagine it’s a trend that’s here to stay. Snippets of audiobooks can also make for particularly enticing content that works to sell all formats of your book; why not take advantage?

I think we can safely conclude that indie book marketing has evolved significantly over the past year or so. And while we’re seeing the return of in-person book sales and events, it seems that the impacts of the COVID-19 shift are here to stay… at least for the near future.

Not that this is a bad thing! As I see it, these changes only give indie authors more ways to have fun and build an engaged audience — a surprisingly strong silver lining after a difficult year.

Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the world’s best publishing resources and professionals. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.

Published by Kelly Schuknecht

Kelly Schuknecht is a marketer with a background in the publishing industry. She is passionate about all things related to books and loves helping authors navigate the world of social media for book promotion. She recently launched the course Marketing Your Book on TikTok.

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