It’s fair to say 2020 was challenging. Next week, I’ll be starting a new series called Launches in Lockdown. Fellow writers and I will share our experiences of launching books during what has been one of the strangest periods in modern history. (I wish I could say I was exaggerating).
There is another side to this coin. How did 2020 impact publishers? I thought I’d talk again to local YA writer and publisher, Richard Hardie. He has a good view from both sides of the fence.
Behind The Scenes
It pays all writers to understand a bit about what goes on behind the scenes. Knowing what publishers have to do and the pressures facing them can help you tailor your submissions to make their work of deciding whether or not to take you on easier.
Oh and a co-operative, professional in their approach and attitude writer will always stand a better chance of being taken on than an author who does not take that line. Think about it from the publisher’s viewpoint. Who would you rather work with?!
So whether you write the books or publish them or, like Richard do both, 2020 was tough, not helped by a swamp of books released in October. The publication of some books had been delayed earlier in 2020 due to ink and paper supply problems at the start of the first lockdown. Things thankfully eased since then. Nor did it help that a major distributor, Bertrams, went into administration.
You’ve probably heard of the film The Land Time Forgot. Shall we call 2020 the year everyone wants to forget?
So over to Richard.
Challenges of Lockdown – As a Publisher
Richard, what would you say were the NEW challenges you had to overcome at Authors Reach this year due to Covid?
Hi Allison, I must admit I prefer challenges I can see coming and have a possibility of dealing with. However, the Covid challenge was something on the horizon until the end of February.
In fact, in January and February I took on two new authors, did three bookshop signings and a school talk on World Book Day. It looked as though 2020 was going to be normal.
Then the pandemic hit and the first lockdown started, shops shut, and I haven’t done a book shop signing event since. That’s pretty disastrous as the majority of our sales come from shop signings. The challenge therefore was how to market and sell books in 2020.
Did you need to defer publishing books due to supplier issues?
The upside of not being able to sell books in shops was we all had time on our hands to write. One of our authors did in fact launch a new book in July, but only on Amazon, which of course has boomed during the pandemic. She (we) launched it on Facebook, used online marketing companies to promote it, and it has sold well as a Kindle book. Most Authors Reach authors have work in progress, but are hanging back until things improve and people can once again be closer than six feet from each other!
Two of your authors had books come out just before lockdown but of course that then scuppered plans for live events. How has AR adjusted to that? Have you been able to move things online or is it a question of waiting for this strange time to subside and start again as soon as is practicable? (The latter will be the case for live events for everyone).
The answer is a combination of an online solution and looking for alternative ways of promoting and selling our books. The one thing we can’t do is to NOTHING!
You have carried out a major revamp of the AR website during this time. (See link. https://www.authorsreach.co.uk/). Had you planned to do this or was it a case of getting this job done because live events etc were out of the question?
I had always intended completely revamping my author website www.rhardie.com. It was some years since it had been built by a friend and it looked old and dated. I also found it difficult to manage and update.
I used the WIX system to build it and after a sharp learning curve it took me about a week to construct the pages and upload all the data and photos I wanted, as well as creating all the links to other sites. If I say it myself, it looks good!
I then looked at the Authors Reach Ltd website and realised that also needed to be revamped, especially as the person who originally built and was updating it had amicably left us. I had time on my hands so to speak, and having learnt how to use WIX successfully, I created the new company site www.authorsreach.co.uk which was colourful, easy to navigate and did what it was meant to do … promote our authors and their books.
I’ve also found it very easy to update with blogs, interviews and news. In fact, Francesca Tyer maintains the blogs and interviews, while all our authors send me news items about themselves for me to update the site.
Creating both sites took just over a week, including planning the design and dong the “coding”. A professional would have charged well over a £1,000 to have done the same. Maybe there’s a new career path beckoning!
From that point of view we created something positive from the pandemic.
(Allison: I will add here one thing writers can forget to do is the “housekeeping” and website updates, keeping said sites fresh and relevant, is an important part of this).
One problem all publishers have faced is when deferring publications, there does come a point when you DO have to publish. Will you be facing the dilemma of having a backlog of books to release at some point? Indie publishers such as AR may have less of an issue here than the bigger publishing houses have faced but if you’re committed to publish by a certain date, well you’re committed to it regardless of your size as a publisher.
I believe we will have five and possibly six books to publish in the first quarter of 2021. We will have to decide for each book whether to publish them on Amazon, or print via Clays and get Gardners to distribute them. Amazon actually get their books from Gardners in the UK, so that is certainly an option.
As to drop dead dates for publishing a book, we don’t tend to have that, though what does necessitate a launch is the demand of the reading public, especially where a series is in question. Authors who write a series tend to bring out the next book in the series on a regular basis. If they don’t, they risk losing their fanbase.
Shani Struthers, one of our authors, is prolific and will bring our usually two books a year. She currently has three different series running and keeps her fans wanting the next book. The third book in my own Temporal Detective Agency series is overdue and will have to be out in the first quarter of 2021.
One complication is distribution. Bertrams, the second biggest distributor in the UK after Gardners, has gone into administration. Hopefully Gardners will weather the storm.
How has Covid affected your marketing strategy as a publisher?
It hasn’t affected our marketing all that much. Each of our authors decides how they want to market their books, depending on the market they believe they are targeting.
Currently marketing initiatives are limited to –
- Online marketing, using companies like Bookbub
- Facebook personal, group and company pages
- Twitter and Instagram
- Local Facebook groups
- Independent and internet radio stations like Chat & Spin
The important thing is that all Authors Reach authors help each other in launch parties, prizes and in shout-outs.
Challenges of Lockdown – As a Writer
And now a brief pause as Richard swaps hats and puts his writer’s one on.
Richard, have you had to defer plans to bring your own new book out? I know you’re working on Book 3 in the Temporal Detective Agency series and that a book of short stories is on the go for you. Have the problems you would have faced as a publisher led to you having to defer your plans as an author?
You’re right, Allison. I had planned on launching Book 3 towards the end of 2020 until the pandemic hit and I decided to put the launch back to the end of the first quarter of 2021 and maybe later. The series of short stories is also progressing, though I think Christmas 2021 is a more likely time now, especially as the core of the plot is a Christmas dinner with the Agency characters each telling an after dinner story.
Book 4 is storyboarded to a large extent and I have an idea for Book 5. It’s enough to keep me busy until Book 3 is ready and it’s absolutely the right time to launch it.
The biggest disappointment for every writer has to be the fact live events were no-go for everyone. Naturally we all hope to make up for that in due course but have you found online events have helped at all?
I loved doing bookshop and book fair signing events. Some are a constant stream of people for three to four hours, while I’ve also had a couple where only three or four people came into the shop. It happens, but strangely I still enjoyed them, and usually the shop owner became a friend.
However my last shop signing was W.H. Smith in Southampton, together with a fellow Authors Reach Ltd author, Francesca Tyer. That was back in February, and since then … nothing!
I’ve not used online events because I love the interaction with people face to face (or mask to mask as it would be today!). Other authors may find online events work for them and I wish them every success!
(Allison: I’ve missed going to events like Swanwick, where I meet fellow writers face to face, and also have the chance to sell books, but Zoom events have been useful to me this year and I have noted spikes in my Kindle sales in particular after them. It is a question of writers doing what they can).
Facebook support groups and things like Zoom have helped many writers this year, including me, but what would you say has helped you the most as a writer? I know you were busy just before Christmas delivering signed copies of your books to local people having advertised them online. How did that work out in the end?
In October I had the idea of offering to sign, dedicate and post copies of my books for the cover price and I would pay the postage. I put the idea out on three Facebook pages I run and also on the Authors Reach Ltd page. I also put it on my own website and Authors Reach’s with the agreement of all our authors. The response was extremely poor.
In December I decided to make the same offer on my local “Friendly Neighbours” Facebook page and expected that maybe five or six people might respond. In the two weeks leading up to Christmas I sold, signed, dedicated and delivered 83 copies of my books in the local area!
I was stunned. I hand-delivered all of them and met some absolutely lovely people, and on many occasions I also met their kids, some of whom remembered me from school visits I’d made in the past. From that two weeks, I now have two local school visits lined up to talk to 8 to 10 year olds and an expanded fanbase!
(Allison: Well done! It can be surprising how one “event” opens the way for others.).
Having chatted with other writing friends during the year, there seems to be an even split between those who have written more but read less (I’m in that camp) and those who have read huge numbers of books but have not been able to write as much as usual. Which camp have you fallen into here? Why do you think you’re in that camp? (In my case, I think it was a case of my subsconscious telling me you can do one creative activity, Madam, but you’re not doing two! Annoying but it is passing and my reading is picking up now).
I must admit I read quite a lot this year and reread many books that I love. I read Simon Scarrow’s Roman Legionnaire books again and I also read two or three Terry Pratchett books again. I’m currently reading Terry’s Raising Steam.
(Allison: One of my favourites from TP and a fab storyline).
That’s not to say I didn’t write … I did, but I also read the first Temporal Detective Agency book again, Leap of Faith, to make sure I still knew how to write as a 14 year old girl. “Voice” is so important!
One thing delivering the books before Christmas did was to reassure me there is a market for my books, and since then I’ve been concentrating on finishing Book 3 with renewed enthusiasm.
What would you like to see happen for writers next year? (I want to see live events including writing conferences back in some form. I also want Zoom to continue to make events accessible to those who, for whatever reason, can’t get to live events such as book signings etc).
I want to see bookshops open up fully again and people be able to go into them unafraid without wearing masks. As long as masks are mandated book signings will be next to impossible, and with a six feet distance required between people (I refuse to call it “social distancing”. It isn’t. It’s the most anti-social thing I know) and interaction between author and client is impossible. That also applies to book fairs as well of course.
The only time I think I will use Zoom as an author will be when my publisher (Oh, that’s me!) holds a company-wide Zoom meeting early in 2021.
How has Covid affected your marketing strategy as an author?
Obviously I can’t do book signings, or school talks, but other than that, as a writer I don’t think my marketing has changed all that much. As a publisher I’ve had to be creative to work with my authors to create marketing strategies that suit their market age range, genre and where their main reader group lives (e.g. UK or USA).
I would just add, Allison, how lucky book authors are. It’s one of the very few jobs that you can do without the possibility of catching the Covid virus!
(Allison: Indeed. I’ve found writing has meant I’ve been far too busy concentrating on positive, creative things than on the negativity that is so prevalent right now. Writing also takes you out of yourself, stretches you, and you end up with a “product” others will hopefully enjoy later on. What’s not to like about that?!).
A huge thanks, Richard, for sharing fascinating insights into how Covid has hit publishers and authors, especially as in your case, you have had the “double whammy” here. The irony with the whole wretched business is book sales have gone up (especially for escapist literature such as the works of P.G. Wodehouse) so there is an acknowledgement there story tellers are still as necessary as they’ve always been.
But we do need to find more ways of getting works out there and until life can return to normal again, writers and publishers alike are going to have to use whatever tools they can, including online ones, with that aim in mind. That’s okay and Zoom has been a lifeline but we all long to have Book Fairs and the like there and to be able to welcome people in person to our book stalls. Hopefully soon!
Richard Hardie – Author Bio
I became a full-time author when I retired after spending 45 years in the IT industry as sales manager and sales director. I spent so many hours flying round the world that I jokingly told someone I could have written a book in those lost hours. I decided that wasn’t a bad idea.
I’d already written two stage shows for the Scouts and Guides Associations (the first in collaboration with Terry Pratchett) and the plot for one seemed capable of being a book. It became Leap of Faith and was finally published five years later. I started my own publishing company four years ago and now have nine established authors on my books.
“It keeps me feeling young” the old man said!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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