IBPA Members Share Tips to Weather the Effects of the Coronavirus – Part 2
Thursday, August 13, 2020
Posted by: Christopher Locke
From the onset of the coronavirus health crisis, IBPA has made providing our members with resources to help them navigate the crisis and keep their businesses afloat a top priority. Some of the most popular resources have been
IBPA’s COVID-19 Resource Center, the free IBPA Member Roundtables,
and the original article that ran in our March 19, 2020 newsletter, “IBPA Members Share Tips to Weather the Effects of the Coronavirus.”
IBPA has again reached out to our community to gather helpful tips for how independent publishers can weather the impact of the coronavirus health crisis on their business. IBPA hopes this advice proves beneficial in persevering through the overwhelming
and seemingly ever-shifting new normal.
“These certainly are trying times for everyone in the publishing industry. At Histria Books, we have taken a number of measures to adapt our business to the new realities. Initially, we saw a severe impact on our sales. To address this, we have worked
closely with our distributor, Casemate, to make adjustments to release dates for titles originally scheduled for release from May - July. We also worked to bring out electronic editions of several backlist titles that had not previously been released
in electronic format. This has also helped to generate new revenues. We are also working to bring several older, out-of-print titles, back into print as they require a minimal cash outlay and can also help to generate additional revenue.
“In addition to this, we have focused our efforts on social media to drive traffic to our website. As a result, we have seen a significant increase in our direct-to-consumer sales during the past two months. This is especially welcome as our profit margin
on books sold on our own website is significantly higher than those sold through normal distribution channels. Overall, our focus is on preparing titles for 2021-2022, so that when things start to turn around we will be well-positioned to grow our
—Dr. Kurt Brackob, Director,
“Even though Elva Resa has been in business 23 years, we took a step back to answer the question, “How would we do this if we were starting our company today in this environment?” The answers have helped us plan for uncertainty with an experienced startup
mindset while reestablishing the foundation for long-term growth. For each project or campaign, we evaluate the immediate impact on our cash and team resources, as well as how it furthers our mission going forward, balancing survivability and sustainability.
A few priorities have emerged for us:
- Creatively Collaborate with Key Customers and Partners
“Our primary customers are organizations who purchase in bulk and distribute books to military families at in-person events. Many of those programs have had to be postponed, canceled, or adapted during the pandemic. So one of our priorities is to
work closely with our key customers and partners to find creative, meaningful solutions to meet our mutual goal of supporting military families. Our success depends on their success, so our short-term goal is to do what we can to help their programs
successfully adapt and for our resources to stay relevant to their programs. This has strengthened the importance of our partnerships.
“One great example of this is with United Through Reading, an organization we’ve partnered with for many years. Normally, deployed service members would be able to come into one of United Through Reading’s many story stations around the world to record
themselves reading a book for the children in their lives, but the global coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult for those service members to access the story stations in person, or even to receive physical books in the mail.
“With the new program we launched earlier this summer, service members can record themselves reading a free Elva Resa ebook and send the video
to their families using the United Through Reading app. The family of the service member then receives a physical copy of the children’s book so they can read along with the video.
- Protect Cash
“In the first months of the pandemic, we were forced to dip into our cash reserves. Cash flow is very important to survivability, but our order levels are still unpredictable. So we are protecting cash in three ways:
“Inventory - We are evaluating our inventory and sales trends more frequently to manage inventory as close to demand as possible. We’re printing short digital runs when possible to prevent cash sitting in a warehouse. While this means some
sacrifices on margin in the short-term, this approach helps us maintain critical cash to pay our team and basic operating expenses.
“Priority Campaigns - We are limiting our marketing dollars to high-potential performing titles. We moved our new releases out one season to delay the launch-related marketing spend and to secure more preorders and bulk sales opportunities.
“Preorders and Bulk Sales - To fund reprints of popular titles and print runs of new releases, our sales efforts are focused on larger customer preorders and bulk order commitments to generate cash to pay for those press runs.
- Focus on the Mission
“During challenging times, it is natural for people to reevaluate what’s important in order to be intentional about where to spend time and energy. To help our team continue to find meaning in our work, we bring everything back to our mission to make
a positive difference in people’s lives through quality resources for and about military families. By focusing on the good we are doing, our authors, customers, partners, and team members are better able to support and inspire each other and remain
committed to our mutual goals.”
—Karen Pavlicin, Publisher, Elva Resa Publishing
“When Covid-19 rained down on the country, my well-planned book launch of Founding Stones disintegrated. I was to talk at Village Books in Bellingham, Washington at the end of March and then attend the IBPA Publishing University,
which brought me to Los Angeles, where I was to give a talk at Chevalier’s Bookstore.
“Founding Stones was the third book in my series, and Tavia Gilbert had just narrated this into an audiobook with the rest of the books to follow. I was proud of the coordination, the media hype, the combining of education with promotion.
Touring bookstores is expensive.
“Silver linings appear. I created five, three-minute videos, one for each of my books. Emboldened by the product, as well as the ease of me learning new tricks, I sent the video of Founding Stones to Village Books. Claire, the event planner,
loved the idea of doing a virtual book launch. She began researching the best platform.
“Ultimately, Claire settled on Crowdcast, which allowed for a large group, re-watching, ordering, all the features of Zoom and more. I found Sean Dwyer, an author, professor,
and wiz at the controls, to be my interviewer.
“Village Books and I promoted the event on social media, through their newsletter, and I did the same with added personal notes to close friends. Attendees accumulated. If I had been in the store, the place would have had standing-room only.
“As the attendees watched, drank wine at home, or in pajamas, I talked. Claire, Sean, and I bantered for an hour, and then the questions came from across the county. Florida, New York, Maryland, Nevada, California, Washington. My fans enjoyed the intimate
talk, stating that it was as if I was in their living room.
“For those who couldn’t attend, I reposted the event, and they were able to see it on Village Book’s webpage, my webpage, and since it was streamed live on Facebook, over 500 people viewed the book launch.
“Attendees clicked the green button to purchase books through Village Books, who later would mail them signed copies. As a bonus, a book club viewer mentioned it to her group, and I will do a follow-up Zoom meeting sometime soon.
“You can view a recording of the event here. In order to view it, you’ll either need to register, or you can friend Village Books on their Facebook
page. Also, my webpage will have a link.
“I’m looking for ways to build on this with other bookstores, conferences, and book groups. Silver linings—we all need them.”
—Abbe Rolnick, Founder, Sedro Publishing
“When the states started shutting down in March, my sales started shutting down, too. Eventually, they went to zero: day after day after day.
“Sales are essentially zero all of a sudden.
“Reaching out to friends for a little connection during shelter-in-place orders, I noticed that even those who were working from home responded instantly on Facebook Messenger. People were, seemingly, on Facebook all day and night and eager to talk to
friends and family.
“I didn't know what to do about losing all my sales. And, honestly, I figured things were hopeless. Once a book falls to zero for many days in a row, it falls so far off the Top X lists on Amazon that no one ever finds it. But I had a few boxes of unsold
books lying around so I decided to do a 'Book-a-Day Giveaway' on Facebook. I still wasn't selling books but I realized people were still out there and that my book was still of interest.
“Then I started putting up very small—like 2-3 page—excerpts from the book. People liked these, too. Finally, I made a few videos based on things from the book. This was nothing fancy. Mostly just me reading with some simple graphics and animation.
“This was in no way a strategic marketing plan. It was just something to do while nothing was happening—a way to stay connected to people instead of staying depressed. I didn't even check my sales for two weeks. I fully expected not a single sale during
the pandemic and maybe not much after that either.
“But I was wrong.
“When I finally looked at my numbers, I was selling books again. Not many but more than zero. A couple more weeks and I was back up to normal. For a variety of personal reasons, I was not able to continue this type of 'marketing' beyond mid-April but
it didn't matter. Sales continued to rise in May, then again in June. In July, and as we open into August, sales seem to have reached a nice steady plateau. Typically, June, July, and August are the slowest months of the year for me. This year, I'm
seeing numbers like I usually get at Christmas.
“The total numbers are not huge. The money isn't that great. But the phenomenon is interesting to me. Facebook has never been a good way to sell books. But an obvious thing occurred to me around May as sales started to come back: We're all so lonely.
Being cut off from friends and loved ones is hard. Many of us fill the void with social media. We look for a platform where we can find both friends and family and, for better or worse, that's Facebook.
“I didn't try to advertise on Facebook. As I said, that has never worked. What I tried to do was give something away every day that seemed like it had at least some small value to people who followed my work.
“Though I am very distressed as so many of us are that the pandemic seems to be getting worse, my sales today are better and steadier than they've ever been. And I haven't had to continue my 'free' stuff campaigns. Sales move up, little by little, on
their own now.
“The takeaway for me here is that giving away very small amounts of content that at least some people are interested in works pretty well during a pandemic when everyone is cut off from their friends and family, where most people have more time on their
hands, and where even those who are struggling with work-from-home arrangements are on social media all day in the background. I also suspect that people are reading a lot more. I know I am.
“This is a very tough time for all of us. Because of this, I think a spirit of generosity goes a long way. I didn't do anything that I hadn't done before. I just did more of it, more consistently. I'm not running ads, so I can't tell you that a single
sale has come directly from someone I reached out to. I don't think people want to be sold anything right now. But I do think they're especially inclined at this time to consume content they deem valuable from a trusted source—and then to make buying
decisions based on that experience.”
—Steve Peha, Founder, Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc.
|Author Publisher Paul Aertker
“Since schools closed across the globe, I have been selling tons of books, almost at the level of end-of-the-year holiday sales. I've also been giving away tons of books to teachers and parents with kids at home from school. Your book is the best business
“The Crime Travelers series is marketed as ‘the Bourne Identity but for kids.’ Our target market is 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. I give my books, the whole series, to
any teacher or librarian in this 10 - 12-year-old age group. I buy the books (on Amazon, B&N, Walmart, Target, etc.) and ship them for free to the school or the teacher's house. Give free of charge. No strings attached.
“News flash: Teachers don't have a lot of extra money, so when you tell them you're giving them books, they're gleeful. My marketing list comes from teachers who've shown interest in the series and/or school librarians who've clicked on an IBPA ad.
“Now, my books (my business card) are in the teachers' hands and classrooms. Stealth marketing. Inevitably, they write back and tell me the kids are fighting over the books, which means some of the students' parents will go out and buy the books so they
don't have to wait.
“I like this marketing tool, because it generates sales, helps kids and parents, and supports teachers.”
—Paul Aertker, Founder, Flying Solo Press
For more indie publisher feedback on how the coronavirus health crisis has impacted indie businesses, read this article, “IBPA Members Respond to ‘Pandemic Publishing’ Survey.”
IBPA wishes you, your publishing team, and your loved ones all the best of health!
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