Not your fault, obviously; you couldn’t know, as you toiled away, taking your time to carefully craft each word, that your release date would be scheduled for the tipping point of a worldwide crisis. That’s just bad luck. There’s no point fretting about those canceled bookstore and media events now, though, or how New Zealand just shut down every bookstore in the country, even online retailers, and what if other countries do that, I mean, my God. The question is: What do you do?
First, identify which category your book falls into:
- Books about pathogens or pandemics, which are suddenly super relevant.
- Fun escapism books offering to whisk the reader away from terrifying reality for a few hours.
- Books no-one cares about any more.
This is not a great time to be releasing a withering satire of consumerism, for example. No-one wants to hear that right now. We have bigger problems. Take your book and go away until I can stop worrying that I’m going to be coughed to death if I leave my house.
If your book is in the first category, you don’t need to be reading this. Go to your room, close the door, and think about how you might remodel your kitchen once those blood money royalty checks start coming in.
If you’re in the middle category, though, it’s tricky. You want to walk a fine line between coming off like you only care about promoting your novel during a global health crisis—you heartless monster—and not selling any books and having to fall back on your other skills, like pan-handling.
When you do media—if you do media, because, you know, there’s a lot going on, and you’re not the center of the universe—you’ll find they want to talk about something—anything!—other than the virus. Because that’s all they’ve been talking about, all day long, for weeks. But also, if you can relate your book to the virus somehow, to make it seem timely and relevant, they want that, too.
So try to hit secondary themes: topics that are more relatable because of the virus. For example:
- being forced into a confined space with other people who you might love very much, but my God, they’re around all the time, you can’t even go to the bathroom without someone asking you a question
- socially distancing, because haven’t we been doing that for a long time, in a sense, when you think about it
- coughing to death
Scrap that last one. Sorry. I just can’t stop thinking about it.
The best kind of promotion now, obviously, is online promotion. And by “best” I mean “only.” The danger here is that in the absence of anything else, you find yourself pounding your existing social media followers with increasingly see-through attempts to thrust your book into their faces. So you’re not spreading awareness far and wide so much as stabbing the same two hundred people in the eyeballs over and over.
If you can, offer something of interest to a wider circle. Like, if you can drop everything and work 16-hour days for two weeks to build an online game based on your novel, then your followers might enjoy that and pass it along to others. The game, that is. Not the virus. Then awareness of your novel can spread from person to person, exponentially, in a similar manner to how we’re all going to die.
Whatever you do, though, I think it would be wise to avoid being overly flippant. Sure, in these grim times, we could all use a little levity. But if it turns out that we’re standing on the precipice of a chasm filled with bodies, I don’t think you want to be the person having a good old chuckle about it. Don’t go too far the other way: Don’t start yanking on the plague bell. You won’t be shifting any copies of your book doing that. Save your existential dread for after pub date.
Aside from that… I’m really not sure. I mean, I wish you all the best. I really do.
Max Barry is the author of Providence, a sci-fi thriller to be released on March 31, 2020.