by Kathy Meis
According to an April 19, 2020 CNBC news report, “there was a whopping 777% increase in book purchases” in the first half of April as compared to the first half of March. It’s clear that quarantined readers are devouring books in record numbers, but there have also been important changes in reader preferences and habits amid this boom. These shifts present opportunities for resourceful authors who know where to look. So let’s dive into three top trends we’ve identified.
1. Children’s Books Are Topping the Charts
While parents are juggling unfamiliar work-from-home responsibilities, they’re also helping their children navigate online learning, many for the first time. It’s a tough combination. A variety of children’s books are keeping youngsters busy with fun, educational activities… and parents are buying them in droves: Juvenile book sales are up 80% since the beginning of March, according to the NPD Group, a market research company. This category covers everything from middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction to first readers and educational books. Activity books sales have risen nearly 40% in recent weeks.
These buying trends present a number of opportunities for indie authors who write for children and teens: If you publish illustrated children’s books, consider creating a simple activity or coloring book with your characters. While this type of book should still have a full-color cover, the interior can be black and white. While selling these activity books online, consider hosting a few free, downloadable coloring or activity pages on your website. Many authors are hosting live, online readings (using YouTube, Facetime, Zoom or other online video platforms) and sharing free resources during their events. Not only can this approach help you build awareness of your work, but it will certainly endear you to frazzled parents. Make sure to make it easy for them to click from free resources to your book’s product pages at online retailers. If you write middle grade or young adult fiction, consider publishing a short ebook that you can get into the hands of your current (and potential) fans quickly. This might be a novella, a collection of short stories, or an anthology that you put together with other authors in your genre. The key is to lean into this moment with something that delights young readers during a time of potential confusion, boredom and angst. Keep the price low and use the book as a tool to promote your work, build your author brand, and grow your email list by adding a reader magnet to the end of the book.
2. “Feel Good” Fiction & Price Promotions Are an Enticing Combination
There have been a number of articles published recently on the power of reading to calm “coronanxiety.” Genre readers are immersing themselves in their favorite genres. There has been sales growth in most of the major fiction genres, but there has been an even bigger bump in what is called “feel good” fiction. Reading is a powerful form of escapism and right now readers are searching for happy endings to counteract the unsettling headlines that confront them at every turn. Genre fiction, especially in the ebook format, has always been price sensitive and now is a great time to consider online price promotions and giveaways. Discounts and giveaways can pack a punch right now because of two concurrent trends. First, searches for free and bargain books are up due to economic uncertainty. Second, according to the same CNBC report mentioned above, “e-commerce spending in the U.S. is up more than 30% from the beginning of March through mid-April compared with the same period last year, according to market research firm Rakuten Intelligence.” Online bargain hunting coupled with the quarantine reading boom and a big uptick in social media usage makes this an ideal time for you to increase your online ad spend, especially to drive readers to your promotion.
Tap into the genre fiction reading boom by scheduling a 24-hour price promotion or giveaway at one of the major online price promotion sites. There are dozens of free and paid sites that will promote your discount or giveaway, some are genre-specific. Here are a few of the major sites: Bargain Booksy, Free Booksy, BookBub, Book Dealio, BookDoggy, and BookGorilla. Read the rules of your promotion carefully and make sure that your book’s product page is optimized to convert browsers into buyers. Consider increasing your online ad spend to drive even more readers to your promotion. Let your social followers and email list know as well.
This type of promotion works especially well for prequels and books that are first in a series with strong read-through potential. You might not make a lot of money on the discounted book, but if readers buy all of the books in a series, your financial return could be strong. If you add a reader magnet to the back of your promoted book, this is also a great way to grow your email list. Make sure to let readers know that reviews are important to you. Price promotions often lead to more reader reviews. One last note on this type of promotion during quarantine: avoid pushy sales tactics. I’m never a fan of such tactics, but right now is not the time to be a salesperson. People are hurting. Let the advertising do the selling for you. If you reduce the price of your book with the intention of helping readers out during uncertain economic times, you’ll garner goodwill and sell books. If you push too hard for the sale, you’re likely to appear insensitive.
3. Short Nonfiction Books Present a Powerful Opportunity for Author Brand Building
If you are a thought leader or expert in your field, now is a wonderful time to step up and lead. By this, I mean be proactive and share your knowledge with those trying to make sense of a world turned upside down. If you can help business owners adapt to COVID-related closures or provide career advice to professionals navigating recent layoffs and furloughs, there is a need for content. The same goes for authors with particular skillsets—knitting, painting, cooking, writing…you name it. Life in quarantine has compelled many to explore new hobbies and crafts. The opportunity in this trend is to build brand awareness and reader loyalty. By sharing your expertise when so many are looking for answers, you position yourself as a leader in your field.
Consider producing short, high-quality nonfiction books that you can generate quickly on topics you know well.
Keep the price of your book affordable and address the specific information needs of your target readers. Short and affordable can be a winning combination to attract new readers, as they are often more willing to try new authors if the time commitment and price are right.
With more readers willing to give your work a try, you can build awareness of your expertise. This can have many benefits: It might bring attention to other books you’ve already published or shine a spotlight on a forthcoming title. It can also become and effective lead generation tool for your business or online courses.
Consider dissecting big issues into numerous short books that are part of branded series. Interestingly, a number of top editorial business brands are doing just that. Harvard Business Review, for example, is releasing two short Coronavirus business books this spring as part of its HBR Insights series. One of the books is only 88 pages.
If you’ve written on a subject for a long time, you probably have lots of content that you can repurpose. Blogs, online courses, webinars, speeches, and white papers can become book content. You don’t always have to start a book from scratch.
Make sure to create bonus material that complements the subject of your book. Workbooks, case studies, white papers, and resource lists are good examples, and can be housed on your website or a landing page. This way, readers who are already interested in your work can come to your website, leave their name and email, and gain even more value for free. But now you know who bought your book and you have the opportunity to connect with them and offer them services or additional content. It’s a great way to build your email list while building a respected brand in your space.
The first year of the new decade has been full of jaw-dropping surprises—most of them not good. But one pleasant surprise is the upsurge in reading.
One last thought: While I hope you’ll take advantage of some of the opportunities I’ve outlined in this post, I also encourage you to reach out and support your local booksellers. With forced closures due to social distancing policies, they are facing very tough times. I’ve always encouraged authors to sell their books broadly at as many retailers as possible, but I’m also a big advocate of buying local. Supporting local business owners, especially in these unprecedented times, is more important than ever. Stay healthy and keep creating!
[Kathy Meis is an entrepreneur, writer, and editor with more than thirty years of experience in media and publishing.]