by Justine Bylo
I always joke that Christmas is never the most “wonderful time of the year” for me. When you work for IngramSpark, like I do, the holidays are synonymous with retail Christmas angst. Amazon has made us all very guilty of being used to a two-day turnaround time. Let’s admit it, we’re spoiled! But if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that even the giant that is Amazon sometimes falters. This holiday season, let’s keep this in mind. This year is unlike any other. As I write this post, we are exactly six weeks till Christmas day, and I am bracing. All of you should be bracing too… and here is why. Let’s make some plans.
No matter what platform you use to order your books (IngramSpark, KDP, etc.), turnaround times spike right before Thanksgiving, which quickly snuck up on us this year. Time has ceased to exist in a traditional way during this pandemic. It was Halloween, then it was the election, then we all got caught up in the post-election haze, and then BOOM! All of a sudden, Thanksgiving is right around the corner.
You are not alone here. If you need books for Christmas gifts, giveaways, or customer direct orders, order them NOW. Honestly, stop reading this post and go order your books. COVID raised turnaround times for all printers. Things started to quiet down around the end of August, but this lull is coming to an end. Printing facilities not only have to contend with keeping their employees safe during a COVID spike but the holiday rush as well.
Please keep this in mind and plan accordingly. Also, I beg you to please keep this in mind when speaking to any customer service. Everyone is inundated and trying their best during these challenging times. Safety is always the number one priority.
The holidays are the season of buying. There are a few ways you can have a smarter strategy this year. The first way is by broadening your distribution. Many retailers may experience a lack of staff due to the pandemic while also experiencing high demand. Also, many people are feeling the need to support their local merchants during this time.
I suggest a tactic called being “retailer agnostic.” If you go wide with your distribution -- Amazon, B&N, bookshop.org, indie bookstores, libraries -- you can tell your readers that your book is “available everywhere books are sold.” If one store is out of stock or cannot fulfill the order, another store surely can. This is the beauty of not putting your eggs all in one basket. This also allows you to make a valuable connection with your local indie. If your store is open, go chat with the salespeople there, and let them know that your marketing is directing people to their store. They will appreciate the heads up and the business. If you go this route, please keep in mind that indies want “bookstore friendly terms.” You can find more info about what that means here!
The second way is by going customer direct. This has been an incredibly effective strategy during the pandemic. It truly allows you to become more engaged with your readers.
There are several ways you can do this. The most common way is setting up a storefront on your author website and then fulfilling it through Shopify or PayPal. This is where my first bit of advice comes into play. If you need books for these orders, order now!
Another way to do this is through Aerio. Aerio is Ingram’s customer direct selling tool. If your book is set up in IngramSpark and available for distribution, then you can create an Aerio account, create a virtual bookstore, and sell directly to your readers. Aerio is fulfilled by Ingram Book Company, so all orders are printed and shipped through Ingram. This means that you won’t have to schlep to the post office during this holiday season! You can find this service at aer.io.
What Makes This Year Different
Many books being launched this season are hangovers from the Spring. With COVID-19 being new, no one was sure what would happen. Many books that were due to publish in Spring 2020 were delayed because many of the retail outlets were closed, and book signings were canceled. These releases have been rescheduled for Fall 2020 or Winter 2020/2021. They will also be released in non-traditional ways since many bookstores are still closed, and the ways people buy books have changed. There are many more online sales and, as I mentioned, direct sales.
Be prepared to compete in a crowded market. Not only are more traditionally published books coming out in a short time, but there is a deluge of independently published titles as well. With so many people at home, they have finally found the time to finish their novel. So, there has been an influx of books produced this year compared to previous years. People are also reading a lot more and ordering more books because let’s face it, we’re bored.
Have a solid plan to market your book, so you rise above the noise. This means creating a strategic marketing plan well before your publication date. Get creative! Remember that your readers are stuck at home and living on the internet. Do some research about online marketing. Make sure you are finding your readers and connecting with them in a meaningful way.
This is also the optimum time to connect with your readers and build your email lists. Create blogs and send out newsletters. If you are planning a spring 2021 release, consider that many books may still be pushed from the 2020 editorial calendars, and so the regular season may be full of new books and authors.
I know this all sounds daunting but don’t panic! This is good news for authors. Be prepared to ride the wave!
Support Your Local Bookstores
Brick and mortar indie bookstores have taken a beating this year. Many have had to close due to COVID restrictions. Rent and utilities are still due, so they have been forced to change their business models to survive. Many have implemented curbside pick-up and delivery programs, much to the delight of their communities. Also, many have had to make the difficult leap to the online sales arena.
Unless they already had an established online store, many indies have had to quickly build their online infrastructure- which means an online e-commerce site and figuring out a way to fulfill it. Even those that were already in that space have great difficulty competing with other large internet retailers. Consider helping your local Indie stores by purchasing your Christmas gifts there, sending your readers to their local indies, and selling through bookshop.org.
Bookshop.org is the new, cool kid on the block of internet retailers that launched in February. It has backing from the American Booksellers Association, and a portion of all sales goes to local indie bookstores. So far this year, they have already raised nearly eight million dollars. The other cool thing about bookshop.org is that you can become an affiliate and create your own bookstore within their site. You can direct your readers here to shop for your books as well as books from other authors. Not only do you make a ten percent cut as the bookseller, but the indies still get their piece of the pie as well. You’re probably wondering, “how do I get my book on this amazing site?” If your book is set up with IngramSpark, it will automatically be fed to bookshop.org, and the listing will appear within ten business days.
If you take anything away from this post, I hope it is these simple things:
1. Order books now!
2. Go wide!
3. Customer direct sales are the future!
4. Make a plan to stand out.
5. Support your local indie!
6. Please be nice to the customer service people.
I know these may seem like obvious tips, but this year is unlike any other. This holiday season, the more time you give yourself and the more planning you do for potential bumps in the road, the more successful you will be. Happy holidays!
What are your plans for your next book launch? What is the state of your local bookstores?
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Justine Bylo manages the author acquisition program at IngramSpark. She works with authors and independent publishers to expand their flourishing literary platforms through smart sales and marketing strategies.
Justine has worked with Ingram Content Group for 7 years. During her tenure, she’s launched several author focused programs, been the host of the IngramSpark podcast, Go Publish Yourself, helped get print books into Rwanda for a literacy initiative, and even taught many co-workers to love romance novels.
Justine started her career in the unlikely place of television. She was a writing intern for The Colbert Report, where her snappy one-liners landed her jokes on the air. She later worked in reality TV development and production at Oxygen and Bravo before making the leap to publishing. Justine was a graduate of NYU Tisch in Dramatic Writing. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and their Corvette and continues to work on her own novels during her free time.