Publishing a Book During a Pandemic (Or Not)

April 06, 2020

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

In publishing a book, timing matters. You’ve spent a year or more writing it and developing the final product. You have a system set up for pre-orders and help with promotions. All the arrows point to a single date on the calendar: your publishing date. If all goes well, the book creates a splash on that day and the ripples reach further than you ever could.

That’s the dream.

For the past six months, I’ve worked to arrange all the arrows to point to the day that Big Enough would be published. For me, that date was May 5th, 2020. 

Living in Washington State, home of the first COVID-19 diagnosis and death in the U.S., I was well aware of the virus’ potential impact on public health and the economy. I didn’t worry about the book at first. As the virus swept across the country and states issued stay-at-home orders, I saw a renewed interest in reading. People asked for book recommendations on Twitter. Maybe being home could actually be good for book sales?

I also saw that the themes of Big Enough were well-suited for the current situation. It’s about designing a business that can weather a storm and be resilient. I discuss a kind of entrepreneurship that aspires to be small, home-based and diversified. A full chapter is devoted to a mode of living we call “The Monetorium” that’s focused on reducing expenses to help accomplish a goal or get through a crisis.

In some ways, the planned timing of Big Enough’s May release seemed quite good. It is perhaps more relevant than ever before and part of me felt that publishing it was a risk worth taking. It could help business-oriented people adjust to the new, post-COVID environment.

In a normal situation, April would have been a busy month. I’d be lining up podcast appearances, writing articles, and publishing videos. My goal would have been to introduce as many people as possible to the book and help them see why it matters. Momentum in April would go toward making a splash in May. 

I soon realized, along with the rest of the world, that April and May were not shaping up to be normal months. In fact, they were looking increasingly like months of when COVID-19 would be at its peak. I had to ask myself: do I feel comfortable marketing a book during a pandemic? This led to a practical consideration: Could the publishing date change? 

The clock was ticking. I asked my publishing partners at Page Two about the potential to move the date and they said it was possible and making the decision a month in advance would give the supply chain time to adjust. That created a deadline. I needed to decide by April 5th.

The potential to move the date felt like an escape hatch. As the news grew grimmer by the day, I became more pessimistic. Marketing and publishing a book during a tragedy didn’t seem right to me on a personal level. This feeling was bolstered by a number of practical considerations.  

One concern was logistics. With so many businesses closed, the supply chains that reliably deliver books to stores and warehouses could be disrupted and become unpredictable. There’s a real possibility my publishing date could arrive without books on shelves.

Further, coronavirus news is dominating and will continue to dominate everyone’s attention. The potential to build awareness for a new book seemed like an overwhelming challenge, even with a pertinent message. 

Lastly, there is the economy. The Federal Reserve recently said that unemployment could reach 32%. On the same day, the IMF announced that we were officially in a global recession. These are not good signs for selling anything in the short term. 

My overall feeling was that the publish date had to change. There are too many unknowns and risks. The only certainty was that the coronavirus will still be with us in May. On a personal level, I worried about appearing tone-deaf.

In a recent meeting with Page Two, we decided to refocus our efforts on publishing Big Enough in the fall, probably in early September. I’m happy with this decision and hopeful that, by then, we’ll be recovering from the pandemic and starting to feel more positively about the future. If we’re right, the book will hit shelves at a time when it can help people who are reassessing their careers and lifestyles. If we’re right, it could make an even bigger splash.

Today this decision feels like a relief. In the rush to publish a book, it’s sometimes difficult to take a step back and reassess messaging and marketing. Deadlines must be met. With this change of date, I now have the luxury to look at Big Enough with fresh eyes and think long and hard about how it will land in what is hopefully a post-COVID environment.

If you would like to be notified about the release of Big Enough and download a sample chapter, you can do so at bigenough.life

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Each week, I share a story from my life, which usually involves a recent move to an island, building a custom home, publishing books, and running a business. Learn more.

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