A Debut Novelist in a Pandemic: How to Navigate a Launch Through Social Media

Image: deep end of a swimming pool

Today’s post is by author Kathleen Marple Kalb (@KalbMarple), author of the Ella Shane Mysteries series.

It sure sounded like the happy ending: an agent and a three-book deal for my mystery series after two brutal years of querying, most of it during a family health crisis. All I had to do was get myself and my book ready for the big debut, and the heavens would open and the sun and spotlight would shine upon me, the wonderful new author.

Just one little problem: that big debut was in April 2020.

New author who?

No one cared about a fun little Gilded Age mystery with the world crumbling around them.

All entirely understandable. Even I didn’t care much some days.

But it was my book, my lifelong dream come true, and I had to find a way to promote it, even if I couldn’t leave the house to do it.

The only thing left to me was social media.

Sure, authors are told to have a “platform” these days, but I’ve thought of it as a part of the whole package, not my sole means of support. I’m a radio news anchor in my day job, and most of my knowledge of social media comes from the trolls who call me and my colleagues the “Spawn of Satan.” I wish that weren’t a direct quote, but it is.

With that experience in mind, I’d simply set up what my agent and publisher advised, never expecting to use it as much as my email, phone, and train pass.

Called that one wrong, too.

The good news: I had a traditional publisher, with a publicist and social media expert behind me. If you’ve ever wondered what you get for spending years of your life in the soul-killing swamp of querying, this is the answer: a team of very smart people who are on your side and have invested real cash money in your success.

While I was bailing a tsunami with a paper cup, at least I wasn’t fighting alone.

The publicist set up some virtual events, and the social media director gave me pointers. And then I held my breath and jumped. It wasn’t nearly as horrible as I’d feared.

Most folks in the reading and writing community are pretty nice, and most were very understanding and helpful when I showed up begging for attention, whether it was a guest post on their blog, or an interview, or just a few crumbs of useful advice. The founder of a Facebook genre group took me under her wing, and I ended up becoming an admin on the page. I made actual friends in the Twitter #WritersCommunity. A reviewer who liked my book pointed me to established authors who gave me more ideas.

Soon, I developed a routine. Every morning, after I get my son settled in Virtual School, I’d go online and prowl through social media, looking at what other writers were up to. If someone had done a guest post or interview, I’d track down the blog, host or podcaster and pitch myself. Shamelessly, but always politely and professionally.

I’ve also started managing my own content. And there’s a lot of it. I write two regular blog posts every week: one for the genre page and my website on querying survival tips, and one for my Goodreads page on fun historical facts. Every morning I put up a fun vintage image on all of my pages, followed by a series-related afternoon post on my Facebook author page. Then in the evening, it’s the daily goodnight post on the genre page, and some kind of vintage image for my own Twitter and Instagram feeds.

All of this sounds like a full-time job, and it very nearly is.

I approach it that way, anyhow. Being a pro never hurt me in my work life, and it’s certainly been a help now. No matter how scared or stressed I am (and I am, a lot!) I’m always polite, grateful and friendly. Nobody wants to hear me whine. They’ve got their own problems.

Now, I’m coming up on a new release. A Fatal First Night is due April 27th, and I’ve definitely taken a different approach, making social media the engine instead of an extra. Months ago, I started contacting the people I’d met along the way, setting up interviews, guest posts and more with an eye to this next book. It’s a lot less scary now, because I know the players, and what they expect. Easier, too, because it’s no longer the great unknown void of social media: it’s now a world I see every day.

So, did I save my publishing career with social media? Well, the jury’s still out on that. As an historical mystery author, I was probably never going to be a huge bestseller anyway. But I definitely have a good foundation for whatever comes next.

And maybe this time, it really IS a light at the end of that tunnel.

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