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Being a Debut During a Pandemic

We are living in unprecedented times.

That’s what everyone keeps saying, and, personally, I think that’s putting it lightly. 

I prefer to say, “2020 is a dumpster fire” and 2020 debut authors are like captains trying to sail said dumpster fire down a rushing river except there’s no way to steer, the river is also on fire, and, oh yeah, no one can help you because we’re all social distancing. 

When I signed my contract to write my debut novel, Cemetery Boys, we had a tight deadline. There was a specific time we wanted it to come out. Originally, the plan was for May 2020, then it got a tiny bump back to June 2020. In order to meet that pub date—as some of you know!—I wrote the first draft of Cemetery Boys in six weeks. As you can see, the writing and editing process was fast! We got through copyedits and pass pages and then my book was off to printing! 

But then COVID-19 happened and suddenly everything came to a screeching halt. Every event I was supposed to attend in person got canceled. Publishing folks were getting laid off, printing was put on hold, people were getting sick, everyone was worried about their friends and family and the general state of the world. 

And for 2020 debuts, the thing most of us had been working towards for our entire lives felt like it was suddenly going up in flames.

So, how do you promote a book during a pandemic? Without being able to attend events in person, I had to get creative. It was also July and I was in the throes of hardcore promoting for Cemetery Boys when I was told that I would need to extend it for another three months when “things would hopefully be back to normal” (HOO, BOY). 

So, I had to get creative and I had to move my promoting efforts from in-person events to virtual promoting. I asked myself, “What makes me excited for a book?” and the answer was always character art and memes! When I see really awesome fanart, or a super relatable meme, that’s talking about a book I haven’t read, it makes me want to read it! With that in mind, I reached out to my incredible cover artist, Mars Lauderbaugh! I wanted to put out art every month to keep people engaged and looking forward to Cemetery Boys, so Mars came up with some INCREDIBLE pieces, like the much-loved Pride Month art of Yadriel and Julian.

Leaning into the digital guerilla marketing, I used memes to my advantage! Not only do I love memes myself, but it also gave readers some context for the plot while making my characters relatable in a form (memes) that was accessible. I think my ridiculous shit-posting on Twitter was so successful in getting folks interested in Cemetery Boys because people really felt connected, and related to, my characters from this kind of promoting because it was like they already knew Yadriel, Julian and Maritza before even picking up the book! 

To be honest, not being able to attend events and meet readers has been a bit heartbreaking. The main thing I was interested in while publishing Cemetery Boys was connecting to readers, especially marginalized ones. Not being able to sign ARCs and meet readers was a huge disappointment, but, something really incredible happened! 

Instead of in-person events, everything went virtual and—I realized—they became SO MUCH MORE ACCESSIBLE! And I mean that on all levels. My target audience—queer/trans/Latinx young adults—are historically disenfranchised, which meant it was pretty unlikely those readers could afford to travel and pay to attend these in-person events. But now, with virtual events happening, suddenly they had access! I wrote this book for them, so it was so exciting that now they get to be part of these virtual meet and greets.

I REALLY hope publishing sees how much more accessible these virtual events are and continue to do them long after we get through this pandemic.

Yes, 2020 is a shit show and debuts are getting hit hard. So, how can you help?

Just spreading the word about books coming out you’re excited for makes a huge difference! Without events, conventions or even book store displays, it’s really difficult to market debut books. Even small things like talking about them on Twitter gets our books out in front of more people and that goes a long way.

Preorders from indie bookstores are also incredibly important! And if you can't preorder, putting a request in to your local library is a great alternative! Not only are you supporting the author, but you’re also supporting indie bookstores and libraries in the process, which is crucial right now.

The world might be on fire, but at least we’re in it together! Give some love to a debut author whose book you’re excited for—I guarantee it’ll make their day!

Author spotlight

Aiden Thomas

Aiden Thomas is a YA author with an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. Originally from Oakland, California, Aiden …

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