I’ve talked previously on what it means to write to market – you can see part 1 here and part 2 here – and I’d thought I’d said all I had to say on the subject. But this, like so many things, changed with the advent of COVID-19. The first true pandemic of the modern era…you know, I was going to do a bit about how much COVID-19, aka coronavirus, aka the ‘rona, had changed life, but instead I’m going to direct you to literally any other website on the internet. Hell, if you live in one of the regions currently on a stay at home order, I’ll instead just direct you to the window. You don’t need me to tell you how much is changed by this.
Although if you do…here’s some haunting footage from Chicago during lockdown.
But with it being this pervasive, it’s understandable that it’s gripped the popular psyche. Search trends for Coronavirus, COVID-19, and pandemic are at an all time high. Other terms, like quarantine, are similarly trending strong. At the same time, many authors I’m in contact with are reporting a major downtick in sales as millions lose their jobs and start cutting spending on anything that isn’t a necessity. So it makes sense, after a fashion, that there is a push among indie authors to try and capitalize on these search trends to make up for lost revenue by writing books about the coronavirus in a hope to rebuild their sales.
It’s also a terrible idea. I feel like I shouldn’t need to say that, but then I go to amazon and search “Coronavirus” and get hit with a wave of books that are doing this exact thing, so apparently it needs to be said.
1) It’s tacky
Yeah, I know, a point about how something is tacky probably won’t resonate well with people are are already looking to cash-in on a trend, but it should. The thing is, when most people go to Amazon and search kindle e-books for “Coronavirus,” they are not going to be looking for post-virus post-apocalyptic thriller. They’re going to be looking for information about the coronavirus. The real one, that’s happening outside right now. Your best case scenario with those searches? Their eyes glaze over your book until they find whatever non-fiction they’re looking for. You might get a couple people who find your cover and title compelling enough they decide to pick it up, but it’s going to be a minority.
And your worst case?
They see your book, and they remember it. Not because they find it interesting or compelling, but because they found it trashy and exploitative. There was a reason after 9/11 a ton of film studios pulled films that involved terrorist plots and we got like 3 years where almost no disaster movie depicted New York getting wrecked. Movie studios knew that people would be appalled they were still going ahead and would either skip the film or get offended by the film’s very existence. And these were studios that could have cushioned the blow with big name actors, fancy PR firms, and the best spin doctors money can buy! You have a smartphone and PJs you haven’t changed out of in three days.
Don’t lie. You haven’t changed. No judgement.
While you aren’t going to be big enough to warrant a massive backlash, you also are going to alienate potential readers. People who were, in fact, already searching on Amazon for ebooks during this. People who might look for fiction later. And when they see your name? Do you really want them thinking “Oh, that’s right. I saw that name on Quarantine Lust: How I was Trapped in A Bunker With A Billionaire Plague Doctor?”
No. No you do not. No matter how awesomely terrible that title may be.
2) It’s already oversaturated
Lets say you don’t care about being seen as tacky. You’re going to use a pen-name to protect your backlog from any negative feedback, and you are ready to go right now with your big plague novel. Quarantined With A Zombie In the Age of Coronavirus is going to be done today! You’ve already thrown some words on a stock photo of an empty city, you are good to go.
Except you’re already too late.
As I type this, I did searches on Amazon for the following terms, all of them limited to the kindle store and with the word “fiction” to reduce false positives from scholarly reports and academic studies:
- Quarantine – 588 results
- Coronavirus – 904 results
- Covid-19 – 353 results
- Plague – over 5000 results
Keep in mind those searches are all tailored as narrowly as possible, to try and maximize your exposure to your potential market. Even in the most narrow term – COVID-19, a term that didn’t exist in popular consciousness until this month – there’s still 353 books that are already published. That means that, in the unlikely chance that someone is specifically looking for fiction books about COVID-19, you are already competing with 353 other people who had the exact same idea and were faster to publish than you.
“But that’s okay! I’ll use the longer time to polish more!” I hear a convenient strawman say.
It won’t matter. To take the time to polish the novel enough to stand out from the crowd, you’re going to need some intensive edits since you wrote this in a rush, and by the time you’re done the market will be even more oversaturated.
3) People looking for escapism want to escape.
So here’s the final, major reason that you don’t want to try to cash in on this particular trend. Even if people don’t think it’s tacky, even if you manage to stand out from the crowd, people aren’t going to want to read your book. Why? Because if someone is looking for a book to read during a disaster, they are not going to want to read something that reminds them of the disaster that directly. Sure, streaming services are seeing an uptick in pandemic movies being watched, and zombie fiction is rising from the dead, but those aren’t about the real illness that’s going on right now.
No one wants COVID-19 Gave Me Superpowers: A YA Adventure in the Quarantined World. No one wants Vampires Under Quarantine. No one wants Plague Warriors: Street Gang Zombie Apocalypse During Coronavirus. (As an aside – I hope to God none of these are actual titles, and I’m afraid to search and find out if they are.) After major disasters, people don’t immediately flock to media about that disaster. That comes later, once the dust has settled and the initial fear has faded. Once we’re ready to look at what happened through the lense of fiction. Iron Man didn’t blow up a terrorist camp in 2002, that was 2008. Look at the highest grossing films from 2002 onwards:
- Lord of the Rings (both Two Towers and Return of the King)
- Shrek 2
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest
- Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End
- The Dark Knight
- Toy Story 3
I could go on, all the way up to present day, but I think my point is made. From 2002-2010, people weren’t turning out to terrorist or disaster movies. They were coming to watch fantasy. It wasn’t until 2008 we got a non-fantasy film on that last, The Dark Knight. And while The Dark Knight is realistic by the standards of superhero films, that’s like saying Jason Mamoa is short by the standards of giants. Technically true, but missing the point.
Don’t try it. If you actually have an idea for a plague or quarantine inspired novel that you are burning to write, feel free to do so, but for the love of God don’t publish it right now. Sit on it, let it stew for awhile, and write other things. Publish it later, once the chaos has abated and we as a society have established our new version of normal.
And if you absolutely have to…please give it a better title than any of my examples. I’m begging you. Give me that much at least.
Want to read something that doesn’t involve plagues? I’ve published two books! Amazon is offering 2 free months of kindle unlimited, and they’re both available in there.