When my first book, Hands at Work, was published, photographer Summer Moon Scriver and I celebrated its release at the local community center. Summer projected images from the book on a theater-sized screen while I read excerpts. Many of the people featured in the book were in the audience of over 100. Following the presentation, Summer and I sat at a table, autographing books and greeting friends and neighbors. It was truly a celebration of words, images, and people who work with their hands.
Seven years later, I joined three photographers (including Summer), a chef, and a project manager to create BOUNTY, a celebration of farmers on Lopez Island. Once again, the community center was the site of the launch of the collection of photographs, profiles, and recipes. While the tour for this book was smaller and locally focused, various members of the team went on the road to a neighboring bookstore, a library, and a literary festival.
Three years ago, I was again reading excerpts from a book, this time to launch my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance. The first stop was Stehekin, WA, the setting for much of the story. A few dozen friends from this tiny (80-year-round residents), remote village joined me at the National Park Service Visitor’s Center for the book’s premier. A week later, I repeated the scene on Lopez, again with an audience of over 100 (my community knows how to support local authors!). Since then, I’ve lost track of the number of bookstores, libraries, and Quaker meetings that have hosted me in Washington State, Oregon, Illinois, Ohio, Connecticut, and Massachusets.
I wonder how I’ll launch my next book, set for release by Homebound Publications in 2022. It’s likely it will resemble author events taking place now, rather than what I experienced with previous books.
A number of writer friends published by small, indie presses have had book tours cut short or entirely canceled due to requirements to stay home and maintain physical distance. Authors with the “big five” publishing houses aren’t exempt, either. And with good reason. The virulence and transmissibility of COVID-19 warrants the restrictions on travel and gathering in groups that are in place.
But the publishing industry (including publishers, authors, and booksellers) is suffering. When stay-at-home orders went into effect, most U.S. bookstores closed. Many had to furlough or lay off their staff, and some are uncertain if they can stay in business after weeks of being closed. Online sales, however robust, aren’t enough for most brick-and-mortar operations. Bookstores selling titles through Bookshop.org, which aims to be Amazon for independent shops, receive 25 percent of the book’s list price, far less than they would make through a direct sale, even though they don’t have to pay for inventory or shipping.
Publishers are delaying book releases, hoping the fall might be better timing. And authors, many of whom rely on reading events and local booksellers to introduce their titles to readers, are working harder than ever to get the word out about their books. Some are teaming up to shift canceled live events online using digital tools like Zoom and Facebook Live.
Writers Jenna Blum and Caroline Leavitt call themselves “two women writers in yoga pants trying to help other writers whose book tours have been canceled.” Through their Facebook Page, A Mighty Blaze, the pair’s focus is “HELPING WRITERS PUB IN THE TIME OF CORONA. HELPING READERS FIND NEW BOOKS. ” Each Tuesday, they feature new books introduced by their writers.
Or perhaps your book club can invite the author of the book you’ve selected to join you for a Zoom or Skype call. My book group, the Lit Chicks, did that with author Deborah Nedelman when we discussed her new novel, What We Take for Truth.
If you enjoy author events as much as I do, tuning in to the virtual ones will help everyone until we can all meet again face-to-face.
I also suggest you look to small independent publishers, such as Homebound. This ten-year-old small press publishes 10-20 titles per year. Their books are available wherever books are sold, but recently they’ve increased their focus on online sales and promotion. For example, today is the last day to take advantage of a special two-for-one offer.
Finally, one more piece of encouragement to support authors, publishers, and booksellers comes from Dan Smetanka. He’s vice president and editor-in-chief of Counterpoint Press, one of the largest independent publishers in the country:
“Let’s all agree now that we’re only giving books as gifts this holiday season.”