Write a book is a lonely pursuit, which can take years of lonely work. Selling a book is another story. Authors lecture in cramped storefronts, chat at lunches, and learn to casually discuss their creative project as commercial content. The advertising circuit can be overwhelming, fishy and exhausting. It can also be exhilarating, liberating, and fun – a chance for people who spend a lot of time alone with their thoughts to feel like someone has heard them. This year, publishing a book to the world has become another task largely undertaken solo, at home, watching a screen. the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the publishing industry to rethink its process to convince people to buy its latest offerings. Even the industry’s chicest parties, like the National Book Awards gala, have taken place as digital events, with glamorous attendees sitting at home.
WIRED asked the authors of five of our favorite books of 2020 to tell us what it was like to publish a book during quarantine. Here is what they said.
I was fortunate enough to host a few in-person events prior to the quarantine. One of the events was taped for Book TV, on C-SPAN, and since it was one of the very last in-person bookstore events to ever take place anywhere, it ended up playing several times in March and April at odd hours. The first month of quarantine I didn’t sleep that well, so I would be awake at 3 or 4 in the morning. I had signed up for email alerts to let me know when it was playing and sometimes received the emails right before I went to bed. I was staying with my parents and my father woke up very early. The first time it aired we were both standing and I got to watch my event with my dad.
It could be much worse. The kind of person who wants to hide in a room and write 80,000 words isn’t necessarily the kind of person who likes to be the center of attention. So there are some aspects of virtual events that are less stressful than doing them in person. But the downside is that these bookstores don’t get the same sales. And you don’t have the conversations that you had before; you don’t meet at a restaurant and you can’t find old friends who show up for reading. I miss these things. When you disconnect from a Zoom and are simply alone in a room. It is really confusing.
Just looking at the screen is exhausting. There are only a few ways to make virtual events different. But one of my upcoming events will be different – it’s a Second Life Book Club, hosted by Bernhard Drax. It creates avatars for authors on demand. I requested a cyborg avatar. I’m excited because this is a creative approach that doesn’t try to replicate the offline experience of a book event.
I live in the Yukon so we have been behind most countries in North America. I had a launch party planned for April 6 at a local restaurant that was going to be me and all my friends – super informal, no reading, just a pure party. I was hoping it could still happen somehow, which seems really naive in retrospect. It was weird at first to be in a place without a case and have this whole thing canceled. There was a disconnect there. But then the Yukon entered its first lockdown. And while I felt comfortable traveling, my publisher withdrew their approval for my book tour and everything got canceled, including, of course, the launch party.