WRITING A BOOK is a lonely pursuit, one that can take years of solitary work. Selling a book is another story. Authors give talks in cramped storefronts, schmooze at luncheons, and learn to casually discuss their belabored creative project as commercial content. The publicity circuit can be dispiriting, sleazy, 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’s heard them. This year, releasing a book into the world became another task largely undertaken solo, at home, staring at a screen. The Covid-19 pandemic forced the publishing industry to reimagine its process for convincing people to buy its latest offerings. Even the industry’s fanciest nights, like the National Book Awards gala, took place as digital events, with participants glammed up and sitting at home.
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Joanne McNeil, author of Lurking: How a Person Became a User
I was lucky enough to have a few in-person events before quarantine. One of the events was recorded for Book TV, on C-SPAN, and because it was one of the very last in-person bookstore events that happened anywhere, it ended up playing repeatedly in March and April at odd hours. The first month of quarantine, I wasn’t sleeping so great, so I would be awake at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. I had signed up for email alerts to tell me when it aired and I’d get the emails sometimes just before I’d go to bed. I was staying with my parents, and my dad wakes up really early. The first time it aired, we were both up, and I was able to watch my event with my dad.
It could be a lot worse. The kind of person who wants to hole up in a room and write 80,000 words is not necessarily the kind of person who loves to be the center of attention. So there are some aspects of the virtual events that are less nerve-wracking than doing them in person. But the drawback is that these bookstores aren’t getting the same sales. And you don’t have the conversations you used to have; you’re not meeting in a restaurant and getting to catch up with old friends who show up to the reading. I miss those things. When you log out of a Zoom and you’re just alone in a room. It’s really bewildering.
Just staring at the screen feels exhausting. There are only so many 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. He creates avatars for authors on request. I asked for a cyborg avatar. I’m excited because it is a creative approach that isn’t trying to replicate the offline experience of a book event.
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Charles Yu, author of Interior Chinatown
At first I was really nervous about Zoom. What if the connection cut out? Would I be presentable on camera? I got to do an event with the writer C. Pam Zhang, who wrote an incredible debut this year. Her book was picked for the Goop book club—the first pick!—and she invited me to be on a panel. I was really excited, and since it was for Goop, my wife Michelle and I wanted to present our home in a nice-looking way, with me in front of a built-in bookshelf that Michelle had made. But the connection wasn’t good enough, so I had to move to the bedroom. Only afterward did we realize that the dresser behind me was covered in a layer of dust visible on camera. We had moved some books off of it, so there was a negative outline of dust around where the books had been. This only made it more noticeable. So much for a good impression on Goop!
That was probably the worst mishap I had until the National Book Award. [Ed note: Yu won the National Book Award!] It was a mishap of my brain. I really didn’t expect to win, so I prepared absolutely nothing. When they announced my name, I started freaking out. My son was next to me and he started freaking out. My daughter was upstairs, she started freaking out. Michelle and I just looked at each other, freaking out. So I give my remarks, which are totally off the cuff—and I forget to thank my family. When I realized afterward, my stomach dropped. My book is about people who are underappreciated and I forgot to thank the people who’d supported me all those years and were literally in the background when I won. And my parents were watching in their home. I’ll never forgive myself for that.
Going to an awards ceremony in our living room was really fun, though, because afterwards I changed back into shorts and we had pizza.
Link to the rest at Wired
Perhaps PG’s blown out with too much holiday consumption, but the promotional efforts of the publishers in the OP seemed to be very underwhelming.
Why screw around with traditional publishers if they can’t figure out an effective way to promote your book? PG’s not a publishing marketer, but he could think of ten ways to do a better job than was done for these authors.
OTOH, author appearances via Zoom certainly don’t cost the publisher any sort of meaningful money.