Updated: Mar 21
It is eleven months since the COVID-19 pandemic kicked into high gear here in the United States. I'm struggling to put the final touches on my fourth novel, while also writing this second post in my three-post blog series on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted writers. Last month, I spoke of the difficulty of writing with lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in place. But, this isn't the only challenge writers are facing during the pandemic.
Some have the misconception that when a writer's book is published, readers flock to the new novel on their own, as if a new release just magically appears on bestsellers lists and readers are lining up at stores to pick up an author's latest release. This may happen for the likes of J. K. Rowling or James Patterson, but it is far different for most writers. Although book publishers will do some marketing for a new book release, it is usually up to the writer to engage with his or her audience. David Albertyn, author of UNDERCARD, points out, "there was already an expectation for authors to be very active online."
Once the pandemic was in full swing, in-person book signings, writers conferences, and book festivals were either canceled or went to a virtual format, leaving many writers without an alternative marketing strategy. "The last signing event I attended in person was a friend's book release in February," explained Glen Erik Hamilton, author of the new crime novel A DANGEROUS BREED. ". . . then I went to Left Coast Crime in San Diego in early March, aka the One-Day Wonder." The conference closed on the first day when pandemic restrictions on large gathering went into effect.
Author of the new thriller CON ME ONCE, J. L. Delozier was part of a group of writers who submitted stories for a charity anthology entitled WRITERS CRUSHING COVID-19: An Anthology for COVID-19 Relief. She did several virtual events supporting the anthology, but she says, "my marketing/reader outreach has dwindled as I’ve gotten Zoom-ed out." Delozier, a physician working on the frontlines of the fight against the virus, said, "COVID has destroyed my mental energy and concentration."
"The big change is losing those in-person events, whether their author networking events or events with readers, which are simply wonderful experiences," David Albertyn said. "It’s almost as if the reward for spending years by yourself at a desk, reading, writing, researching, and editing, is to suddenly be around lots of new people in these engaging atmospheres discussing books."
My latest novel, DEAD AIR, was released in June of 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic. My publisher had events scheduled, including an book launch signing at a nearby Barnes & Noble, and promotional activities scheduled for ThrillerFest in July of 2020. Both events were cancelled as the number of COVID cases rose. I was also scheduled to appear later in the year at some area book festivals as well. As the pandemic continued, so did the cancelations. For me, it was a huge disappointment. I love interacting with readers, and in-person events always excite me. I found myself missing the face-to-face interaction more and more.
With event outlets limited, or even non-existent, writers have turned to the world of virtual events to try and fill the gap. New York Times bestselling author Tosca Lee "did do several virtual events, which were really fun, and I have taught virtually for some conferences." Lee's two 2019 releases, THE LINE BETWEEN and A SINGLE LIGHT, were a duology about a global pandemic. She was quick to admit that, although virtual events weren't the same as in-person events, it was all she had to work with. "Honestly, personal connection has been so important this year—whether you’re marketing books or just trying to stay sane."
Writers organizations, like Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, scrambled to develop virtual programming to help their members. When his new book, SINS OF THE MOTHER, was released in February of 2020, August Norman "tried to double-down on my associations with author groups, such as the MWA, ITW, and Sisters in Crime." He discovered that one of the benefits of a virtual event is that it "let's me travel to bookstores across the country, and even, world." Norman now hosts House Arrest, a monthly event of author readings for the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime.
Not all writers have had to deal with the sudden loss of in-person reader outreach. The pandemic has not changed the marketing strategy of UK author Lucy Banks. Her Dr. Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural book series is published in the United States, making in-person events practically impossible. "This aspect hasn't been impacted at all," she explains.
Matty Dalrymple, author of THE FALCON AND THE OWL, was "already reducing my in-person events because of the time and effort needed to plan for and participate in them." The pandemic had little impact on her marketing and promotional efforts, which have been mostly focused on social media like Facebook and Twitter. However, as COVID-19 mitigation efforts continue to restrict large gatherings, she admits that she does "miss being able to meet people in person at conferences." The pandemic has given her the opportunity to
focus on her podcast, The Indy Author.
No matter what individual writers' experiences have been, the one thing that most writers can agree on is that they miss the interaction with their readers and other writers. "Those are special experiences that one loses, which I feel has an effect more on one’s enjoyment of being an author," says David Albertyn. I agree with him. In-person events and book signings are exhilarating events that make the often emotionally draining effort of writing a book worth it. Writers conferences, like ThrillerFest, offer incredible opportunities to network with other writers and recharge the creative energies that can sometimes run low after months of excessive writing. Although I have been involved with several virtual events over the past few months, it just isn't the same. Staring at the faceless set of silhouettes in a Zoom session rips all the personality out of live book readings.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, it seems that the "new" norm of mask wearing and social distancing will be around for a long time. Will writers work these new elements of everyday life into their next novels? Find out next month, in part three of this series.
If you missed the first part of this series, you can read it here.
To purchase the charity anthology WRITERS CRUSHING COVID-19: An Anthology for COVID-19 Relief, click here.
To learn more about the authors featured in this blog post, please visit their websites.
Lucy Banks - lucy-banks.co.uk
J. L. Delozier - jldelozier.com
August Norman - augustnorman.com
Tosca Lee - toscalee.com
Matty Dalrymple - mattydalrymple.com
David Albertyn - davidalbertyn.com
Glen Erik Hamilton - glenerikhamilton.com