With the coronavirus, the book tour is fully online | Literary arts | Pittsburgh
For many authors, a book tour is the highlight of publishing. They meet fans, sign copies of their books, and have emotional conversations with readers about what they wrote. But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has posed a problem: How do you go on a book tour when you’re not sure you’re in the same room with so many people? Publishers and writers have risen to the challenge over the past year by creating virtual book tours, allowing authors to âtravelâ safely from city to city.
But can they meet the same experiences and needs as a pre-pandemic tour?
Deesha Philyaw, National Book Award winner and finalist The Secret Life of the Ladies of the Church, says that virtual space reads are “a good job”, but work nonetheless.
âI don’t feel like there’s anything missing during the event,â she said. âBut after that, there is no outing for dinner or a drink; it is not festive. It’s just me sitting on my couch trying to motivate myself to get up and go to bed.
Despite the lack of socialization around the book, Philyaw felt she was able to reach her target audience, and beyond.
âI connected with black women, my primary audience, and a lot of other people who aren’t black women, in large part because my book tour was online,â says Philyaw. âBy connecting with so many people, I have come to see my book in a new light. Every conversation is fresh and new.
The Secret Life of the Ladies of the Church isn’t Philyaw’s first book, but like many authors, this is her first time promoting and touring a book entirely online. Stephanie Cawley, author of the poetry book My heart but not my heart (Slope Editions), echoes this effervescence. Cawley has been informed that their book will be released in September 2019, and the book is due out in March 2020 at an Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference. There has been a lot of talk about whether the conference will take place as the pandemic gets more severe, Cawley says. AWP ended up going as planned, leaving individuals, presses and publishers to decide whether they wanted to come or not. Cawley didn’t go, so launching their book slowly became an online affair.
Inhabiting virtual space is different for a poet, according to Cawley.
âIn some ways, it feels more intimate. I see people’s faces up close in a different way from what one sees in a room. But he’s also more lonely in a way. There are no hugs, âCawley says. âThe strangest thing is that there is no public feedback. You don’t hear people laughing or making a sound, you can’t feel the energy of the room to know, “Maybe I should wrap up now” or “Are you okay?” Can I continue? ‘ It feels a lot more like some sort of solo performance.
A similar sentiment was echoed by Lucia LoTempio, author of Hot with the bad things (Alice James Books).
âIt’s really good because you have a bigger audience in the virtual space. You also have a greater variety of people you can read with, which is nice, âsays LoTempio. âOn the other hand, there isn’t the same kind of camaraderie before and after the readings. I think readings can be really social events.
LoTempio was elated in the fall of 2018 when she found out her book was going to be published, but she also felt like it was a hoax. Traditionally, in order for poetry collections to be published, poets will send their manuscripts to competitions and open reading periods organized by press and publishers. In the case of LoTempio, the editor of Alice James Books contacted her directly after finding some of her poems and requested the manuscript that way.
Despite the virtual book launch, LoTempio says she feels like she has reached her target audience, but there have been challenges. In Hot with the bad things, LoTempio uses a symbol instead of a name for a specific person. When she reads these poems in person, she waves to the audience and makes them applaud. In virtual space, this was not possible.
LoTempio hosted their book launch party through Bloomfield’s White Whale Bookstore, a popular site for readings, workshops and book launches. As of April 2020, White Whale has hosted more than 7,000 people, including participants from all over the world, in 141 virtual events, including 19 workshops.
White Whale organizes its events using Zoom and uses the Eventbrite site to manage ticket registrations, which has helped with security. They can view the list of participants and eliminate spam this way. This prevents the famous “Zoom bombers” from ruining events.
White Whale didn’t jump into the virtual event space early on, but after canceling their in-store events and closing the store to foot traffic, they reassessed. âWe really didn’t know if we were going to restart them to some extent, but we were watching other bookstores – really yelling at other bookstores – having virtual events. I told Adlai [Yeomans, co-owner of White Whale], ‘Should we try? And he said to me, ‘Sure let’s see how it goes for a few weeks,’ said Anna Weber, White Whale Events Manager.
Since April 2, White Whale has hosted a full year of virtual events, and they have more to come for the foreseeable future.
White Whale Bookstore