What happens to writers during a pandemic? Well, they write. Like so many of us, writers have found themselves working from home. But in their case, home is a familiar workplace, and the confinement of quarantine may not be as burdensome as it is for others.
For instance, Terri Libenson, author of The Pajama Diaries and the forthcoming Becoming Brianna, says that working in pajamas is nothing new: “I normally work at home and had already devolved into a pajama-wearing hermit, so nothing has really changed on that front.” David Miraldi, whose book The Edge of Malice: The Marie Grossman Story was released in mid-April, agrees that “the quarantine does not impact the research for or the actual writing of a book. That is a solitary pursuit and goes on as before.”
And Shelley Costa, whose next book is Crime of the Ancient Marinara, found that she became more efficient. She reports: “I turned the book in two weeks early. Sheltering at home streamlined my days. Much less running around, no time spent in the car, identifying and ditching nonessentials, and so on. I have been finding I get more of my favorite work done in a day, feeling focused and content.”
So what’s the problem? Has the pandemic had a negative effect for writers? Miraldi speaks for all of them with his emphatic “YES!!!” Publicizing their work has become a major problem. The issue for writers isn’t doing the work. It’s getting the writing to the readers.
Derf Backderf, whose release date for 4 Days in Ohio was pushed back until the fall, explains, “I had an entire international book tour from April until July go up in a puff of smoke in a matter of days. Forty events, gone.” Costa and Miraldi face similar difficulties, reporting that numerous events have been canceled.
Libenson describes her own efforts at publicity as an “experiment in progress, saying, “I’ve already done a drawing demo video, and I created a one-time comic strip and coloring page with my children’s book characters. Basically, I’m doing anything and everything I can do to promote my books online.” Backderf’s efforts are similar to hers: he’s “relying heavily on social media, podcasts, and frankly, word of mouth.”
Some authors and publishers are creating online events, but David Gray of Gray & Company, Publishers is not optimistic about their success. Joining events hosted by authors can be difficult, and efforts to do so aren’t always successful. Gray’s opinion is that people will miss the opportunity to get out of the house, socialize, and take advantage of the free food and drinks usually provided during book events.
Another issue is that books are too often being returned to publishers. Gary notes, “Wholesalers are returning overstock because they don’t have new orders coming in — which means publishers are getting books back and not shipping any out.”
So what’s next? Backderf says that “it’s all in flux,” and is only cautiously optimistic. “Many stores will be lost. The distribution system that gets books from the publisher to the stores could be severely damaged. We could lose important people. But the book business survived the Great Depression and world wars, and it will survive whatever lays ahead.” He adds, though, that he’s glad that he isn’t just starting out: “It’s going to be even tougher for unproven authors.”
Despite all of the uncertainties about the pandemic, the writers interviewed here believe that it’s absolutely essential for people to continue to read. Libenson offers her perspective that “people should read whatever keeps them sane….I think there needs to be a balance of staying informed and escaping a little…the arts are vital to everyone’s mental health, especially now.”
Costa echoes Libenson’s sentiments: “Right now, in times of upheaval, confusion, fear, and isolation, the arts lift us out of our trouble by laying out truth and beauty, and reminding us there are still things like excellence and hope.”
So what can we, the readers, do to help? We can support these and other local writers by visiting their websites and buying their work:
We can also help by supporting local bookstores such as those listed below. Check their web pages for their current policies: