Going Viral: launching a book during the pandemic

By Ellen Meeropol

We’re all terrified about what Covid-19 means for our communities, our loved ones. If we’re not frightened, we should be. Many of us are self-isolating, working remotely, not visiting friends and family except virtually. We’re washing our hands often, trying not to touch our faces, attempting to balance our reading about the virus to learn what we need to know with ignoring it, so we don’t descend into despair or panic.

In the midst of all of this, my new novel, Her Sister’s Tattoo is being published. This novel had a 20-year gestation. I wrote the first chapters in early 2000 and have been revising it ever since. Its due date is April 7. My March and April events, including the book launch and party, have been cancelled; the May and June events are most likely next. I feel a bit embarrassed being so miserable about a book when people are dying, but it’s my baby.

I’m not alone with this; there’s a huge spring list of titles which won’t get the usual event exposure at bookstores, libraries, conferences and literary festivals. This also means that our beloved indie bookstores are hurting as well, without in-person event sales and foot traffic.

We do have two things going for us. First of all, most writers are used to spending hours alone to do our work. (Some may even be a tiny bit relieved at not being able to travel and perform.) Secondly, many of us have worked hard to build robust literary communities to nurture and sustain our work. 

So, in between bouts of sadness, I’m trying to focus on the new possibilities offered by this situation. Many of these opportunities are online; they offer spring-launching authors ways to reach new readers, many of whom are hunkering down at home with extra reading time.

  • Robin Kall of the Reading with Robin podcast has organized a festival of author interviews and giveaways called Authorpalooza; the videos are available here. A similar series of FaceBook interviews are online at The Write Review.
  • Bestselling novelists Jenna Blum and Caroline Leavitt have launched A Mighty Blaze, a “social media initiative for writers whose in-person tours and events have been canceled, so they can still reach their readers – and so readers will have a place to go every week to find and buy new books.”
  • National literary organizations are hosting virtual events, including Lit Hub, Litquake, and others.
  • Locally, many writing workshops, community writing get-togethers, classes and programs are being offered online. Check websites for Writers in Progress, Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop, Forbes Library writers’ room, and, of course, our own Straw Dog programs.

This is an opportunity for us all to be extra generous with each other. In addition to checking in on friends and neighbors who live alone or are at higher risk of Covid-19 infection and death, and offering to pick up groceries or medications, in addition to virtual visits and meetings, please consider kindness to newly published and vulnerable books. 

These “good literary citizen” opportunities could include:

  • shouting out a book you’re excited about on social media, even more than you might ordinarily do 
  • pay special attention to new or forthcoming titles that have been impacted by Corona-19 for book club selections
  • writing reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, even if you’d rather not
  • buying more books than usual, especially since the libraries are closed (although some remote services are available) 
  • supporting our precious independent bookstores, which often have a very small margin of viability. Many offer online ordering and curbside pickup service. We are so fortunate to have wonderful indie bookstores in our area, including Broadside, Odyssey, Book Moon, Amherst Books, Raven, Montague Book Mill. If we want them to survive, we must support them.

And, in case you’re looking for suggestions, here are some of my favorite virus-impacted new books: