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Hard Sell: Publishing books during COVID-19

These RSJ alumni are navigating book promotion from home
By: Chelsey Gould
April 30, 2020

Did you miss the Hard Sell: The Art and Craft of a Pandemic Era Book Tour? Watch it now!

When Lauren McKeon landed in Calgary International Airport in early March to start her book launch tour, she noticed people walking around with disinfectant wipes. 

She realized the warnings about the new coronavirus were prompting some behaviour changes and wondered about her Toronto book launch a few days later.  

That book launch with about 150 guests ended up being one of the last few events in Toronto before the pandemic was declared. Authors such as McKeon (RSJ ’07) depend on those events and now they are trying to figure out how to promote their new releases when event venues and bookstores are closed. 

Cancelled launches, promotional events and publishing delays have hit virtually every author in the last couple of months. Three authors — RSJ alumni whose books share common themes of resilience in the face of oppression, talked about their experiences at a RSJ panel discussion, Hard Sell: The Art and Craft of a Pandemic-era Book Tour, external link, on May 7 at 6 p.m. 

We checked in with the authors ahead of the talk, as well as one RSJ instructor whose new mystery novel has been delayed for months.  

‘A book never goes bad’

Published on March 3, leading up to International Women's Day, McKeon’s book No More Nice Girls, external link looks at how women and girls are breaking the conventions of what it means to hold power. 

“The issues in my book about gender, power, leadership and success… I don't think those are going away,” she said. “I think those themes and the issues that the book deals with will be just as important and maybe even more starkly underlined as we come out of this.”

Rebecca Rose (RSJ ’08) feels fortunate to have been a few weeks ahead of McKeon.  

In January, 300 guests attended her “big and beautiful book launch” for Before the Parade, external link, about the history of Halifax's gay, lesbian and bisexual communities. But talks in March and April at Dalhousie University and local high schools were cancelled due to the pandemic. 

“I was really looking forward to those because a goal of mine is to get this book into the hands of youth so that they know their history,” she said. “But (I) obviously understood that that was the best thing for everyone.”

Like Rose, Eternity Martis (MJ ’16) is looking forward to speaking on campuses. Her book, They Said This Would Be Fun, external link, is a memoir about experiencing racism as a woman of colour undergraduate student at a predominantly white university.

Her book was launched on March 31 as planned but without the splashy, in-person event she planned. Some of her television and media interviews were axed as COVID-19 dominated the news.

Martis said that despite the pandemic, it feels like the right time to get her book out for readers. She has been told that “a book never goes bad” — and she’s banking on it.

“The stuff in it from #MeToo, dealing with racism and microaggressions and sexual health on campus, that stuff — regardless of us being in the pandemic — has happened, is happening and will still happen,” she said.

How to promote with no in-person activities

Martis is determined to get people engaged in her book virtually, so she has promoted it on social media, given remote readings and interviews.  

In fact, she reflects, there may be a benefit to releasing a new book during these times. 

“In a way, I feel like this release in the pandemic gave me more and more intimacy with readers because there's really no distractions,” she said. “I got to connect with them in a way that I might not have been able to if there were no pandemic.”

Rose has also done some readings and is grateful for the support of local bookstores that are continuing to deliver her book, including feminist and queer shops Venus Envy and Glitter Bean Cafe.

“Venus Envy sometimes tweets or Instagrams pictures of the things that they are delivering to doorsteps,” said Rose. “And my book is sometimes included amongst a pile of sex toys and other books, which is amazing.”

McKeon will be doing a Canada Performs, external link livestream. Although she was unable to continue touring across the country, she feels fortunate that she was able to hit all the major Toronto media outlets in early March. 

“It's almost just like (we’re) putting a pause on everything that was planned until the fall,” said McKeon. “Hopefully, even if we're not seeing in-person events in the fall, festivals and libraries will have had more time to think about how they want to shift their programming.”

RSJ instructor Angela Misri remembers attending McKeon’s book launch and wondered about her own, scheduled for May.

In the end, her publisher decided to postpone shipping her mystery novel, The Detective and the Spy, external link, to the fall. 

These extra months are ones she wished could have had while still writing. Last fall, Misri struggled with how to solve the crime in her novel. 

“I nearly killed myself to get this in in time, to be published for May, and now I know I could have had an extra four months,” she said. “It’s so upsetting… I'm frustrated for my fans because they've been waiting for a book in this series for a really long time. And I'm really fighting the urge to send it to them early.”

McKeon is determined to keep up her stamina.

“I'm trying not to get too disappointed because I worked so long writing and researching the book, that I want to put all the energy I can into promoting it anyway,” she said.

“But I actually think, regardless of the situation, that it came at the right time because right now people are at home,” she said. “And if they have the mental capacity, the brain space to read, they're reading.”

From left to right: Eternity Martis, Lauren McKeon and Rebecca Rose

From left to right: Eternity Martis, Lauren McKeon and Rebecca Rose

Cover images of They Said This Would Be Fun, No More Nice Girls, Before the Parade and The Detective and the Spy