As the May pub date for Amanda Sellet’s YA rom-com By the Book approached, Sellet knew she was going to be one of hundreds of writers to launch a debut novel during the new coronavirus outbreak. There would be no in-person reading, no gathering of friends and family. Sellet wondered whether to host a virtual launch, and eventually concluded there was only one way she would do it.
“I decided the answer would only be yes if I could think of something fun to do, preferably with a less surveillance-y vibe than the wonderful world of webcams,” Sellet said.
Taking a cue from Some Good News, actor-director John Krasinski’s popular social media video series, which boosted viewers’ spirits with positive stories during coronavirus quarantines, Sellet created a literary version that she posted on YouTube to celebrate her book release. “The appeal of SGN was that it didn’t take itself too seriously, and the DIY aesthetic allowed a certain margin for error,” Sellet said. “Plus, I really liked the spirit of the whole thing, which seemed to be, ‘What can I do during this difficult time to lighten the mood?’ ”
Sellet’s version, called Some Book News, opens with a recreation of the Masterpiece theme, played by Sellet’s sister-in-law, a French horn player with the New York Philharmonic. Authors Miranda Asebedo, Megan Bannen, Tessa Grafton, Adib Khorram, and Natalie C. Parker make cameos, as do Sellet’s daughter and stepdaughter.
The video’s participants judge Sellet’s book by the cover and show pet reactions to the book. In keeping with the Masterpiece theme, actor Kathryn Pogson, known for her stage career and role in the cult classic Brazil, does a reading from the first chapter.
While Sellet has a master’s degree in cinema studies from NYU, making the film required support from her husband and daughter. “I did a summer film production class,” she said, “but that was so long ago that editing meant cutting the physical film and splicing it together with tape.”
In return for her tech support, Sellet’s daughter had the opportunity to subject her mother to a lightning round of questions on camera. “What I didn’t expect was that she would refuse to show me the questions ahead of time on the grounds that it would be more ‘organic’ that way,” she said.
The final video is something that Sellet cherishes. “I don’t think I realized how much it would feel like a group celebration, thanks to the incredible talent and generosity of my friends and family. I loved seeing their faces and feeling like we were doing something creative together, even though we couldn’t be in the same space,” she said. Sellet said she hopes to make more videos, and she encourages other authors to do something similar in spirit for their own launches. “Where possible, do something that brings you joy and feels true to who you are,” she said. “My launch video is exactly as goofy and absurd as I am in both real life and my writing, so at the very least I achieved truth in advertising.”