The coronavirus outbreak is punishing the economy, but as a debut author, I never imagined the release of my forthcoming anthology would illustrate the impact of economic ripple effects.
In 2017, I published a call for submissions asking women to send their stories of how they’ve been affected by Donald Trump and his policies. I received over 200 essays, spent nine months winnowing that number down to 38, then prepared a proposal for the collection, entitled Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Trump Era.
I celebrated when Pact Press, an imprint of Regal House Publishing, offered me and my coeditor a publishing contract. I celebrated again when I received the ARC by mail, and again when the first glowing review came out. On March 24, I was scheduled to begin a 22-city book tour, complete with voter registration tables at events in swing states and interviews with women for a later podcast. Contributors to the anthology were to join me at various stops along the tour. Then Covid-19 hit.
After learning about what it takes to “flatten the curve” of contagion, I decided I couldn’t in good conscience travel from city to city hosting large gatherings. Nor could I then return home and possibly infect my husband, who falls into a high-risk category. So, with equal parts conviction and despondency, I emailed the bookstores on the tour and asked to reschedule. From micro to macro, here’s what the ripple effect of these cancellations looks like:
Personally, I never expected to get rich off book sales. The time and toil I put into Fury was always about political activism and documentation. My financial goals were to earn enough royalties to fund the tour, pay contributors an honorarium, and offset my $925-per-month health insurance premium for the remainder of the year. It looks like even these modest goals may have been too ambitious.
For Regal House Publishing, a North Carolina–based, woman-operated indie press, event cancellations mean a high influx of book returns from retailers. These come at significant cost to the press’s bottom line.
Jaynie Royal, publisher and editor-in-chief of Regal House, said the company is already feeling the pinch of the coronavirus. “Print runs for Fury and our other spring catalogue titles were determined by retail preorders in the fall of 2019, long before coronavirus was on anyone’s radar,” Royal explains, “and, like all trade publishers, Regal House relies upon bookstore events to drive buzz and ultimately revenue to recoup invested production and printing costs.”
As a former marketing consultant to independent booksellers, I understand how event cancellations impact a bookstore’s bottom line. While a few bookstores on the Fury tour—Charis Books in Decatur, Ga., and Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C.—were willing to reschedule events for the fall, the logistical challenges of numerous event cancellations has led many bookstores to simply cancel all events.
Politics and Prose events coordinator Beth Wang initially offered me assurances that the Washington, D.C., store was taking extra precautions—including rigorously sanitizing all event areas, making hand sanitizer available, placing chairs further apart, announcing to attendees that no physical contact with the author should be initiated, and offering authors latex gloves or a presigning (instead of a signing line) to minimize physical contact with the audience.
Even with assurances like these, however, authors canceled their in-store events due to fear of contracting the virus, a sense of moral obligation, and/or because they anticipated a low turnout. Given the fluid circumstances, Politics and Prose now offers authors a digital option. My coeditor and I are scheduled to present an online reading on March 29 at 1 p.m. EDT.
Finally, there is the book industry as a whole, for which book tours are a fading tradition. Since the Great Recession, publishers have tightened their collective belts and have all but eliminated book tours for debut authors, let alone for anthology editors like myself. Nevertheless, publisher tours for celebrity authors and those with established audiences, whose books are guaranteed to sell well, contribute to propping up an industry with wafer-thin margins.
“The absence of book tour events at independent bookstores will have a profound impact on the industry,” says Jamie Fiocco, president of the ABA and owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C. Fiocco encourages consumers to support authors, booksellers, publishers, and the industry during this challenging time by ordering books directly from publishers or from indie booksellers’ websites. In doing so, they can contribute to the economic health and longevity of small businesses.
Amy Roost is coeditor of Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Trump Era (Pact) and is a 2019 Annenberg California Health Journalism Fellow.