With book tours, festivals, conferences, and other literary events being canceled around the world due to COVID-19 concerns, the tech-friendly west coast literary community has begun creating digital events to keep authors and readers connected during the coming weeks of social distancing and quarantine.
“I have at least a half-dozen friends whose stories of canceled events have filled my various feeds,” said Santa Monica-based novelist Mark Sarvas who started the Decameron Reading Series to help authors with canceled book tours. “You spend years on getting a book right and it's a slog to find an audience in the best of times. Now it feels like bibliocide. It's heartbreaking to any author, whether it's your book or not.”
The series will begin with author Sarah Watson and her book, Most Likely (Poppy/Little Brown) on Friday, March 20. Future authors in the series will include Marie Mutsuki Mockett and Andrew Altschul. Sarvas will use the teleconferencing tool Zoom to host the series. “I have a Zoom pro license I use for my private writing workshops, so I thought I'd put it good use,” said Sarvas. Participating authors can work with an indie bookstore of their choice to sell books.
Numerous panel discussions and industry events have also been canceled, sending publishing professionals searching for online alternatives. When the London Book Fair was canceled in early March, FutureProof Content Strategy founder Charlotte Abbott scrambled to find a digital venue for the “It’s 2020, Do You Know What Rights You Hold?” panel discussion she’d organized for the now-canceled fair.
Abbott connected with Book Industry Study Group’s executive director Brian O’Leary, who agreed to host the panel discussion as part of the BISG’s ongoing webinar series. “For those looking to reschedule live events in online venues, the first task is to find online partners with loyal communities that are aligned with yours,” said Abbott, who knew her panelists included two BISG committee members, consultant Kris Kliemann and Penguin Random House director of permissions Jeffery Corrick. “Ideally, your event will help your online partner engage their community, while extending your reach to a receptive audience,” she said.
Mule Design Studio, a strategic design consultancy in San Francisco, launched the Quarantine Book Club last week. Using Zoom, the book club will feature new authors each week and give readers a chance to “talk to authors without touching anyone.” With six authors lined up already, organizer Mike Monteiro said that they’ve sold around 350 tickets for $5 apiece through Eventbrite for the series.
The series will launch with Canadian author Arjun Basu. “I think a lot of companies are going to use Zoom as more and more people are asked to work from home,” he said. “I hope we inspire other writers. I see book tours being canceled and postponed almost every day now. This is one way to maintain the community.”
“We’re trying to be really careful about who we put on here,” said Monteiro, who has already received more than 50 pitches from authors. “We want a mix of people you’ve heard of, to generate excitement, and people from underrepresented groups.” Monteiro co-founded Mule Design with his wife, Erika Hall, who will discuss her own book next week, Just Enough Research (A Book Apart, 2019).