How to proceed if your book came out during the pandemic.
Recently, the poet Allison Adair posted on Twitter:
“Poets! Esp. those who published in 2020/21? Any tips for a joyful relaunch? Covid stole many more important things, but it also gobbled up my launch party & swanky book tour. Paperback version of ‘The Clearing’ is coming out in June. Any ideas for partying like it’s...2019?”
This was just one week after I’d managed to put together a relaunch for my book, The Understudy’s Handbook. Here are few things I shared with Allison. Maybe they’ll be helpful to other writers, too, and serve as a small demonstration — in the wake of the Elon Musk purchase — that Twitter can still be useful.
1. I went with local bookstore Bird in Hand, near Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, with whom I had a relationship. They ordered copies and handled the sales. I figured if 10 folks showed up to my reading, it would still feel good because the space was more intimate. Instead, 50 showed up.
2. I picked three other authors to read with me, partly to help encourage attendance, but mostly because they were part of my local literary family. We also all had a connection to the University of Baltimore, where I teach (two of us were alumni; one is a colleague). That made it feel thematic.
3. I promoted the reading shamelessly for a week, posting a poem from the book once a day like a countdown leading up to the event. (I have no idea if it helped or not.) I also called in all the favors, saying, “Hey, friends, if we are cool at all, this is the event to come to.”
4. Lastly, though this might not have been as safe, I insisted on an indoor venue because I didn’t want the weather to derail things. I would’ve been crushed if it had. (Naturally, during the reading itself, it rained like something biblical.)
I should’ve mentioned up front how guilty I felt for not selling more copies of my book in 2020-2021 on behalf of my press, Washington Writers’ Publishing House, because WWPH changed my life when it accepted the book for publication.
I come from a family of dreamers and big talkers, so I was making all kinds of plans to tour and to win awards — all the things I watched others do. When covid canceled most of those plans, it was, quite frankly, devastating. I was grateful that we had virtual events, but they didn’t result in sales.
Apparently, it’s been an industry-wide trend: Whatever cognitive extra step that would spur someone to move beyond watching a Zoom reading and click the “buy the book” link wasn’t happening. I’ve written about it previously, so I won’t belabor that point.
What I do want to say is that planning my book’s relaunch was ultimately about joy, as Allison suggested in her initial question. The April 7th event did sell some books, but more importantly, it connected lots of people from my wider network. Friends met my students. Colleagues met my children. Neighbors met me in a new way (I dressed up slightly). What started as a way to remedy the disappointment of the pandemic turned into both a joyous send-off and a kind of celebratory capstone.
Steven Leyva’s poetry collection is The Understudy’s Handbook.