In terms of people being negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, authors launching books are waaayyy down the list. Nonetheless, it’s disappointing to have spent years working in isolation on a thoughtful work of literature, only to have it emerge at the exact moment of a global pandemic. How do you promote a book when stores are closed, festivals are cancelled and travel is banned? We spoke to authors of new books about how they are dealing in this time of crisis.
Emily St. John Mandel
Explain the plot of your book. In The Glass Hotel, the collapse of a massive Ponzi scheme causes widespread devastation for investors. The scheme’s architect, Jonathan, is sentenced to 170 years in a federal prison. Jonathan’s young wife, Vincent, seemingly walks away unscathed – until, 10 years later, she disappears. It’s a novel about money, white-collar crime, ghosts, beauty and the nature of reality.
What events have you had to cancel? So many. My tour was originally 25 cities, with stops in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K., but I’ve had to cancel about 15 events and my expectation is that the rest of the tour will likely be cancelled, too. I know cancelling those events is the right thing to do, but it’s impossible not to be a little sad about it.
Do you have alternate promotional plans? We’re still figuring that out.
How are you planning to spend your social isolation time? Homeschooling my four-year-old and trying to keep her happy and occupied in this strange time where she can’t see her friends or go to playgrounds.
Given that your previous novel, Station Eleven, involved a catastrophic plague, do you feel extra prepared, extra worried or both? I suppose I was somewhat prepared by my research for Station Eleven. When you read about the history of pandemics, what quickly becomes clear is that epidemiologists talk about pandemics in the same way seismologists talk about earthquakes – there will always be another one. Pandemics have always been a part of the human experience. Although none of this means that I actually expected to see one in my lifetime and I’m certainly not immune to the dread of waiting for it to fully arrive while the city closes down around me.
Explain the plot of your book. NISHGA is a book about the afterlife of residential schools and it’s a deeply personal book about intergenerational trauma that involves me, my parents and my grandparents. Although it’s being categorized as memoir/creative non-fiction, it’s actually a multigenre book that intertwines creative nonfiction, concrete poetry and photography (amongst other things).
What events have you had to cancel? So far I’ve just had a few events cancelled around the Edmonton Poetry Festival. However, it’s quite possible that all of my events for the book tour in late April/early May get cancelled sooner than later. I think there are probably very few events going forward at this moment.
Do you have alternate promotional plans? I don’t currently have any alternate promo plans. Other than just trying to get folks to read the book through social media.
How are you planning to spend your social isolation time? I am currently grading many essays and trying to figure out how to teach my courses online. But my partner and I are also slowly making our way through the entirety of Netflix.
Is there any part of the promotional process you are secretly relieved to avoid? To be honest, I think this book was always going to be a difficult one for me to promote. It’s a very difficult book with very difficult subject matter. There are a few parts of NISHGA that address this, but it’s often hard for me to talk about my family, to talk about intergenerational trauma and to talk about the book in general. That being said, though, I do also want the book to get to the right people and I can’t think of any better way to do that than to try to convince some folks to read it and pass it forward.
Explain the plots of your books. Fight Like A Girl and is a young adult novel about a teen muay Thai fighter of Trinidadian heritage who, during her intense fight season, starts to believe that her father’s accidental death wasn’t really an accident at all. No Going Back is the third installment of my Nora Watts series. In this book, Nora realizes that an enemy from her past is hunting her – and her teen daughter.
What events have you had to cancel? All of them for the next month and a half. Maybe even the ones later in April, as well.
Do you have alternate promotional plans? I work with wonderful teams at Penguin Teen and HarperCollins. They’ve been so great to me, and I trust my publishers will do their best to help spread the word. I’ve also hired an independent publicist to help get me through the slump.
How are you planning to spend your social isolation time? I’ve promised my agents a draft of a new novel and I will stay in by myself all day every day until I get it done. Also, I’ve just created a TikTok for my huge 9-year-old Newfoundland dog. She has the most attitude out of anyone I’ve ever met, human or canine. I’m either going to finish this book, or she’ll blow up on TikTok – one of these things is sure to happen by the time this is all over.
Of the two books, which are you saddest about not getting to read from/talk about in person? That’s an impossible choice. Nora Watts is the character that gave me a writing career, so I always love delving into her story. Trisha, the main character in Fight Like A Girl, is equally as compelling for me to talk about. These two characters are both very fierce and complicated heroines who are injecting some representation into the crime genre. I want to talk about both.
Explain the plot of your book. In Bloom, after a heavy rainfall on Salt Spring Island, strange, spiky black grass takes over farmers’ fields. Vines grow into houses and up the nostrils of sleeping people. Giant pod-like plants wait underground to swallow up prey, small and large. Very quickly the plants spread worldwide and bloom, producing a highly allergenic pollen. The only people immune to these plants are my three teenaged heroes.
What events have you had to cancel? My nine-day U.S. book tour, as well as an appearance at the Texas Library Association. Also a number of school and library events around Toronto.
Do you have alternate promotional plans? I offered to make Skype presentations at every U.S. school that I was scheduled to visit and to autograph special bookplates for anyone who ordered books. Several schools took me up on it, before they closed down.
How are you planning to spending your social isolation time? Social isolation is nothing new to most writers! I plan to edit the third book in the Bloom series and work on a new book. I’ve also been recording short readings of my books, to broadcast daily on my YouTube channel over the next three weeks.
Your book is about an invasion of killer plants – do you worry young readers won’t find that scenario scary anymore, given what’s happening in the world? It has occurred to me, yes. But we humans have always craved and needed stories, especially when times are at their worst. I love taking readers on adventures, and if Bloom can offer some escapism, I’d be delighted.
Explain the plot of your book. The Case for Climate Capitalism is a call for the Left and Right – the business community and environmentalists, bankers and activists – to drop their respective dogmas and join together to reclaim capitalism to align profits with the planet. We’ve no time for la revolucion. But neither can we continue to nibble around the edges of our economy. By rejecting the tired old left/right see-saw we just might build an economy that can see us through the century.
What events have you had to cancel? I’ve cancelled four public talks thus far, and that’s the tip of the iceberg. Passionate, engaged public speaking is how I best convey my ideas to a general audience, so the virus has knocked the book launch out of orbit.
Do you have some alternate promotional plans? I’m trying to come up with online replacements for the talks. The challenge is to convey the same passion and drama that I believe I can bring into a room. My brother Gord is a long-time actor and documentary director, so I’ve reached out to him for advice.
How are you planning to spend your social isolation time? My day job is as managing partner of ArcTern Ventures. We are still in business, doing deals and building companies that will form the backbone of the emerging low-carbon economy. My team and I all work from home, with update video conferences morning and afternoon.
Do any of the environmental solutions you explore in the book apply to the current pandemic crisis? Absolutely. At a high level, we’re seeing people’s daily lives disrupted by an event that experts have long said is coming – that’s no different than the risks of climate disruption. While the economic downturn is alarming, we will find a way to get through it and help those most affected. What makes me hopeful is seeing people willing to do the right thing – socially isolate, for example – to protect the most vulnerable. More immediately, I hope to see the ways we’ve adapted – virtual talks replacing live ones, less business travel, working from home –become the norm once we find out that it can work in lots of cases. A lot of business travel is just unnecessary. Moving around less is definitely part of the low-carbon economy we need to build.
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