Lynette Washington is a writer, editor, publisher and teacher of creative and professional writing. She is the editor of just-launched Thrill Me, a collection of more than thirty short stories by award-winning and emerging storytellers. Here, Lynette shares about the challenges of publishing a book during a pandemic.
Writers understand the concept of resilience. Very few of us sit down at our writing desks and pour forth polished gems in swift, easy prose. Many of us toil, torment, revise, anguish and cut cut cut, killing our darlings, ruthlessly forging something of value. Writing comes from a place of resilience as much as any creative force.
Which is why I have felt heartened to watch Australian creatives rally around each other in a show of support. While the government continues to either ignore or misunderstand the multi-billion dollar Australian creative sector, artists are getting on with business. Writers and publishers are responding to the pandemic by inventing new ways to reach markets now that book launches, book tours, author talks, festivals and events are out of the question.
I launched my small publishing house, Glimmer Press, in 2019 and this April was due to launch my second book, a collection of suspenseful stories called Thrill Me. Thrill Me features 35 stories written by established and emerging writers from around Australia. For some of the writers this was their first publication – which any writer will tell you is the big breakthrough moment. It’s the little glimmer of hope, the reassurance that you must keep doing this. For other writers in the book it was a much smaller achievement in the galaxy of a stellar career. But for all of them, it still marked an accomplishment.
And for Glimmer Press, it was a big deal. Having recently secured a distributor, things were looking up for my tiny publishing house. A lot was resting on the spine of this book. And so, as the launch date drew nearer, and social distancing restrictions started to be put in place, the doom seemed to be setting in. A launch seemed like such an important thing to do – an opportunity to celebrate the 12 months of work that went into the book, and an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the writers’ amazing work. And of course, an important opportunity to sell books.
Needless to say, we cancelled the launch. Although I never questioned the rightness of the decision, it was still so hard to make. Several writers had booked flights to attend the launch. I had a healthy list of RSVPs and an active community of fabulous people wanting to support the book. I was working with my excellent and supportive local library who were contributing significantly to the event. It broke my heart to cancel the launch. I didn’t know what it would mean – would the book fall completely in the abyss of oblivion? Would it vanish without a trace, even a tiny, tiny trace?
But publishers are resilient too.
I watched as other writers and publishers played with technology and ways to connect with audiences. There was innovation and invention happening. I decided to give it a go and hold a live stream launch.
A live stream launch, I’ve come to know, is a strange beast. In the case of Thrill Me, it involved me looking into the camera lens of my laptop in my dining room and talking for about half an hour. I could see the little bubble at the top of the screen telling me how many people were watching, and was acutely aware that every now and then someone would stop watching. Friends would join in and wave at me the comments, which was lovely, but also sent me off track. Most of all, I didn’t want to bore people – and what could be more boring than me sitting there saying hello to everyone who stopped by? The strangest moment of all came when I read the launch speech written by Helen Dinmore, who was to launch the book at the physical event, and who actually called me a hero. Yes, I read those words out loud and felt a rush of pride and mortification.
When all was said and done, I was so glad to have held the live stream launch. People took the time to sit in front of their devices and watch, which I’m enormously grateful for.
And in the wash up of it all, I can confirm that, if nothing else, it was an interesting social experiment. Had we held a local launch in a physical venue, we might have expected up to 150 guests, and might have sold up to 100 books. Holding a live stream launch on Facebook we reached close to 4000 people and had just under 900 engagements. This resulted in around 10 book sales. So, while the sales didn’t follow the eyes on the screen, it was heartening to think that all those extra folks took the time to watch and listen, and many of them heard about Glimmer Press and Thrill Me and those 31 authors for the first time. I like to hope that some of those people have called their local bookshop or library and ordered their copy of the book.
Publishing in the time of a pandemic seems the height of madness. Of course, there are so many more important things to do right now – like care for each other, and figure out how to stay sane in our microworlds.
Indeed, many publishers have held off launching books where possible, waiting for a time when they can resume normal behaviour – where they can expect a physical launch, a book tour or an invitation to a festival. Where they can expect bookshops to have open doors and be ordering stock in large quantities. Where a news outlet of some kind might actually interview a writer or might spare some column inches for a book review.
But, also, books are needed as much now as ever. What would we do in lockdown if we didn’t have books to read, shows to watch and music to listen to? And what about those books – like Thrill Me and countless others – that were too close to being launched and couldn’t be delayed? Well, those books are relying on readers to have as much ingenuity as their writers and publishers. To seek them out and to read them and talk about them. This is where the magic of social media matters. In the very short lifespan of Thrill Me, I can already point to several examples of a direct and traceable connection between someone posting about it online and someone else buying a copy from my website.
So if you’ve read a book that you love, please do our community of writers and publishers a favour and tell someone about it!
Our writers will come out of this mess with stories to tell. They will help us make sense of what’s happened and give us hope for a future that we can run towards with confidence and warn us of what will happen if we miss the lessons of this pandemic. They will shine a light on what’s important – each other, kindness, hope, love – and also shine a light on what doesn’t matter so that we can remember which light to walk towards. They will continue to enrich our lives. They will be there for us. Please be there for them.
Click the image to buy Thrill Me.
Brimming with anticipation, humour, desire and strangeness these stories will quicken your senses and make your spine tingle.
In Thrill Me, thirty-one award-winning and emerging Australian storytellers write to thrill and move you. Read on if you dare.
These writers will leave an unshakable imprint on you.
‘Notably original, incredibly tense. A must-read for fans of suspense and great stories.’ Laurie Steed, author of You Belong Here
‘It’s true: there are stories here to make your heart race…and soar and flutter and ache. Some will rip your heart right out.’ Rebekah Clarkson, author of Barking Dogs