It’s been two months since New Old World was placed on the New Arrivals shelf at Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland. And for the last month the book has been essentially unseen. First there was safe browsing, then browsing gave way to only orders and pickups, and now there’s a green line on the sidewalk beyond which anxious readers cannot step. It’s the spring of 2020, after all. So there my novel sits, all dressed up with a “shelf talker” and no one to buy it!
If I had published in a more mainstream way, New Old World would be searchable on the Annie Bloom’s website. One could order it online and have it delivered or mailed. But as a DIY project, this book has no distributor other than myself. So it takes a phone call to the store to get your hands on one of their physical copies. Of course you can still order it directly from this blog, but it’s nice to give some business to independent booksellers, especially these days.
It could be a lot worse for me. My novel has come out in stages, first as an e-book at Smashwords, then in its Kindle version, and finally this past year in print form. I’ve promoted each edition till I sound like a broken record, but I was just starting to reach a new paper-loving audience when the virus hit the fan. And yet I feel way more sorry for authors, especially debut authors, whose babies are being born during this pandemic but they can’t show them off because their book tours have been cancelled. Talk about being dressed up…
My novel’s appearance in a bookstore was a real milestone. Annie Bloom’s is to be commended for supporting local indie authors with their consignment program, even if it means not showing up in the database and having to design one’s own shelf talker…the one that nobody can see right now. But this entry into the marketplace came with some responsibility on my part to continue promoting the book, including possibly staging a reading at the store. For most authors that’s a golden opportunity — for reticent ones, it’s a gathering storm on the horizon. I’d been pep-talking myself into believing that I could handle that public presence…when suddenly it wasn’t an option anymore! The store’s events calendar emptied, until they switched gears like so many other businesses in the world, and online readings began to populate that broad expanse of April and May.
Coincidentally, I’d already been researching digital ways to interact with readers, particularly in a written format (this blog is one vehicle, though it is certainly underutilized and feels old-fashioned in our Zoom age!). The fact is, I never really wanted to peddle my book — I just wanted to write it, publish it, and have people discover it by some miraculous method involving word of mouth. Pseudonymous author “Elena Ferrante” was my role model, but I went with C.D. Stowell and have been hiding in plain sight ever since. I figured if readers wanted to track me down to talk about the novel, I’d be findable on the internet and happy to engage. But bringing the book to people’s attention in the first place was another matter, requiring a degree of exposure outside my comfort zone.
In a way, I was saved by the novel coronavirus. (The double entendre of “novel” has not been lost on me, not to mention the new significance of my title, New Old World!) As soon as the sheltering started, any desire I had to promote my book just evaporated. I could take a break! Take stock! Pick up the playwriting project I’d put down to make the print version of the book! Have all the time in the world for any number of creative pursuits! As it is, I read the news, I sew masks, I FaceTime with my son, I deliver Meals on Wheels, I feel imaginary symptoms (or are they pollen allergies?)…and I stare at the copies of New Old World stacked up in my office. And worry about the ones locked up in the bookstore.
I’ve watched a few digital readings on Facebook Live and Zoom, some more successful than others, and tried to picture myself in the authors’ place. Who are they looking at while we’re looking at them? How can they possibly talk and read comments and questions at the same time? What if the video freezes or the technology fails completely? It seems fraught with potential pitfalls. It seems lonely for the author.
The crazy thing is, I’ve come around to thinking that the easiest, most natural kind of connection over a book might be face to face. That’s why there are book groups and literature classes….and readings. Maybe it’s my mind tricking me, since I know it’s not an option right now, but suddenly an in-store, in-person reading sounds delightfully manageable, even enjoyable! When was the last time we were in a room full of people? Remember that energy?
So all is not lost during this time that my book languishes. I’m exercising, enjoying the beautiful weather, making my own espresso, letting my husband cook — and reading other people’s books. I might even reread New Old World so I’m ready to field any question tossed my way on some hypothetical evening in a book-lined room full of live, warm human beings (and one cat) in a store in my neighborhood.
(If you’d like to support an independent bookseller, please request my book at Annie Bloom’s, 503-246-0053, or order other books at annieblooms.com. You can also buy New Old World directly from me using the button in the sidebar. Or scroll down a bit to the venues where the e-book is available — it’s free at Smashwords through May during their “Authors Give Back” promotion. Thanks!)