Resources for Writers in the Time of Coronavirus

As writers, teachers, publishers, booksellers, and librarians in our local, national, and international communities grapple with how to proceed in their creative, financial, professional, and personal lives during this time of uncertainty, we are compiling a list of resources we hope you will find useful. We will be updating this list as we learn of new resources and opportunities. (If you know about an opportunity, initiative, or helpful resource not on this list, please send an e-mail to 


Financial Resources

The initiative Artists Relief, sponsored by a coalition of arts grantmakers—the Academy of American Poets, Artadia, Creative Capital, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, MAP Fund, National YoungArts Foundation, and United States Artists—will award a total of $10 million, half of which was contributed by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to artists and writers “facing dire financial emergencies due to the impact of COVID-19.” Applicants who are twenty-one or older, able to receive taxable income in the United States regardless of their citizenship status, and have lived and worked primarily in the United States over the last two years are eligible to apply for $5,000 grants. Artists Relief will also serve as an informational resource, and will collaborate with Americans for the Arts to launch the “COVID-19 Impact Survey for Artists and Creative Workers.”

The Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, sponsored by the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), helps established freelance writers “who cannot work because they are currently ill or caring for someone who is ill.” Applicants need not be members of the ASJA but must have five published articles from regional or national publications or one book published by a major publishing house.

Authors League Fund offers assistance to professional authors, journalists, and poets who “find themselves in financial need because of medical or health-related problems, temporary loss of income, or other misfortune.” 

Carnegie Fund for Authors awards “grants to published authors who are in need of emergency financial assistance as a result of illness or injury to self, spouse, or dependent child, or who has had some other misfortune that has placed the applicant in pressing and substantial pecuniary need.”

The PEN America Writers’ Emergency Fund distributes grants of $500 to $1,000 to U.S.-based professional writers, including fiction and nonfiction authors, poets, playwrights, screenwriters, translators, and journalists, who demonstrate an acute financial need, especially one resulting from the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The Alliance of Artists Communities’ Emergency Funds for Individual Artists Participating in Residencies supports “artists facing an unforeseen emergency or triggering event to participate in artists’ residencies. The fund disburses mini-grants to artists who have already been accepted and scheduled for a residency, but who would not otherwise be able to participate due to a sudden change in circumstances.”

Artist Relief Tree is “set up to collect donations from those of us with the means to help. We intend to support artists, particularly freelance artists, in a small way. Unfortunately we cannot hope to replace artists’ entire fees or lost work, but we wish to provide hope, make a small difference, and show solidarity with colleagues and Friends.” A group of artists—Andrew Crooks, Marco Cammarota, Morgan Brophy, Rachel Stanton, Tehvon Fowler-Chapman, and Thomas Morris—organized the fund. Note: This group is not taking new requests for funds at the moment.

Queer Writers of Color Relief Fund, started by Luther Hughes, founder of Shade Literary Arts, seeks to “help at least 100 queer writers of color who have been financially impacted by the current COVID-19. Priority will be given to queer trans women of color and queer disabled writers of color, but I hope this relief fund will help as many queer writers of color as it can.”

The Creator Fund, from the e-mail marketing company ConvertKit, is offering financial assistance of up to $500 for artists and small business owners—the term “creator” is loosely defined. The mini-grants can be used for groceries, childcare, rent, mortgage or medical expenses. The Fund, which will disburse $185,300 in total, is now closed to new applications after receiving more than sixteen thousand applications.

The Dramatist Guild Foundation’s Emergency Grants are available to “individual playwrights, composers, lyricists, and book writers in dire need of funds due to severe hardship or unexpected illness.” The grants, which typically range between $500 and $3,000, are intended to support expenses related to healthcare, childcare, housing, disability, natural disaster relief, and other unforeseen circumstances. Applicants will be notified in two to four weeks.

Substack, an e-mail newsletter platform, will administer a total of $100,000 to individuals “writing, or thinking about writing, on Substack” through its Independent Writer Grant Program. Individuals who are experiencing economic hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic can apply for grants from $500 to $5,000, in addition to mentorship from the Substack team. Applications are open through April 7. (It is free to join Substack and start an e-mail newsletter; if you decide to charge your audience a subscription fee, Substack takes 10 percent.) 

The Freelancers Relief Fund, organized by the Freelancers Union, will offer “financial assistance of up to $1,000 per freelance household to cover lost income and essential expenses not covered by government relief programs” including food supplies, utility payments, and cash assistance to cover lost income. Freelancers who reside in the United States, derive most of their income from freelance work, and have experienced “a sudden decrease of at least 50 percent of income as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic” are eligible. Applications have been temporarily closed due to the overwhelming response the fund received from its community.

We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) will administer emergency grants of $500 through the WNDB Emergency Fund for Diverse Creatives in Children’s Publishing to “diverse authors, illustrators, and publishing professionals who are experiencing dire financial need.” Traditionally published writers and illustrators who have lost income due to canceled festival, school, or library visits, are eligible, as are furloughed publishing professionals—editors, agents, publicists, designers, and sales positions—who work in the field of children’s literature. Only U.S. residents are eligible. Applicants should receive a response in two to three weeks.

The Maurice Sendak Foundation has dedicated $100,000 to the new Maurice Sendak Emergency Relief Fund, which will be administered by the New York Foundation for the Arts. The fund will offer grants of up to $2,500 to children’s picture book artists and writers who “have experienced financial hardship from loss of income as a direct result of the [COVID-19] crisis.”  Children’s picture book artists and/or writers who have published at least one picture book in the last five years and are residents of the United States or U.S. territories are eligible. Applications will open on April 23 and close after six hundred applications are received; grantees will be notified by May 15.

As part of its response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project (EHRP) offers emergency hardship grants of $500 to $1,500 to professional journalists based in the United States. EHRP will prioritize the unemployed, single parents, members of one-income families with young children, and people with acute medical needs over the age of fifty-five. Applications are reviewed on an ongoing basis. EHRP also accepts pitches from independent journalists for stories on “the intersection of the coronavirus and financial suffering in America, with an emphasis on writers and photographers who are themselves experiencing significant economic hardship caused by the pandemic.” EHRP typically pays reporters roughly a dollar a word or $300 to $500 a day for photojournalists.

The Poets & Writers COVID-19 Relief Fund provides emergency assistance to writers having difficulty meeting their basic needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund will provide grants of up to $1,000 to an initial cohort of approximately eighty writers in April. Eligibility is currently limited to writers who are listed in the Poets & Writers Directory as of April 10, 2020; or have received a mini-grant from our Readings & Workshops program; or have received one of the following awards or fellowships sponsored by Poets & Writers: Amy Award, Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award, Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, and the Galen Williams Fellowship. As of April 20, the fund is no longer accepting applications.

Location-Specific Financial Resources

Literary Arts in Portland, Oregon, has created the Booth Emergency Fund for Writers “to provide meaningful financial relief to Oregon’s writers, including cartoonists, spoken word poets, and playwrights.” Awards of $1,000 each will be given to 100 writers at the end of the application period, which runs through May 13. (If additional funds are secured for this purpose, Literary Arts may open up a second round of applications later in June.) Since COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color, Literary Arts is prioritizing funding “for writers identifying as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color.” Funds are intended to be used for (but are not limited to) recouping financial losses due to canceled events, offsetting loss of income for teachers, and support for artists working full- or part-time in the service industry “or other professions who have lost income.” 

The Boston Artist Relief Fund “will award grants of $500 and $1,000 to individual artists who live in Boston whose creative practices and incomes are being adversely impacted by Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19).”

The Oregon Science Fiction Convention’s Clayton Memorial Medical Fund helps professional science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery writers living in the Pacific Northwest states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska deal with the financial burden of medical expenses.

NC Artists Relief Fund, sponsored by Artspace, PineCone, United Arts Council, and VAE Raleigh, supports “creative individuals who have been financially impacted by gig cancellations due to the outbreak of COVID-19.” All donated funds “will go directly to artists and arts presenters in North Carolina. Musicians, visual artists, actors, DJ’s, dancers, teaching artists, filmmakers, comedians, and other creative individuals and arts presenters are experiencing widespread cancellations due to this global pandemic.”

The Safety Net Fund is offering financial support to artists who typically make their living offline, at in-person events and performances. To qualify, you must reside in the Bay Area (or near it, as some San Joaquin and Santa Cruz county zip codes are eligible), provide proof of an artistic endeavor in the last six months, cannot be eligible for unemployment insurance from the state, and must have earned less than $1,000 of income in the last thirty days.

The San Francisco Arts & Artists Relief Fund, cosponsored by the Center for Cultural Innovation, San Francisco Arts Commission, and Grants for the Arts, offers funds to “mitigate COVID-19 related financial losses that artists and small to mid-sized arts and culture organizations have suffered.” Individuals based in San Francisco who are eligible for, or currently on employment, are eligible for grants of up to $2,000. Organizations that conduct a majority of their work in San Francisco and operate on a budget of less than $2 million are eligible for grants of up to $25,000.

The Personal Emergency Relief Fund, sponsored by Springboard for the Arts, helps artists in Minnesota “recover from personal emergencies by helping pay an unanticipated, emergency expense.” Artists can request up to $500 for lost income “due to the cancellation of a specific, scheduled gig or opportunity (i.e. commissions, performances, contracts) due to coronavirus/COVID-19 precautionary measures.” 

Max Kansas City’s Emergency Grants offers grants of up to $1,000 to New York State residents who are professionals in the creative arts. “Individuals who have made their living through their art form either professionally or personally and demonstrate a financial need for medical aid, legal aid, or housing” are eligible.

The NYC Low-Income Artist/Freelancer Relief Fund, organized by Shawn Escarciga and Nadia Tykulsker, offers grants of up to $150 to “low-income, BIPOC, trans/GNC/NB/Queer artists and freelancers whose livelihoods are being affected by this pandemic in NYC.”

The New Orleans Business Alliance’s Relief Fund offers grants of $500 to $1,000 to “meet the needs of gig economy workers who have been directly impacted via loss of income.” Writers who live in New Orleans, earn more than 60 percent of their income via gig-work, and are below a certain income level are eligible.

Artist Trust’s COVID-19 Artist Trust Relief Fund offers grants of $500 to $5,000 to “artists whose livelihoods have been impacted by COVID-19” and are residents of Washington State. The grants are intended to help artists who are coping with lost wages and earnings, lost income from canceled events and performances, medical expenses, rent and mortgage payments, food, utilities, and other living expenses.

The Indy Arts & Culture COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund, sponsored by a coalition of community funders and the Arts Council of Indianapolis, offers $500 grants to “individuals working in the arts sector and impacted by the current public health crisis,” especially those working at small to mid-sized nonprofit arts and cultural organizations. Applicants must live in Marion or one of the seven surrounding counties in Indiana.

The Cultural Relief Fund offers grants of up to $2,000 to individuals in the Seattle area for “emergencies related to the COVID-19 virus and to support the creative responses cultural workers offer in times of crisis.” The first round of funding is available April 1 through May 15. Applications are reviewed weekly; applicants will be notified within ten business days. 

The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Emergency Fund for Artists offers grants of up to $500 to artists dealing with financial losses due to canceled events, canceled classes, or school closures. Artists who live in Pittsburgh (in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Washington, Lawrence, Indiana, Greene, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland counties) are eligible. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis.

The Canadian Writers’ Emergency Relief Fund, financed by the Writers’ Trust of Canada, the Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC), and the Royal Bank of Canada, will distribute $150,000 to writers in Canada that have “seen contracted or projected income evaporate due to the current public health crisis.” Poets, fiction writers, nonfiction writers, and young adult writers with a track record of publication (or self-published writers who are members of TWUC) who will lose more than $1,500 between March and May 2020 are eligible to apply for grants of $1,500. Apply by April 9.

The Atlanta Artist Lost Gig Fund, administered by the arts nonprofit C4 Atlanta, offers grants of up to $500 to artists in the Atlanta area who “have unmet essential needs due to lost revenue from canceled upcoming events and gigs.” Artists who make their living from their practice are eligible.


Resources for Working Remotely

Zoom: “How do I host a video meeting?”

Vimeo: “How to plan a virtual event: Vimeo’s live production experts tell all”

Creative Capital: “Thinking About Livestreaming as an Artist? Read This First.” Artists Yara Travieso and Brighid Greene describe how to approach livestreaming and survey platforms available to writers: Instagram, HowIRound, Vimeo, Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and Zoom.

The Chronicle of Higher Education offers advice for teaching during the coronavirus, including Moving Online Now: How to Keep Teaching During Coronavirus, a collection of articles, advice, and opinion pieces on online learning; “The Quandary: How Do I Support a Student Who’s Sick With Covid-19?”; “Eight Ways to Be More Inclusive in Your Zoom Teaching”; and more.


Resources for Booksellers

The American Booksellers Association’s Coronavirus Resources for Booksellers includes immediate steps to take during the outbreak, ABA initiatives during the outbreak, and opportunities for financial assistance.

Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) offers assistance “for the medical expenses of booksellers and to help booksellers in specific cases where store closure and/or loss of scheduled pay leads to the inability to pay essential household bills for an individual or family.”

The #SaveIndieBookstores campaign fund—organized by James Patterson, Reese’s Book Club, the ABA, and Binc—will administer financial assistance to independent bookstores, “the hearts and souls of main streets in cities and towns all across the United States.” Applications will be open from April 10 to April 27.


Resources for Librarians

The Help a Library Worker Out (HALO) Fund, organized by the nonprofit EveryLibrary Institute, will administer grants of up to $250 to library workers, librarians, and library staff who are “experiencing personal or household financial difficulties during this time of crisis.” Individuals who reside in the United States or U.S. territories and have lost work or experienced a significant wage reduction—or are part of a household in which a member has lost their job or seen their income reduced—are eligible. HALO grants can be used toward personal expenses such as food, rent or mortgage payments, cell phone and internet expenses, medicine, or household needs. Grants are made on a rolling basis.

The American Library Association’s (ALA) Pandemic Preparedness page includes news on how librarians are dealing with the pandemic, professional development and training resources, and lists of federal, state, and local resources. The ALA also hosts free webinars on topics such as considering copyright during a crisis, navigating the impact of COVID-19 on library technical services, using a library’s virtual presence to reach users with disabilities, and more.


Resources for Readers and Writers

The New York Public Library is offering expanded access to its online research databases. Research librarians and curators are also available for online consultations.

Audible has assembled a free collection of audiobooks, including literary classics and books for young readers. 

Many university presses and other not-for-profit publishers are collaborating with Project MUSE to offer free access to books and journals. 

Independent publisher Archipelago Books is unlocking access to thirty e-books through April 2.

As usual, the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation, among other organizations, offer free-to-access poetry archives.

The editors at Brightly, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House, have assembled “Reading Through It Together,” a set of educational resources and reading exercises for children and teens.

In partnership with Simon & Schuster, the Folger Shakespeare Library is sharing resources from its video and audio recordings archive—including footage of the Folger Theatre’s 2008 production of MacBeth—through July 1. 

The Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW) in Gainesville, Florida, is making five of its most popular online courses in comics and graphic storytelling available for free.

Calamari Press has made digital copies of all its book titles, as well as back issues of Sleepingfish literary magazine, available for free.

Writer Suleika Jaouad has organized a thirty-day creativity project, the Isolation Journals, through which she sends daily journaling prompts via e-mail from some of her favorite writers, artists, and musicians, including Elizabeth Gilbert, Erin Khar, Esmé Weijun Wang, Georgia Clark, Hallie Goodman, Ilya Kaminsky, Jen Pastiloff, Jon Batiste, Jordan Kisner, Kiese Laymon, Lily Brooks-Dalton, Mari Andrew, Melissa Febos, Nora McInerney, Rachel Cargle, Ruthie Lindsey, and more. The project will run for the month of April.

The Authors Guild posted their webinar “Coronavirus Relief Programs for Authors and Freelancers,” featuring Mary Rasenberger and Umair Kazi, the Authors Guild’s executive director and director of policy and advocacy, respectively, and Marcum LLP partner Robert Pesce. The trio covers “how authors and freelancers can benefit from the government relief programs for economic assistance during the coronavirus crisis.” They discuss qualification criteria for unemployment, loan terms, and other information about the process.  

As usual, Poets & Writers offers weekly writing inspiration through The Time Is Now, which features writing prompts in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and Writers Recommend, through which authors share the rituals, art, books, music, movies, and habits that get them writing. 


Other Resources

COVID-19 Freelance Artists Resources is “an aggregated list of FREE resources, opportunities, and financial relief options available to artists of all disciplines.”

Creative Capital’s List of Arts Resources During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Kickstarter’s COVID-19 Coronavirus Artist Resources

New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Emergency Grants Page

BOMB magazine’s COVID-19 Artist Resources and Closing the Distance: New Spaces for Community, an “ongoing list of online tools, workshops, and livestreams to keep you company and engaged in the time of COVID-19.”

National Endowment for the Arts COVID-19 Resources for Artists and Arts Organizations

Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts has compiled a national directory of organizations that offer legal services to artists, some of which are provided pro bono. Membership and processing fees vary by organization.

The Community of Literary Magazines and Presses COVID-19 Resources for Indie Publishers lists emergency grants and resources available to independent publishers and other literary stakeholders.




Cancellations and Postponements: Retreats and Contests Affected by the Crisis


As event organizers across the literary community adapt and change plans to help keep us all well, we are compiling a list of canceled and postponed conferences, residencies, and award deadlines. (If you know about a cancellation or award not on this list, please send an e-mail to Be sure to check back for updates.


Cancelled or Postponed Conferences and Festivals

The Bay Area Book Festival, originally planned for May 2 to May 3, 2020, has been rescheduled for May 1 to May 2, 2021. Beginning May 1, 2020, the festival will also offer virtual programming as the Bay Area Book Festival Unbound, featuring live and recorded events held through the festival’s YouTube channel.  Visit the festival’s website for additional information on both the rescheduled festival and this year’s virtual programming.

The Conversations & Connections conference, sponsored by Barrelhouse magazine and originally planned for April 18, 2020, has been canceled. In response to the cancellation, Barrelhouse staff have organized the Spring 2020 Read-In and Write-In, featuring an online book group and an online workshop with guest lectures from writers and editors as well as generative writing “sprint” sessions. Visit the Barrelhouse website for information on these online events, and visit the conference’s website for additional information on the conference cancellation.

The Granta & Wesleyan Writers Conference, originally planned for June 24 to June 28, 2020, has been rescheduled for June 23 to June 27, 2021. Visit the conference’s website for additional information.

The Iceland Writers Retreat, originally planned for April 29 to May 3, 2020, has been rescheduled for October 14 to October 18, 2020. Visit the conference’s website for addtional information.

The Indiana University Writers’ Conference, originally planned for May 30 to June 3, 2020, has been canceled. The conference will be held again in 2021. Visit the conference’s website for additional information.

The Iowa Summer Writing Festival, originially planned for June and July 2020, has been canceled. Visit the festival’s website for additional information, and visit its Facebook page for writing prompts from festival instructors in coming weeks. 

The Jackson Hole Writers Conference, originally planned for June 2020, has been canceled. In response to the cancellation, starting in late April 2020, select components of the originally scheduled programming will be offered online, including workshops, panels, and manuscript critiques. Visit the conference’s website for additional information on the cancellation and on alternative online programming.

The Los Angeles Festival of Books, originally planned for April 18 to April 19, 2020, has been rescheduled for October 3 to October 4, 2020. Visit the festival’s website for additional information.

The Nantucket Book Festival, originally planned for June 18 to June 21, 2020, has been canceled as an in-person event in downtown Nantucket, Massachusetts. A virtual festival featuring guest writers will be offered instead. A festival celebrating local writers will also be planned for later in the year. Visit the festival’s website for additional infomation on the cancellation as well as the virtual conference and local writers’ festival.

The North Carolina Writers’ Network Spring Conference, originally planned for April 18, 2020, has been canceled. In response to the cancellation, the North Carolina Writers’ Network will offer the North Carolina Writers’ Network Cabin Fever Conference from April 16 to April 18, 2020, a virtual conference featuring “630 minutes of high-quality, socially-distant instruction in the craft and business of writing.” Visit the organization’s website for additional information on the cancellation as well as the virtual conference. 

The NYC Writer’s Hotel Poetry Weekend, originally planned for May 21 to May 25, 2020, has been rescheduled for October 22 to October 26, 2020. Visit the conference’s website for additional information.

The NYC Writer’s Hotel All-Fiction Writers Conference, originally planned for June 3 to June 9, 2020, has been rescheduled for October 14 to October 18, 2020. Visit the conference’s website for additional information.

The Orion Enviromental Writers’ Workshop, originally planned for June 21 to June 26, 2020, has been canceled. The workshop will be offered instead in a reimagined, “more intimate” format from October 25 to October 30, 2020. Visit the workshop’s website for additional information.

The Poetry at Round Top festival, originally planned for April 24 to April 26, 2020, has been canceled. The festival will be held again from April 16 to April 18, 2021. Visit the festival’s website for additional information.

The Sarah Lawrence College Publish and Promote Your Book Conference, originally planned for June 13, 2020, has been postponed. Visit the conference’s website for additional information, including updates on rescheduling.

The Sewanee Writers’ Conference, originally planned for July 21 to August 2, 2020, has been canceled. Visit the conference’s website for additional information.

The Split This Rock Poetry Festival, originally planned for March 26 to March 28, 2020, has been canceled. In response to the cancellation, the festival will be offering online programming including a virtual bookfair, readings, and free workshops. Visit the festival’s website for additional information, including virtual event details.

The 50th anniversary Squaw Valley Writers Workshops, originally planned for July 6 to July 13, 2020, have been postponed to July 5 to July 12, 2021. The 2020 summer workshops in fiction, nonfiction, and memoir have been canceled; the 2020 summer workshop in poetry will be offered online as the “Virtual Valley” from June 20 to June 27, 2020. Visit the conference’s website for additional information.

The Wordplay festival, originally planned for May 9, 2020, as an in-person event at the Loft Literary Center and adjacent spaces in Minneapolis, has been reimagined as a virtual festival. The virtual festival will be offered from April 7, 2020, to May 9, 2020, and will feature events with more than 100 authors. This programming is offered in conjuction with the Boston Book Festival, Bronx Book Festival, Wisconsin Book Festival, Charleston to Charleston Literary Festival, and other festivals. Visit the festival’s website for additional information.

The Wyoming Writers Conference, originally planned for June 5 to June 7, 2020, has been canceled. Visit the conference’s website for additional information.


Canceled or Postponed Contest Deadlines

The 2020 Troubadour International Poetry Prize, sponsored by Coffee-House Press, has been canceled. The prize will be rescheduled for a later date; visit the Coffee-House Press website for additional information.

Authors Reimagine Live Events During the Coronavirus Pandemic


Michael Bourne


Six years ago, when Emily St. John Mandel published Station Eleven (Knopf, 2014), her best-selling novel about a pandemic flu that decimated the world’s population, she couldn’t have known that her next novel, The Glass Hotel (Knopf, 2020), would arrive at the height of a pandemic flu outbreak that, if not as lethal as the fictional “Georgia flu” of her earlier book, is nevertheless upending the world economy—and, not incidentally, her twenty-five-city book tour.

“Yeah, irony, right?” Mandel says with a rueful chuckle. “I maintain that this is nowhere near as bad as the Georgia flu. We’re not going to end our days in traveling Shakespearean theater companies crossing a post-apocalyptic wasteland.”

Perhaps not, but the coronavirus pandemic has radically disrupted the book business, setting off waves of bookstore closures and book festival cancellations, making it nearly impossible for authors like Mandel to tour in support of their books. For now these closures and cancellations are only affecting books published this spring, but if the national lockdowns continue, it could send lasting shockwaves through the always fragile publishing ecosystem. 

Already, though, authors and booksellers are teaming up to shift canceled live events online using digital tools like Zoom and Facebook Live. Mandel herself will be participating in a live digital Q&A Tuesday, March 24, with author Isaac Fitzgerald, hosted by Brooklyn’s Greenlight Books, where Mandel was originally scheduled to launch her book in person. The same night, a new organization, A Mighty Blaze, run by writers Jenna Blum and Caroline Leavitt, will be featuring Facebook Live events for Laura Zigman’s new novel Separation Anxiety (Ecco, 2020) and Andrea Bartz’s novel The Herd (Ballantine, 2020), along with a slate of debut authors.

It remains to be seen how effective these digital book events will be, especially for smaller presses that rely on in-person events at bookstores and festivals to introduce their authors to readers, says Mary Gannon, executive director of the Community of Literary Magazine and Presses. “I think everybody is trying to pivot and reinvent as quickly as possible just to experiment with how these events might work,” she says. “So it’s hard to tell at this point if digital events can make up for canceled live ones, but there’s kind of nothing else to do.”

No matter how successful these digital events are, virus-related lockdown orders and restrictions on in-person gatherings will hurt authors and the book industry more generally, Gannon says. When fears of infection slashed attendance at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference earlier in March, she says, many of the small presses in her organization saw sales for the month drop by as much as 20 or 30 percent, just from the loss of in-person sales from that one event.

“I think there’s going to be serious negative impact on both small and large publishers, but the smaller publishers are the ones that are more at risk because they have fewer resources,” she says. “It’s especially important right now for us to support literary magazines and small presses in any way we can. They’re essential to ensuring the health and diversity of the literary arts.”

Indeed, Paul Bogaards, deputy publisher at Knopf and Pantheon Books, offers a slightly more sanguine view of the disruption to live author events. At Knopf and Pantheon, imprints of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, which is a part of Penguin Random House, Bogaards says, all book tours have been canceled or postponed through the end of April, which impacts about a dozen titles at just those two imprints. “I can’t speak for the industry, but given the CDC protocols in place, no one is touring,” he says. “Physical gatherings are kaput. Boots-on-the-ground book tours are dead for the moment.”

But, he says, critics haven’t stopped reviewing books, authors continue to sit for interviews, and publishers are able to maintain their social media campaigns. “Touring is just one spoke in the wheel of book promotion and publicity,” he says, “and, in point of fact, publishers are doing less of it than they once did.”

Bogaards is encouraged by upticks in sales of commercial fiction and topical nonfiction, along with titles that touch directly on contagious diseases like Stephen King’s The Stand (Doubleday, 1978), Albert Camus’s The Plague (Gallimard, 1947), and Mandel’s Station Eleven. Publishers are hoping the enforced down-time will spark renewed interest in their classic titles. To that end, Knopf and Pantheon are launching social media initiatives designed to prompt readers toward its backlist catalog. “I mean, if you are under a government-ordered lockdown, what better way to travel than through the pages of a book?” he says.

In the meantime, authors at small and large publishers are exploring digital alternatives to live events. Blum and Leavitt, the organizers behind A Mighty Blaze, were among the first to see the need for a hub for writers whose book tours were stranded by the pandemic. The idea for the site came about after Leavitt, author of twelve books, including With or Without You, due out in August from Algonquin, learned that the Texas Library Association Conference, where she had been invited to appear, had to cancel and move its offerings online.

“I had spent a lot of time memorizing what I thought was a funny speech, with hand movements and everything,” she says. “I made a video of it and I sent it to Algonquin just for a lark, and they liked it so much they said, ‘Ooh, we can send that out.’ So I started the ‘Nothing is Cancelled Book Tour,’ where I told authors to make little videos and I’d post them as if they were in a bookstore. All I asked is that they shout out another writer and shout out an indie bookstore.”

The site took off, and Leavitt quickly joined forces with Blum, author of The Lost Family (HarperCollins, 2018). Calling themselves “two women writers in yoga pants trying to help other writers whose book tours have been canceled,” the pair has already attracted more than fifty industry partners, including Poets & Writers and two hundred author participants.

“It’s grown exponentially every day,” says Blum. “I would say it’s been growing faster than COVID. We’ve been having so many writers join us, and so many industry people from publishers to publicists to agents to indie bookstores to literary conferences and festivals—everybody wants to help.”

Still, digital events aren’t for everyone. Poet Tess Taylor is publishing two collections this spring, Last West: Roadsongs for Dorothea Lange, commissioned by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and Rift Zone, due from Red Hen Press in April. Taylor was able to attend a reading for Last West at MoMA in February, but most of the subsequent events for that book, along with twenty-five more events planned for Rift Zone, have all been canceled.

The two books contained a decade’s worth of poems, Taylor says, and she spent a year organizing the events to support them. “It feels like building a sandcastle,” she says. “You know, you build it up and up and up and then a wave comes and it knocks it down. I don’t know if I’m sad or angry. I’m all those things, and then sometimes I’m just humbled because what’s going on is so much bigger than just us or me.”

Living as she does in California, which is currently under a shelter-in-place order, Taylor says she will be throwing herself a digitally streamed “imaginary book party” with fellow poet Judy Halebsky, inviting friends “to have a glass of wine and watch us give our reading” online, and plans to regularly post poems by poets she admires. But she admits to feeling ambivalent about moving her live events online.

“I’m using social media because I want to be in a community right now at this moment when we can’t go out in the world, but I love people,” she says. “I love human beings. I really miss them. I love bookstores and want to support them. I love the feeling of live poetry, having it read, being in a room where someone is sharing their words and their breath with you—in the most wonderful way, not in a toxic way. Poetry is a beautiful way of sharing breath, and I miss that.”



Michael Bourne is a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

From top: Emily St. John Mandel, author of Glass Hotel; Caroline Leavitt, cofounder of A Mighty Blaze and author of With or Without You; and Tess Taylor, author of Rift Zone.

(Credit: Mandel: Michel Leroy; Leavitt: Jeff Tamarkin; Taylor: Taylor Schreiner)

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Author: klarimer

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  • April 29, 2020