Their books got here out, however they’ll’t: debut fiction writers on the grief and gratitude of pandemic publishing
Even in normal times, one of the biggest challenges a debut writer faces is getting to know their books. Events like the Toronto International Festival of Authors, held this week, are an important place for readers to discover new authors and to connect with readers personally.
In the midst of a pandemic, there are few opportunities to do book publications, speaker series, and festival appearances in real life. TIFA, like many festivals, is still going on, but online this year, it’s a very different experience. We were curious about the impact on debut writers performing at the festival and asked them to finish the sentence, “To release my debut during a pandemic …” What they had to say is quietly inspiring.
Alex Pugsley, author of “Aubrey McKee” (Biblioasis)
Releasing my pandemic debut is – I have to say – an out of body experience. Or rather, it perpetuates an out of body experience. Because I was looking forward to getting away from my desk, going out of the house and doing a book tour, a festival, a signature, a mosh pit, anything. That does not happen. But I remember that it is a great privilege to publish a book, to be in a country where books are valued, and to have one of the largest author festivals in the world in this city. As we move on, we will look for new lights and new ways of being and for the meeting of the spirits, which is a new reading experience. Well that could get us through this problem.
Francesca Ekwuyasi, author of “Butter Honey Pig Bread” (Arsenal Pulp Press)
This is my debut novel so I only published it during a pandemic! But despite the wild storm of 2020, my experience of publishing this book has been a gift. It was incredibly rewarding to see this dream of writing my first novel come true and how people everywhere engaged with it. I was excited to see how festivals work to become more accessible and engaging in response to the pandemic, and I think this means more people can see the stories come about.
Jack Wang, author of “We Two Alone” (Anansi’s house)
Despite everything, it was a pleasure to release my debut during a pandemic. Most of the things to do with publishing a book – the travel, the stage lights, the signatures – fell by the wayside, but my work is in the world and comes to life in other people’s minds. That’s what counts.
John Elizabeth Stintzi, author of “Vanishing Monuments” (Arsenal Pulp Press)
The release of my debut during a pandemic was a whirlwind of grief and gratitude: grief for what should have been, but gratitude for the space and time that the readers who found my work – despite the world – could afford . Ultimately, I am encouraged to know that my work has helped get a few people through these seemingly endless days.
Marc Herman Lynch, “Arborescent” (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Releasing my debut during a pandemic felt isolating. And that’s fine. Resilience was never synonymous with denial. Rather, being due meant revising my idea of publishing. In the past, tactility went with publication: the book, the events, the readings, the people. Now I’ve been cut out of the process and the book and characters are ready to go and exist. While I used to see history as an illusion, as an incantation, I am increasingly convinced that the characters live and breathe. The thought unexpectedly encourages me.
Maria Reva, “Good citizens need not be afraid” (Knopf Canada)
The release of my pandemic debut was a good reminder of the futility of trying to be “on time”. It was interesting to see how readers and reviewers connect the book, which is set in the Soviet small town of Ukraine, to our turbulent present. The timeliness of the book was certainly a bonus – albeit an unfortunate one, as I would much rather have brought a sunny book into a sunny gift – but nothing I could ever have foreseen or controlled.
Marlowe Granados, “Happy Hour” (flight books)
Publishing my debut during a pandemic wouldn’t be so noticeable if my novel wasn’t about wandering around a city with complete care! I think it was more difficult for me to understand how many people are reading the novel – unless people send me personal notes (which I really appreciate!). From all I’ve heard, people are enjoying the (what it seems now) nostalgic lifestyle of my characters and living through them for a bit. I hope this gives people some comfort. On the technical side, I invested in a quarantine ring light early on and it served me incredibly well in all of my digital appearances. I really don’t know what I would do without it.
Michelle Good, “Five Little Indians” (HarperCollins)
The publication of my debut novel during a pandemic may have been an odd stroke of luck. While I missed the personal festivals and the like, people seem hungrier for new books and the response to my novel has been phenomenal. Since this is my first novel, I don’t know anything else. I’m working on a second one. Maybe I like this approach better.
Natalie Zina Walschots, “Hench” (HarperCollins)
Starting my debut during a pandemic meant a complete adjustment of all my expectations. It was all going to be a new experience for me anyway, but even my inner fantasies had to be reworked. The hardest thing to give up was the idea of a tour. I love to travel and I love to go to conventions and I was expecting a lot from both. Instead, I had to twist and adjust like everyone else. I have accepted invitations to as many virtual events as possible and have had the immense privilege of being part of so many organizations or festivals that are putting their programs online for the first time. With all the challenges I feel very lucky to be able to be part of so much novelty.
Samantha M. Bailey, “Woman on the Edge” (Simon and Schuster)
The release of my pandemic debut made me grateful. I’m glad Woman on the Edge was first released in Canada in November 2019. My heart aches for my debut colleagues who are missing out on their long-awaited celebrations. However, it was extremely difficult to observe the world shutter after my book hit US shelves on March 3rd. But the resilient publishing world turned quickly and joined forces on online events like ThrillerFest, Bouchercon, WordFest and the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival and the Toronto International Festival of Authors. We all fight, but together we prosper word for word.
The Toronto International Festival of Authors runs from October 22nd to November 1st – all events are online for the first time and all free. If you missed events, they will be available online for up to 72 hours after they have started up – check out everything at Festivalofauthors.ca.