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Launching a Debut Novel in Middle of a Global Pandemic

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Please welcome Alison Hammer [2] to WU today! Alison’s debut novel, You and Me and Us, will be releasing on April 7th, a “heartbreaking, yet hopeful, story of a mother and daughter struggling to be a family without the one person who holds them together—a perfect summer read for fans of Jojo Moyes and Marisa de los Santos.” Alison is here today to share what it’s been like to launch a book in the age of COVID-19, with a valuable roundup of the folks who’ve added some valuable ingredients to her proverbial pot of stone soup. More about Alison from her bio:

Alison Hammer has been spinning words to tell stories since she learned how to talk. A graduate of the University of Florida and the Creative Circus in Atlanta, she lived in 9 cities before settling down in Chicago. During the day, Alison is a VP Creative Director at an advertising agency, but on nights and weekends you can find her writing upmarket women’s fiction. Alison is represented by Joanna MacKenzie of Nelson Literary Agency. Her debut novel, “You and Me and Us” is coming out on April 7th, 2020 from William Morrow (HarperCollins).

You can learn more about Alison on her website [2], and by connecting with her on Facebook [3], Instagram [4], Twitter [5], and Goodreads [6].

Launching a Debut Novel in Middle of a Global Pandemic 

Last Thursday, I got an email from the President and CCO of the advertising agency where I work, announcing that our offices would be closing the next day, and we’d all be working from home for the foreseeable future. That email burst the bubble of denial I’d been living in and made things suddenly feel real.

I didn’t cry, although I came close a few times. I kept thinking about everything that I had planned for the launch of my debut novel, just twenty-five days away. I had planned the venue, one of my favorite local bookstores, Volumes BookCafe [7]. I had planned to be in conversation with Erin Bartels [8], a novelist friend of mine. I had planned my outfit and I had planned to have a book cake with my cover on it from Sweet Mandy Bs [9], my favorite local bakery. I had planned to have friends and family come to town, and I was working on a plan to thank the people who have been a part of this four-year journey.

Everything down to the last detail had been planned. Except what would happen if a global pandemic swept across the world, keeping people at home and away from crowds. And I had planned on having a big crowd.

Luckily, I didn’t have much time to focus on all of that—my team was busy working on emergency communication for a client to send out to their customers, small business owners whose livelihoods were at risk.

Once we had the first draft of the email sent off to our client, I packed up my desk at work and walked to the Whole Foods a few blocks away. When I was far enough from the office that no one would see me cry, just in case, I called my dad. I told him about the office closing and asked if he thought I should cancel my book launch event three weeks away. He told me to wait a week to see what was happening, how bad things would really get. I think we both knew that it was inevitable, but he was probably trying to ease me into that realization.

At Whole Foods, I went up and down every aisle, trying to ignore the empty shelves as I loaded my cart with my grain-free, dairy-free and sugar-free groceries. While I was in the checkout line, I got on a conference call with our team to get live client feedback. I was grateful to have something to focus on other than myself.

At the end of the night, I stopped to let myself feel my feelings. I thought back to 2016, when I started to write my debut novel. I thought about the months it took to find an agent. And the months of revisions and being on submission. I thought back to September of 2018 when I found out that my dream was coming true, and I was able to announce my two-book deal with William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. I remember thinking how far away Spring 2020 was—but it would be worth the wait when my debut novel was out in the world, and I could celebrate with all my family and friends.

The next morning, I woke up feeling better about things. Not better as in optimistic—the likelihood that my launch event would be cancelled was becoming more and more clear. But I felt better about the decision I knew I would end up making—people’s lives and their health and safety were so much more important than my event. And the party can always be rescheduled.

Of course there are moments when the disappointment still hits me. I’m human. But I’m trying to look for the bright sides and silver linings.

There has been a lot of talk about the actual importance of a book tour—some publishers, mine included, don’t tend to send authors out on the road. I’ve seen articles about how little the live events impact sales, and how few books tend to be sold. But for authors, especially debut authors, those events aren’t just about sales. They’re about meeting readers and booksellers. They’re about celebrating the culmination of several years, sometimes decades, of hard work and rejection. They’re a physical manifestation of dreams coming true.

I run a Facebook group for traditionally published adult debut fiction authors—The 2020 Debuts [10]—and we’re all feeling the impact. But we’re also feeling the love and support of the writing community, readers—and even a few celebrities.

“…Authors publishing books during this time: I know this is an incredible tough time to be launching your beautiful work into the world. But I’ve got this huge-hearted community here—we are lovers of words and wisdom and we are looking at having a lot of indoorsy time ahead—and we’re all yours….please post your books in the comments. We will support and celebrate you.”

Today I’m thinking of the authors with books coming out this month whose livelihoods depend on book tours/speaking engagements. Sending my literary family a lot of love today. If you’re one of these authors, tag me with your book cover and I’ll give your book a retweet boost.”

It isn’t just celebrities who are stepping up to help boost authors. Communities of readers are coming together and inviting authors to participate in virtual events.

The Bookstagram community—readers who love to share and celebrate books through beautiful photography and reviews on Instagram—are also banding together.

Speaking of buying and pre-ordering books, local bookstores and booksellers need our help and support in the coming days of social-distancing. They’re already feeling the impact.

So buy a book. Read a book. Write a review and share a picture of your favorite book or a book that’s been on your TBR list. And most of all, stay safe and stay sanitized.

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