Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Guest Blogger Michelle Cameron on: Launching a Book in the Time of COVID-19: A Personal View

 A little more than seven years ago, I began teaching with The Writers Circle, a regional New Jersey writing community, in large part because of Michelle Cameron, an historical fiction novelist and poet. Since then, we’ve become colleagues in so many ways, and friends.

Please welcome Michelle Cameron, whose newest novel launches today.

I’ve been here before. Sort of.

My first novel, The Fruit of Her Hands, was published by Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books, during the recession of 2009. My beloved editor was let go three days before my launch, meaning I was then – using the term for authors who experience this phenomenon all too often – orphaned.

No editor means no advocate in the publishing house, so while I had the foresight to hire a publicist who knew the Jewish reading market (my novel was a Jewish historical) and who scheduled many events locally and further afield, I was largely on my own.

The book – a $25 hardcover – was a tough sell. People were hesitant to spend any extra money in a recession, and even those who showed up to events and seemed like the ideal appreciative audience, told me they’d wait for the paperback. But the publisher decided my numbers weren’t strong enough for a paperback.

Fast forward eleven years.

In that time, I’d written three novels. The first, based on the Babylonian Exile, was completed during the long wait for Fruit to be published. I loved the book; I still love the book. My agent did not. After a lukewarm attempt to place it, it went back in my drawer. The second, based on Jewish emancipation during the French Revolution, never really gelled. When I finally, reluctantly, realized the story wasn’t strong enough, I put it aside.

The third novel launches today.                           
Beyond the Ghetto Gates, a historical novel set during Napoleon’s first Italian campaign when he liberated the Jews from their restrictive ghettos, had a long slog to publication – an initially enthusiastic agent who tried hard, some nice rejections from publishing houses looking exclusively for the now-pervasive WWII novel. (The trend was for “contemporary historicals,” a phrase that still makes me shake my head in disbelief.)

Finally, I approached the hybrid publisher She Writes Press. And I loved what they did with the book – the beautiful cover, the care and attention to production values. After years of writing, revising, and trying to get published, I wanted to give the novel the best possible chance to find its audience.

From the start, my promotional strategy was to secure synagogue events close to my New Jersey home – hoping that by the time I reached the Jewish Book Council’s presentation to Jewish organizations nationwide, there’d be enough buzz that I’d be one of the lucky authors to be invited to present my novel further afield. (JBC covers airfare and lodging for those authors.)  I hired two publicists – one who worked the media side and a second who by February was doing a brilliant job, booking me for more than two dozen events during April, May, and June.

I was set. I was excited.

Then, COVID-19 struck. And everything unraveled.

Now, I know my problem is tiny in the face of this deadly pandemic. I’m home and my family is healthy. I can continue to teach and work virtually. There’s enough stored food in the house for weeks. I can walk outside without undue fear. I have so much to be thankful for.

Still – this stinks. I’ve postponed or canceled most events. Some may be rescheduled when things return to normal. But I’m not na├»ve – I know some simply won’t. People move on. Newer books always seem shinier, more appealing.

And I realize this is what publishers have always worried about – sudden catastrophes no one can anticipate or prevent that steal the spotlight from new books. Julia Alvarez’s first novel in 14 years, Afterlife, is pubbing today too. Just imagine how the folks at her publishers, Algonquin, must feel!

But here’s where my bleak story turns positive. Through the generosity of fellow authors and organizations, I’ve pivoted energetically toward social media, accepting offers of video placement, podcasts, blog posts, interviews and live book events on Zoom.

I was featured in a recent virtual reading presented by Murphy Writing of Stockton University and my first chapter will soon be read aloud online (see link below). My publisher is dramatically boosting one book a day for all April releases – my day is April 8. 

The friends I’d tapped for my Street Team are making tremendous efforts on my behalf – re-posting my teaser passages and blurbs, talking up the novel. I’m grateful to them all.

Of course, the essential question remains: will all this virtual activity turn into book sales? For now, I’ve decided only that it certainly can’t hurt. Maybe I’ll reach readers that I never would have before. I truly hope my novel can provide a much-needed escape from this nightmare we’re all living – that my words can touch someone who would never have heard of the book otherwise. May it indeed be so.

Note from Lisa: Connect with Michelle on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and at her website.

You can catch part of Michelle’s Social Media Tour at the following. (More being added daily. See the Events page on her website.)

April 7 – Readers Coffeehouse
April 8 – She Writes Press KEEP CALM AND READ ON Spring Virtual Book Tour with Girly Book Club
April 15, 7:00 pm (Eastern) – She Writes authors Eileen Sanchez and Michelle Cameron in conversation about Beyond the Ghetto Gates via Zoom; click here to register  
April 26 – First Chapter Fun on Hannah Mary McKinnon’s website and on her Instagram Live