Sarah Ramey’s first book was supposed to be a really big deal. Its editors were waiting The lady’s manual for her mysterious illness to be a mind-blowing bestseller.
âWe had a huge list of commercials,â she says, a little shyly. “You know the Today show and CBS this morning and, in fact, the NPRs Weekend edition. “
But instead of going to NPR to discuss her memoir, which explores the story of women like herself weakened by autoimmune diseases like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Ramey talks about the cosmically terrible moment of her release date: The March 17, 2020. âIt’s also essentially the same week that COVID-19 came out,â she observes. âGetting it out that week, of every week, was reallyâ¦ difficult.â
“Crush” might be a more accurate description, she admitted. All media coverage has been completely canceled; book reviews were pushed aside as the world slid into lockdown. The woes of a first-time author suffering from surprisingly slow book sales don’t even compare remotely to the death of a loved one, Ramey quickly points out, or the trauma of being unemployed while the economy flew away. But we don’t need to compare these things. Losing years of work due to a global catastrophe is always a heartbreaking experience.
âIt was really 12 years of work on it,â says Ramey. âI’m quite disabled, and so I really only have a few hours a day – and it’s a good day – to focus on something other than my physical health. I just went through so much physical hardship to produce this book. , and really, [it] often my health would worsen, but it seemed important to me because I was working towards what seemed to me to be a right goal. “
Ramey, who as a musician records under the name of Wolf Larsen, is part of a league of hapless authors whose books have been buried by the coronavirus. My NPR colleague Pam Fessler is among them; his book tracing the history of the only leprosy colony in the continental United States was unlucky to be released last July. Pam told me that she belonged to one of the many online support groups for authors who published during the pandemic, such as Twitter Lockout Literature.
Aimee Liu’s novel Glorious boy was released in May 2020. She is the author of many books, but stresses that last year’s crisis was particularly devastating for new writers. âThe publishing industry only gives you a bite of an apple,â she says. âThey’ll write you off immediately if you don’t wholesale your first book. They don’t give you a second chance, and they don’t handicap you to put out a book in the middle of a pandemic. It’s not like you get additional points. “
Martin Dee / Random House
Of course, some books have done really well in the last year, especially books by famous or established authors, as well as cookbooks, romances, and mysteries. Writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia ended up with a surprise first bestseller in her seventh novel, Mexican Gothic, was launched in the summer of 2020 with a first printing of 12,000 copies. (The author is also an occasional contributor to NPR.)
“He ran out immediately, then they couldn’t print enough books,” recalls Moreno-Garcia. âBecause of COVID everything had been slowed down and all the printing presses were busy. So there was about three weeks there when it came out, and it looked like it would be a big hit but there wasn’t product. So that was a little scary. “
By the fifth or sixth printing, the publishers realized they were having a hit. Moreno-Garcia, who is based in Canada, believes the pandemic has helped some authors who do not live in the United States. Suddenly she was invited to online book clubs and panels with other authors around the world. âA lot of people focus on the tour, but there was no tour planned for my book,â she said dryly.
When the lockdown first took place in March 2020, she adds, she was attending a California writers’ conference at her own expense, collecting a few bookstore autographs on the side, and had to scramble to get in. At her place.
Few authors can expect the fanfare that was to greet the release of Sarah Ramey’s first book. Her outing was to be covered by CNN, she says, and hosted by independent bookstore Politics and Prose in Washington, DC Although it was canceled by COVID-19, Ramey is determined to throw a book party of all way.
âBecause it was a success,â she says. “And I cared about making it to the finish line. Because most of the time I didn’t think it was going to happen, so I just want the chance to say – I did.”