It’s a bit counter-intuitive that a global pandemic, which has kept people largely locked away in living rooms across the country, hasn’t been a boon for authors and book sales.
And while authors in the Snoqualmie Valley and around Western Washington have been persevering, it’s been a struggle trying to muse, write and publish their work amid so much turmoil.
In May, the Authors Guild reported that more than half of its members surveyed had lost income since the pandemic began. And in an NPR interview later in May, the editorial director of Publishers Weekly said sales were down about 1%.
For Issaquah-based author Stephen Murphy, the hardest part has been the restrictions on in-person gatherings. Authors rely heavily on meet-and-greets, where they can talk with readers and connect with their audience.
These usually take place in coffee shops, book stores and other indoor venues that have had their capacity reduced by public health measures designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“They were fun,” Murphy said. “And for an author, it’s a lot of fun because you’re interactive with the readers and that always helps I think.”
Murphy started writing Christmas letters while he was in the Navy. For nearly 40 years, his mother kept these letters as he went through business school and lived in Brazil. His first book, On the Edge: An Odyssey, is a memoir informed by the decades of the letters.
His second book, Havana Odyssey, which was released earlier this year, is about the Cuban General Arnaldo Ochoa, who was executed by the Cuban government in 1989.
While he’s received several interviews about the book, Murphy hopes to keep writing. As soon as a COVID-19 vaccine is available, he’s hoping to take it and return to Brazil to write a new book.
For Gary Schwartz, a Valley-based author, the pandemic hasn’t changed his writing style or schedule, but he’s finding it harder to muse ideas. He enjoys writing young adult fiction, and has published one book, The King of Average.
He’s shopping another book around, but so far hasn’t found a publisher. So during the pandemic, he’s working on promoting his first book.
“I’m really trying to spend the time during the pandemic to find an audience for it,” he said. “Because when I first wrote the book, I did get a publisher, but just before the book sort of hit, the publisher went out of business. So I had to scramble to self-publish the book.”
It can be expensive publishing a book without a publisher, so he’s dedicating his time to getting his book into the Amazon marketplace and racking up good reviews.
Schwartz is retired, and said the pandemic hasn’t impacted his schedule. But fretting about the news cycles has hurt his writing drive. It can be hard writing the kind of uplifting children’s and young adult stories he loves when he’s not in the right headspace.
Other authors, like Terry Persun, a Pacific Northwest Writers Association board member, writes both novels and technical articles for trade publications to pay the bills. He said trade journal work has leveled off as magazines that rely on advertising have taken a financial hit.
But his fiction — largely science fiction and fantasy writing — has been doing a little better. As he’s writing fewer trade articles, he has more time to focus on writing novels. Current events have also been providing a lot of inspiration for characters.
“You’ve got all this additional activity going on that’s really great for an author because we get to use everything,” Persun said. “When there’s this much activity going on, and this much dynamic, it gives you a lot to work with.”
He remembers seeing old ladies screaming at people across the street because they weren’t wearing masks. The pandemic is bringing out the best and the worst in people, which can provide inspiration for a writer.
“It’s pushing us to see who we really are, and what’s really inside,” he said.
But for many authors the pandemic is taking a toll, said author Nicole Persun. She’s noticed an emotional impact on authors she knows, marked by decreases in productivity, motivation, focus and time, she said in an email.
“Of course, my author friends who have children have especially struggled to write, what with the kids being home,” she states.
Book launch dates have also been pushed back, and she’s noticed periodic dips in reader interest. And like so many other authors, an in-person book tour scheduled for last spring was cancelled because of the pandemic.
“All in all, publishing is already a stressful, fickle, ever-changing business, and the pandemic (and economic downturn) has only compounded that uncertainty. Authors have struggled with anxiety and focus just like everyone else impacted by the pandemic, myself included,” she said.
To help alleviate financial hardships, some organizations like Poets & Writers have compiled a list of organizations that are providing assistance and grants.