2020 was a year we had all hoped would be filled with great things. In Australia, we dealt with a fire disaster on a monumental scale, that saw many homes and lives destroyed and misplaced. Then in March we were hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw an abrupt end to the way of life as we knew it, with many things altering or being cancelled outright. One industry hit hardest by this was the arts industry, and authors had to cancel launches or pivot to new ways of promoting their work.
Hazel Edwards was one of the authors who participated in my Isolation Publicity venture, and reached out yesterday afternoon to ask if I’d be interested in posting her candid reflections on a year of things not happening. Hazel’s beautiful words are below – reflecting a 2020 that was incredibly different for so many, especially those in the arts and writing industry.
DNH is alongside many projects for 2020.
The orienteering term DNF (Did Not Finish) meant to drop out due to exhaustion, weather or time.BUT the DNH of 2020 was due to outside forces : implications of Covid restrictions. That’s different.
What DID NOT HAPPEN and was it due to the Pandemic or other reasons? And what are the implications for professional authors next year?
- ‘Vintage’ or ‘Debut’ Book Death?
Debut writers had the hardest time. Several highly anticipated launches died. Those writers with a backlist and a known name limped along. But big publishers tended to feature their UK titles for which PR already existed.
- It was the 40th anniversary of my ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake’ series and although the publishers released a special, sparkly anniversary edition, no bookshop signings, talks or festivals. No sales of foreign rights or translations because international rights trade fairs were cancelled and overseas publishers were wary because their potential readers were busy with soaring Pandemic implications. Audio and e-book versions were borrowed from libraries, but authors do not get compensation for this. ELR and PLR exist but not yet DLR (digital lending rights). Individuals did their own publicity on Twitter etc. Sue Lawson’s excellent Youtube ‘Portable Magic’ series and Ashleigh Meikle’s ‘The Book Muse’ blog and altruistic others attempted to feature authors whose work was released mid Pandemic, but…
- ABC commissioned a mystery podcast inspired by my asexual, celebrant sleuth in ‘Wed Then Dead on the Ghan’ , and although my co-writer and I completed to time and brief, there was no money in ABC budget to go further. So we will have to re-pitch in 2021. Often it’s been the detouring ‘smaller’ work which has been productive in responses or income. Rise in people decluttering and wanting to write their memoirs for family. Hence quickly self-published ‘Complete Your Book in a Year’(BookPod) is selling in e-book and print even if yearlong f2f classes are no longer possible . So I’m mentoring private clients, online.
- Used to working from a home office , the number of organisations (Telstra, banks , big publishers etc) who claimed staff working from home as excuse for slow or no response surprised me. A little shocked by staff who claimed they wore pyjamas and watched Netflix all day. Solo self employed authors had to start home recording studios, learn Zoom with fluctuating Internet speeds , initiate online interviews, readings or make movie clips of ‘selfie’ interviews in lieu of paid author visits to libraries, schools and festivals. Few qualified for Job seeker etc as their earlier income was erratic. Book sales sank as online ‘launches’ did not sell any actual books. Greater library use of audio and e-books not reflected in author incomes but a great boon to community’s mental health in Pandemic. Self-employed creatives kept working and initiating , hoping to be ready when future opportunities arose, post Pandemic.
- Restricted travel saved time and money but cut personalised book sales where copies could be autographed. Travelling home-CBD-home may take half a day plus a meandering meeting. Zooming takes 40 minutes in total. Even an hour’s Zoom exercise takes just that. No interstate flights, so online panels were the substitute. One AGM took 14 minutes instead of an entire weekend including travel and accommodation. That’s a record.
- Image conscious politicians were erecting fake bookshelves of ‘intellectual’ titles for Zoom backdrops. Authors were already in book crammed offices which became studios but had to learn lighting, audio and makeup. What didn’t happen was the casual exchange of professional information over coffee. The MUTE button ruled.
- f2f classes and writing workshops stopped. All experimented online but incidental learning from each others’ work was limited. Certain kinds of writing exercises worked online and straight lectures or fact exchanges, but others needed a serendipitous exchange in a charismatic atmosphere to enthuse. Laboratory work stopped. Groups subjects like drama and performances were banned for social distancing reasons.
- In depth conversation declined. We became reliant on skills and information from those in our household or family. Greater reliance on sensationalised news grabs.
- Online learning created a demand for ‘free’ content by authors and illustrators. Professional organisations such as ASA and Copyright Agency suggested payment rates and restrictions on recording for re-use. Some authors feared they were not well enough known to be invited so offered ‘free’ sessions. Those recorded on Youtube are there forever and make it difficult to charge later for existing online content. But rural and remote communities willing to pay an hour’s fee have been delighted to legally access highly skilled authors without the additional accommodation and transport costs.
- Up-skilling on Youtube How to do it clips e.g. Hosting a Zoom. Learning ‘Final Draft’ for better formatting . Willingness of more highly skilled to share with other creators. Revamping website and seeing authorship as a small business.
- Importance of membership of professional organisations to keep up to date. Society of Women Writers (Vic) rural writers and poets have gone online with enthusiasm due to encouragement by a President with digital skills. Willingness to experiment with new mediums and excuse any ‘stuff ups’ by ‘We’re all learning together during the Pandemic’. It’s become the Age of Experiment.
HOPE exists. Individual initiatives by creatives such as Larrikin Puppeteers putting on paid Zoom performances for interstate audiences (including a 2 year old’s birthday in Darwin) , skilled actor-authors like Deb Abela or George Ivanoff performing online for remote and other schools, and mentoring other creators, and YABBA’s event with interstate authors and illustrators online to celebrate favourite books.
The future of the book and authors?
Hybrid (mixture of traditional & self-publishing ) authors are increasing as the speed of self publishing and awareness that authors need to self promote anyway has become more evident during the Pandemic. Distribution is still the problem. Zoom launches don’t sell books.Online increasing with digital and audio books.
I predict less travelling and more meetings online. Very difficult for mid-list creators unless they have a curriculum specific subject. The topicality or diversity of a subject is becoming more important than the quality of writing.
My 2021 aims?
Recycle my backlist in new mediums after checking that rights are reverted. Streamline filing of contracts and keep more quickly accessible projects for unexpected opportunities. Collaborate or delegate.Looking forward to Larrikin Puppeteers touring ‘Hijabi Girl’The Musical’ and Islamic publisher Ali-Gator, distributing internationally the ‘Hijabi Girl’ series we have co-written. Librarian Ozge Alkan is co-author and she wears a hijab. So we are culturally appropriate.
Hazel Edwards OAM Hazel is interested in stories crossing mediums. ‘Celebrant Sleuth: I do or die’ an adult mystery with an asexual sleuth is her latest AUDIBLE fiction, plus KINDLE sequel ‘Wed Then Dead on The Ghan’ being adapted as a screenplay with co-writer/producer Geoffrey WrightCo-written ‘Hijabi Girl’ series soon to tour as ‘Larrikin Puppets’ musical explores cultural diversity. ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake’ series, turned 40 in 2020. Her memoir ‘Not Just a Piece of Cake-Being an Author’ explores longterm creativity. Hazel is the current patron of the Society of Women’s Writers (Victoria)She also reads in the bath. www.hazeledwards.com