New books released during the pandemic

As we all know, these two years have been difficult for the arts. Canceled shows, staff shortages and the closure of theatres, galleries and concert halls have taken their toll. The impact of the pandemic on writers is perhaps less well known.

But surely they can keep writing, no matter what? Well no. There is precious little time to write if you have to supervise home schooling, for example. And the worst-off writers overall have been authors with a new book. I know of one that had to reschedule its launch four times in six months.

Campbell Mattinson’s novel We Were Not Men is one of 50 books in the Australian Booksellers Association’s new programme.Credit:

Of course, there’s always social media and reviews. But vital opportunities for in-person promotion and sales — book launches, events at writers’ festivals, bookstores and libraries — have often been out of reach. Even bookstores were sometimes closed.

So I welcome the Australian Booksellers Association’s “In Case You Missed It” campaign, launched this month. Funded by the Copyright Agency, the campaign promotes 50 Australian books by promising authors that have been published over the past two years. They will be sold at a 20% discount at participating booksellers until February 28 or while supplies last.

As the campaign points out, independent bookstores are where local books are discovered, recommended and read. “Careers are launched in local bookstores every day of the year, but these unprecedented times have cut it all short.”

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Going through their list, I’m happy to see many beautiful books that I’ve enjoyed that so far haven’t gotten much attention. Claire Thomas’ The performance is a remarkably tense stream-of-consciousness story set in a theatrical performance. by Campbell Mattinson We weren’t men is a passionate and lyrical story of twin swimmers. John Byron’s Detective Novel The tribute starts with a serial killer theme and turns it into domestic violence territory. Jamie Marina Lau Baby dirt is a highly original satire on consumerism, and Antoni Jach’s TTraveling Companions is both a surreal tour of Europe and a tribute to Arabian nights-styling stories.

The big fallback link with readers for many authors has been online. I asked Chris Gordon of Readings Bookstores how they’ve managed to hold virtual events over the past year. They held 241 events, most of them on Zoom, and at least 45 were new release launches. (Disclosure: I interviewed some of the authors.)

Did Readings and Authors Make Money? Yes and no. A link and a published book offer worked well for some authors: they sold 700 copies of Clementine Ford how we love in 24 hours. But postage and labor costs cut into profits, postal delays sometimes caused problems, and Zoom was usually the best after an in-person event.

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