The COVID-19 pandemic certainly changed the world when it came knocking on our doors in 2020. Things we didn’t expect to change did, while other things like in-person gatherings stopped altogether.
Before the pandemic, I attended author events monthly, sometimes weekly. I went for various reasons, mainly under the umbrellas of personal and business purposes. I’d refresh the webpage daily to check for anything new. Seeing the whole next month’s events released, it’s like Christmas coming early. I’d often see favorite authors of mine, so I’d attend solely to gush and get my book(s) signed. Other times while I’d see someone like Celeste Ng, for example, who is wildly popular for her title Little Fires Everywhere, I’d also see an opportunity. Being a part of the Powell’s community means that you have endless possibilities to meet all types of authors: big and small. With the release of Little Fires Everywhere, I got two books signed and hosted a very popular bookstagram giveaway. And there were the times I attended purely for selfish reasons, like when Ann Patchett came on her Commonwealth tour. Authors don’t just travel anywhere, and I was lucky Powell’s was on her tour.
Powell’s Books has slowly gotten back to in-person, though only the Burnside and Cedar Hills are hosting events based on their events calendar. Hawthorne is already the smallest store, and the staff would have to reappropriate the middle grade section in order to hold events there. Not only is losing sales potential harmful for business, but I can understand why, with the new norm of being COVID-19 conscious, they’d choose to avoid hosting the public in a small space. But for the downtown (Burnside) and Cedar Hills locations, events are back, and out of the twenty-six book events in April of 2022, ten were hosted via Zoom, and sixteen were in-person events. Powell’s went virtual with their authors early on, but it wasn’t entirely virtual last year since they started welcoming people at one of their locations.
While Powell’s is the Madison Square Garden of book event “arenas,” Broadway Books in NE Portland is a charming little shop run mainly by its owners. Their May 2022 calendar boasts two in-person author events and an all-day anniversary party sure to be packed with fun and book-related sales. Broadway books weren’t hosting events much of the pandemic and recently started up again in March 2022.
It’s hard to say how the pandemic will change the future of book events. As it stands, the occupied seats feel less, and some people are still wearing masks, cautious of sitting for a period of time near others. Comparing the in-person versus Zoom events, it didn’t seem to matter where an author lived or was traveling from to determine the type of event; authors were traveling from Maine to the Burnside location, and authors who had to travel much less joined via Zoom. For Ooligan Press, our first in-person event was in April 2022. We had a great turnout with a mix of people wearing masks.
During the height of the pandemic, we learned to adapt in many ways. And I, for one, am very glad to see that author events survived. There might always be a hybrid option for people, but giving accessibility will always be a great thing for a couple of reasons, like not being able to attend due to location or being autoimmune-compromised. Author events have historically been exclusively for book lovers in the vicinity of the hosting bookstore. With COVID-19 came many hardships and accommodations, but with resilience and great technology like Zoom, we can all hear from our next favorite author whether or not we’re nearby.