photo of author getting book signed by Ann Patchett in 2016 at Powell's Cedar Hills location

A Look at How the Pandemic Impacted Book Events

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.

Ann Patchett author signing

Photo of Rachael Renz getting books signed by Ann Patchett at Cedar Hills Powell’s location

bread and wine picnic

Finding a Venue, Ordering Food and Drinks, Planning a Launch Party? Oh, My!

Planning an event of any scale is no easy task, much less when the world is still slowly coming out of a global pandemic. This article divides the overflowing to-do list into three different phases and compiles a list of best practices Ooligan Press employs with our own events. Here are some tips to keep in mind and help plan your next launch event!

Phase 1

  • Determine the event’s date, time, and activities
  • Calculate the budget for your event and divide accordingly
  • Reserve the venue
    • Analyze your estimated attendance numbers to determine a “Goldilocks” venue that will fit your guests just right!
    • Confirm venue requirements or limitations—how much parking is there? Is it ADA accessible?
  • Create social media pages promoting your event and use them
  • Brainstorm the “activities” at the event
    • For a launch party, start a conversation with the author!
    • This part of your event should be between forty-five minutes to an hour.
    • Remember to add extra time before and after the activity for your guests to mingle!
  • Contact potential vendors and get quotes
  • Determine giveaway(s), which not every event needs
    • Make sure you order at least a month in advance.
  • If you’re selling something, what are the options for people to pay? Do you have a cash box or card swipe?

Phase 2

  • Determine event staff
    • If your event staff will be volunteer-based, focus on making it appealing and fun, rather than a “work” thing.
    • Don’t forget to send an initial email to not only touch base with them well in advance, but thank them too!
  • Coordinate with vendors/departments
    • Is there a social media manager who needs to directly set up the pages?
    • Are there graphic designers to assist in physical marketing?
  • Communicate with your venue
    • Will the event be exclusive access or open to the public as well?
    • Does the venue have A/V equipment (if needed)? If so, will they set it up?
    • Is there Wi-Fi available? Find out the password in advance.
    • Any other policies the venue might have?
  • Establish a supply list—here are some to get you started!
    • Books, the new release and other titles that fit well
    • Book stands
    • Tabling materials such as posters, banners, raffle tickets, and anything else you might need to display it
    • Clipboard, paper, pens
    • Any A/V supplies not supplied by the venue, like a projector or laptop adapter

Phase 3

  • Confirm event details
    • Touch base with your author, venue, panelists, staff, and anyone else to confirm responsibility and conjure excitement.
  • Follow through with your marketing initiatives
    • Are social media pages up and active?
    • If flyers were printed, how were they distributed?
  • Create a “Day-Of” document
    • This serves as a ready-made sheet of any information someone might need to successfully run your event!
    • Include contact information, event schedule, and staff list.
    • Assign duties to your volunteers! Create task lists for set up, clean up, and the stations for during your event.
    • Get specific—adding exact times can not only ensure accountability for your volunteers, but helps to keep you on track as well.
  • Have fun! You and your team have done so much work towards this event, you deserve to enjoy it too!

Overall, planning an entire event can be a lot of work, but it can also be one of the best experiences. The world of events is constantly changing, but for now, Ooligan Press has you covered.