2020-2021: When the music almost died
Updated: Mar 6
Image from Rolling Stone magazine. Photo by Dave Hogan.
This blog post is an updated version of a blog post on my website in December 2021
Let’s face it — the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020 and 2021 was awful for authors and performers who depended on tours and personal appearances that venues canceled.
The impact was across the board for authors and performing artists. Publisher’s Weekly chronicled cancellations in February 2021 with a list of festivals moving to an online format. Suddenly, authors around the world faced a future with limited travel in which they struggled to connect with readers.
The disruption reminded me of the classic Don McLean song “American Pie,” which chronicles a changing music world in the 1960s with the haunting repeating line about “the day the music died.”
There are signs that 2022 may be better for some authors who adapt to change. But the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has disrupted commerce throughout Europe with a worldwide ripple. Many authors I follow have shifted to online book promotion techniques.
The mechanisms include interviews with news media and podcasters and bloggers, live Zoom sessions hosted by bookstores and book clubs and schools, videos for social media, and older techniques such as newsletters. Plus, more paid advertising.
Boutique book marketing specialist Maria Connor in Florida sent an email to her newsletter subscribers this past week with five things authors should consider to get through the uncertain times. Other professional book promoters, such as Mark James based in Portugal, are focusing on Amazon ads, and I’ll look more closely at that in a future blog post.
Financial journalist and Canadian author Andrew Hallam had hundreds of personal appearances around the world before 2020. To promote the January 2022 release of his fourth book, and waiting for events to resume and travel restrictions to ease, he lined up dozens of interviews with news media and podcasters on Spotify and other podcasting platforms while wintering in Panama.
Maud Newton from New York, recognized for her literary blog, doubled down on the Substack subscription platform to help promote the March 2022 release of her first book.
Memoirist Edie Littlefield Sundby from San Diego resurrected her Facebook author page to refocus on short videos of her walking the 1,600-mile mission trail from Loreto, Mexico, to Sonoma, California.
Freelance writer and blogger Deborah Kalb from the Washington DC area launched her latest children’s book with a live Zoom session hosted by the leading independent bookstore in the city.
A few book groups and venues I know have resumed in-person activities. In early December, a southern California writers group where I’m an online member held its first in-person event since March of 2020.
In Mexico, where I've been hunkered down in my house during COVID, the annual Guadalajara international book festival returned in late November 2021 after being sidelined in 2020. The Tucson book festival is back in full force for 2022. I’m guessing there are many other examples.
The overall sense I get is that 2022 offers hope to authors if they keep writing and combine online promotion with limited personal appearances.
In the parallel universe of music, it’s noteworthy that Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones resumed touring in the fall of 2021 after suspending their tour in 2020.
What drives performers to keep performing and writers to keep writing during difficult times, wanting to get back on the road even at an advanced age?
Author and marketing guru Mark Schaefer, with several books and more than 3,000 blog posts, says maybe the DNA of “content creators” including him and Jagger and other musicians and authors is what drives them even if they are aging and don’t need the money: “What I’m beginning to realize is that maybe creating content becomes existential. Just like the Stones. Maybe this is what I was meant to do, part of who I AM now.”
Personal perspectives: One of the writers I admire most is Michael Hogan, who has been publishing books of poetry and essays and nonfiction and fiction and history and historical fiction for more than 40 years. We talked recently about that insight from Schaefer’s blog.
Dr. Hogan is the same age as Jagger and says the quote applies to him as well. With a backlist of 26 books, one of them an international bestseller, he still writes every day. He plans to continue writing for several more years before catching that “last train to the coast.”
Canceled events after March of 2020 hit him hard because personal appearances in the USA and Mexico and even Europe have been his major marketing mechanism for decades. He focused on online sales while working from his home in Guadalajara, Mexico, and hoping for events and safe travel to resume. He also kept creating new content for online consumption and published Women of the Irish Rising, his 27th book.
One of his mainstay venues at nearby Lake Chapala reopened in the fall of 2021 based on strict masking policies and scheduled him in December. I drove him to the lake, where we discovered the large venue that attracted standing-room-only crowds of more than 350 for his past appearances was empty.
About 30 people were waiting for him in a smaller area in a rear garden with chairs spaced far apart. I could see his shoulders sag in his three-piece suit, but he’s a trouper and never gives up.
By the time the emcee introduced him, most of the 60 chairs were occupied. The 15-minute Q&A session after his 20-minute talk was lively and about two dozen people lined up to buy books, which he suggested would make great holiday gifts. One person bought four, boosting the total sales past 30 — not as many as in past years, but good enough. I took some pictures with my iPhone and sent them to him for his Facebook author page.
My DNA doesn’t drive me to write more books and I quit doing personal appearances in late 2011 after I moved from the San Diego area to mainland Mexico. Because I’m an introvert, I didn’t mind isolating myself during 2020 and 2021. Nowadays, I’m happy to work from my office at home.
P.S. If you haven’t listened to “American Pie” in a while, YouTube has the official version from Universal Music Group.