by Kat Georges
The lockdown started in NYC in March 2020. Word then was that this virus was extremely contagious (it is) and that it could be spread through air (true) and touch (not so much). I remember shopping for cheese and suddenly worrying that every single package in the store might be carrying the virus. I walked the aisles with my hands behind my back and tried not to touch anything. It was terrifying!
Weeks went on and across the country all “non-essential” businesses had to close. Grocery stores? Essential—they stayed open. Printers? Essential. Amazon-UPS-USPS? Essential. Bookstores and libraries? Uh-oh. All closed.
We had planned nearly a dozen in-store events for our two main Spring 2020 books, The Faking of the President, and Ray by Ray: A Daughter’s Take on the Legend of Nicholas Ray. Now NONE of those events could be held. Bookstores that had preordered our forthcoming books canceled orders. Libraries canceled orders. All the big publishers pushed their release dates from Spring 2020 to Fall 2020. What was an indie publisher like Three Rooms Press to do? Things looked grim.
Fortunately, our distributor PGW/Ingram took a very hands-on approach with both bookstores and their publisher-clients. They established new temporary payment waivers to help bookstores and libraries manage during the pandemic. They gave great support to publishers, offering ongoing virtual educational sessions to learn the best ways to sell books online. And they introduced us to bookshop.org, an online bookstore alternative to Amazon, which helped raise money for bookstores by acting as a portal where people could easily buy books from a local store, without the store having to carry inventory or fulfill the order themselves.
Likewise, since Three Rooms Press has always been a DIY kind of place, we kicked into high gear with our virtual events. We have found great success on creating imaginative and interesting events that combine the feel of a talk show with a book launch. Rather than just a straightforward Q&A followed by an author reading, our events for The Faking of the President featured group readings with in-depth discussions of presidential politics, history, the craft of writing, and more. For Ray by Ray, we featured author Nicca Ray (daughter of director Nicholas Ray), discussing her book with film historian/author Peter Trachtenberg. We held one event with Nicca in New York, punk rocker/film historian Chris Desjardins in Los Angeles, and Samuel Fuller’s daughter, Samantha, in the South of France—a 6,000-mile span! We held another event with Nicca in deep discussion with punk rock filmmaker Amos Poe. All of these events were learning experiences that went beyond the scope of the book itself, yet also generated interest in the book. For many of the events, we featured an indie bookstore as the go-to place for buying copies of the book during the event. The fact that these events live online (on YouTube and Facebook) makes them not only promotional events but also historical records of these turbulent times.
Most recently, we’ve been even bolder in our virtual events, hosting a one-off Dada event with the New York Public Library, then spinning that into a full-blown six session 2020 Virtual International Dada Festival, which featured nearly 100 performers from 13 countries. These events have attracted hundreds of viewers and were fueled by the imaginations of artists around the world who are ALL facing pandemic, ALL facing creeping authoritarianism, ALL facing a world on the brink of climate disaster. It was truly inspirational to hear how artists and poets around the world are coping, and to see how Dada continues to serve as a platform for artistic protest.
In the coming weeks, as lockdowns continue, we will be working even harder to promote our Fall books, using what we’ve learned in the Spring to make events that are meaningful, innovative, and fun to watch. People say there is Zoom meeting burnout. We say, let’s fight back with making virtual events nonstandard and INTERESTING! These are hard times, to be sure. During hard times, creativity tends to flourish. The reason we started Three Rooms Press at all is to make a difference in the world. Our job now is to let people know that books are more necessary than ever, and that they do indeed make a difference—every book, every page, every word.