A pandemic changes all the rules—and the game is now virtual book marketing and events.
Publishing has turned upside down. When the virus hit, many authors and publishers scrambled. They quickly needed a plan B, especially for books about to launch! Two bestselling authors and exemplary literary citizens in the writing community came together and brainstormed a solution to bring books and readers together during the pandemic—virtual book marketing. In that moment there was literary light and “A Mighty Blaze” was born. Today, A Mighty Blaze has a staff of over 20 volunteers, shining a bright light in this dark time.
About a Mighty Blaze
A MIGHTY BLAZE is a social media community and online initiative that helps authors connect with readers to introduce their new books during the COVID 19 pandemic. New York Times bestselling novelists and co-founders Jenna Blum and Caroline Leavitt created A MIGHTY BLAZE for authors facing canceled book tours and publication challenges to bring authors and readers together daily for digital events including publication day Tuesdays, indie bookstore Wednesdays, celebrity author Thursdays, cocktail party Fridays, social media Saturdays, and giveback brunch Sundays, among other initiatives.
The Mighty Blaze Vision
“A book may seem like a small candle in a dark time, but when you put many books together, they make a mighty blaze to light the way for writers and readers to find each other and a way forward in the darkness.”
Here Book Coach Lisa Tener interviews Literary Publicist Laura Totten Rossi, Volunteer and Head of Publicity for A Mighty Blaze about virtual book marketing, the role of A Mighty Blaze and book events during a pandemic.
Lisa: A Mighty Blaze is catching on, getting attention and building community. Can you tell us more about the response to A Mighty Blaze and its virtual book events?
Laura: I joined A Mighty Blaze as a volunteer and the Head of Publicity in the first few days of the organization. As author Jenna Blum reminds us, we are building the airplane as we are flying it. It’s been exciting and inspiring and the universal response to A Mighty Blaze has been very humbling—our community was instantly embraced by the publishing industry, by authors, by readers, by publicists, and by bookstores.
We’ve been featured or mentioned in Publishers Weekly, NPR, O The Oprah Magazine, Fast Company, Vox, The Washington Post and even People magazine!
Authors (well-known and first time) thank us daily for saving their books and writing careers. It’s this ability to help writers that makes our blaze mighty and bright.
Benefits of a Virtual Book Event
Lisa: There are some obvious benefits to the virtual book event—the ease for readers and authors being one of them (you don’t have to leave home) and the savings in travel for the author. Do you think that after social distancing is over people will continue to use online venues such as A Mighty Blaze—is virtual book marketing and events a trend?
Laura: I’m a reader first and so I love this question! One of the few gifts of this pandemic is the ability to “attend” author events almost every day and to “visit” beloved bookstores everywhere. I’m thankful I can join events online hosted by terrific indie bookstores such as Warwick’s (La Jolla, CA), RJ Julia (Madison, CT), and The Poisoned Pen (Scottsdale, AZ). I’m enjoying my favorite authors and also discovering new ones. I have increased my book buying habit by a lot!
Lisa: Me, too! More than I can read!
Laura: I grew up as a devoted library lover and I’m still a fan of libraries today—they are a slice of heaven for booklovers and more importantly, an essential part of our communities. The pandemic opened up the ability for libraries to reach many and to engage. A favorite discovery for me has been “Friends of the South End Library (FOSEL)” a nonprofit organization and the South End branch of the Boston Public Library. Their author series is diverse and dynamic.
Virtual Events: A Book Marketing Trend
Lisa: So, tell us a bit about the trend in virtual book marketing and events.
Laura: My day job is public relations—I’m a book publicist and my publicity work (via Laura Rossi Public Relations and A Mighty Blaze) includes real time experiences with virtual events and writers conferences/festivals. Bookstores and libraries and organizations like A Mighty Blaze are now experts in online events. We have embraced Zoom and Streamyard and we know how to handle the tech and production for live book events. The feedback from audiences, authors, organizations and publishing companies has been overwhelmingly positive. So yes, I think the future of publishing books will include virtual events. A hybrid model means authors can double or even triple their book tours. As a book publicist with almost three decades of experience I say it here first, Lisa, and with confidence, a blend or hybrid of in-person and virtual author events will become the new normal for all authors.
A Couple of Stand-Outs
Lisa: There is so much positive here. Virtual book events free up authors to reach more readers, even once the pandemic is over. Can you share a bit about a couple of the virtual book events that stand out for you? Any magical moments during the events that might not have happened in an in-person event?
Laura: I’ve enjoyed so many book events online via A Mighty Blaze and also bookstores and libraries. I’ve loved them all for so many reasons. There are a few magical moments for me that stand out:
A Mighty Blaze hosted John Irving LIVE (interviewed by one of our co-founders Caroline Leavitt). During the interview and conversation I had to keep reminding myself that 1) this was THE John Irving! 2) I was watching John Irving in HIS HOME! LIVE! There he was in front of me and talking with Caroline and laughing and it felt so intimate and magical that sometimes I think it must have been a dream. It still does not feel real! He opened the conversation talking about how he was a slow reader as a child (like me) and the intimacy and personal moments during this interview saved my sanity during the early days of the pandemic and the lockdown. Anyone interested in this is lucky because they can watch the recording via FB or YouTube.
Virtual Book Fairs and Festivals
Laura: I also loved the A Mighty Blaze events we hosted with Cheryl Strayed and Hank Phillippi Ryan and Lis Wiehl and Phil Klay, as well as Judy Blume live via Books & Books in Key West, FL for our Authors Love Bookstores series.
Last but not least, A Mighty Blaze has produced and tech-hosted many book fairs and festivals—bringing them online for the very first time. We started with the Newburyport Literary Festival and have produced six to date including the Salem Literary Festival, Sanibel Island Writers Festival, Bookstock, and the Brattleboro Literary Festival. These organizations generously made their offerings free and open to the public and we’ve been honored to work with them all.
Lisa: Wow, these events sounds great for readers and for authors and publishers who are looking to virtual book marketing as a way to reach readers. Any favorites?
Laura: Personally, I’m still breathless when I remember our Bookstock 2020 (VT) online, live event with poet Reuben Jackson. He read poems from his new collection and time stopped in the most delicious way. Weeks later, I’ll read his poems to conjure that moment and momentarily escape the challenges of pandemic living.
Lisa: Wow. I am ordering his poetry after this interview is over! What’s coming up?
Laura: A Mighty Blaze now has a newsletter, a brand new YouTube channel, and all of our series are successful. Our website is being updated and we have some incredible plans for 2021 including more conferences and festivals, inspiring author events, and “do not miss” guests appearing virtually for Frontliner Fridays, Authors Love Bookstores, Tuesday pub date interviews, Mighty Mysteries and our most recent addition the Thoughtful Bro conversations.
Every week we announce our literary menu via a newsletter and so I encourage readers and authors to sign up for it here asap.
The Future of A Mighty Blaze
The best and biggest piece of news I have about A Mighty Blaze: we were born during the pandemic but we are here to stay and our future is brighter than ever as a result of our passionate volunteer staff and the fierce support of all our fans and the entire publishing industry.
Lisa: I’m glad to hear it. It just makes sense that this wonderful community and method of connecting—virtual book marketing events—will grow as it is so effective, time and money efficient, and enables people to connect around the world (vs. locally). What have you learned so far?
Laura: During my work with A Mighty Blaze and my own public relations agency, Laura Rossi Public Relations, I’ve learned that when there is a will, there is a way. As a publishing professional, I hate to use a cliché, but it’s accurate: Reading and writing and words are more essential than ever—it’s our duty as members of the publishing community to get books into the hands of readers.Technology and Digital Media for Book Publishing Click To Tweet
I’ve also learned that I was right when I took a stand as an early adopter of technology and digital media and social media for book publishing. It’s the future and the future is now.
Lisa: Absolutely. I agree. Where are publishers doing a good job of responding to the new normal? Where are they falling short? How are authors making up for that?
Laura: I’ve worked in-house at amazing publishers (Random House, Viking Penguin USA, WW Norton, and others) and I’ve had brilliant bosses and mentors. Most people that work in book publishing love words and writing and authors and books—the pandemic has proved their dedication to the industry and to making changes in order to survive.
I’ve been impressed by the virtual branded events publishers are doing and also the openness publishers have to change (whether it’s been a tour or a new pub date). When you make a living as a result of your love of books, you don’t give up. That spirit feels stronger than ever to me.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy for authors right now because in-house teams are stretched thinner than ever and the workload (as a result of the pandemic) is bigger than ever. I think the biggest challenge is too much work for too few people. This means authors need to do more for their books—more social media, more active networking, and if they have a budget, hiring an outside publicist. It’s one of the hardest times in the history of publishing to make your book stand out and to prevent it from being invisible.
The Future of Publishing, Virtual Book Marketing and Book Promotion
Lisa: And all the virtual avenues you’ve mentioned earlier are resources for authors. Where do you think publishing and book promotion is going over the next couple of years? Any tips for aspiring authors and those publishing this fall?
Laura: The good news: publishing has benefited from the lessons of the pandemic. We’ve all learned to be agile and aggressive so that our books and authors reach readers—this is my personal mission and one of the missions of A Mighty Blaze. I am certain that organizations such as A Mighty Blaze will outlast the pandemic and in doing so change the publishing paradigm forever. How exciting to be part of this living history. Right, Lisa?
Authors are also in a unique position right now and I love seeing how they are using their voices and their writing to contribute to long overdue changes in the industry. Diversity is crucial—for books being published, for in-house staff, for events. Publishing needed to change for decades and I am hopeful that this change will finally occur.
If you are an author reading this interview, my advice to you is: embrace social media, work with your in-house team to leave no stone unturned leading up to your book launch, reach out to A Mighty Blaze to schedule an event with us, and befriend your local bookstore and library.
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About Laura Rossi
LAURA ROSSI is a public relations expert, digital strategist, podcast producer, and published author. For over two decades, Laura has lead book publicity campaigns for bestselling authors as well as for national companies and brands in the lifestyle, nonprofit, and art and design industries. Laura worked in-house at top publishers including Random House, Viking Penguin, and W. W. Norton before founding Laura Rossi Public Relations. Her published writing appears in Make Mine A Double by Gina Barreca and The Grateful Life by Nina Lesowitz as well as in the forthcoming Fast, Funny, Women an original collection of flash nonfiction. Laura Rossi has appeared in The New York Times, Psychology Today, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Providence Journal, More Magazine, The Huffington Post and NPR’s “The Public’s Radio” and other media.