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A 2nd Pandemic Book Release: Piece of Cake and Other Silver Linings

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Please welcome back today’s guest: author Alison Hammer! During the day, Alison is a VP Creative Director for an advertising agency in Chicago, and nights and weekends, she writes upmarket women’s fiction—stories about family and friendship, love and loss. She also founded the Every Damn Day Writers group on Facebook.

Her two novels, You and Me and Us (April 2020) and Little Pieces of Me (April 13th, 2021), are unique in that they will both be released during the pandemic–when book releases as we knew them could not exist. But they still did exist in the digital landscape–a landscape that not only had to be navigated but also, in some instances, created. These new digital landscapes won’t just evaporate when the pandemic lifts, either. Rather, many of them will be sustained and used to complement traditional book release efforts.

So what are those strategies? Who better to tell us than Alison herself! Oh, and her favorite cake is vanilla with white frosting—classic and simple but so good. What does cake have to do with anything? Well, read on.

We’d also be remiss not to share Alison’s launch party information with you today! Check it out on her website, HERE, and follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Bookbub, and Goodreads.

A 2nd Pandemic Book Release: Piece of Cake and Other Silver Linings

What a long, strange year it’s been! The last time I wrote for Writer Unboxed, I was just a few weeks away from launching my debut novel—a time in a writer’s life that can be filled with stress and crippling anxiety even when there isn’t a global pandemic going on.

A year later, I’m getting ready to launch a second book during the pandemic—but this time it’s not quite as scary or nerve-wrecking. While of course I’m disappointed to be missing out on some author-moments I still haven’t experienced, I know enough to look for the silver linings. And there are a lot of them.

Starting with my launch party.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I have had dreams about the in-person launch event that never happened. There was going to be a big poster-sized version of my book cover, a giant cake featuring my cover from Sweet Mandy B’s, my favorite Chicago bakery, and I was going to sign books until my hand hurt while someone from the bookstore went through the line, writing people’s names on a Post-It note, saving me from a potentially embarrassing moment if I forgot the name of someone I was supposed to know. (I always thought that was so smart!)

While that dream is still a dream, I had to let go of what was supposed to be and accept what was. Which leads me to point number one.


As much as you might think it’s a good idea to plan an event that re-creates an in-person experience, I have to tell you, it’s not. The two types of events have such different pros and cons, you’ll be much better off if you fully embrace the virtual space.

This honestly happened by accident the first time around—I didn’t try to replicate the original plans for my debut launch because I genuinely thought I would be able to have a “do-over” when the pandemic was over. (Remember when we thought it was only supposed to last a few weeks?!?)

The second time around, I set out to plan the event with knowledge of both the limitations and the opportunities that came with everything going virtual. I’ll start with the obvious.


For my debut launch event, my mom and a few other friends and family had flights and hotels booked for the occasion. (I found out after everything had been cancelled that my sister and one of my best friends were planning to fly in and surprise me.) But travel wasn’t realistic for all the people I would have loved to be at the event. Until, of course, everything went virtual—then suddenly everyone could be there, no matter where they were.

I had over two-hundred and fifty friends and family tune into the virtual launch party on Instagram (this was after a VERY stressful 45-minute delay when we couldn’t get Zoom to connect to Facebook—but that’s a story for another day!). Having so many people I love being able to help me celebrate the occasion made it that much more special.


The lack of physical location also opens you up for an in-conversation partner who isn’t local to you.

There are all kinds of book events, but my favorite—and the one I wanted for myself—was an “in-conversation” event. That’s pretty much what it sounds like: an event where the author is in conversation with someone else, usually an author or an expert on the subject matter the book’s about. Normally, people find in-conversation partners who are local to the bookstore where they’re having the event, but when there are no geographic restrictions, the possibilities are endless!

When I started planning the launch party for my second book, Little Pieces of Me (which is coming out in just over a week!) I thought a lot about the kind of event I wanted. First and foremost, I wanted it to be fun and casual and conversational. And I wanted there to be music.

My publicist suggested that I reach out to someone who I know and have a good rapport with—you can’t fake the natural banter that comes with two friends talking. The first person who came to mind was my friend, New York Times bestselling author and a founding member and host of Friends and Fiction, Kristin Harmel.

Kristin and I go way back. Neither of us can remember exactly how or when we met, but it had to have been somewhere around the University of Florida or the band Sister Hazel. Kristin was the very first author I reached out to way back when I finished my first manuscript. She provided some eye-opening feedback I desperately needed about the way the industry worked, and since then, she has been a trusted advisor on all things publishing-related.

We did an event together a few months back where I was in conversation with Kristin about her incredible instant New York Times bestselling novel, The Book of Lost Names. We had so much fun chatting, I almost forgot there was an audience. That’s the exact vibe I’m hoping for with my event, so I was thrilled when she agreed to join me!

I also asked my friend, author and singer-songwriter, Stephen Kellogg (who I’m currently writing a book with) to join me for the occasion. He’s going to introduce us and play an unreleased song that I love which happens to share a lot of themes with my book.

And while of course, I would love to have an in-person event, I’m pretty thrilled that I will be in Chicago, getting introduced by a friend in Connecticut and in-conversation with another friend in Florida. (I also have a few other surprises planned, but they won’t be surprises if I tell you about them now!)


Another benefit that comes with virtual events is that you can be local anywhere. I’ll explain what I mean by that.

Not only are launch events meant to celebrate the author and their accomplishment, but they are also meant to support local bookstores. When people go to an event with an author, the bookstore is ready with a big stock of books people can purchase and have signed.

When the events went virtual, a lot more people started to attend—but that attendance didn’t correlate with buying books from a bookstore.

My team at William Morrow (HarperCollins) had a great idea to partner with not just one, but three local bookstores for my launch event. They decided to make it a ticketed event that required purchase of a book—at first, I’ll be honest, I struggled with it. I’m not super comfortable asking people to buy my book, but I realized this is a business and sales matter. Especially sales the first week.

That said, I got over my discomfort and have turned it into an opportunity to support bookstores across the country. (I also make an effort to balance things out and spend as much time and energy boosting the work of other authors as I do with my own.)

For my launch event, we picked one of my favorite local bookstores, Volumes Bookstore in Chicago, one of Kristin’s favorite bookstores, Oxford Exchange in Tampa, and Warwick’s in La Jolla, California. Not only are we spreading the love between three bookstores, but each of the bookstores are promoting the event, hopefully tripling the reach and the interest.

That was a lot about virtual events, but I did want to share a few other pandemic silver linings.


The bookstagram community is pure magic. Seriously. Together with booksellers, they are the unsung heroes of the publishing industry. So many books are purchased because a bookseller or bookstagrammer recommended them. And with many bookstores closed, authors (especially unknown debuts) relied on bookstagrammers more than ever.

Most bookstagrammers don’t get paid for what they do—they do it because they love books and bringing authors and readers together. A lot of time goes into the beautiful photos they take and the reviews they write and I for one am so grateful for what they do.


Another silver lining that came from the pandemic was the fact that many book clubs went virtual. In normal times, I would have been limited to visiting with book clubs in or around Chicago, where I live. But with no geographic limitations, I’ve been able to connect with readers and book clubs all around the country. I even joined an incredible book club in Haiti!

Talking one-on-one like that with readers has been one of my favorite things about having a book out in the world. Writing can be such a solitary experience, it’s really wonderful talking with people who’ve read your work. My characters feel like old friends to me, and it such a thrill to talk about them with people who also “know” them.


In this past year, while so many people have been stuck at home, there always seems to be an appetite for new and fresh content. Authors had to get creative to put themselves out there, and have created a lot of special groups that I hope will continue even after the world gets back to “normal.”

A few of my favorites are Friends and Fiction—a group with more than thirty-five thousand members that has a weekly show every Wednesday with host authors Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson Harvey, Patti Callahan Henry, Mary Alice Monroe and Mary Kay Andrews. Authors Hank Phippi Ryan and Hannah Mary McKinnon started First Chapter Fun on Facebook and Instagram where every Tuesday and Thursday, they read the first chapter of a forthcoming book. Author Lainey Cameron has created an Instagram web series and podcast, The Best of Women’s Fiction. The Tall Poppy Writers have gotten into the web series fun with The Bloom Room, hosted by Heather Webb and Amy E. Reichert. And A Mighty Blaze, a group created by Jenna Blum and Caroline Leavitt, is still going strong with author interviews and events.


Last but not least, I wanted to share one last book-launch tradition that wouldn’t have come to be without the pandemic. As I mentioned earlier, book-cakes are a big tradition with in-person launch events. Even though I wasn’t having an in-person event, I still wanted cake. And champagne.

My friend, fellow 2020 debut Suzanne Park, had a book coming out the same day as I did. She also didn’t want to miss out on the book-cake tradition, so we did an Instagram Live to show off our book cakes to each other and anyone else who wanted to watch.

It’s turned into a fun tradition that we plan to continue—even when we’re back to in-person events. Our cakes will just be bigger.

If you’ve created or imagined a virtual release party or activities that could be adapted in the pandemic era, tell us about them in the comments! And if you’ve attended virtual book events during the pandemic, what did you love about them? What would you change if you could? And most importantly, what would your book-cake look and taste like? Details, please!


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