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Caring for authors through times of uncertainty

Filed under: Tech Forum

Photo of Chelene Knight by Katherine Holland.

Chelene Knight is the author of the poetry collection Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant, winner of the 2018 Vancouver Book Award, and long-listed for the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature. Her essays have appeared in multiple Canadian and American literary journals, plus the Globe and Mail, The Walrus, and the Toronto Star. Her work is anthologized in Making Room, Love Me True, Sustenance, The Summer Book, and Black Writers Matter.

The Toronto Star called Knight, “one of the storytellers we need most right now.” Knight was the previous managing editor at Room (2016-June 2019), and programming director for the Growing Room Festival (2018, 2019), and now founder and CEO of #LearnWritingEssentials and Breathing Space Creative. She often gives talks about home, belonging and belief, inclusivity, and community building through authentic storytelling.

Knight is currently working on Junie, a novel set in Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley, forthcoming in 2020. She was selected as a 2019 Writers’ Trust Rising Star by David Chariandy.

Photo of Chelene Knight by Katherine Holland.

Writers are often told to create a schedule, build a routine, and then stick to it. They are told to hone their writing process and pay close attention to what it tells them. As a writer, a writing teacher, and someone who works directly with publishers through an author care consultancy, I have uttered these very same words even when I wasn’t mirroring the advice. But what do authors really have control over? With the recent onslaught of COVID-19, lives have literally been turned upside down in a matter of days, and writers were forced to pivot quickly, rethink, reevaluate, and even cancel tours while still trying to stay positive about their books making their way into the world. I find myself in search of ways to support folks today when there is no real certainty of what will be placed in front of everyone tomorrow.

So how can publishers help their authors?

After speaking with new authors and soon-to-be authors, I’ve come up with a few easy ways folks in the industry can help authors right now.

Assist with the pivoting

Not everyone works well under pressure. You can assist your authors with things such as building routines, multitasking, or learning how to use a new online platform.

Provide reassurance

Sometimes it’s just nice to hear that things will be okay. It encourages and lessens the melancholy of self-isolation when the realization kicks in that so many authors are in the same boat, and that there are discussions happening and new supports are being built.

Recognize that communication becomes even more important

Don’t keep authors in the dark. Even if you have a small tidbit of helpful information on an event’s progress, or an update on a pending action item, let your authors know. Make sure to communicate through the channels that they use best.

Help bring back the excitement of the tour

What is really being lost through the cancellation of in-person events? The intimate interaction. Online events can’t mimic the sharing of close space with the authors and audiences. Another great way to include some intimate interaction is to encourage the author to create an online video or post where they are in their natural habitat such as their home office, their kitchen, their patio… let the author be their best self in the environment that reflects who they are outside of writing.

Promote mindfulness

With all the added hours online, mindfulness and self-care can easily get missed. Encourage your authors to take time away from online promoting and only meet virtually when it’s truly going to be helpful and invigorating. And if multiple online events must take place, here are a few tips for increasing energy amidst all of the online expectations:

  • Build an easy morning routine: This should include a few things that you do before you officially start your day. Here’s a morning routine example:

    • have a coffee,

    • stretch,

    • set an intention for the day, and

    • send positive energy via email or a post.

  • Hydrate: Drink fruit water (and try adding herbs like fresh rosemary or time). Add a bit of pink Himalayan salt to boost electrolytes. Your energy will increase!

  • Find a way to connect: Reach out to someone who shares the same energy and increases your energy, and avoid those who do not.

  • Schedule a few regular tasks to do everyday: Remember to leave flexibility in your day.

  • Get moving: There are so many ways to use everyday objects around the house as workout apparatus.

  • Take vitamins: Vitamin C, D3, and Omega 3 are key!

  • Find an online community: One that energizes and inspires.

  • Deep breathing exercises: Breathe in for four seconds, hold for three, breathe out for four seconds. Repeat at least 10 times.

  • Start journaling.

  • Embrace individual needs – a.k.a. no one-size-fits-all.

Tell your authors that they don’t have to jump online if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. Or if they prefer to have someone else online to share the spotlight with, then look at pairing them up with another author or host of their choosing. Each author is different and there is no one-size-fits-all plan. Think outside the box! Work on a custom plan B with your authors. Every little additional bit of care adds up.