5 minute read

Sometimes It Takes Three to Tango

Picture this. A Catholic, a Jew, and a Methodist meet on Zoom. Prose and the Pandemic is born.

Well, it wasn’t as simple as that. In March 2020, a large group of authors from She Writes Press and Sparks Press met online to address a shared challenge: how to publish and promote books when the country and the world was in an unprecedented lockdown? As you might imagine, there were as many opinions about what to do as there were writers in the Zoom gallery view. Luckily, three women, who were pretty much strangers to each other, stepped up to form an alliance. Naïve perhaps about what was to come, but willing at least to take a chance.

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Almost immediately, Eileen Sanchez, Meryl Ain, and Valerie Taylor identified Facebook as the platform they believed authors and readers could meet in a safe, socially distanced environment. No masks required. As such, Prose and the Pandemic was created to support authors who were unable to have in-person book launches and to provide a place where readers could interact with authors.

In November 2019, Eileen published her debut novel Freedom Lessons. She had been part of a community of authors and social media influencers who had graciously guided her to launch her book, do interviews, and host book events. Eileen believes in the adage: Pay It Forward. She used her experience to help several author friends who were facing cancelled in-person launches. Eileen offered to host and interview on Zoom – three separate events for three friends. The events were successful, and a hidden benefit was that people attended from all US time zones. This effort aligned perfectly with the idea of starting a Facebook group dedicated to authors limited by the constraints imposed by the pandemic.

When Meryl Ain realized that the August 2020 pub date for her debut novel, The Takeaway Men, would necessitate a shift to a more vigorous online campaign, she joined with Valerie and Eileen to create the new Facebook group.

As the number of readers and authors grew, Prose and the Pandemic became not only an invaluable launching pad, but also a wonderful network to meet other supportive authors and interested readers and reviewers.

A year after Valerie retired in 2016, she began drafting What’s Not Said, which was scheduled to debut in the fall of 2020. Without the benefit of an in-person launch, Prose and the Pandemic provided a forum for Valerie to build a network of readers and authors ahead of her book launch, as well as a place to share book reviews and bookish articles she stumbles upon across the internet. With What’s Not True, the sequel to her first novel, launching in August 2021, she feels less like she is venturing into the abyss because she has Prose and the Pandemic as a foundation beneath her. What started out as two handfuls of close friends and family, Prose and the Pandemic has grown to more than a thousand members.

Through collaboration with authors, reviewers, podcasters, and narrators, Prose and the Pandemic has earned a warm and welcoming reputation. One of their earliest supporters was Kathy L. Murphy, the Pulpwood Queen. When Kathy’s Girlfriend Weekend was transformed from an in-person to virtual event in January 2021 because of the pandemic, Eileen moderated a panel of Prose and the Pandemic authors. Since its beginning, the group has promoted the Official Booklist of the Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys. Content is Critical to Success Once the Facebook group was created, the need to fill it with content became a harsh reality. Logically, as a published book reviewer on BookTrib.com, Valerie began posting her reviews. “It occurred to me that folks would get tired of reading what I had to say,” Valerie recalled. In short order, Monday Book Reviews expanded with members posting their own book reviews.

Today, there are over 20 members who regularly post their own unique opinions. Eileen shares Gram’s Book Club. She created Gram’s Book Club to teach her grandchildren about the background of her historical fiction FREEDOM LESSONS. Now, Eileen encourages other grandparents to help young readers build a multicultural collection of books. Books can be windows and mirrors. Finding yourself in a book is powerful (a mirror) and a book can be a springboard to new ideas and understandings (a window). Along the way, they collaborated with three intriguing and distinct podcasters: Sean Farjadi — Stories that Empower; Colin Mustful — History through Fiction; and Theresa Bakken — Desideratum. These podcasters represent another way to share our stories through interviews and listening. In an effort to connect readers and writers, Meryl has taken a special interest in showcasing the events, awards, and accolades of fellow authors. “Each time a member invites an author to a virtual book club, it demonstrates the power, reach and value of Prose and the Pandemic” Meryl said. All of the reviews and podcasts are saved on the site, along with a listing of over one hundred author websites and independent bookstore addresses and websites. Prose and the Pandemic fosters community. As such, they join other Facebook groups that are devoted to books and authors by participating in their celebrations and promotions and invite them to Prose and the Pandemic, as well. Redefining “Friends with Benefits” It’s safe to say that years from now we’ll all look back on the pandemic with a wide variety of memories and emotions. Our beliefs, patience, and resilience have all been tested. This time has been extra special for these three women who moved from authors linked through their publisher to trusted peers, sharing author experiences, and ultimately BFFs, calling and texting each other about all things— author and family-related. Post Pandemic Plans With the pandemic beginning to wane, Prose and the Pandemic is evolving as well. For now, the name of the group remains the same, but that, too, is surely to fade away with time. Anew tagline—Your #1 Book Salon—was recently introduced, signifying a transition to a more member focused, driven group. Expanding book reviews to every day of the week, rather than only on Mondays, is just one example of the gradual changes and enhancements. Collectively, Eileen, Meryl, and Valerie are determined to grow the community and their earliest stated goals endure: Helping readers find new books and supporting independent authors in showcasing their work. Supporting independent bookstores and ALL authors. Offering a platform for new authors, either new to publishing and marketing or new to social media.

Finding more opportunities to connect authors with book clubs. As Mark Twain once said: “Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” Such is Prose and the Pandemic.