Our Year(s) of Virtual Events

I say this next sentence with the utmost of caution. It seems that we are finally headed back to in-person store events and in-person school visits this coming Fall, or so the publishers are telling me. Like everything else since March 2020, we'll see how it goes. But for now we are cheering and excited and relieved! Normalcy.

We hosted our first in-person store kids event on May 3rd with the fabulous Chris Grabenstein, and I had to fight back tears of joy when I introduced the author. Our limited-seating crowd applauded and cheered. A few of us actually cried a few joyous tears.

And so with things a-changing, this is the right time to review where we were two years ago, how we pivoted, thrived, and made it where we are today and where we’re headed for Fall.

Hop into my time machine for a second, please. 

Buckled up? Great. Here we go.

It’s January 2020. We are hosting kidlit favorite Nathan Hale with his new graphic novel. School visits are packed. We happily cram over 150 kids and adults for our in-store event without a caution in the world. By mid-March we were, like everyone else, canceling all our author visit plans. That wonderful Spring Break programming? Gone. 

Houston hit Level Red. We closed the store to everything but online orders. Ülrika sent us each home with a couple rolls of toilet paper.

Certainly this would only last until April, right? We couldn’t imagine this thing going on longer than that.

Yeah, right.

So we pivoted. It was strange and difficult and honestly scary. Which of these platforms would work best? What could schools handle? What about security? How would book sales work? Could the authors make the shift easily enough? Could they rearrange their presentations? What were the publishers’ expectations?

What about virtual store events? Would people sign up? Would they watch? Would they buy books? Was there enough bandwidth? Would we stay in business? 

Somewhere in April we ran our first virtual school event on Google Hangout with the team at Macmillan for author Dashka Slater and the intrepid librarian at Daily Elementary in HISD. Things froze. We lost connectivity. We got it back. We figured it out. And on we went. We sold lots of books. Signed book plates became A THING.

We mastered the art of Zoom. We tightened security to prevent Zoom bombers and learned that Zoom Webinar worked relatively seamlessly for school visits. But with no face to face interaction allowed, it required authors to learn to speak animatedly into the void.

We streamed from anywhere and everywhere. The store. Our dining rooms. Wherever the wifi was the strongest. We peeked into authors’ homes and workshops. What we lost in in-person interaction, we gained in this strange intimacy.

We kept pivoting, in kids and adult both. On the kids side, we added virtual book fairs. On both sides we found a silver lining, which was that authors, trapped in their homes and unable to tour, were  more than happy to join us on Zoom for our book clubs. They logged in from all over the world. Our book clubs remain virtual for now because of this. It’s not the same as in-person, but the value added has been exponential. Authors who would never have been able to visit in person have been here virtually. This has been phenomenal, especially for the kids in my Middle Grade Book Club.

Now it’s May, 2022. In some ways, we’re still pivoting--finding the parts of virtual we want to keep and returning to the solid familiarity of in-person (which feels new and different in ways we have yet to define).

I’m booking in-person school visits and figuring that out too because our schools have enjoyed the ability to have, say, 23 schools all watch an event together from their individual campuses. Will in-person really become hybrid, with us physically at a few campuses and others tuning in? I’ll keep you posted!

Thank you all for your endless and very needed support! And we are so very glad we could be here for you as well-- providing authors and books and book talk however it needed to get to you!


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