In the crazy COVID land of 2020, Zoom has emerged as king. I now have online editorial meetings with publishers and authors, and attend book launches, book clubs, writerly drinks, literary festivals and events, all via Zoom. In some ways it’s connected me with the literary community more than ever before, allowing me to flit all around Australia. I can cram in a book launch over dinner, or an in-conversation event while waiting in the car during my son’s basketball practice (restrictions are fun, hey?). But I miss being in the room with people — seeing their faces (in 3D instead of on a flat screen!), drinking a glass of wine, and generally soaking up the good vibes from being among bookish folk.
The same goes for workshops. I recently ran an online course on The Art of Self-Editing Fiction over three weekends and it was an interesting experience. I’m used to reading the room through people’s body language, eye contact and the general level of energy. With Zoom that’s all gone. Yes, people appear on screen in Brady Bunch-like rectangles, but as the host you only get to see a few of them. What’s more, in order for participants to feel like you’re engaging and looking directly at them, you need to look at the camera. This means that the gallery of participants is not actually in your sightline. And then there’s your slide show and the chat function to manage.
On the up side, because the sessions were spread out over three weeks, the participants were able to exchange emails with me during the week which meant that I got to know a little about them and their writing. It can’t replace chatting with participants in the room, but it was something. And the breakout rooms are a great feature. They enabled me to split all the participants up into pairs so that they could give feedback on the first three pages of each other’s novels face to face. So there have been pluses and minuses, but the feedback on the workshops has been wonderful, which is heartening.
Ultimately, Zoom is a kind of disconnected connection. But right now it’s the best we’ve got. I have three books out next year and I am desperately hoping (please!) that we’ll be back to live events by then. In the meantime, authors have been coming to grips with new ways of doing things. I finally bit the bullet and bought a ring light, and what a difference it makes! This week I’m filming a short piece for my next Walker Books title for the foreign rights team, so it couldn’t have arrived at a better time. During the last few months I feel like I’ve been forced to acquire new skills that I’m actually really grateful for.
I’ll be even more grateful when I can put them into action in a COVID-free world.