This is the second part of our conversation with Johnson, whose ‘Say I’m Dead’, a Family Memoir of Race Secrets and Love, was published this past June by Chicago Review Press. The interview was originally published on actsofrevision.com. Hear the complete interview with E. Dolores Johnson at embarkthepodcast.com.
LS: Let’s switch gears and talk about publishing during Covid-19. Because there aren’t enough problems in the publishing field as it is, we have to have a pandemic in the middle of it.
EDJ: As a debut author, I had to learn so much about what was involved in publishing. And one of the biggest lessons was how much I had to bring to the table in order to get the bookings that would get the word out on Say, I’m Dead. And so I spent an enormous amount of time trying to arrange booked stocks and appearances.
LS: By mid-2019, you knew your book would be published in June of this year, which turned out to be three months into Covid. Did that affect the way you marketed your book?
EDJ: I had a very nice calendar lined up by springtime when COVID hit. My appearances were canceled one after the other. And there was a day when I sat in my bed and cried that nobody would ever hear of this book.
LS: Book stores closed, so most events that happened at all were virtual. Tell us what your experience is with that.
EDJ: I didn’t know anything about virtual presentations. And they were so fledgling at that moment back in March and April. I had to learn the technology and the buzzwords and the approach, and start over, notifying places that I was available for virtual presentations. And it was really a huge flip, because I had to buy a special vlogging equipment. I had to learn techniques of being interviewed. I was fortunate enough to have a number of radio and TV interviews but learning the tricks of what those kinds of interviews involve and then getting those bookings.
LS: For the un-initiated, the technology can be daunting. How did you handle interacting with your audience over a screen?
EDJ: I was excited. [I spent time] putting the program together. And so, when the book was ready to launch, three weeks ahead of time, I started promoting the book. And I had so many interviews and appearances for about seven weeks solid that I was completely exhausted. So, it turned around. And I found that people were being very innovative. And now we have become used to book talks online and public speaking appearances for all kinds of organizations online, so it was quite a big slip, where my disappointment has turned into success.
LS: It sounds like you found a silver lining in launching your book during this time. What is the upside of marketing your book and hosting events via zoom calls? Because that’s the way we’re doing it these days.
EDJ: So surprisingly, for me, the online audiences are much larger than in person. Originally, I had planned to do my initial launch at a bookstore, which could probably hold a maximum of 50 people. And when that same bookstore hosted me for an online presentation instead on Crowd cast — that’s the platform that they use — I had 225 people in attendance. So actually, it has been very fortuitous to move to online. It worked out very well.
LS: Is there anything you would have done differently? Or anything you wish you could do now in promoting your book? And how would you position yourself better on social media?
EDJ: Well, I would want people to look at my website where they can see that my other writing, which is on interracialism, race and identity in America and get a taste of my book. See that I have an expertise in talking about broader societal issues. I’ve consulted with major corporations and universities on diversity in their institutions.
What I would want to do differently or more of, let’s say, is to connect with large book clubs and communities of people who are on Instagram who can help boost the word and get…my book before a larger audience.
LS: Now, if anybody wanted to book you for their book group, how they could get in touch with you?
EDJ: Thank you. Yes, I’d love to do that. I have been speaking at breweries, museums, book festivals, bookstores, book clubs, radio shows, blogs. I’m welcoming inquiries through my website edoloresjohnson.com.
LS: Thanks for sitting down with us and sharing your experience. Continued success with the book.