the strange guilt of promoting a book during a pandemic

“Nobody wants to hear about your book during a pandemic.”

That’s what I told my friend over instagram DMs the night before my second book was due to release. It was around one in the morning and I was already in bed, tousle-haired and depressed and five hundred miles from caring about how shitty I looked—even though this whole discussion was taking place via video message. I didn’t bother waiting for a reply; my friend lives several time zones ahead of me and is probably already asleep—which is what I wish I could be. 

Instead I’m up late wondering if I’m allowed to self-promote when people are in quarantine, sick, and dying—if anyone will read my book at all. It feels selfish to even worry about these kinds of things. I’ve looked at other people using the pandemic as an excuse to hawk their book and felt derision, even disgust. I would never use the pandemic to promote—I would never say wanna read about a magic pandemic during our real one? pick up my book!—but I feel like I should say something. I shouldn’t let the book I’ve worked on for years vanish into the next news cycle.

Eventually I fall asleep, and I wake up to a reply: “You should talk about it! Everyone needs good news right now, and you should be proud of your book.”

Fuck it.

I am proud of this book. 

And I want people to know about it.

It’s a strange guilt, promoting a book during a pandemic that has killed thousands across the globe. It feels cold somehow, callous, to say look at me instead of look at the death toll, look at how our government fails to handle a crisis

But when it’s your launch day, it’s kind of a necessity.

So I post about it on twitter. And instagram. And facebook. I retweet the congratulations and good reviews, I let myself bask in it—just for a moment. My real-life launch party got canceled, so I hold one online instead. 

In the middle of fear and anxiety and isolation, I let myself be happy.

I think this is something that’s hard for a lot of people, not just authors. Anyone who struggles with anxiety and depression can feel like they aren’t allowed to be happy even at the best of times—as if expressing positivity would erase everything else that’s shitty in the world, who are you to be happy when people are suffering

But here’s the thing:

We have to find a way to carry on. At some point, even if things never return to normal, we will settle on a new normal. We have to find a way to live in this new circumstance. In many ways, life rolls on: people fall in love, the best jokes are still found on the internet, babies are born, books are written and read. I’ve lived with depression long enough to know the warning signs: the days I don’t want to get out of bed, don’t want to shower, or read, or write, or even watch television. At first, in quarantine, it was so easy to fall into those habits by default. 

What was the point, I thought. Why bother working or eating or washing my face or being happy when the world was falling down around us?

But I don’t want to let depression win. I don’t want to let misery win, and there has to be a way to balance acknowledging the terrible reality of this pandemic with the need for human comforts. I want my career to continue when this pandemic is over. I want to step back out of my house one day and know that my books are still being read, that people found some pleasure in reading them during a horrible time.

So, I guess I have to promote them. Respectfully, of course, without taking advantage of suffering to make money—but I am allowed to talk about them. I’m allowed to be proud of myself, and my art. I’m allowed to think my art might help someone right now.

And that’s a start.