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One Year Book Birthday (Or, Launching a Book During a Pandemic)

This weekend marks one year since the release of my book Exploring the History of Childhood and Play Through 50 Historic Treasures on May 15, 2020. Earlier this week, I was thrilled to learn that my book is a finalist for a Colorado Authors League Award of Excellence. In honor of my book birthday and my first time being a finalist for a writing award, I baked a chocolate cake and homemade buttercream frosting.

Releasing a book in the middle of a global pandemic was not how I had envisioned things going when I was writing the book from 2018-2019, but I tried my best to make the most of my opportunities this year. When I was sequestered in my home office doing the tedious work of indexing over Christmas break 2019, I imagined a grand book launch party. The party would be at the Modbo and SPQR Art Galleries in Colorado Springs. All of my artist and writer friends would be there, we'd have a live band, and the happy crowd would overflow into the Arts Alley.

Here's what happened instead. Last spring, my publishing team at Rowman and Littlefield was furloughed due to the COVID restrictions in New York, so I wasn't sure if my book was still on schedule to be released in May as planned. Their team wasn't allowed to check Email or phone messages during the furlough, so I honestly didn't know what to expect. I prayed things through and made peace with the fact that the launch might be delayed indefinitely. On May 1, a delivery driver dropped off a mysterious brown box on my front porch. I looked at the shipping label, and my heart started pounding. It was from Rowman and Littlefield! Inside were six beautiful copies of Exploring the History of Childhood and Play Through 50 Historic Treasures.

Two weeks later, on May 15, my book was officially released. I woke up early that day and grabbed my phone off the nightstand to check my Amazon listing. I was stunned to see an orange label underneath the title that read "#1 New Release in Museum Industry." I took screenshots of the Amazon Hot New Releases page that featured my book in the top spot in its category and texted the pictures to my mom and best friends. It was exciting enough to have my first solo book in print at last, but premiering at number one...that was an honor that I had never dreamt of attaining.

Because my editorial team was on furlough when my book launched, I didn't know that my work had received delightfully unexpected attention from the publishing world until months later, in the fall of 2020. When their team went back to work in September, the R&L marketing department let me know that Exploring Childhood and Play was picked for Booklist'sTop Ten Sports Books of 2019-2020. I also discovered that my book had earned a cherished starred review on Booklist and that they had featured me in their Best New Books section in early May. I'm still pinching myself.

Because the bookstores around the country were closed due to COVID, I got creative in my marketing approach. I decided to focus on media interviews and virtual book talks. My friend and fellow historian John Fea asked me to be on his podcast The Way of Improvement Leads Home. He and I chatted about the origins of the board game Candyland during the polio epidemic of the 1950s. Keith Simon of classical music KCME (88.7 in Colorado Springs) interviewed me for his Sunday afternoon program, The Culture Zone. In August, the producer of the Constant Wonder show on BYU radio contacted me out of the blue and asked me to be a guest on their program. I enjoyed talking with host Marcus Smith about how childhood became a distinct phase of life in the nineteenth century. Because I was still hard-core self-isolating throughout the summer last year, I loved connecting with these interviewers and having someone to talk to. (Ah, remember the long days of quarantine?)

As a public historian for The Navigator and Glen Eyrie in my day job, I'm used to giving community programs about local history. I leveraged my existing connections in the museum field to create virtual author talks for my book. A few weeks ago, I presented a lunch and learn program about Barbie for the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. I miss doing events in person, but virtual talks can attract a national and global audience. In March, I gave a Zoom program for my friends at the Lippitt House Museum in Rhode Island. One of my literary-agent friends hosted a program for me last summer that brought in viewers from South America, Asia, and Europe.

As I write this post, life in Colorado is transitioning into something that looks akin to life before the pandemic. When our local bookstores can host events again, I would love to have a few in-person book signings. I also hope to fill my calendar with in-person and virtual author talks. If you'd like to host me for an event, or if you'd like to interview me, please go to my website at SusanFletcherCreative.comand fill in the contact form.

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