How to support the literary community (when you can’t leave your house)

One of the hardest things right now is dealing with the sense of uncertainty. Our routines — always so dependable — have been pulled out from under us. We’re all trying to adapt, but it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the speed at which everything has changed.

So take a breath. We’re all in this together. And despite how strange everything seems right now, there are still things we can rely on: that readers will keep reading, writers will keep writing, and our books will be there for us no matter what. Now is the time to think about how we can come together and support each other. So with that in mind, here are some ways you can help your literary community:

Instead of visiting your local bookstore, buy from them online or by phone

Booksellers are hardy folk, and they’ve been lightning fast in adapting so that you can get your hands on the new Hilary Mantel without ever having to leave the house. Alan Vaarwerk, editor of Kill Your Darlings, has created some handy maps of Melbourne and Sydney that show which bookshops are now offering free or discounted postage and local delivery. Industry bible Books+Publishing also has a great round-up of bookshops Australia-wide offering postage and delivery.

The best thing you can do is call up your bookseller and have a chat. In these times of physical distancing, social contact is essential. Plus, you’re unlikely to get off the phone without receiving any number of thoughtful recommendations on what to read next…

Instead of visiting a library, borrow via an app

Did you know you can borrow books, magazines and films without leaving your house? Depending on which library you belong to, you can use apps like Libby and Borrow Box to check out books and read them on your phone or tablet. You can also watch films through Kanopy and Beamafilm, and read the latest magazines (everything from New Idea to the New Yorker) through RB Digital.

Instead of going to a book launch, support authors online

It’s a hard time out there for authors who’ve just launched new books and who rely on launches, festival appearances and other public events to raise awareness of the thing they’ve been working on for who knows how long. If you bought a ticket to a launch that’s been cancelled, buy the book anyway. Read it. Post about it on social media. And don’t forget to give your favourite writers a follow. That way, they can keep you updated with their virtual activities. Keep an eye on the recently launched Oz Authors Online, a digital platform for book launches and events, as well as the social media feeds of your local bookstores, many of which are hosting their own live-streamed events.

Instead of attending literary festivals in person, attend them virtually

While many festivals have sadly had to cancel or postpone, some are exploring digital formats. The Yarra Valley Writers Festival is going ahead in May 2020 as a live-streamed event, while The Wheeler Centre is also streaming key events online. If you belong to an organisation that’s considering taking your event online, the Emerging Writers’ Festival has some great tips.

If your local literary festival has been cancelled, the best thing you can do is support them by making a donation. If you donate what you would have spent on tickets, you’ll not only help safeguard the festival’s future, but also the entire literary ecosystem: the writers who speak at them, the booksellers who sell at them, not to mention the hundreds of staff who rely on these events for employment. Think of it as an investment in your own future enjoyment!

Instead of going to your book club, switch it to a stream

Get your book club together through Skype, Google Hangouts or Zoom — settle in with your latest read, a glass of wine and a cheese plate and let the good times roll. Bonus points: no one will mind if you’re wearing pyjamas. And if you prefer something more structured, sign up for a book club hosted by a library or bookstore — Better Read Than Dead, Avid Reader, State Library Victoria and more are all getting on board.

Instead of enrolling in an in-person writing workshop, take a virtual one

Plenty of organisations offer online courses so you can keep working on your novel or sharpening your personal essay skills even though these trying times. Writers Victoria, Writing NSW, Writers SA, Northern Territory Writers’ Centre and Queensland Writers’ Centre are all currently offering online workshops and classes. The Melbourne City of Literature Office has also set up a Facebook group called Work in Progress for writers living in any city in the UNESCO City of Literature network. It’s a space to connect with fellow writers and celebrate creative work across the globe (a good reminder that we’re all in this together).

Other ideas to support the industry:

Subscribe to the eNewsletters of your favourite authors, bookshops and festivals; write book reviews on Goodreads and Amazon; stream Australian TV shows (they employ writers too), buy the newspaper (ditto); and, as always, be highly enthused about books.

One more thing you can do to support your literary community:

Send a note of thanks to an author you admire. They could probably do with the boost right now.

To support your Melbourne Writers Festival, make a tax-deductible donation today.

To receive the latest news and special offers, sign up to the MWF eNews.

Image: Timothy Herbert, Our Words & Our Melodies at MWF18