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Book publishing in the time of COVID-19

“The desire to read something has increased for sure,” McLean said. “Doing something as wonderful as reading books, which can take them to many worlds as they're sitting in their armchair, supports the local bookstore and is very much appreciated. We want to be here for a very long time.”

BOW VALLEY– Adapting to the cultural shift created by the COVID-19 pandemic, local publishers and book stores are taking a new approach to help people curl up with a good book.

Rocky Mountain Books publisher Don Gorman said the company has weathered H1N1, swine flu, fires and floods, but COVID-19 has presented a remarkably different situation.

“It’s pretty much driven everything that we do online,” Gorman said, explaining that all media, publicity and selling has moved on to Facebook and email.

Gorman added the company is still publishing books and was able to successfully print their spring 2020 catalogue, all of which are being released this week.

“I think it’s really important that we make sure our books are available simply because they have to be,” Gorman said.

“We can’t stop producing our product right now because this will eventually end and we need to make sure we have things that we can sell when business reopens and people are allowed to get back out into the mountains.”

Gorman added he is grateful for the support independent Canadian publishers have received from provincial and federal funders because it will help the industry survive the coming months and hopefully emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic healthy.

“Normally we would depend on the book stores to sell the books and put them on display and put them on shelves,” Gorman said.

“Unfortunately, most of our key accounts in terms of bricks and mortar have shut down.”

Gorman said he also expects to see a shift in the type and number of ebooks readers are engaging with. Traditionally it has been genre fiction that has sold well in the ebook format, but a shift is taking place where people are engaging more with non-fiction including health and wellness books.

In the meantime, Rocky Mountain Books has two great reads that will soon be available.

The first, Taking a Break From Saving the World: A Conservation Activist’s Journey from Burnout to Balance by Canmore photographer Stephen Legault explores how to live in a world that is constantly changing in regards to the environment, climate change and catastrophe.

Gorman said the topic feels especially timely during the COVID-19 crisis because the book directly talks about front-line workers and dealing with burn out.

“It’s a beautifully written and a very personal look at that sort of thing," Gorman said.

Also available for lovers of local books is Adventures with Adoptable Dogs by Bow Valley local Rachael Rodgers.

Charlie McLean, owner of Café Books since 2006, said the pandemic has had a more severe effect than anything he has experienced.

The shop closed its doors two weeks ago after making the decision to transition to delivery and online services to keep staff and the community safe.

Café Books has been providing curbside pickups for books and they have begun doing personal deliveries to homes in Canmore, Banff, Exshaw and Cochrane.

“The desire to read something has increased for sure,” McLean said.

“Doing something as wonderful as reading books, which can take them to many worlds as they're sitting in their armchair, supports the local bookstore and is very much appreciated. We want to be here for a very long time.”

While it can be challenging facing the uncertainty created by the virus, a silver lining is that it presents a chance to dive into local authors, McLean said.

He added his personal favourites are two travel adventure books: Rising a memoir by Sharon Wood, the first North American woman to climb Mount Everest and With You By Bike by Katrina Rosen, a story of her and her husband exploring the world on a cycling adventure.

“They’re two kinds of fantastic books to sit down in your locked apartment and escape the world with,” McLean said. “They’re both local authors and both will take readers away to worlds elsewhere.”

Durville Publications and UpRoute Books publisher Lorene Shyba said that company immediately felt the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The most nerve-racking thing is whether the printers are going to stay open,” Shyba said, explaining that she hopes the print industry is declared an essential service in the province.

“I’ve got a book on press right now and I don’t know whether it’s going to get printed.”

The book, We Remember the Coming of the White Man by Raymond Yakeleya, has been a labour of love she said and the release has been many months in the making.

Shyba said that she is grateful that ebooks and audiobooks are available in case the book is unable to be printed in time for its release on April 21.

It has been disconcerting, she said, because online orders for books have dried up as libraries and books stores have been forced to close their doors due to the virus.

“Things have ground pretty much to a halt as far as planning goes,” Shyba said, explaining that it is hard to plan for the future when it’s unclear when COVID-19 health measures will come to an end.

For now, Shyba said she is focused on staying on schedule and printing fewer books. She said she is grateful that as of now they have not been forced to delay the launch of any new books because some independent booksellers are continuing to provide access to books.

Shyba added that readers are also able to order books directly from publishers.

“At least it’s a way to keep knowledge flowing,” Shyba said.


Chelsea Kemp

About the Author: Chelsea Kemp

Chelsea Kemp joined the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2019 as a reporter and photojournalist. She writes provincial politics, health care, arts and entertainment and Indigenous stories. She also contributes photo stand-ups, multi-pics and essays.
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