Out of the Pandemic, A Writing Renaissance
Michael O’Connell of Jacksonville, Florida retired in his 60s. He had started his writing journey years before, but doesn't feel he took it seriously until 2020. Due to the realities of the pandemic and an awareness of his own age, he started thinking about how precious time was. He got serious, hired a writing coach, and started writing short stories as he worked to rewrite the draft of a first novel.
Shelby McCraley, known as thewritingaddict on Twitch, completed an English degree in 2017. When the pandemic hit, she focused on finally completing some young adult paranormal novels. Her first book of a series came out in 2021, and she is working on drafting the second book live on Twitch.
Stories vary widely based on the experience and circumstances of the writer at the time Covid interrupted the world. But a surprising number of these authors found success, and have come out of the pandemic in a position to capitalize on their work.
S.A. Cosby spent a number of years practicing his craft writing horror and crime stories. I met him at a Noir at the Bar event in Durham, North Carolina pre pandemic. His reading silenced the room. I was shocked to hear he had no novels out, and praised his work to anyone who would listen. In January 2019, he released My Darkest Prayer, his debut novel. Again, I loved it and told everyone about it. Soon, everyone seemed to know about Cosby. Just as his star was rising, the pandemic hit.
His next two critically-acclaimed crime novels, Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears, both released in 2021. Cosby was terrified the pandemic might derail his success just as he was starting to see some. He wasn’t sure people would be in a mood to respond to fairly violent crime stories, but it seemed like the world needed books and they wanted his. Because of the pandemic, he really didn't understand how much his audience had grown until he went to The LA Times Bookfest and later AuthorCon in Virginia. It was a paradigm shift for him to see how much his work had connected with people.
New authors were not the only ones impacted by the pandemic. They were not the only ones to find a way to thrive. Experienced authors with years of work behind them had to adapt to the new reality changing the nature of the industry and the opportunities available.
Max Booth III went from working full-time at a hotel to making a living writing and publishing during the pandemic. Then, his book We Need to Do Something was made into a movie. Booth says this only happened because of the pandemic. Sean King O’Grady, who co-owned Atlas Industries at the time, was interested in making his narrative debut after directing several documentaries. He came upon Booth’s script and realized it would be easy to make within pandemic restrictions compared to other possible projects.
Booth’s reasoning for quitting his day job had to do with how management overworked him after furloughing a majority of the staff, pushing their responsibilities onto him. Their general lack of concern for the dangers of the actual virus wasn’t ideal either. He’s not sure he would have quit if not for those conditions. The movie only got financed a week after he put in his two weeks notice. So he wasn’t counting on that when he first submitted his resignation.
Booth would be considered part of what has been called The Great Resignation surrounding worker shortages during and following the height of the pandemic. There is a lot of debate about the causes of this phenomenon, but behind those stats are individual stories like Max's where each person made his or her own choices about what was best for their future. This involved a number of people who had dreams about writing or specifically writing full-time. Like many others during the pandemic, he decided to take a chance on himself.
For A.C. Ward, her writing career was well underway, but she found more time to write during the pandemic when her job transitioned to working from home. She generally doesn’t credit the pandemic with moving the needle of her audience growth, but it did see her put aside an apocalyptic virus novel she had been writing. Being home more sped up her writing process, she thinks. Her initial plan was to retire at 40. She pulled the trigger two years earlier than originally planned. Like Michael O’Connell, she says, the pandemic inspired a reevaluation of how important time was.
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Armand Rosamilia has been writing for a long time, and has been a full-time writer for well over a decade. He had a great deal of growth prior to the pandemic. As his focus shifted to crime fiction he saw a rise in audio book sales that included much of his back catalog in horror.
Jessica McHugh has been writing for many years as well. While her focus has been on prose and novels, her heart had always beat for poetry. I interviewed her for a LitReactor article specifically on her blackout poetry evolution. While she initially thought the pandemic would give her time to focus on novels, it was her blackout poetry collections that earned her two Stoker Award nominations. She’s not leaving novels behind, but she has more poetry planned for the future. Similarly, Gemma Amor has been writing for a while, but her first Stoker nomination and trade deal came during the pandemic.
Carver Pike wrote a few different things under different pen names for a number of years. He had just moved back to the United States as the pandemic began and found himself working from home, giving him more time to write. During that time, he was concerned that people struggling with job loss wouldn’t want to risk spending their hard-earned money on books. It almost seemed to be the opposite, though. The horrors of the real world kind of drove sales in his chosen genres.
With everything being virtual during the pandemic, it allowed Pike to get involved in things he might not have under normal conditions. He attended the virtual KillerCons, was part of his first panel, and did his first reading—all online. He’s been nominated for two Splatterpunk Awards and started his own YouTube show called First Chapter Freakshow. He joined Aron Beauregard, Daniel J. Volpe, and Rowland Bercy Jr. as a co-host on the Written in Red podcast. As his newest releases have done well, he hesitates to say the pandemic helped his career, but it appears to be true.
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Writers who had just started their careers prior to the pandemic felt particularly vulnerable.
Rowland Bercy Jr. started writing three years ago. He felt the pandemic fueled his progress. He had more time to write with less distraction and his audience grew during this time. He received a lot of help and support from fellow writers and readers online. Attending conventions and meeting people in person is important to him going forward.
Matthew Wildasin started writing in 2011. After initial publication, he didn’t write much for several years, until 2017 when he put out a short story collection. When the pandemic hit, he went into a writing frenzy. With the initial thought of a two-week shutdown, he decided to write a story a day for his Facebook group. He committed himself to a number of podcasts with frequent episodes. He found a job that involved graphic design and started creating book covers for authors as well. Looking ahead, he is gearing himself up for more writing and less of some of the other projects.
Coming of Age
Daniel Volpe published his first book in November 2020 and published three books during the pandemic. He found more time to write during the shutdown, and time to figure out self-publishing. Social media helped him a great deal and he became a fixture in the recommendations of readers online. He missed conventions during that time, but felt 2022 promised to be a great year for that sort of thing. He felt lucky to come on the scene when he did because the conditions of the pandemic seemed to propel indie horror in particular.
Drew Stepek started the godless.com distribution platform during the pandemic. You can read a more detailed LitReactor article about that phenomenon here. Stepek said he believed there was an argument to be made that most of the emerging authors on godless developed as creators during Covid.
R.J. Benetti had been writing a while without showing anyone, but decided to publish in October of 2021 through godless. Coming out of the pandemic, Benetti plans to sell books at a few drive-in theaters during their horror movie weekends, and more traditional conventions as they come back in full swing.
Aron Beauregard’s first published release was May of 2019. The real explosion of his audience began in July of 2021. Todd Love became the model for the potential of a godless.com author with nearly all his audience being built there from the beginning. Sean Hawker started writing during the first U.K. lockdown in March of 2020. He began by publishing flash fiction on Facebook and started getting some positive feedback. He started figuring out KDP, self-publishing, and the godless platform from there. He is considering longer pieces going forward.
Although it wasn’t the pandemic that made her decide to start writing, it did give Lindsay Crook time and opportunity to pursue it. Crook said, feeling kind of awkward with face-to-face interactions, the pandemic restrictions helped her connect with readers in a way she might have avoided under pre pandemic conditions. Connecting with other authors allowed her to develop strong relationships and networks.
Matthew Henshaw started really writing in September 2020. Prior to that, he had been writing here and there for himself. He started to believe that maybe what he was writing could be enjoyed by more than just his friends. He received encouragement from authors and publishers, and decided to look for avenues to get his stuff published. He joined the Horror Writer’s Association in February 2022 and began submitting and sharing more of his work. For him, the fun of writing has been a healthy outlet for his stress and anxiety about the pandemic.
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Out of the semi-isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic, many authors and writers at all stages of their careers and development made strides. They honed their skills, built their audience, and produced stories readers love. New platforms born out of necessity and those who utilized them were able to get their work before the eyes of buyers and readers. Coming out of the pandemic years, a whole range of authors are meeting their audiences all at once.
There might be a temptation among writers who struggled during these years to feel like they missed out on an unusual window of opportunity. If anything, the lesson here should be that even in times of struggle, there is opportunity to create, pursue dreams, and connect with an audience. That opportunity is still in place as we see the development of so many writers over the last couple years come to fruition.
How big this moment is for the writing world remains to be fully seen, but indications are that this is a great time for writers and readers to prosper.
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