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How Tanya Davis and Andrea Dorfman’s viral video landed a book deal

When Tanya Davis and Andrea Dorfman collaborated to create the YouTube video-poem How to Be Alone, the Haligonian duo never imagined it would go viral, let alone lead to a book adaptation.

Released in July 2010, the poignant video rode the zeitgeist into popularity, garnering more than five million views to date. “It [confronts] the challenges and joys of figuring out how to be alone,” says Dorfman, a filmmaker, animator, and artist.

Those themes resonated with the pair even before they met. “I think a lot about solitude and connection, and how [they] are part of the same human experience,” says Davis, Halifax’s former poet laureate.

While Davis and Dorfman were pleased with the project’s runaway success, the idea of turning it into an illustrated book did not come about until they were approached by a U.S. publisher. Advised by a friend, they signed on with agent Denise Bukowski, who was convinced they could improve on the original offer.

“I have never seen an offer that low, especially when [the publisher] wanted the authors to supply finished art for every page,” says Bukowski, who began shopping the book around.

Eventually, Maya Ziv, an editor at Harper­Collins in New York, picked up North American rights to the book, which will be released in the fall. How to Be Alone will feature Davis’s poem and illustrations by Dorfman, who is “champing at the bit” to complete them in time for the book’s imminent release.

Despite their elation, Davis and Dorfman say going from screen to page has its challenges. “How I lay out the text so [people] read it the way I intended is difficult,” Davis says. “I can’t really control how they hear it in their heads “¦ but you have to really relinquish that control … once the book gets in the reader’s hands.” For Dorfman, the video’s success adds “a certain amount of pressure” to meet fans’ expectations.

Those concerns aside, the pair is excited for the direction their artistic collaboration is taking. “I like seeing it on the Internet “¦ but a book is just [something] you can smell, see, and feel,” Davis says. “This is a nice way, in the impermanent world, to have a little piece of something concrete.”

How to Be Alone launches in Toronto tonight, 7 p.m. at the Gladstone Hotel.

This article appeared in the March 2013 issue of Q&Q.