I am pleased to share this guest post with my readers, written by Desiree Villena:
We are living through ‘strange and unprecedented times’, as many people like to remind us. Publishing in the time of COVID-19 is something that nobody has encountered before, and while there is no easy way to predict what the fallout will look like, the pandemic is bound to have lasting effects on the book trade and the broader media industry.
It might be difficult not to think that the future looks bleak. Yet while lockdowns have forced the industry to a temporary halt, the crisis has also unleashed sparks of innovation when it comes to how people read — and how publishers and authors get books into their hands.
We may wish for a crystal ball to foretell how we’ll make it through this. But while we will just have to wait and see what the true effects are, we can start to see inklings of how publishing a book will look in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Below, I offer some of my predictions on how the publishing landscape might be transformed for authors, publishers, booksellers and readers as we enter a whole new world of publishing.
For Authors: DIY Alternatives for Reaching Readers
While lockdown may have given some authors the time to finally finish their manuscripts, the crisis has forced radical reconsiderations of the publishing process. The cancellation of events like book tours, workshops, lectures and public readings has forced authors to think of new ways to market their book.
Some writers have simply delayed their launches, but many have gone ahead with their original dates — relying heavily on online word of mouth, using social media to interact with readers, and going on blog tours to promote their books. Even after restrictions have lifted, the way that authors engage with their audiences will likely continue to make use of the unique opportunities afforded by digital technology.
Virtual approaches to book promotion will continue to grow in popularity, as many authors have enjoyed the strange intimacy they can foster even through the screen. Some authors have found their attendance numbers are higher for Zoom, Crowdcast or Instagram Live events than traditional bookstore readings – after all, virtual events allow readers who live far away from urban centres to take part in a robust literary community.
A rise in self-publishing is likely to continue as well, with more and more authors dusting off old manuscripts or writing new works over recent months. Self-publishing allows authors to make their works globally accessible online, avoiding the difficulties associated with physical printing and distribution. It also circumvents the long turnaround times associated with traditional publishing – an especially valuable advantage as social distancing measures continue.
It remains to be seen how long it takes for the ‘great coronavirus novel’ to hit the market. But it’s undeniable that an important new chapter in publishing history is being written.
For Publishers: Adapting to Digital
After a return to some normalcy, publishers may find themselves inundated with manuscripts produced during lockdown. In fact, it may be difficult for authors to find literary agents or editors to contend with the sudden submission volume. Even as they face distinct challenges in staffing and scale, small presses and big publishing houses alike will encounter similar struggles in bringing new books into the post-virus world.
With the evaporation of the trade shows and book fairs where rights could be purchased for next season’s slate, publishers will have to adapt so that new releases are not delayed even further. The cancellation or postponement of physical events will force them to come up with virtual alternatives, and they’ll have to invent new digital marketing strategies to get sales back on track. In sum, COVID-19 likely marks a point of no return for publishers to transition to digital tactics if they haven’t already done so.
Just as it is with authors, though, the market transformation brings new opportunities as well as challenges for publishers. Increased demand for e-books and audiobooks has already encouraged some publishers to pursue digital subscription services or investigate producing new podcasts or video content.
As virtual events and remote work grow in popularity, the publishing industry may also be able to expand beyond its urban epicentres, creating more jobs for editors, translators and designers in geographically distanced settings.
For Booksellers: Moving Online
For some retailers, demand for books might have actually increased during the pandemic — as isolation wore on them, readers turned to books to escape. During lockdown, retailers started offering digital orders and curbside pickup, while at the same time, book purchases through Amazon and other online outlets grew.
Even when bookshops and publishing companies that were shut down reopen for business, they can’t return to ‘business as usual’: they must adjust to the cultural shift in readership. Continued social distancing measures are bound to prompt a continued boom in online purchases while further expanding e-book and audio book sales.
While it may seem that the virus has pushed purchases further from brick-and-mortar stores toward online spaces, many local bookstores serve as important community hubs and cultural centres. When it becomes safe to do so, these spaces will welcome the return of visitors, many of whom crave the chance to roam the stacks of their favourite bookstores and look forward to gathering with fellow book lovers.
Even though the future of publishing – like the future of anything – remains incredibly hard to predict, one thing is for certain: books aren’t going anywhere. They provide comfort, entertainment, escapism and connection even in the darkest times, and the people who make them and read them will find a way to survive anything. The publishing world won’t end with a whimper – hopefully, once the peak of the pandemic passes, it will come back with a bang.
Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. She’s very passionate about indie publishing and believes the industry will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever! In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.