Covid-19 and Publishing

Written by Emily Harstone

As our long time readers are well aware, we tend to steer clear of any “news” related updates. Once a year I write a general update on the state and changes in the literary world and we publish it in December.

I’m sure most, if not all of you, are tired of timely updates about COVID-19 and requests for donations (the good news is that we are not asking for donations in any way), while many people are already financially stressed.

However, I have found it impossible to avoid talking about the situation because it is having an already significant impact on the world of publishing.

For example, three days before I published 31 Manuscript Publishers with Geographic Restrictions, I double checked to make sure all the publishers were still active.

In the three days that followed, one of the publishers declared bankruptcy. Thankfully my readers notified me right away and I was able to update the list, but this bankruptcy was not the first, nor the last.

The timing is part of why presses are so directly effected.

Many small presses earn the majority of their income at the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Book Fair. The AWP conference as a whole still happened during early March, but because of health concerns, around half the attendees, many of the presenters, and a large number of presses did not participate.

Because April is poetry month, many poetry presses fund-raise only in the spring. In times like these non-profits and art organizations in general are often the hardest hit.

It’s not just small presses that are affected. Many presses, including the Big Five, are delaying release dates on major titles.

Bookstores are also affected, as non-essential businesses are forced to close, and this affects presses of all sizes.

Now, I’m not just trying to dredge up bad news here, but I want to be realistic and I want to focus on encouraging authors to empathize a little with publishers in terms of slower response times, closed submission windows, and other delays.

I also want to acknowledge that while some people are home now and have more time to write and read, they might be struggling to do so because of the stressful situation.

People with small children, like myself, who are still working, often have no time to read at all. I have the twenty minutes before I fall asleep at night, for example.

But if you do have time, and are in the correct headspace to do so, here are some things you can do to help small publishers. Of course, for non-profit presses, you can donate, but there are lots of other options including the following suggestions.

Some involve money, some do not, because I understand that is not always an option.

  1. Buy books from small presses
    Many of the presses we review are small presses but I’m going to look into putting together a more comprehensive list of our favorite small presses.
  2. Buy books from bookstores
    If you have a local bookstore still open for book deliveries (you can send local bookstores an email about this), this is an option. You can also visit a larger online bookstore (not Amazon), like Powell’s. These bookstores are important because they support publishers and authors with staff recommendations, etc.
  3. Share links to books you like from small presses
    You can do this on any form of social media. You can also do this through email, or with your now virtual book club.
  4. Be patient and supportive
    It’s important to be kind when interacting with anyone working in publishing right now. I would actually go a step forward and say it’s particularly important to be patient and kind no matter who you’re interacting with right now.
  5. Try to promote the work of authors whose book launch can no longer be a physical event
    You can do this by hosting an event online, offering a review, talking them up on social media, etc.

All this to say stay safe, and like The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy says, “Don’t Panic”.


Emily Harstone is the author of many popular books, including The Authors Publish Guide to Manuscript SubmissionsThe 2019 Guide to Manuscript PublishersSubmit, Publish, Repeat, and The Authors Publish Guide to Children’s and Young Adult Publishing.

She occasionally teaches a course on manuscript publishing, as well as a course on publishing in literary journals.

 

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