April 8th, 2020

World Shift in Publishing

by John Peragine

The world seems to have changed overnight. Coronavirus has swept over the world, and humans have been forced into the safety of their own homes.

For writers, it can seem like any other day. We often spend our days isolated in a room, typing, and asking others to give us space and time to do our craft. Sounds like a writers dream.

Except writers can be perverse.

If you are like me, you really don't want to do something until someone tells you that you can't. I can't go out. I can't hang with people. I can't even touch my face!

As the world waits to see what happens with the pandemic, many people who always thought about writing, but always made the excuse they did not have enough time, are picking up their pens. There are so many words coming into being right now: poetry, short fiction, novels.

Writing can be a very therapeutic way to pass the time.

While we sit and toil over our notebooks and keyboards, the world of books is changing. They way we publish, print, and distribute is having a major shift. For many writers, this is a very exciting time, but for others it is a little scary. The business is changing, and it my prediction that some of those shifts will last well beyond the pandemic.

What will change?

Publishing

In the world of traditional publishing there are a number of changes. Some these changes began occurring prior to the pandemic such as the sale of Simon and Schuster. The big publishing houses are condensing, as Penguin and Random House have already merged.

Advances over the years have shrunk. Publishing deals now require that authors be more and more responsible for sales and marketing. Amazon has become the dominant force in book sales. All these items are related.

During the pandemic, publishing houses, big and small, have paused. Book deals have frozen, and book launches have been delayed. Scores of authors are unsure of what to do and how to proceed. (Don't worry there is more good news than bad).

Agents have become creative, and are shifting to editing, webinars and creating videos about book writing.

So is this a good time to pitch a book?

Some agents want to be ready when the ice thaws and business begins to ramp up again, and are taking this time to get book proposals ready. Others, who rely heavily on the sales of books to publishers, are going out of business.

If you are seeking an agent, check their website! A number of them post whether they are taking queries at this time.

There is talk that there will be a lot a babies born this coming December. This is also true of books. I would imagine the number of books about surviving a pandemic will be a like a tidal wave in the market.

Distribution and Printing

Many printers and distribution channels are drying up during the pandemic. Many authors with hybrid publishers are growing frustrated, as communication has dropped off and they are left adrift and unsure of their future.

Books are low on Amazon's shipping priority list, especially now. People are not getting books, and worse, many of the books have printing and binding issues. For authors trying to release their books, a shipping time of two or more weeks can be a nightmare.

Authors are adapting in surprising ways.

The mindset is shifting. Rather than work through distribution channels, like Amazon or a bookstore, authors are moving to a direct-to-consumer marketing approach. They are connecting with readers and selling directly, often through print-on-demand services and distributors like Ingram Spark. These avenues assure on-time, and allow authors to achieve more control of the process, rather than relying on someone else to do it for them.

Virtual Networking

Authors are utilizing new technology to connect with other writers, editors, readers, publishers and more. Writing conferences are on hold for the foreseeable future and so authors are trying new ways to connect.

For example, I have begun a Friday Night Cocktail party using Zoom. It allows me an outlet to speak to other writers, readers and industry professionals. People come and go, meet new people and chat. Not only is it fun and relaxing but it helps me build my network from home. It is not a total replacement for connecting to with people in person, but it does create an added way of networking.

An Exciting Time

There is a lot of loss and uncertainty in the world now, but it will eventually pass. But the publishing world will never be the same. I look forward to the inevitable shift. New technology, new marketing and selling strategies, new themes in books. We're all together in this new world of writing. Keep your heads up!

What changes do you expect to see? What changes have you noticed already? Have any of your important publishing dates changed?

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About John

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is PeragineHeadshot2019-200x300.jpg

John Peragine has published 14 books and ghostwritten more than 100 others. He is a contributor for HuffPost, Reuters, and The Today Show. He covered the John Edwards trial exclusively for Bloomberg News and The New York Times. He has written for Wine EnthusiastGrapevine Magazine, Realtor.com, WineMakermagazine, and Writer's Digest.

John began writing professionally in 2007, after working 13 years in social work and as the piccolo player for the Western Piedmont Symphony for over 25 years. Peragine is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. His newest book, Max and the Spice Pirates, will be released in the Fall 2020.

37 responses to “World Shift in Publishing”

  1. Terry Odell says:

    Changes in traditional publishing aren't too much of a concern as I'm now 100% indie. Isolation doesn't bother me. I'm a retired writer living in the boonies. It's my way of life.

    What DOES concern me is what this pandemic is going to do for contemporary fiction. Way back when, in romance, condoms were never mentioned. Then came AIDS and romance writers don't ignore protection. I'm writing a "contemporary" mystery-romance, and I started it well before the pandemic precautions were in place. What are readers going to want/expect in books? We don't know how/when this will end. But for the moment, I'm hoping readers will want escape, not reminders, so my characters still hug, caress, and (when I get to that point) will have sex. Do I market my book as "historical" or "fantasy" or "alternate universe"? Add a disclaimer at the beginning of the book?

    • John Peragine says:

      Those are all great questions. I believe there will be a market for Pandemic fiction- just like there was a market for zombies and steampunk. These were trends for awhile, but have faded except for the die hard fans. As far as what we have in our books- I think fiction is fiction. It transcends everyday life- and I doubt we are going to have to practice safe distance forever. We are social creatures that not only want a person's touch and company, but we need it. It will be interesting though if handwashing becomes a thing though. But consider Zombie books- how many times are they wearing masks, washing hands, and staying at home?

  2. barbaralinnprobst says:

    So true, John! I had my "virtual book launch" last night, and I have to say that it was wonderful! There was no lack of joy and celebration, despite it being on a screen instead of in a "real room." In fact, 150 people attended, which would never have happened if I'd had the "real" launch I'd originally planned. If 25 people had made it to the bookstore in Manhattan, i would have been thrilled. But this reached six times as manyβ€”and now there is a permanent link with the potential of reaching even more people. I'm now imagining that enterprising bookstore owners are thinking ahead and building-in ways to do this, even when "real" events are possible again. Think of it! An online author talk with a link to buy the book from that store during the presentation! A win-win for all.

    • John Peragine says:

      Barbara that is fantastic! How did you promote and connect to your audience to bring them to the virtual event? I had a workshop scheduled later this month- a local event and now it has been shifted to virtual. I am curious what the turnout will be. At least I will not be confined by geography.

  3. Vernon Turner says:

    Nothing is changing in the world of literary agents. They still reject/ignore 95% of the queries sent. They still mainly sell romance, sci-fi and mysteries. It's what the reading public buys, but now that nobody is going to the store to buy books, the agents are selecting even less. How do I know this? They tell me. Those high-rent agencies are only accepting the most lurid and low-brow manuscripts to read. Everything else is thrown in their "slush piles".

    • John Peragine says:

      But who are they selling them to? Are they waiting till this blows over? It seems that everything is frozen. Even if I had an offer from an agent right now- what does that even mean?

      • Vernon Turner says:

        Excellent question. As I said in my first comment, sales across the board are down. People are, however, still buying the electronic versions. Yes, the reader demand quality is not that of great literature or even good writing. "Where the Crawdads Sing" is an exceptional novel that deserves its best-seller designation. The rest, not so much. Me? After eleven years of querying seven projects, I just hope to get an agent to read one of the manuscripts. If my writing is crap, tell me. If my stories are stupid, tell me. Then I'll know what to fix. But, no... That's not the way it works, is it?

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Vernon, I know you're frustrated with publishing professionals (and rightly so!) and that might have influenced the judge-y language about various genres. I edited that out of your first comment above because we have no place for that here. We accept all writers, all genres and all types of stories. We are a community that just wants to help writers navigate this wild stormy publishing world, whether they are a newbie or a frustrated veteran. All stories matter, especially to the authors who took the time to write them. Please keep that in mind going forward.

  4. Thank you for an insightful post, John. With all of this current craziness, I believe the digital market may grow more than expected under normal conditions. People are afraid of packages because the virus can live on paper and cardboard for crying out loud!@#$! People have lost their jobs and even paperbacks are too costly if one is out of work. Regardless of how one may feel about paper vs digital, I think we may see that paper will be an even bigger loser for the foreseeable future.

    On another note, I love Barbara's idea about a virtual launch. I may try that with my August release. I would love to read any advice she and you care to give!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Me too! Barbara, can you provide the link to your online launch event? It might be instructive for some of our other readers. πŸ™‚

    • barbaralinnprobst says:

      .P.S. It really helps to have an organization "host" you through their Facebook page. It drives traffic to them (and hopefully they already have a big enough following to make it worth your while to be launching there) and they manage the tech part. So my suggestion is to build a relationship with an organization that's a great fit for the content or themes of your book! And start now!! Good luck!

    • John Peragine says:

      The other issue I am hearing is people are waiting so long for books and the quality (the physical book) that people are are canceling or returning books. Since they are not essential that are dropping on the priority list- and rightfully so. Now is the time for authors to find new fans and use services like KDP Select to get their book out there.

  5. Rick George says:

    Thank you, John, for taking the time to share these insights. It helps to know the changing rules of the game.

  6. Thanks for prompting this great discussion, John. I'm querying my memoir ms, a tough sell in the best of markets. I've been equally discouraged and encouraged about the post-pandemic future, so this helped to shed some light on different possibilities.

  7. Eldred Bird says:

    Thanks, John. The publishing industry seems to be changing by the minute these days. It's getting harder to keep up, even for us independent authors out there doing our own thing.

    • Eldred Bird says:

      BTW, the virtual cocktail parties have been the highlight of my week. It's nice to have something to look forward to.

      • John Peragine says:

        You know it man- I look forward to them too. A little bit of levity and connection is the ticket to sanity!

  8. crbwriter says:

    Thanks for bringing up this topic! I'm looking at my nearly-polished novel and thinking (like Terry) is this historical? The discussion has been heartening.

  9. dholcomb1 says:

    I'm having a hard time in this limbo, dynamics in the household have changed, and I need to find my place.

    denise

    • drjohnnd says:

      I agree Denise- I have had to set up 2 home offices- one for my son and the other for my wife. I have had to protect my space. But now- I have to play IT for everyone. I am employing a sign on the door when I am working to leave me alone.

    • John Peragine says:

      I agree Denise- I have had to set up 2 home offices- one for my son and the other for my wife. I have had to protect my space. But now- I have to play IT for everyone. I am employing a sign on the door when I am working to leave me alone.

      • dholcomb1 says:

        That's close to my issue. πŸ™‚ My new office went to my husband, then the college kid came home and he took over that room, and husband is back in the regular office, so now I'm back in the kitchen, but instead of writing, I'm the short order cook. Plus, making sure the high school kid is doing his work.

  10. Wendy Allott says:

    Wonderful post. I'm finding it hard to write at the moment, so I'm trying to focus on education. That way, when the muse (kids go back to school, husband goes back to work, grocery shopping doesn't feel like walk on the wild side) I'll be ready. SCBWI is running some great webinars for members.

    • John Peragine says:

      I've had to shift my work time- I'm back to being a night owl or early in the morning to get my best work done.

  11. Good and timely article.

    John-I have a good (funny but old) piccolo player joke, but it relies heavily upon an expletive too improper to share here. But it's set in a Southern church's Sunday service.The organ player is out sick, but there is one piccolo player in the congregation who agrees to play the hymns on his piccolo.

  12. Sandra Saks says:

    Super to begin my day with writers. Time for Discipline to kick in for me. 30 years of writing-now is time for memoir/trilogy/essays.... if only, courage of my convictions/passion will bloom in Melbourne winter of my days.
    Sandy Saks. πŸ™β›ˆπŸŒˆπŸŒˆ

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