The COVID-19 pandemic greatly affected the workplace culture of book publishers, as discussed at the U.S. Book Show and one of their panels, “The Pandemic and Publishing: How Has COVID Changed the Industry for Good?”
In “Pandemic and Publishing,” the panelists discussed how social distancing measures forced publishers to work fully remote and reconfigure workplaces for a virtual setting, such as flocking to online chat applications. They also touched upon how publishing companies have strived to preserve mentorship and workplace collaboration while sharing more profits with employees.
Hosted last May, the panel featured the conversations of four industry professionals: literary agent Monica Odom and founder of Odom Media Management, publisher Julia Sommerfeld (Amazon), company president Jennifer Enderlin (St. Martin’s Publishing Group), and literary agent Anjali Singh (Ayesha Pande Literary). Paul Bogaards of Bogaards Public Relations moderated the panel.
This panel was held at the 2nd annual U.S. Book Show. Launched by Publishers Weekly in 2021, this conference’s virtual setting self-demonstrates the impact of the pandemic on the publishing industry.
What this means for self-publishing authors
It’s tempting to dismiss the viewpoints of traditional publishing professionals. Yet, their worries and insights still relate to writers striving to make a career out of self-publishing books.
In a sense, the move to work at home is validation for self-publishers. For many large publishers, 2020 was the first time these companies worked fully remote, even though they’ve existed for decades—if not for more than a century. Meanwhile, full remote has been the reality for self-publishers for years, not to mention many smaller presses.
Even with the rough transition, traditional publishing could operate remotely and take advantage of a high-tide year for book sales. This showcases how there’s nothing special about the traditional publishing model that a self-published author cannot follow. Singh recognized this as such, stating, “one of the good things to come out of the pandemic was this recognition that people can be at home and actually be very productive.”
Singh also commented on how prepandemic corporations were stigmatizing certain groups of employees, especially parents who wanted the flexibility of working at home while caring for their children.
The equalizing potential of remote work is another issue the pandemic has thrown in relief. Beside from meeting parental needs, work from home also makes publishing accessible across geography, ability, and social and economic classes. This is especially relevant to widening the publishing field beyond New York City, the central hub for the top trade book publishers.
Remote work also opens more opportunities for collaboration. Self-publishers and other remote workers are more empowered to work with others worldwide. For example, you could hire an editor on the East Coast, a proofreader on the West Coast, and even a book cover designer overseas.
It’s also noteworthy how Enderlin’s St. Martin’s gave out bonuses to employees at all levels of the company without even posting a press release. Publishers are more generous to their workers in light of more employees leaving their jobs in “the Great Resignation,” in tandem with months of new hires.
The pandemic has energized workers in all industries to be bolder about taking on new jobs, but it’s an especially salient call to action for self-publishers. If publishing books is your dream, you can feel more emboldened to change careers and spend more time writing and self-publishing, all while feeling assured that you can reacquire a full-time job if necessary.
However, the panelists pointed out the artifice of remote work. On online communication, Sommerfeld remarked that “the team is always pinging each other and trying to capture that casual conversation. We’re missing the kind of osmosis that happens when we’re all together.”
Self-publishers aren’t immune to this want for “osmosis.” Even for authors, editors, and other professionals who’ve never worked in the office, it’s normal to desire more in-person connections.
To compensate for the distancing effects of online relationships, look for opportunities to meet fellow writers and publishers in real life. Look up local author and publisher groups in your area, and make space on your calendar to attend events.
If necessary, coordinate these meetups and events yourself. Take advantage of the summer by prioritizing outdoor locations, such as parks and plazas, so you can enjoy the weather while reducing the risks of coronavirus’s volatility.
And above all, publishers in all parts of the industry should keep reminding themselves that the only constant is change. It may well be that the pandemic will be a uniquely seismic event for publishing, yet publishers will remain nimble by practicing how to adapt to future industry changes.