Writing and publishing is difficult enough without added challenges being added on top of the usual brainstorming, crafting, editing, strategizing, and marketing that self-publishing authors take on as a part of the process. (Allowing, of course, for some variation, depending on existing skills and assistance provided by third parties.) We heard a great deal last year about some of the pandemic’s additional challenges last year, particularly during the summer, but much of that conversation has either died down or been reframed as a part of the “new normal.” So I just have to wonder, do we still need to talk about the pandemic outside of its health- and social-specific effects? Is it still worth grappling with the “extras” that COVID-19 has added to our writing and publishing lives?
I, personally, happen to think that we are entering a new phase of this whole thing. By and large, one year in, we’ve figured out how to live with the restrictions and their consequences (eagerly or otherwise). Two vaccines have passed all the standards that need passing in order to achieve wide distribution, and state governors are working on specific distribution plans for each state. Where I am just now, many of the restrictions themselves have begun to loosen, although most people I know are still being fairly cautious. Some schools are back in operation. My favorite bakery reopened! … and then closed again, then reopened again, and so on and so forth a number of times as the occasional worker came down with the virus. By and large, we are now well-acquainted with this open-closed-open-closed-etc cycle, and well-acclimated to last-minute changes in plans as the knock-on effects of the virus continue to manifest.
But what about when it comes to books? I see that the news posts here on the blog have dealt occasionally with the effects of COVID-19 on the publishing industry since March (summary version: book sales are up, particularly in digital, and so too with digital library offerings, as more library users make use of them). Most of the data, however, is coming from traditional publishers and indie bookstores (which are still struggling). Publishers Weekly (and probably many other organizations) keeps an updated list of COVID-19-related cancellations and postponements––again, privileging the traditionally published lineup, which is usually decided years in advance.
Getting a handle on just how this same situation is affecting those who choose to go indie is another matter. For one thing, self-published books don’t require the same long (up to two-years!) run-up to release as their traditionally published cousins, so there are very few compendiums of upcoming indie publications to build buzz. As we’ve seen throughout this last year, it is entirely feasible to progress from initial thoughts through writing and publication within two months with self-publishing, although we don’t recommend that many sleepless nights to everyone who wants to publish in the next year. (Chances are, anyway, that you have already been working on a manuscript before you read this post.)
Where do we look for self-published book statistics these days? Publishing through Amazon might be an indicator (and the company does love to release its self-reported statistics when they’re good news for them), but due to Amazon’s diversification and movement into the traditional publishing sphere with its own imprint and so forth, “publishing through Amazon” can look any one of a hundred different ways. It is not necessarily a good indicator of general self-publishing statistics anymore, in my opinion––the data I’ve seen talks big about the total amount its authors have earned in the last year, but the company hasn’t released any comparative reports to pre-COVID-19 times, or on whether their authorship has remained steady, much less grown.
About the only people reporting on the effects of COVID-19 on self-publishing are individual authors themselves, on their blogs or in their newsletters or social media feeds. To my knowledge, no one has a good handle on how many books are self-published even during a good year, much less this last year (this is because ISBN purchases, while tracked rather well, only apply to those authors who choose them––and they aren’t required for the publication of ebooks). Perhaps I’m so stuck on this because I myself work in the industry, and I want to know just how the virus’ long-term effects will challenge and/or benefit those authors I work with on a daily basis. Do we even know?
I’ve heard by word of mouth and on social media that many authors are struggling to write because of the persistence of work-from-home directives continuing for a large sector of the marketplace, and because many schools are also either working remotely or in hybrid systems. I’ve also heard that there is a huge wave of pandemic-related works in the pipeline for publication in the near future, although most traditional publishers haven’t quite gotten there without cutting corners. I’ve heard a lot of stories involving children’s books, particularly, when it comes to pandemic-related publications this last year, with the first ones appearing within months of the outbreak, published by schoolteachers and grandparents and other caregivers. But these are just the stories that I, Elizabeth, have heard. I am not representative of the entire industry, for sure.
What have you heard? Do you think we still need to talk about the pandemic when it comes to self-publishing, as I do? I’d love to hear your stories. And as always, I’d love to hear about your 2021 writing goals. ♣︎