Industry Update for Authors During the Pandemic

[A variation of today’s post was sent to our clients last week, but by request I was asked to update it and make these thoughts available to everyone.]
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I hope this note finds you well among this global scourge which has affected us and our loved ones. As you hunker in your bunker for awhile, you may have wondered about the state of the publishing industry.

Editorial

For now things have been fairly normal on the editorial side. Once publishers got their people working remotely, if they weren’t already, there have been considerable results. For example, our agency has secured 19 new contracts in the last three weeks, including a film-rights deal. We hope there are more to come. That is quite encouraging. I told one editor during a conference call, “Please remind management that stopping work today will have a negative effect on sales in 2022 because we are all acquiring for the future!”

However, a few publishers have begun, out of necessity, instituting some austerity measures. These have taken a variety of forms: hiring freezes, four-day work weeks, furloughed workers in selected departments, layoffs in some areas, or temporary salary cuts (both volunteer and mandated). But behind the scenes, there is a general sense of business as usual. The biggest initial disruption was having to set up an entire company to work remotely. For one publisher it took four working days to get everyone situated with the right equipment and secure access to the company server. And then to set a regular video-conferencing schedule after deciding which platform would work best.

If you are a publisher and wish to share your situation, please do so in the comments below.

Printing and Production

As of this writing, most printing companies are considered essential businesses, so that part of the production process has stayed steady. I know of a new print order that was done at a printer just a couple days ago. At the same time, Quad, a large printing company, unexpectedly closed its doors on March 31, which has sent some publishers scrambling. But Quad had been in financial trouble since a planned buyout fell through late last year.

Book Sales

There are immediate concerns as they relate to sales. With bookstores shuttering these past weeks, much has had to go online. (Remember that ebooks were already online.) It is interesting to note that the Christian market already endured the shuttering of the Cokesbury chain, the Family Christian chain, and the Lifeway chain. This means publishers previously pivoted in their sales efforts away from a heavy reliance on brick and mortar stores. Plus their marketing departments had moved a huge part of their work into digital media.

NPD Bookscan is the industry’s sole data-gathering tool for print sales. Its information relies on reports from retail outlets. It is not an exhaustive picture of all print sales, but it is data that can be compared week by week. Unfortunately, last week saw a 9% drop in print sales in the U.S. Baked into that number was an increase of 13% in juvenile book sales. This means the adult categories were hit hard. Adult fiction was down 21% and adult nonfiction down 16.8%. Of all the adult categories, however, religion saw the lowest decrease of only 5%.

Remember, this is data for one week of sales. It will fluctuate, and it is only print sales for reporting outlets, not ebooks and not for stores or online stores that don’t report. But it does portend the potential for a rough April for print book sales with physical stores having to close their doors.

With physical stores being unavailable for walk-ins, robust book sales will be problematic in the short term and challenging down the road. Think of it this way: If a store is unable to reopen, they would return as much of their inventory as possible, or just declare bankruptcy and let the invoices remain unpaid, which would be treated as a return by the publisher. We saw this in our industry when Family Christian Stores went bankrupt twice in a short period of time. Don’t forget that, in general, publishers and authors weathered those difficult events. This is an important lesson to remember. Try not to let short-term circumstances define your reactions, emotionally, physically, or spiritually.

Online Bookstores

Amazon.com is a default for many seeking the physical printed book. But don’t forget other alternatives like Lifeway.com, Christianbook.com, Mardel.com, Parable.com, and BakerBookHouse.com. Plus your local store may still be shipping from its location! Give them a call or check their website.

There are also bn.com (Barnes & Noble), bamm.com (Books A Million), Bookshop.org (*in beta testing* is a network of independent general-market bookstores that might serve your local community’s bookstore), and even Walmart.com has a robust online book selection. If you don’t know where your local store is located or its website, go to Indiebound.com for a directory of general-market stores; or go to getitlocaltoday.com for access to more than 3,000 Christian bookstores in the U.S.

My listing of online store options is not exhaustive by any means, but the point is that there are many places where you can still buy books.

Some of your local stores have curbside pickup and still take your orders. (Our local Barnes & Noble provides this service in their parking lot for online orders. They will send an email when the order is ready.)

One more thing to note. Ingram Distributors (which has Spring Arbor as one of its subsidiaries) is still shipping books to stores as before. They supply brick-and-mortar stores and online stores to fulfill those deep backlist titles via special orders. This means the supply chain from publisher to major distributors to retail outlets is intact.

When Writing Your Book

One editorial note to consider when you are writing your next book, whether fiction (if a contemporary setting) or nonfiction, be careful of overusing this current crisis in your story or your anecdotes. The concepts on your mind are fresh. But remember the same thing happened after 9/11. The books that leaned too far into that experience felt dated within a couple years. It will take some creative thinking on your part if you feel led to write about this crisis. Mostly because the books written today will not see the marketplace for quite some time. By then there may be another issue of some nature (hopefully not this widespread) that may be in the headlines.

One More Thing

It is a strange time for us all, around the globe. We are apart and yet together in common disruption. And yet we share a risen Lord who conquered sin through his death and who then conquered death through his resurrection. It is no longer we who live, but Jesus Christ who lives in us. Therefore, we have eternal certainty in any and every outcome in the physical realm.

34 Responses to Industry Update for Authors During the Pandemic

  1. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson April 6, 2020 at 4:12 am #

    I’m currently launching a new title in all this craziness, and it’s been interesting. Print sales through Amazon have definitely dropped off a cliff. This is going to be tricky to navigate. But it’s the perfect time to stress non-Amazon sales, digital sales, and audiobook sales. This has still been my best launch to date.

    • Avatar
      Elizabeth McCallum Marlow April 6, 2020 at 8:57 am #

      Thank you for your invaluable comments. Authors need a great deal of encouragement and help during this worrying time when fear and panic swirl around us. More than ever in our lifetimes, Christians need to remind ourselves that God is working His purposes out, and perhaps He will inspire another spiritual awakening in this land and throughout the world. If that is indeed His purpose, the suffering and inconvenience we are experiencing now will be infinitely worthwhile.

      My recently published anthology of thirteen centuries of God-honoring poetry, Timeless Devotional Poetry, may offer comfort and inspiration at a time such as this.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube April 6, 2020 at 9:47 am #

      Brennan,

      Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

  2. Avatar
    Shirlee Abbott April 6, 2020 at 4:21 am #

    Remember the ditty, “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning till the break of day”? Folks added silly verses:
    “Give me uption in my gumption, make me function, function, function.”
    “Give me gas in my Ford. keep me puttin’ for the Lord.”

    You inspire a new one, Steve:
    “As I hunker in my bunker, keep me writing that slam-dunker.”

    Thank you for my Monday morning smile.

    • Avatar
      Rhonda delamoriniere April 6, 2020 at 6:27 am #

      I had to comment because this is just precious.
      God bless you, and the work of your hands.

    • Avatar
      Cathy Mayfield April 6, 2020 at 7:09 am #

      Love your new ditty, Shirlee! 🙂

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube April 6, 2020 at 9:54 am #

      Here is my Covid-19 version:

      Get a mask for my face
      While I shelter in my place

      Other fun variations of that classic song:

      Give me salt for my Fritos
      Cause the Lord is really neato

      Give me gas for my Chevy
      Keep my testimony heavy

      Give me wax for my board
      Keep me surfing for the Lord (we used this one in Hawaii)

      Give me Nikes for my feet,
      I’ll be preachin’ on the street

      Give me wheels for my skates,
      Then I’ll roll to heavens gate.

    • Avatar
      Deb Gruelle April 8, 2020 at 8:54 am #

      I love this, Shirley! Guess what song I won’t be able to get out of my head today?

  3. Avatar
    Jeff Adams April 6, 2020 at 5:40 am #

    Thanks, Steve, for the timely info and encouragement. We especially need to keep our eyes on the longer goal which is larger—writing what will be relevant no matter what crisis we face.

  4. Avatar
    Nancy Lohr April 6, 2020 at 5:46 am #

    I am the acquisitions editor for JourneyForth books, the trade division of BJU Press. My parent company, BJU Press, is a producer of K5-12 curriculum for Christian schools and homeschools. The educational component of our business, especially our Distance Learning division at this moment, qualifies our company as an essential business in our state. About 25% of our people are working from home due to handle childcare and health needs in the homes, and those still working on site are practicing social distancing, hand washing, and common sense. I came home on the 16th of March, one of the earliest to do go off site, because of my husband’s health. I was fully up to speed in under 24 hours. I have been busy. I have written one contract on a new manuscript, launched production on another book, and have done a lot of uninterrupted reading of submissions. This week I will begin the line edit/copyedit of a new manuscript. I’ve also written a COVID-19 policy extending fair use to churches and schools who need to use the internet as a delivery system for the foreseeable future, and I spend a bit of time daily corresponding with those who want that permission or need a viable solution. People have been gracious and patient. Psalm 91 is a comfort, and today I work and rest under His feathers (v. 4).

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube April 6, 2020 at 9:55 am #

      Nancy,

      Thank you so much for the detailed report. Kudos to BJU press for making materials readily available to families with children at home!

  5. Avatar
    Rhonda Delamoriniere April 6, 2020 at 6:19 am #

    I love your last part best. Jesus is still alive!
    There is also the option of making a notice on your neighborhood app if you have books on hand and offering to do front porch delivery to your neighbors.
    I did this just last week with all my remaining bible studies and it has been the greatest blessing to watch Jesus come alive here all around me as I have come to know my neighbors and found ways to tangibly bless them (from the porch).
    What a different, difficult, yet beautiful time we are in. So much it reminds me more and more of our early church.
    God bless everyone.

    • Avatar
      Sonja April 6, 2020 at 7:58 am #

      What a wonderful idea, Rhonda! I’m going to put a notice on my neighborhood Facebook page today for my two books, including my children’s novel that reminds kids that God is with them, even in the most trying of circumstances. Thank you for posting!

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube April 6, 2020 at 9:56 am #

      Rhonda,

      That is a great idea. With the libraries closed we can become our own lending library!

  6. Avatar
    Carly Riordan April 6, 2020 at 6:59 am #

    Thanks Steve, a great and positive take on our current situation. I listened to your interview this week and you finished with the same words as you did in this post. I kept rewinding to hear them again. ‘ We are apart and yet together in common disruption. And yet we share a risen Lord who conquered sin through his death and who then conquered death through his resurrection. It is no longer we who live, but Jesus Christ who lives in us. Therefore, we have eternal certainty in any and every outcome in the physical realm.’

    A timely reminder. Thank you.

  7. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser April 6, 2020 at 7:03 am #

    When the storm has gone away
    and the stars come out again,
    we will face a hard-won day
    of joy and quick-remembered pain.
    Empty spaces will be filled
    by new minds and newer faces,
    but of beloved voices stilled,
    there’s no balm of time replaces
    what God placed into these hearts
    that now recede into the past;
    though passing days push us apart,
    it’s up to us to pause and cast
    a backward glance, and more, to give
    meet honour to the lives they lived.

  8. Avatar
    Cathy Mayfield April 6, 2020 at 7:17 am #

    Steve, I remember sitting, shaking in my seat, while you critiqued my story at Montrose back in the late ’90s. This week, I’m working on a novel I started 12 years ago and put away. The Spirit is urging me to get at it when I thought my path was still in nonfiction. So once again, I sit shaking in my seat, trying to figure out how I became a fiction writer after so many years away from it. And to my amazement, it’s not half bad! LOL! I’ve honed many skills since that long-ago critique and have been told by several publishers that fiction-writing is one of them! We’ll see what happens when the world gets back on track, and everyone runs to the bookstores to buy the latest books. Maybe mine could be counted as one of those. (Not holding my breath … but it counts to be positive!) Blessings!

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube April 6, 2020 at 9:59 am #

      Cathy,

      And 20+ years go by in a flash. Good reminder to everyone that what you have in the drawer or file cabinet or buried in the hard drive is still waiting for your renewed attention.

      I remember that Montrose conference partly because of the beautiful drive to get there. And the lake by the center where I took one of the conferee’s kid (their son) out in the lake for a canoe ride one afternoon during free time.

  9. Avatar
    Shirley Brosius April 6, 2020 at 7:49 am #

    Thank you, Steve and company, for consistently giving us good information about the publishing industry.

  10. Avatar
    Jeff Flaig April 6, 2020 at 9:12 am #

    I believe that this pandemic was set upon the world to bring a government to Israel. When God does something, it is always a big deal. With the peace treaty knocking at the door, Israel could not form a government. If Netanyahu or the left had gotten into power the peace treaty might have been signed or torn up, prematurely. God’s timing is everything. If anything, this pandemic has shown us that we don’t have much time left on this earth. I am not dogmatic about this, but it is interesting that this next year will be 73 years since Israel became a nation. Assuming that the generation that will not pass would be 80 years and end with the tribulation, you can imagine just how close we could be.
    Now, I love to write, I hope to write though out eternity, but like books written about 9/11, I must assume that the books I have written now, will mean little after the rapture. I will probably be embarrassed by how much I got wrong. ugh!

    I suspect that it won’t matter much at that time as our minds will be other things and for me sales will not even be a flicker in my mind.

    I don’t think anyone before or after the rapture will be compelled to write for any other reason than a good story. Again, I hope to tell stories for the rest of eternity. Also, there is something about writing that doesn’t end itself because good or bad situations, personally or globally. Writers are going to write.

    Oh, right, times are tough right now, but soon it won’t matter.

  11. Avatar
    Christy Albrecht April 6, 2020 at 9:21 am #

    Thank you so much — this is really insightful. I’m missing my local library quite a lot during this period. I’m eager to stock my bookshelves as soon as I’m in a permanent home! For now, I’ll stick with my treasured few, and remember that God sees the future as clearly as the present.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube April 6, 2020 at 10:01 am #

      While the library is closed for physical books, you can still check out their ebooks using OverDrive or something similar. No cost to you and works on any device you use to read ebooks (except for the kindle).

      Overdrive uses ePub files which the kindle cannot read. But you can read them on your phone or tablet or laptop using the app.

      • Avatar
        Kay DiBianca April 6, 2020 at 11:41 am #

        As we quarantine to stay alive,
        I thank the Lord for Overdrive!

  12. Avatar
    Linda April 6, 2020 at 9:44 am #

    Thank you for this current update as a lot of my concerns were addressed in this posting. And while we are all going through a time of uncertainty, it is encouraging to know that particular areas of the industry are still doing their best to sustain “business as usual” and/or making the best of our given circumstances. Again, many thanks!

  13. Avatar
    Catherine April 6, 2020 at 10:33 am #

    “And yet we share a risen Lord who conquered sin through his death and who then conquered death through his resurrection.” A phrase as elegant as a dove in flight.

  14. Avatar
    Jan K. Potter April 6, 2020 at 11:48 am #

    Thank you Steve. Great article. Now is a good time to be writing, while we shelter at home!

  15. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka April 6, 2020 at 1:06 pm #

    I hear a lot of practicality and optimism in your words, Steve. Thanks for the sound advice and perspective. Both are needed in this time!

  16. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. April 6, 2020 at 1:44 pm #

    Steve, thanks for the information. You are always informative and always right up to date.

  17. Avatar
    Mary Hollingsworth April 6, 2020 at 2:59 pm #

    Steve, our company serves as an official hiring vendor for several major Christian publishers, such as Zondervan, Thomas Nelson, and Harvest House. We host 240 of the top freelancers in the Christian publishing industry all of whom were already working from home. I’m happy to say, so far, our work is continuing as it has for the past few years. We also produce books for independent clients, and those seem to be continuing as before. We are, of course, grateful to God for the ongoing work. It is encouraging and full of hope.

  18. Avatar
    Martha Rogers April 7, 2020 at 12:56 pm #

    Thank you, Steve, for keeping us up to date. Because of my age and health issues, I’m pretty much home bound but with my computer, I can keep on writing and I keep reading new books on my Kindle. Those are great blessings for me right now.

  19. Avatar
    Abigail Lawrence April 7, 2020 at 11:42 pm #

    Thank you!
    Are you still accepting queries by mail still, or with the quarantine, do you prefer that they be sent electronically?

    Thank you,

    Abbey

  20. Avatar
    Jaime Jo Wright April 8, 2020 at 9:10 am #

    Great state of the union post! Always encouraging to remember words are enduring.

  21. Avatar
    Kathy April 11, 2020 at 2:14 pm #

    Thanks so much for this informative post on what’s going on in the industry at this time. I also appreciated and learned from your recent webinar with Thomas Umstattd! I’m sure these things are taking lots of time, but they’re so helpful!

    I really enjoyed all the creative additions to the song coming in the comments!

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