word craft


Publishing after Covid

books on table in library

While in many respects the Covid pan­dem­ic is behind us (but not, sad­ly, com­plete­ly) it has had a long-term impact on many aspects of our soci­ety. That includes the world of books and pub­lish­ing and the peo­ple who cre­ate them.

At first, there was an over­all increase in books sold even though there was a decrease in book­store sales. Indeed, at first, there was a report­ed increase in read­ing. The expla­na­tion: peo­ple stay­ing home and an increase in online sales becom­ing the pri­ma­ry way read­ers pur­chase books.

At the same time, there was a big drop in trade book sales, which meant the author’s income declined, along with a rad­i­cal drop in the author’s free­lance work and speak­ing engage­ments — con­fer­ences, and school vis­its. These speak­ing engage­ments not only con­tribute to writ­ers’ income direct­ly, but they also pro­mote their books — which bring sales.

I can relate to some of this in terms of my own expe­ri­ence. My Gold Rush Girl was pub­lished just as the pan­dem­ic explod­ed. I had an exten­sive book tour planned to share and pro­mote the book, only to have it all can­celed, the can­ce­la­tions com­ing day after day until the whole tour van­ished. To be sure I can­celled some of them myself. The tour was nev­er revived. 

Else­where, my in-school vis­its van­ished even as schools them­selves closed down. Vir­tu­al vis­its did increase and while they are fine, they are not the same (or as much fun) as face-to-face meetings.

The way pub­lish­ing hous­es work also changed. The short of it was — as else­where — in-house office work adjust­ed. One of my edi­tors who worked for a NYC pub­lish­er moved to the west coast. Anoth­er edi­tor, though on the East Coast, at first stopped going into her office, and then, as the pan­dem­ic eased, went in only for a cou­ple of days per week. Anoth­er edi­tor I knew only went to the office for two days every three weeks. Even as the high point of the pan­dem­ic fad­ed, these pat­terns of work continued.

After the main brunt of the pan­dem­ic was over, I went to one of my editor’s offices. The very large office com­plex was aston­ish­ing­ly emp­ty (a great con­trast to what it had been before) and when I got there, I had a long wait to find some­one who could find my edi­tor — anoth­er long wait.

I don’t work in such offices, but over the years I’ve been to vis­it many for meet­ings, and they were always busy places. No longer. It’s hard to believe that the lack of imme­di­ate inter­ac­tion among book-mak­ing col­leagues has not changed the dynam­ics of pub­lish­ing, and not for the bet­ter. Pub­lish­ing has famous­ly been collaborative.

Then there is the issue of young read­ers them­selves. With schools and libraries shut down, there was a huge shift to online instruc­tion, which obvi­ous­ly includes read­ing. But dig­i­tal read­ing is far less effec­tive in terms of com­pre­hen­sion, flu­en­cy, and for that mat­ter plea­sure. Social media fol­low­ing grew great­ly. It’s hard­ly a sur­prise that in the world of mid­dle school read­ing (my world), the biggest growth has been in graph­ic books. I have noth­ing against graph­ic nov­els (My City of Light, City of Dark is one of the ear­ly ones), but these books are not pri­mar­i­ly of a lit­er­ary nature, which is the uni­verse I inhabit.

Then there is the explo­sion of self-publishing.

Pub­lish­ers Week­ly reports: “Accord­ing to Book­stats, which col­lects online sales data in real-time from Ama­zon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble across the print book, e‑book, and dig­i­tal audio­book for­mats, self-pub­lished authors cap­tured 51% of over­all e‑book unit sales last year and more than 34% of e‑book retail rev­enue, com­pared to 31% in 2021.” 

In 2011 there were 526,907 self-pub­lished books.

In 2021: 2,298,004.

I recent­ly spoke to a long-term and suc­cess­ful edi­tor. I asked, “Where do you think the world of pub­lish­ing is heading?”

She laughed and said, “I have no idea.”

I didn’t laugh.

1 thought on “Publishing after Covid”

  1. I got goose­bumps read­ing this…not the good kind. Thank you for putting all these thoughts, most of which I’ve had, in your blog. Lit­er­ary books are flail­ing and that’s where I live too, even though I write pic­ture books. I’m not laugh­ing either. Thank you, Avi.


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