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As we settle into the new normal and gradually take more and more deep dives into our own daily best business practices, I imagine there will be plenty of minds within book publishing – authors and publishers alike – trying to understand what our world will look like when we come out the other side of this period of huge social change.
Alongside ensuring some sense of continuity for authors and those on the monthly payroll, we’re imagining some will have been thinking about the new innovations that may start to take hold. After all, out of adversity always comes the manifestation of human ingenuity.
Authors get creative
While authors have long been using social media to advertise their books, Covid-19 has heralded the beginning of a necessarily entirely digital publication process: no book launches, no press tours, and no physical books available to browse and buy in bookshops. For a while, there was an outpouring of panic: How can I make my content available to as wide a group of people as possible online? How will my book’s publication timeline be affected? How do I facilitate a virtual launch? But then the bigger questions started to be asked: Might the systemic barriers to taking a book to market at speed disappear almost overnight, and how might I use that to my advantage? Should I be using this enforced ‘down time’ to write new digital first short stories, or narrative non-fiction to make available to my readers? All in a matter of weeks, innovative authors have seized the uncertainty, put their heads together and devised exciting plans to promote their books: book launches go virtual, authors offer free writing courses to boost their social engagement and online literary festivals are launched offering virtual press tours and panel discussions.
So maybe we will start to see new patterns embedded within the traditional arc of publication timelines in which writers and readers can share and consume more content virtually.
‘The country seems to be broadly split between three groups of people: key workers, those working from home, and those working from home with children’
Parents embark on a new career: teaching
The country seems to be broadly split between three groups of people: key workers, those working from home, and those working from home with children. Spare a thought for the parents facilitating Zoom chats while children play in the background, or pound on their office door.
If your children cannot go to school, how do you best encourage and supplement your prescribed home learning? How do you stop Netflix and Nintendo Switch dictating life during social isolation? Luckily, authors and publishers alike have been quick to make sure there’s plenty of resources to keep the young ones active while you keep busy. Joe Wicks (AKA The Body Coach) is keeping children fit with daily P.E. lessons from home, Carol Vorderman is teaching maths, children’s author Oliver Jeffers is live streaming stay-at-home story time on Instagram and illustrator and author Mo Willems allows viewers worldwide to take part in a ‘lunch doodle’ where they can combine writing and drawing.
‘Can we expect to see this generation’s literary phenomenon and ‘biggest seller of the year’ come out of left field?’
Publishers, meet the 21st century
While bigger book brands are choosing to shift their release season á la James Bond, can we expect to see this generation’s literary phenomenon and ‘biggest seller of the year’ come out of left field, one of a stream of books written in lockdown? And publishers are having to ask important questions of their process and organisations – how do you prioritise POD within your workflow and keep producing quality audio content when recording studios are closed? Can remote working actually be a positive force for change and encourage more efficient, less email-reliant ways of regular communication? As with new measures hastily rushed into place by Government, perhaps this period will finally prompt publishing to embrace new processes and maybe even new technologies, such as Slack?
‘In lieu of a social life (excluding the virtual pub), it’s important to practice mindfulness and self-care.’
WFBB (working from bubble bath)
Of course, remote working has its challenges, and while we all adjust to the one-minute commute and the shirt/sweatpants combo, it’s important to remember those event organisers, duty managers and meeting-hoppers. How will the people who are always on their feet adjust to their new desk job? In lieu of a social life (excluding the virtual pub), it’s important to practice mindfulness and self-care. Take a look at author Rachel Syme’s Twitter thread of luxurious hobbies and activities to indulge in (who said you couldn’t work from a bubble bath or on a long walks?), and why not order one of Jia Tolentino’s recommended ‘books about disruption, emergency, solitude, love and loneliness’ – one of them is bound to suit your mood. If all else fails, there’s always online yoga – we recommend Yoga with Adriene, who leads you through techniques to ease anxiety, reduce stress and distract you from going on Twitter.
A few days into our version of the lockdown, there are many more intriguing questions than solid answers. It’s an unpredictable, turbulent time but with social media, time on your hands and the right team, we’re beginning to think anything is possible. The final question, as we are all embracing WFH, is when will the Chief Medical Officer start adding to the daily updates by issuing warnings on how much coffee it’s safe to drink?