Photo: Waterbrookmultnomah.com

With book publishing staff being furloughed, laid off, working from home and ending up utterly distracted by how to sew a facemark, control the kids, try to get a food delivery time slot, or otherwise descending into turmoil, maybe this might not be the best moment to take your baby and show it off to a potential sugar daddy. Perhaps it would be wiser to keep that beautiful new manuscript under wraps, and maybe even make a start on creating a new project? What’s a poor writer to do?

Seems from this Publishers Weekly article that it’s a toss up. Some agents suggest holding off on submitting your manuscript; others admit that publishers still actually do need books. A publisher is quoted as opining that covid doesn’t seem to have made much difference to the rate of submissions.

Unless you are in the high stakes area, where one might justifiably expect publishers to be a more bit cautious with advances and generous extra contract clauses than usual, it seems to me that this is probably as good a time as any to submit your proposal. Publishers definitely will be wanting to publish books en masse once anything like a normal market is reestablished, so go ahead and get your place in the queue. After all, if you don’t like this publisher’s response, you don’t have to reach an agreement, and can try the next one. At this moment time is on your side.

From the sidelines it begins to look like a new normal is beginning to be established in the book business. On the supply side there may end up being serious losses, with a resultant need to reduce print runs in order to share capacity. (Easy to say, but of course it’ll be hard to share; though print runs will probably be sharply down anyway, at least for a while. Safe profit will being to look much more attractive than speculative high margins.) On the distribution side, nuts and bolts are still in need of tightening, but at least the nuts and bolts appear to have been identified. The business which resumes after the crisis may end up being quite a bit different from the old one. To some extent it depends on how long the shut down continues (and more ominously, when the second wave hits, and just how bad it turns out to be) but one might confidently speculate that a greater proportion of sales will be made on-line, whether via Bookshop, Amazon, Ingram, Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart and lots of other quite surprising outlets. I do expect and hope that many local independent bookstores will be able to reopen, and B&N will be making a brave showing. They’ve been spending the shut-down rejigging their stores, which they were planning to do anyway. Ebooks spiked a bit in the early days of the crisis, but may already, or will soon return to their “normal” situation. (Isn’t it weird how annoying it seems to be to the ebook-boosting crowd that lots of people still persist in wanting physical books?)

The New York Times published an interesting article on Tuesday with data on credit card spending complied by EarnestResearch.