Did your book get pushed a season? So did almost everyone else’s. So the efforts to avoid the Covid sinkhole pushed you into the overcrowded Hellscape that is the fall 2020 book season. If you’re starting to hyperventilate, just try to release your inner poet: none of this really matters in the end. I mean, yes, you might be looking for a new day job to fund the writing of your next novel instead of a fat advance, but welcome to the fucking club.
The main sellers since lockdown have been the big names, the “bankers” everyone already knows about (JK Rowling, David Walliams, Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, et al), and the main beneficiaries have been the big multinationals – sales are up at Bloomsbury, for instance, by 28%. Small presses have struggled to survive, while lesser known and new authors have been published with little fanfare. Shopping for books on Amazon or in the supermarkets (where publishers pay for display space, an advantage independents can ill afford) simply does not allow for the serendipity of stumbling on an author one hasn’t read before. Bookshops in big city centres are still seeing low footfall and are wary of taking risks.
The books business can sometimes feel like fast fashion – pile ’em high, move ’em along a couple of weeks later to make space for the next new thing. This speed is inimical to the way in which books are actually read, and to the slow and unpredictable ways in which a culture is actually enriched. And in such a publishing climate, the window for making an impact already feels small.