Last week, I wrote about the worries published authors face when it comes to the impact of lockdown on sales of their books.
Another big concern for us is how this might affect book contracts, including advances.
We authors know it’s never a certainty we’ll get a new contract… and that’s in the best of times! Now we’re in the midst of one of the worst of times, the worry that hangs over our heads is compounded.
So let's address specific concerns and see what agents and editors are saying about it all:
Will editors be more cautious when offering new contracts?
All the editors I’ve spoken to have told me they absolutely want to continue seeing new book submissions from their current authors and new ones too.
As literary agent Joanna Swainson of Hardman & Swainson pointed out: “No publishers will want to be left with publishing gaps and empty lists when things return to ‘normal’ (or the new normal).”
Editors I spoke to confirmed it's business as usual too. Sammia Hamer, my editor at Amazon Publishing imprint Lake Union, told me: "We’re still offering deals on new books and continuing to receive new submissions."
Isobel Akenhead, Associate Publisher at Bookouture said the same: 'We’re continuing to publish as normal, as well as to enthusiastically read (and indeed acquire!) submissions both via our direct submissions portal and from literary agents."
But this is an ever-changing situation. Each day seems to present a new statistic, a new challenge. While editors seem enthusiastic now, adjusting to a new world and a new economy will mean decisions made now might not be made in the coming months.
So my advice: if you're on the verge of pitching a new idea, do it as soon as possible. If you have an idea you were thinking about pitching in a few weeks, bring that forward. Do it now. Things could be very different in a few weeks.
How will this affect international deals?
While this is a global epidemic, countries are at different stages of their fight against coronavirus and this is being reflected in offers from overseas.
Rights Director at Hardman & Swainson, Thérèse Coen, confirmed this: ‘As Europe slows down, it seems that the Asian markets are slowly waking up again. We’ve had more contact with and requests for material from our co-agents there, so hopefully they will be catching up on the titles they’ve missed in the last couple of months, meaning things should balance out a little. Several publishers in Spain and Italy have paused publications for a few months, which will cause publication schedules to shift back and/or be fuller for a while, so inevitably publishers will be acquiring a little less or just acquiring for later schedules. So whereas they would now be buying for 2021, they will be buying for 2022 instead.’
Are editors still working to the same schedules and are acquisition meetings still taking place?
At the moment, it seems that publishing staff are doing all they can to keep working at the same rate. But many editors will face their own personal challenges, whether that be the presence of children and other families members at home or just the general stresses of living through these tough times. But the editors I spoke to are keen to let me know they're working hard to keep up.
Phoebe Morgan, Editorial Director at HarperCollins confirmed: "Our acquisitions meetings are held over video conference, and I’m planning to make an offer for a brilliant new novel later this week as it stands." In fact, Phoebe did make that offer, as she shared in a recent tweet:.
Isobel Akenhead agreed but was keen to point out that it goes both ways: authors might not be able to meet demands: "At this stage, we haven’t made many schedule changes, but we are also being mindful and keeping in very regular contact with our authors, to make sure they know we can be wholly flexible, and to ensure we aren’t putting them under any additional pressure at this incredibly challenging time. The publishing industry is fuelled by passion and creativity, and we believe the way to keep those fires burning is to support our authors as best we can."
So this could even mean your book release being changed as other authors struggle to reach deadlines.
Will advances be affected?
This is an area that's a real unknown and I get the impression publishers will be taking a 'wait and see' approach.
As Phoebe Morgan at HarperCollin told me: "We are progressing in exactly the same way, but we are of course having to be mindful of the retail market and the upheaval the industry is facing. For some imprints this will inevitably mean tightening their belts when it comes to advances, and in a sense every book we buy now is a leap of faith as the retailer situation is changing day by day. We very much hope that when all this is over, there will still be bookshops and supermarkets that are able to stock books but obviously there are lots of unknowns around that at this particular point in time."
I personally think authors may well see a drop in advances offered, whether this be because, as Phoebe pointed out, publishers need to tighten their belts or because (let's be honest) this crisis provides a convenient excuse to offer lower advances than usual.
This is where agents can be handy. They will be able to sense if it's just an excuse and push back, citing the fact that books bought now generally won’t be publishing for a year or so and who knows what the situation will be like then?
But brace yourself for the possibility. Just like in a 'normal' job, as we enter an inevitable recession, this will impact on how much we get paid. Get your finances in order. Now is the time to pull in the belt. Unsubscribe to tools you're not even using. Cut down on those Tassimo pods. Write harder. Write faster.
Have a look at what help you can get, from the Government's help for the self-employed to the Society of Authors who are offering emergency funding.
This isn't to scare you. This is the advice I'd give anyone in any industry in these circumstances.
Either way, we're all in this boat together. Just a case of holding on and getting support from one another as we navigate these rocky seas.