Publishers, agents, authors, and illustrators now heroically face an invisible foe. However, creative people have powerful solutions and wise workarounds to battle this hazard. The Princess in Black comes to the rescue! Publishers Marketplace has strategies. Agent Extraordinaire Literaticat assesses the situation. Illustrators and authors show what they are made of and offer hope.
Publishers and creatives helping kids (and us!) cope
If you are a parent as well as an author or illustrator, you will benefit from this.
Candlewick Publishing offers a free e-book version of the popular Princess in Black books, written to help kids understand how to stay safe during the pandemic. Or go to the Candlewick Stay Home website for “Way-not-boring” activities from Timmy Failure, Maisy, Judy Moody, Tom Gates, and others, or subscribe to writing advice from Kate DiCamillo from her safe, snug home to yours.
Publishers Survey Their Assets
Yesterday’s Publisher’s Lunch (April 29, 2020) from Publishersmarketplace.com, which covers both adult and children’s books, gives some clues about the health of the industry. I receive the free version, which doesn’t have lots of detail, but it is a useful survey. They posted 51 new book deals (sounds good, right?) and listed editorial job promotions at Putnam and Simon & Schuster as well as layoffs at Macmillan, St. Martin’s, Holt, and Farrar, unfortunately including Tor’s YA editor Melissa Frain. Their encouraging news was that “Juvenile book sales remained strong, at 4.387 million units, up only slightly compared to the previous week.”
Also noted, the Booth Emergency Fund for Writers, was formulated by Literary Arts in Oregon to provide financial relief to Oregon writers. They will issue awards of $1,000 each to 100 eligible writers in the first application period, and are “prioritizing funding for writers identifying as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color.”
The 4/28 issue of Publisher’s Weekly titled How Kidlit is responding to the Coronavirus lists freebies galore, available now due to the quarantine. Speaking of which, here is a middle-grade webcast serial about Quaran-TEEN by Aiden Tyler posted by the Junior Library Guild.
PW’s Children’s Bookshelf headlines several articles on the effects the virus has had on the publishing industry as well as on artists and authors. In particular, Children’s Books and Authors Affected by the Coronavirus: April 16, 2020, highlights the steps publishers and authors are taking to mitigate the effects. The problem of schools, libraries, and bookstores being closed is compounded by the postponement or cancellation of book tours and school visits. But creativity wins by adapting to virtual launches, author YouTube channels, and even virtual festivals like Everywhere Bookfest to be held today and tomorrow, May 1st and 2nd.
The background image on Caldecott award winner Brian Lies’ facebook page illustrates the current mood well. It is from his book The Rough Patch. He is missing interactions with kids during now-cancelled or postponed appearances. Authors and illustrators are necessarily hermits when working on their books since complete focus is all-important. However, school visits and book signings give creators valuable face to face exchanges that are energizing and help clarify what works and does not with their readers. And they are just plain fun. Zoom or Skype are reasonable substitutes in disaster time. But what can replace the SCBWI conference with a thousand or more of your peers? (Hint: there is a save-the-date message below.)
Jennifer Laughran, who many of you know as an agent at Andrea Brown, posted a link on tumblr not long ago that was a realistic assessment of where things stand. Best of Ask the Agent: Taking the Temperature of Publishing Today will likely make you eager to sign up for her newsletter. She shares the good news and the bad, in human terms.
A brief excerpt:
I would say I’m submitting very judiciously, bearing in mind that editors probably are stressed on a number of levels, as I am. Theme-wise, I personally am avoiding extremely dark and upsetting books in this moment – I tend to think that most editors of my acquaintance would prefer distracting fun, joy, and optimism. (As would I.)
Here’s the bad news:
At this exact moment, there are editors and agents who are sick themselves, or have family members who are sick, or who are recovering. There are editors and agents who are stir-crazy from being trapped in their NYC studio apartments for a month, or scared, or depressed, or just feeling EFFING DISCOMBOBULATED (that’s me!). There are editors and agents who suddenly have to learn to homeschool and figure out how to balance full-time-toddler-entertainer with working from home. You get the idea. We’re people.
She talks about publishing being a “long game,” which is a reassuring thought actually. And about “belt-tightening.” She says, “Publishing HAS survived pandemics, disasters, depressions and world wars. I am 100% positive that the book industry in general will emerge from this and be OK in the long term… but individuals may well not be. Some bookstores won’t make it. Some publishers will shutter. Some editors will be laid off, and some creators and agents will have to adios to greener pastures.”
“Keep promoting books and authors you love! If you ARE an author – PLEASE keep talking about your own book and the books of your friends! I promise – we all actually REALLY DO want to hear good news and things that are NOT doom-related! I PROMISE that you are not already talking about books too much!
If your friends are doing virtual launch parties or “at home” book events or fundraisers or whatever – GO TO THEM if you can! Talk them up on social media!
If you are an author who is lucky enough to be able to concentrate for more than ten minutes at a time – Work! On! Your! Amazing! Books! This WILL end. We WILL want to read your brilliant work at some point, even if it isn’t today. And if you’re an author who can’t muster up the wherewithal for writing, amazing or otherwise? THAT’S OKAY, TOO. No pressure, babes! Taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally, is the most important thing. This WILL END.”
You really, really should read her entire essay on this challenging nexus between then now. It is the reason I decided to tackle this topic today.
What you can do
Buy books, support authors and illustrators, promote yourself, attend book events.
The virus commands your attention, distracting you from everything. So, use that to your advantage. Write. Draw. Start a vlog, as some have. Do a video.
Imagine a book for kids to help them deal with calamity. Sarah Reul’s The Breaking News, a story about an unspecified disaster, is a terrific example. That book came out long before the novel coronavirus was even a thing.Once you have a fabulous book like Sarah’s make a read-aloud video to spread the word.
Research what else has been done: A global focus on understanding the pandemic led to My Hero is You: How Kids Can Fight COVID-19.
Or take the opposite path. Write about what gives you hope and distracts you and your audience from overwhelming things. Solace can be invaluable in diminishing stress.
Social distancing is a normal way of life for many authors and artists who must be alone when you work. Yet we all miss actual contact with peers. Keep in touch with your face-to-face critique group, as illustrated in Alison Potoma’s recent post. After a long period alone, seeing everyone, even small on a screen, can be amazingly invigorating. Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, and other apps are happy to assist you with that.
The SCBW&I will not be deterred by any lingering virus remnants. In-person conferences have been canceled, however, they have planned a fantastic event online in late summer. Save the date!
I hope that you and those close to you are well and finding brilliant strategies to compensate for the current problems. Please share your thoughts or links to any life-saving ideas. Lord knows everyone needs them.