Thinking of the book industry during a tough year

A memory came up on my Facebook feed from a year ago: an announcement from The Bookseller about Boldwood Books launching their traditional print programme with The Works. This was so exciting as it was an opportunity to see our paperbacks out in the world and every author who’d signed with Boldwood at the time was guaranteed at least one book going into this programme. Woo hoo!

But at the time of that announcement, as I celebrated the great news and looked forward to visiting my first book in The Works, none of us had no idea what was about to hit us. None of us had any idea how much our world was about to change.

The Secret to Happiness – my Boldwood debut book – was scheduled to go into The Works around Easter which would coincide with the start of the tourist season in Scarborough. I had visions of my local store quickly selling out of the book before I’d even seen it as locals and tourists recognised the Scarborough scene on the front cover. But my book didn’t go into The Works at Easter because we went into a national lockdown. Stores closed and we retreated indoors. The programme was on hold.

The Secret to Happiness went into The Works in June instead when restrictions were lifted and I was both delighted and surprised when they took another two of mine – Making Wishes at Bay View and Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – before stores closed once more in late 2020.

I felt a mix of emotions as that announcement from a year ago popped up on my feed today. So many amazing things have happened for me as an author during the past twelve months yet so many tragic, shocking and heartbreaking things have happened around the world, changing life as we know it both now and for the future.

Today I’m thinking of all book sellers in the UK and around the world whose doors are currently closed or who have been closed at points during 2020 and 2021. Some of them for good.

I’m thinking of all book sellers whether high street chains, small independents, market stalls or those for whom books are part of a bigger product offering. I’m thinking of how they lost their valuable Christmas season and how 2020 barely existed and 2021 hasn’t even started.

I’m thinking of the indies who don’t have an online presence or a way of operating a click and collect process so no way of making sales.

I’m thinking of all the owners of these businesses, particularly indies, and the staff they employ. 

I’m thinking of all the businesses connected with book retailing like printers and distributors who may have been furloughed/lost jobs/ceased trading. And perhaps less obvious connections like the arts. My husband is a freelance typesetter and everything he was working on was put on hold during the first lockdown. One of his clients produces plays. With theatres closed, there were no plays to typeset.

I’m thinking therefore of all the freelancers in the business whose work may have slowed down or dried up: typesetters, editors, cover designers and so on. There will be exceptions and some may have been busier than ever but not in our household.

I’m praying the industry is able to ride the storm and, despite the hardest year ever to face retailers, I’m hoping they’re back when some sort of normality returns. I’m hoping they all remain part of our ‘new normal’.

It’s been tough for authors too. At the ever-innovative Boldwood Books where all our books are available in a stack of formats with a big emphasis on the digital offering (ebook, audio or streamed), we’ve still been able to reach our readers. Authors with the bigger traditional publishers derive much (most?) of their income from the sales of hardbacks and paperbacks and have had to rely on sales through online retailers. With Amazon needing to prioritise warehouse space for ‘essentials’ like medical supplies, even that route became a challenge.

Last year, launches were pushed back with one crazy day in September where hundreds of new titles were released. Debut authors who might have waited years for this to happen may have been lost in the masses. Even successful authors might have experienced limited impact. Book signings, launches, festivals, fairs and conferences would normally generate income and provide an invaluable opportunity to meet and engage with existing readers and find new ones. And, of course, the organisers of these events and the venues where they’d have been held have also missed out.

Some of my fellow Boldwood authors didn’t get their opportunity to go into The Works, perhaps because they’d written a Christmas book and the shifting schedule would have made it out of season or simply because the moving schedule didn’t have the space to fit them in. And some authors had their books instore but couldn’t visit them because that would involve unnecessary travel. I was very fortunate that my local branch stocked all three of my books and I was able to visit them all. I also tried to get photos of other Boldwood Books like this fabulous romance collection in the Beverley branch of The Works last September when travel was permitted.

And finally my thoughts are with our amazing libraries and the passionate, book-loving knowledgeable staff who work for them, whether employed or as a volunteer. Such a valuable resource, libraries have struggled for many years for funding and support and this past year has provided new and unexpected challenges but it’s been amazing seeing how libraries around the country have worked hard to engage with users and bring them new content, even when the library doors have had to close.

Of course, the book industry isn’t the only industry to have had a tough year. Hospitality, travel and tourism, leisure, retailing as a whole, the creative arts … I could go on and on as I doubt there are many (if any) industries not touched by the pandemic and that’s before we even think about healthcare. But this is a post prompted by Boldwood’s The Works Programme announcement so the focus of the post is purely on the book industry.

Spring is approaching as is the one-year anniversary of the UK lockdown. Let’s hope year two is kinder.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

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