It’s mid-April as I write this, and the world has entered the second stage of this horrific pandemic. Most of us are staying at home, only going out for essentials like groceries and gas. Writers are either actively writing or at least keeping notes on their intense emotions to work into future stories. Publishing has simultaneously sped up and slowed way down. Editors, art departments, salespeople, marketing folks, management and more are working from home—complete with kids, pets, spouses, distractions, and surprises.
Since Fuse Literary was founded as a virtual agency, with agents all over the country and in Canada, we’ve been working at our home offices from day one. It’s not really a transition for us. We haven’t missed a step in pitching our clients’ books to editors, even if they’re working at home for the first time. The great news is: publishing has been receptive. We’ve scored a bunch of deals in the past month, including two six-figure deals by two agents, and a host of smaller deals. One of our agents even finalized a movie option while movie and TV production is shut down on everything in Hollywood and New York. No mean feat. Editors are responding eagerly to new manuscript pitches. Business is moving forward.
Deals are popping. However, things slow down when it gets to the contract stage of the deal. Because publishing contract department employees are either working from home or furloughed—and often need to obtain multiple approvals on changes and in some cases do not have the information they need at their fingertips—getting from the deal memo to contract finalization can last months. It’s frustrating, but it’s also to be expected. If you understand that and don’t let your initial euphoria at getting a book deal lag, you should be fine.
But other than that, it is business as usual for most agents. Fuse agents are signing up new clients, editing manuscripts, preparing editorial pitch lists, pitching projects, shepherding books through production, creating marketing plans, and generally trying to normalize everything we can as we deal with the emotional and psychological trauma of the world today (and hope for a better tomorrow). There’s a difficulty factor for agents since many editors are getting furloughed even in the midst of producing a book. But what could be an exercise in frustration can also become an opportunity to get to know a new editor better as we hone our lists. Lemons into lemonade.
As far as marketing your books go, everything has gone virtual. Since no one is going out of their homes in most of the country, bookstores have pivoted to virtual author visits on Zoom or YouTube, authors are creating more blog posts and podcasts, conducting contests, and generally trying to reach out to their fan base and expand it. There is a lot of reading going on during this stay at home time, so authors are trying hard to get their book descriptions in front of these readers.
So don’t become disheartened. This too shall pass! I’m excited about what cool ideas will emerge from this disaster. It seems to me that the best innovations occur during our darkest days, so I look forward to seeing how the world of publishing will evolve after this enforced quarantine. Will ebooks be looked at (finally) as a great opportunity for variations on a theme instead of simply a single new format? Perhaps having an author’s cut, expanded edition, easy reader version, or something entirely new will emerge as viable profit opportunities. Will the distribution of books get streamlined into something more sensible and cost effective? Will anyone ever be able to compete with Amazon/Audible? Bookshop.org and Libro.fm might get a huge shot in the arm from this pandemic. I for one am excited to see what emerges from all this.
Bottom line: Publishing is a business of ups and downs. Always has been. It keeps you on your toes. The one piece of advice I give all writers is to concentrate on the only thing you can control in this crazy business…and that is your writing. Polish your prose. Take a few classes and learn something new. Work on problem areas. And thrive. Stories are begging to be told. Tell yours.