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Publishing News (01.02.2021)

How Publishers are Responding to School Closures Throughout the UK?

Since the start of January this year, schools across the UK have remained closed to most pupils. Throughout the multiple lockdowns and with remote learning taking precedence over the classroom, several publishers have responded to such measures by providing teaching materials and resources.

Penguin Random House

Penguin Random House have actively been involved in students learning from way back in the first lockdown. Their partnership with charity Speakers for Schools was established in April 2020 to offer a series of Virtual Penguin Talks. Streamed live to thousands of students, these talks address prominent issues such as: how to manage your mental health and anxiety and how to prepare for a challenging future job market.

Penguin Talks, however, are not entirely new. The initiative launched in 2018, which saw authors attend secondary schools across the country to talk to young people about issues they feel passionate about.

Nowadays, the virtual talks are live-streamed on the Penguin Platform YouTube Channel instead and as such, can reach a much wider audience. Penguin hope that these talks will benefit not just children who are living in the UK, but those living internationally too.

Oxford University Press

Last year, Oxford University Press (OUP) also made many of its educational and home learning resources available for free, in order to support teachers, parents and learners affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initiative, which is titled “Supporting you with learning anywhere," has made more than seventy phonics books, practice sheets and parent information booklets available through its Oxford Owl platform.

This platform also offered a free eBook library which included stories featuring popular children’s characters such as Biff, Chip and Kipper and Winnie the Witch. The library included non-fiction eBooks to help children with their education.

National Literacy Trust

Most recently, Internet classroom Oak National Academy along with the National Literacy Trust are giving children in England access to books online for free during school closures via a virtual library.

It is clear that the pandemic has stifled young people's learning, but perhaps one silver lining is the sheer amount of educational resources now readily available to all. Could this encourage more publishers to move towards Open Access?

There are many benefits to these kinds of resources being free — that they are helping to improve children's literacy and mental wellbeing, particularly those who would not have access to these kinds of resources if they were behind a paywall. If educational resources of this amount continued to be free, that could help make education less discriminatory.

We look forward to seeing more educational resources being made free in the near future.

Submissions Overload: is it Harder to Become a Published Author in 2021?

Publishers can only publish so many books a year, and therefore it’s always been a challenge for debut authors to get their work noticed by agents and editors. In light of the many gatekeepers authors have to get through, many turn to self-publishing as the only way to get their work in front of readers. A recent article by The Bookseller revealed that the journey for authors to get their work published is set to become even more of a struggle as agents and editors have been overwhelmed by the number of submissions they’re receiving. Jeremy Trevathan, a publisher at Pan Macmillan said submissions had been “ceaseless” since spring 2020. Whilst at the publisher I work for, Aelurus Publishing, the submissions inbox has seen a constant flow of enquiries from hopeful authors.

With the majority of us stuck at home since last March, the extra free time we’ve all been enjoying has seen many people lean into their creative side, with the sudden influx of pandemic novels showing how quickly authors have been producing manuscripts over this period. Whether agents have noticed a reduction in the quality of submissions is yet to be seen, but it is probable that there will be people who view publishing as a way of quickly earning some money. The reality is that successful authors won’t see royalties for months, and only the biggest names will cash in the kind of cheques that would allow you to pursue writing full-time.

Will Good Writing Slip through the Cracks?

The key downside of an unmanageable number of submissions is that good writing may go unrepresented as agents have less time to read each submission. Lesser known authors with original voices may be overshadowed by the big names and prize winners – trends show they are the focus more than ever. The increase in competition will also mean authors are likely to be paid a smaller advance as most publishers only have the budget to take on a certain amount of new books at a time. More than ever, a catchy engaging pitch will be essential when reaching out to agents to make your writing stand above the crowd.

The Upside

However, despite concerns about the market being saturated, it’s wonderful to see how creative writing has become the hobby of a greater number of people. As a species, storytelling is one of our oldest pastimes and whilst the saying that everyone has a story in them may not be strictly true, the lockdown may have enabled usually busy working people to hone their undiscovered writing talent.

Considering the success of many self-published authors, and the power of social media to build a following for your work, publishing your work in 2021 overall shouldn’t be a noticeably greater challenge. Although the traditional route is likely to require more patience with editors and agents taking longer to contact authors on the result of their submission. Authors with an interesting story to tell shouldn’t be put off by the industry’s gatekeepers, however daunting it may seem.

Publishers Weekly Announces New US Book Fair

On 21 December 2020, we reported that BookExpo was retiring its current format, and we questioned whether traditional book fairs would exist beyond 2021. In the first month of 2021, we update this story. In the place of BookExpo, Publishers Weekly are launching their own: The US Book Show.

Cevin Bryerman, executive VP and publisher, spoke of inclusivity, so pricing will be “reasonable” to allow as many people as possible to attend, and it will be limited to five hours a day to account for different time zones.

The online event will have online exhibitors and presentations, with a dedicated list of events for self-published authors, and a chance for networking, running from 26 to 28 May.

For some, like Twitter user @NatashaFarrant1, the return of book fairs will be welcomed, tweeting: “This is the time of year when I would normally be building a schedule for book fairs, and beginning to run around town meeting with agents and publishers. [...] this is hard #sad #missingpeople

But is this a fair (pun-intended!) replacement for the real thing? BookBrunch published their round up, detailing the unsurprising financial fallout for the events’ organisers. RELX Group, parent company of Reed Exhibition, saw revenue fall by 70%. Staff losses were also seen.

A paper titled Covid-19 and How it’s Changing the Event Industry found that of the 3,000 exhibitors and 9,000 attendees surveyed, all but one company agreed that in-person book fairs were essential to their current and future business. A few publishers agreed that they were important, if not essential.

Nancy Wiese of Hachette said that, "For quite a long time now our 'selling season' has been all year long as the role of book fairs has been shifting to more about making and maintaining contacts and setting the stage rather than actual sales," thus altering the purpose of book fairs.

There is also the issue of carbon footprints, with globetrotting being detrimental to the climate crisis. Literary agency Peters Fraser & Dunlop conducted ‘virtual trips’ in an attempt to be inventive with how they work but were thwarted by time zones. They failed to speak to people in distant countries such as the Far East (eight hours ahead) and New York (five hours behind).

Alan Giagnocavo, publisher of Fox Chapel Publishing in Pennsylvania, took part in American Collective Stand’s survey and wonders if there’s an opportunity to improve or reinvent book fairs as we know them. "Fox Chapel is definitely committed to exhibiting internationally post-Covid. As a company, we are prepared for the shows to look different and for us to adapt to those changes just as we ask the show holders to adapt to the new realities."

Ruth Tellis and Clare Hodder of RightsZone conducted a survey of rights professionals and their experience attending Frankfurt Book Fair virtually. In September 2020, they published a report Do Rights Professionals Need Book Fairs? According to their research (you can download the full report here), rights professionals often travel to two or three fairs each year, and in extreme cases they have attended twenty fairs/international sales trips a year. Those working with children’s books appear to travel the most.

This survey reiterates the previous as any people mentioned the importance of face to face meetings for meeting new customers, developing relationships, networking and being able to physically demonstrate and show products.

Over 70% had attempted to set up video calls and a further 70% had carried out additional mailings; 24% had gone for video or audio presentations. Most respondents said this was more time consuming than attending the fair and expressed an overall dissatisfaction with the inefficiency and the customer responsiveness. On a more positive note, there was a sense mutual support and camaraderie seen.

The environmental impact was also acknowledged here, with 80% of participants saying they had thought of the environmental impact, and 70% considering the reduction of paper being used.

Overwhelmingly, 90% of the people in this study supported the return of fairs.

At the moment, fairs look set to return with LBF taking place a few months later than usual in June, and Frankfurt planning to run from 20 to 24 October.

A valid argument is made on both sides of bringing back fairs, with issues of large costs, a large carbon footprint, and pressurised working months on the against, and networking, socialising, inclusivity and the economic boost to the events industry on the for. Will we see a hybrid model in the future? Is this what Giagnocavo was suggesting? Face-to-face events broadcast live? Panellists from opposite sides of the world by Zoom link? 60% of respondents in the RightsZone report felt that the hybrid model would be most desirable. Only 12% thought that no changes were required.

Digital is a part of our world that is not going away, and it may be time for book fairs to match the changes of the 21st Century and, if not entirely, incorporate the advantages of digital in some way.


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