The new coronavirus is causing unprecedented disruption for independent publishers, but despite those challenges more than half a dozen indies said this week that they were managing to make a somewhat smooth transition to remote work. Meanwhile, many were rallying in support of independent booksellers, who are often the first to champion books by indie presses.
She Writes Press publisher Brooke Warner, said the press had canceled an author retreat and that employees were working from home as of Monday. “It’s really tough, but I would say that our authors are taking it in stride,” said Warner.
On Monday, the Independent Publishers Caucus (IPC) announced the hiring of a new director, former bookseller and bookstore consultant Anna Thorn. In a wide-ranging e-mail, Thorn provided IPC members with an array of resources and tips, and by early week, many independent publishers were already beginning to take those steps.
Sourcebooks in Chicagoland implemented work-from-home requirements and travel restrictions for its approximately 135 employees, and CEO and publisher Dominique Raccah said the company was evaluating ways to support its authors and retail partners. “That includes shifting resources from efforts like planning industry conventions, book tours, and author events, toward developing fun, creative campaigns and strategies that will support our bookseller partners through these extreme times,” said Raccah.
In Minneapolis, nonprofit literary press Milkweed Editions was in a unique position to understand the challenges facing both indie publishers and booksellers. The press operates an independent bookstore which it closed temporarily on March 13. Press employees are working remotely.
On the other side of downtown Minneapolis, Graywolf Press also transitioned to remote work for at least one month. One employee will run the press offices during much of the week. Authors were told to cancel any scheduled appearances until May and publisher Fiona McCrae said press staff will confer digitally this week about ways to substitute for in-person author appearances. “There is pressure to be creative and inventive,” said McCrae, who intends to focus on ways to work with independent bookstores. “Books are read at home, but all of us in the literary world are used to using bookstores and other gathering spaces across the country for events that drive engagement and readership.”
Graywolf also made a donation to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc), which provides financial support to booksellers in need. Over the weekend Binc announced a fundraising match up to $12,500, provided by Writers House agent Steven Malk and Beacon Press.
“COVID-19 is starting to have a significant negative impact on frontline booskellers, and even though we are tiny, we wanted to play a role in raising awareness,” said Beacon director of sales and marketing Sanj Kharbanda.
As of Monday evening, Binc had raised $49,000, four times the original goal. Kharbanda said the total was a “positive note” but added that, “they need more support given the number of requests.” Meanwhile, Beacon staff moved to remote work late last week and the press has canceled some events, but for now, on-sale dates remain unchanged.
New York City indie publishers were proceeding with an awareness that this is just the beginning of a prolonged series of challenges presented by the coronavirus outbreak. Seven Stories publisher Dan Simon struck a positive note about his employees’ response and the industry as a whole. “I’m tremendously proud of our team’s response, without exceptions,” he said, adding that, “books hold up a lot better than many other types of businesses through crises.”
With many staff members already working remotely and distribution handled by Penguin Random House, Soho Press v-p and director of marketing and publicity, Paul Oliver said the press was comparatively fortunate so far. The press is making bookplates for authors whose events have been canceled, arranging for special promotions in bookstores, and marketing first-in-series titles through Soho Crime, for binge readers who are confined to their homes.
But Oliver spoke from experience in expressing his concern for independent bookstores. “I owned a small bookstore for about eight years and at only a handful of points in that store's existence would we have been able to weather a two-week closure, let alone anything more,” Oliver said. “This is going to have a massive impact on retail in general but it’s the mom-and-pops that I worry about.”