A survey by the Authors Guild of its members earlier this month found a majority of authors had already lost significant income due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The Guild received 940 responses to its survey and asked if income from any source declined in recent weeks due to the crisis, 54% responded “yes,” compared to 45% who responded “no."
Among responses, the most common loss of income resulted from “speaking/performance engagements cancelled,” which was identified by 232 authors; this was followed by "journalism” (93 authors), “non-writing related work – furloughed or laid off” (87), “partner’s loss of income” (75), “book contracts cancelled or payments delayed” (52), and “loss of book sales or revenue through self-publishing” (45).
The pandemic has also impacted working habits, with 63 authors responding they could not work because children were at home, another 40 authors said they couldn’t work because of their own illness, and 28 authors said they couldn’t work because of an illness in the family.
The Guild sought to disavow the idea that because people were locked in their homes, more were buying books. “While social distancing and shelter-in-place orders have resulted in more people reading than usual, it is a mistake to assume that means more book sales for most of today’s working authors," said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Guild. "The closure of bookstores, libraries and other venues has made it very difficult for writers to connect with book audiences and promote book sales. This is particularly problematic for those authors who recently released a book or have books scheduled for release this spring." Nearly half the members surveyed said they had recently published a book or were planning on publishing a book in the near term, and among those, 74% said they anticipated lower sales.
One bright spot of the survey resulted from the Guild asking if members were having any issues with publishers not fulfilling terms of a contract, cancelling or threatening to cancel a contract, or not signing a deal that was close to final. Just 8% of authors said they had encountered problems.
In response to the coronavirus crisis, the Guild has been lobbying Congress to help ensure writes are eligible to receive unemployment insurance and other relief offered under the CARES Act. It has also provided information to members related to Covid-19 relief, as well started offering a series of online workshops, including one covering government options for relief, as well as two upcoming sessions on online promotion--How to Make Your Own Book Video on April 20 and Book Club Strategies for Authors on April 28.
Guild president Douglas Preston has lead a social media campaign on YouTube where bestselling authors, such as John Grisham, Aimee Liu and Scott Turow, recommended books by lesser-known writers. “My heart breaks when I think of the emerging and midlist authors who have worked, sometimes for years, writing a book, only to have it published under these terrible market conditions," said Preston on the video. "Here’s a chance for bestselling writers to help our fellow authors during this crisis."