Caleb Horowitz, the protagonist of Andrew Lipstein’s 2022 novel, “Last Resort,” is a lot like me in some ways. We are both writers, Jewish and too worried about the floats that exist in our eyes. However, the plot of his novel is a stolen idea, based on a friend’s scandalous story when he had a quartet while visiting a Greek island, and mine remains partially unwritten due to laziness – it’s not a quartet either.
Posting “Last Resort” was a miracle, Lipstein said in a recent interview. His first agent was unable to sell the book, so he took matters into his own hands and found a home with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. His lucky streak continued and, with a new agent, he was able to sell a second book: “Flash & Yearn”. The process of writing the second book was a little easier — he finished it in four months — as the pandemic erased dinners, outings and other distracting moments from productivity. “Life is more boring [in lockdown]and boredom, as I’ve always found, is a great reason to have fun on your own,” Lipstein said.
While the pandemic may have helped Lipstein and other writers boost their productivity, everything that comes after finishing the first draft of a manuscript has taken a hit, starting with the harmless tendency to increase reading during the closures. People have used fiction to escape to made-up worlds, like Matt Haig’s feel-good novel “The Midnight Library” racked up weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. But even novels centered on the pandemic, like that of Ling Ma “Break” and Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven”, flew off the shelves after being thought-provoked examining their stories against ours. As social justice protests rocked the world in the summer of 2020, people around the world turned to non-fiction to learn more about white fragility and how to be anti-racist. Writers capitalized on former President Donald Trump’s inability to properly control a pandemic with sensational headlines like “Rage” Where “Peril” that document his failures. In total, 35% of the world’s population read more books during the pandemic than before.
But, come the holiday season of 2021, our increased reading led to distribution issues. Niche indie titles weren’t as affected, but bestsellers took a hit as everyone rushed to buy the latest title from Sally Rooney or Liane Moriarty. In one October 2021 article for Vox, Constance Grady warned book buyers to start shopping now. According to Matt Baehr, executive director of the Book Manufacturers’ Institute, labor shortages, rising paper prices and shrinking quantities of cardboard for shipping have coalesced into a “perfect storm.” People want books, but there are not enough materials to get them to readers.
Allegra Hyde, a creative writing professor whose first novel “Eleutheria” landed this month, has felt the multiple stresses of publishing during a pandemic. She previously published a collection of short stories – which helped her get to grips with the publishing industry – but a first novel was a different animal. “It took time to find the right house, it was stressful. [I spent] about five years working on it, invested a lot of time preparing it, and got Vintage interested,” Hyde said.
Due to limited supplies, publishers need to be more selective in which novels they take risks on. Former New York Tyrant Magazine editor Jordan Castro says his book, “The Novelist,” hasn’t had much luck with major publishers because it’s admittedly odd. Soft Skull Press, an independent publisher, picked up his book wherever it could find a place. “I wondered if the book would come out, I agreed that it wouldn’t, and the moment I did, the good news came,” Castro said.
Concerns cut across all areas of the bookmaking process, from authors to publishers. Olivia Taylor Smith, Founder of Anonymous pressalso reports fewer materials for just printing books. The supply shortage comes because “warehouse and dock workers have been sick and because we are using increasingly limited natural materials,” she said.
Sara Leonard, publicist at Penguin Random House, echoed concerns about fewer books to circulate. Publicists like her send out unsolicited advance copies of books, or “galleys,” to anyone they think would like to read it or would promote it by writing or writing it. Before the pandemic, they printed about 600 galleys and sent 500 worldwide. Now there are no more unsolicited galleys, and only about fifty are printed.
Luckily, the books she worked with weren’t affected too much, but “the supply chain has been kind of a nightmare,” Leonard said. Printing books overseas poses many transit problems for books, and one of his colleagues worked with a book that had such delays that they pushed back the publication date by a year. As the new date approached, a truck carrying the finished copies overturned en route to the warehouse and only 10% of the books could be salvaged. She also referred to a recent case in which deliveries of two new cookbooks fell into the ocean while being transported from New York to Taiwan.
Leonard said that because the print media has taken such a hit over the years in any case, including recent news that Entertainment Weekly and InStyle plan to move exclusively to digital platforms, publicists are increasingly using freelancers to promote books. “There is a huge interest in book cover, but the posts from 20 years ago don’t exist anymore,” she said.
His day is all about pitching new releases to writers who might have an outlet to promote a new release, whether it’s book listings for websites like Electric Lit, The Millions and Literary Hub or other outlets. of sale. But freelancers are insecure and rejections are common. One possible solution comes with BookTok, the niche TikTok community for book lovers, where readers can share and promote their favorite books, recommend new ones, and form a community around the love of reading, without journalistic experience.
On BookTok, a subgenre of the social media mega-giant TikTok that proliferated at the start of the pandemic, you can post what you read or make book lists with a specific target audience. The genre has taken over and is widely available – videos tagged “#BookTok” have been viewed over 40 billion times, and Barnes & Nobles now has a special section where BookTok’s most popular reads are easily accessible.
This community of readers and recommenders has also extended to Instagram, where avid readers follow “bookstagrammers” to find their next reads. Antonella, who passes @shitshereads on Instagram, has amassed over 5,000 followers and notes in her bio that she always reads something “awful and weird.”
Antonella, an avid reader who started publishing books on her personal account, “I accidentally stumbled upon a Bookstagram account shortly after and thought, ‘Wait, can I do this? It went from there and it was a lot more fun than I thought it would be when I started,” she said.
His followers take his recommendations seriously, the same way a blurb from a favorite author will entice someone to pick up a new book they’re on. Her minimalist, pose-heavy photos rack up likes from those who immediately add her recommendations to their playlists.
In a different Bookstagram flavor, Amy Long from @taylorswift_as_books posts photos of Taylor Swift alongside books that match her current aesthetic. Her posts aren’t criticism per se, further highlighting the similarities between book covers and Swift’s outfits. Yet when readers spot a favorite book (or look), they can share the post, increasing its reach. “I wanted to use my account to put small press headlines in front of people who wouldn’t see them without Taylor Swift,” Long said.
In addition to having fun managing these accounts, Antonella and Long’s free promotions have other benefits. Both have received advance reading copies (ARC) of books, which publicists like Leonard send out in hopes the reviewer will promote them. “When I agree to accept an ARC or agree to promote a book, it is because it naturally corresponds to my interests,” said Antonella.
Likewise, Long has been in contact with publishers. “Most of the time, it’s a small press that asks me if I would like to promote some of their books. Some of my best relationships started that way,” she said.
Despite numerous printing, shipping, and distribution issues, authors are still able to find ways to connect with readers across multiple social media platforms. “Seeing people sharing and commenting on the book has been exciting and one of the most satisfying parts of the journey,” Lipstein said. Even though book tours and launches have gone virtual, people will still want books they know will interest them. BookTokkers and Instagram influencers are able to build a community with a simple photo of a book and a blurb about it. “I know that I myself choose a lot of what I read based on what I see on social media,” Lipstein said. If someone starts browsing BookTok now, they might have a new favorite read in a week.
A version of this article appeared on p. 15 of March 31, 2022, print edition of Daily nexus.