Community Amid Coronavirus: A Q&A with Counterpoint Press
As an organization that supports writers, we already know how deeply this crisis has affected our Members and friends, especially those with books being released this spring. But what about the small publishing houses who often rely on just a handful of books to stay financially afloat each season? And how is the publishing industry at large reacting to the crisis?
PEN America Los Angeles Executive Director Michelle Franke put that question to Dan Smetanka, vice president and editor-in-chief of Counterpoint Press, one of the largest independent publishers in the country.
How are publishers adapting to support book releases and writers right now, especially for writers with books slated for spring and summer releases?
SMETANKA: Writers and their publishers should be concerned, as we’ve seen unprecedented changes to the retail landscape in the face of the pandemic. With no brick and mortar stores available to us, publishers are pivoting to online events, Zoom readings, and a host of other initiatives meant to bring people together in a safe way in service of the literary community. Everyone is very online right now, and so our social media campaigns have increased significantly. All print sales have moved to online sources, which is not ideal but still workable, especially with Bookshop.org rising to new heights as a fast and easy way to buy print books online and support independent booksellers. And e-books and digital audiobooks— the fastest growing segment in publishing—will see no disruption at all. It’s a fluid situation, so it’s important to keep writers updated as to what efforts we feel will continue to reach new readers, and to understand that this is an unprecedented moment in our history and be patient as we navigate it.
If spring and summer releases are rescheduled for fall, what does that do to texts already scheduled for releases later this year?
SMETANKA: Fall 2020 was always going to be a very difficult time to publish, due to the election, and many publishers were planning a fallow season since their writers didn’t want to compete with that. So perhaps their lists were lighter and can handle the influx. I expect the fall and into the first quarter of 2021 to be very competitive. But then, publishing is very competitive, pandemic or no. Media and readers will most likely be very forgiving with changing publication dates as we all try to navigate this new terrain. But let’s all agree now that we’re only giving books as gifts this holiday season.
“Media and readers will most likely be very forgiving with changing publication dates as we all try to navigate this new terrain. But let’s all agree now that we’re only giving books as gifts this holiday season.”
What can writers with books slated for spring and summer releases be doing? How can readers help?
SMETANKA: Writers should maintain and augment their social media presence in new and creative ways. Engage with others in community-based discussions. Support other writers and other causes. Don’t make it always about you and your book. Remain connected to the world as much as you can. Work with your publisher to see what online events might be appropriate to your project. Readers should do what we always hope they do—buy books, comment on books, share your favorites with friends and family, reach out to your favorite writers on social media, and post reviews on all the retail sites. All of these things matter to writers and to the overall business of books. And it’s a good way for everyone, reader or writer, to feel connected during this time of physical distancing.
If a writer just finished a book, would you say this is a good time to send a book out to their publisher?
SMETANKA: If a writer and their agent feel the book is finished, I see no problem in submitting to publishers at this time. We are proceeding with business as usual to the best of our ability. Just be patient, but patience during the submission process was always going to be required anyway. I also want to say: It’s okay if you haven’t yet finished your book, or if you are finding it hard to focus and be productive. We are living through a pandemic. Take time to care for yourself and your friends and family as well. The book will always be there.
“The true lesson of this time is one being learned in all aspects of our society—we are all connected. Publishers need writers, readers, booksellers, critics, and advocates as much as they need the opportunities publishers provide.”
What’s one thing that publishers are thinking about right now that might surprise people?
SMETANKA: Publishers are of course thinking of the best ways to get through this difficult period, to support writers and the literary ecosystem, and to continue to help new and interesting voices reach the widest readership possible. The true lesson of this time is one being learned in all aspects of our society—we are all connected. Publishers need writers, readers, booksellers, critics, and advocates as much as they need the opportunities publishers provide.
What resources are you recommending to writers?
SMETANKA: I recommend using social media for following writers and publishers and the news of the day. Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly continue to offer free daily newsletters filled with news of the industry. Many great publications have dropped their paywall during the pandemic—The Atlantic and Kirkus Reviews being two of my personal favorites—so there are so many resources available to help writers and readers stay informed.