Pandemic Effects on Publishing SF

Serendipity

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Obviously when the pandemic started the vast majority of people had to adjust their working habits. Publishing was no different, with big publishers getting their office staff to work from home, printers having to put into place different work patterns and even bookshops being closed for weeks on end. One of the immediate consequences was the publication of some new novels that were already in the publishing pipeline were delayed by several months. Another was more books being sold through the likes of Amazon.

Three questions:
1) What do you think the overall effects of the pandemic has been on the SF publishing industry?
2) Have you noticed any changes in the balance between the types of SF sub-genres being published?
3) What do you think this means in long term changes for the SF publishing industry?
 

Robert Zwilling

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I don't know about what is going on in the publishing industry. Personally, I stopped reading books when covid started. Stopped dead, the books coming in just piled up. They are still piled up. People have offered various explanations from guilty pleasure to over expressed anxiety from the situation. I did a lot of artwork which in its highest glory is a very fun way to cruise through the day or night without stopping to know where you are or caring about what is going on around you.

I was rewriting lofty things I had written in a more condensed format, to make them easier to understand. Even that was limited to just poetry. I went from full page writings that drove people crazy because there were too many poems in each poem. Only suppose to be one poem per poem, maybe that is the last rule for writing poetry to survive. I tried 2 or 3 lines, but that only confused people more. I then went to 8 or 10 lines, max, which I am still doing, after 34 poems. These are not short lines, but go across the page to make sure the meaning is clear. Everything written is revolving around our current situation, mostly pushing stakes into smiley faced balloon poetry that I am surrounded by.

I am currently dusting off the third story I have ever written, first 2 are lost, with the idea of writing it in a way that will make it much easier to understand. Perhaps my inclination to make things easier to understand is based on the idea that people don't need to be spending time in going round in circles trying to figure out what is going down. I self publish, so what goes on in the professional market is not changing what I am doing. The artwork is all for sale. I just started reading again, a few pages now and then, not because things look better, but what the heck, it's The Unteleported Man by P K Dick, snagged for $5 on eBay a lifetime ago, by my favorite author.
 

JohnM

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Does anyone read the book trade press? There has been no effect as far as the big publishers. And for the small, everyone did what they could.

There was a bottleneck in distribution for physical books but that has been worked out in the U.S.

It means nothing in the long term since viruses don't stop imaginations or businesses.
 

BAYLOR

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Does anyone read the book trade press? There has been no effect as far as the big publishers. And for the small, everyone did what they could.

There was a bottleneck in distribution for physical books but that has been worked out in the U.S.

It means nothing in the long term since viruses don't stop imaginations or businesses.

People could still buy books online.
 

Jo Zebedee

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As a bookseller

1. very Little. Dystopia will be a harder sell for a while but the appetite is still there and lots of people are buying.
2. not really as yet but I do feel there is a lot of hope in the books coming out at the moment,
3. I think its healthy for the big Publishers. Book stores are on the up. But the small publishers who don’t sell through bookstore (they’re too frightened to give away margin, I find) are very squeezed and it’s there I feel Is vulnerable.
 

Chris 1978

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I would presume there will be more books being sent to publishers due to the amount of time people had on their hands?
 

Elckerlyc

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I would presume there will be more books being sent to publishers due to the amount of time people had on their hands?
That is exactly what I have heard, here in The Netherlands. Dutch publishers were receiving such a deluge of manuscripts that they announced a moratorium. New received manuscripts would go straight into the shredder, unread. (Except those from established writers, I assume. Publishers are still publishing...)
Many manuscripts were from people who had little else to do than starting a writing career, without much writing experience. (So, in my words, perhaps there wasn't much difference between manuscripts remaining unread or being unreadable.)

I doubt this phenomenon is exclusively a Dutch affair.
 
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LeonStevens

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I published my first book (not SF) a few months before the pandemic started. My focus was online sales, so I figured that would not be greatly affected. Hard to tell if it was, since I had nothing to compare it to. I already had my short story sci-fi collection ready to go for later that year.

Some of my stories were post-apocalyptical, some caused by disease. I saw a lot more books being written with pandemic themes, so maybe readers got tired of the trope.
 

J-WO

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I don't know about the bigger picture but I've had a book bought by a publisher and got agent representation pretty much all during the pandemic and that's created a situation where i've either never or barely met face-to-face with anyone involved. It doesn't seem to have made anything worse (as far as I can tell) but it does feel a little odd. A little less real. I often wonder if other authors have this experience.
 

Serendipity

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Thank you for all the responses, which cover a wide range of contributing issues. At the moment I'm trying to square the circle or circling the square:
- book sales went up by something like 16 percent in 2020,
- many new science fiction books having their publishing date delayed,
- a lot of my writerly friends have been having difficulty writing during this time,
- an unusual number of literary agents are not open to submissions.

If anything this boils down high book sales, low throughput of new books. I sure there are lessons to be learned here, but they elude me.
 

Elckerlyc

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I'd say that not all of these noticed effects necessarily (need to) connect with each other.

Where some may have difficulty writing, for others it's just the opposite.
The low throughput of new books has likely to do with technical issues due to covid-19. This is (hopefully!) only a temporary situation.
A few literary agents may be too depressed by the lockdown to accept new submissions, but probably percentage-wise not many. It's not that they are closed because there wouldn't be a publisher willing to publish or a market. I rather suspect they got too many manuscript offered.

Anyway, as long as sales go up, the outlook is good. Whether there will be a shift in genre is difficult to say but these things shift all the time.
Off course, I know next to nothing about the publishing world. So you may safely ignore my musings.... ;)
 

Chris 1978

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Sales of classics went up in lockdown

That's interesting, I wonder why. Perhaps it was a sort of 'i've always wanted to read that book and now I have the time I will? non readers starting to read more might potentially choose classic 'bucket list' books for example.
 

Robert Zwilling

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This makes it sound like science fiction novels are uncomfortable to read. Interesting this is...
If the story is too close to reality I think that does turn a lot of people off. Maybe if it has a lot comedy in it to keep it from being too serious all the time it might be acceptable. I think that the free thinking science fiction of the 70s got too close to the reality of mankind and the authors, sensing this rejection, replaced the science fiction with fantasy, which took off like a rocket and never looked back. It was a good business decision.
 

Astro Pen

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If the story is too close to reality I think that does turn a lot of people off. Maybe if it has a lot comedy in it to keep it from being too serious all the time it might be acceptable. I think that the free thinking science fiction of the 70s got too close to the reality of mankind and the authors, sensing this rejection, replaced the science fiction with fantasy, which took off like a rocket and never looked back. It was a good business decision.
This has focused my mind on a nebulous feeling I had about contemporary culture. That of increasing infantilism. I think you're correct that reality is 'turning people off' but I am beginning to wonder if this is becoming part of a larger cultural abdication of adult responsibility as adults slide into X men, manga cartoons and magic swords saving societies :unsure:
I will start a thread on it shortly.
 

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