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The Affects of Covid-19 on Traditional Publishing

I want to talk for a minute about why publishing is in so much trouble right now.

Its way more complicated than most people seem to think. First, you need to know that the vast majority of our business remains in hardcover and paperback books. Hard copies mean physical objects. The second strongest sector has been audio books. Ebooks are a distant third. Selling books is a very long and complicated supply chain. Ignore editorial — writers and editors can work at a distance and electronically. It really starts with the paper.

Storing paper for the big presses takes an enormous amount of warehouse space, which costs money. Printers don’t store a lot — they rely on a “just in time,” supply chain so that when a book is scheduled to go to press, the paper is delivered to the printer. Most of that paper is manufactured in China. Guess what isn’t coming from China; nothing, for the last three months.

Some of the paper comes from Canada. Guess what the Trump administration put a big tariff on at the beginning of the year? Yup, paper. So, we don’t have adequate paper supplies. Then consider that big printing plants are not “essential businesses.” There are only a couple printers in the US that can handle the book manufacturing business. One of them shut down last week. Covid-19.

We started rescheduling books like mad to deal with that. But supposing we had paper, and a printer and bindery, the books have to be shipped to the warehouse. Again, that’s non-essential movement. The freight drivers moving books? Staying home, as they should. Not all of them. I hope they remain healthy, because dying to get the latest bestseller to the warehouse doesn’t seem quite right to me.

Now consider the warehouse situation. Traditional publishers maintain huge warehouses. Lots of people are working there, bless them, but it’s putting them at risk. There they are, filling orders, packing boxes, running invoices. Giving those boxes to the freight drivers who take the books to the bookstores and distributors. Again, truck drivers risking their lives to bring books to the bookstores.

But think again. The bookstores are closed. The distributors are closed . No place open to deliver the books to. Some bookstores are doing mail order business, bless them, but they aren’t ordering very many books from the warehouses. Amazon isn’t ordering very many, either — because they have (correctly) stopped shipping books and are using their reduced staff to ship medical supplies and food.

So the books that distributors and sellers ordered months ago are not being printed or shipped or sold. And because of that, they aren’t making any money. And because of THAT, they are not ordering any books for months from now. Plus they aren’t paying for the books they got from publishers in February and March. Cash flow has ground to a halt.

Now, audio books….turns out that people mostly, almost 100%, listen to audio books while they commute to work. Sales of audio books collapsed about the Middle of March. Fortunately, there isn’t a physical supply chain there, so theoretically that business can restart immediately upon resumption of commuting. So given all the above, it’s not a good time in the publishing industry. The damage is going to last for a long time. The effects will be felt for at least a year to come, even if we do go back to business as usual in May. Or June. Or July…..

Oh let’s be real. We won’t go back to business as usual until there is a real vaccine for this corona virus.

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Stop Writing to Yourself

By Takarudana Mapendembe

Reprinted from the original publication on September 23rd, 2018

Click here for the original article.

When I started writing nobody read my articles. Some just clicked on them and left before even reading the title, let alone the first sentence. They ran away quick. I never dreamed of getting even a single ‘clap’ or ‘like’ because no matter how many clicks I got on my story, the number of readers was zero. Nobody read my writing. If there was a junk or spam story folder on people’s profiles like on email, I think those folders would be full of my stories.

I don’t mean that I spammed people with stories and neither do I mean that my stories were badly written to be classified as junk. They were well written with the best English grammar and well-polished sentences and paragraphs but the main problem was, I was writing to myself. I wrote the stories, gave them to friends and enemies to read, edit and correct before publication. All my friends, family and enemies edited the stories and said they were very good stories but even them never read them after publication. They just clicked and left like everybody else.

I was writing to myself:

The main problem I had was that I never thought about what type of readers I wanted to read my writing. I never bothered finding out first what people liked reading about, what sort of problems people had, what sort of solutions people needed, which age groups read what and also what annoys people. I just wrote what I thought people wanted to read not knowing that it was only me who wanted to read and talk about it not the majority of people.

I used to write positive stories. Stories about people helping other people, hard-working people becoming successful, happy relationships and marriages as well as people doing good deeds for the community, until a friend of mine, Thomson, came to me and said: “Do you know that your writing is boring? No one wants to read about all those positive things you write about. More than 90% of news, stories and articles in newspapers, magazines, on the telly and radio are negative. People don’t want to read about who was born today. They want to read about a celebrity who has just died. People don’t want to read about who is getting married, but they want to read about who got divorced and who is cheating who with whom.”

He continued: “People want to laugh, cry, smile, scream and be scared when reading your stories, articles, news or books. Put all those emotions in your writing, but never forget to include the five senses, too. However, before even writing a single word, do your research first. Answer these questions in writing: Who do I want to read my story? What age group are my readers? Where do they live? What do they read about most of the time? When do they read? Do they read online, in papers and magazines, on Kindle or on mobile phones? What scares them? What makes them laugh? What do they hate and what do they love. After selecting your type of readers, write for that particular selected group of readers and always keep in mind the fact that people want to hear about solutions much more than they want to listen to or read about problems.”

After getting this lecture, I decided to give it a go. I sat down and researched about writing a story for boys and girls aged 18 to 22. Answering all the questions above to successfully complete my research took me the whole day. I began to wonder if all this research was worth it or it would just end up being another story that loads of people click on but never read.

The following day, I started writing the story making sure I was writing to 18 to 22-year-old boys and girls living in England. Most of the time I would sit down to write a 1500 word story and finish it within an hour or two but this one took me more than 24 hours. This was because I had to make sure every word, every sentence and every paragraph was suitable for my readers. I was not writing to myself any more, I was writing to my selected group of readers. Moreover, I had to make sure my readers use their senses of sight, smell, feeling, hearing and taste when reading my writing. I was also responsible for making them smile, laugh, scream, cry, fart, wet and shit in their pants.

After completing the story, I gave it to my friend, Thomson, to read it and make some corrections. He read it contacted his friend who owned a magazine. The following day, Thomson told me that my story had been accepted for publication in one of the most read magazines in England. That story was a success and it was read by more than ten thousand people most of whom were boys and girls aged 18 to 22 living in England. All my hard work was worth it.

“Next time make sure you also research on the publications where you want your writing to be published otherwise you will end up writing to yourself again,” Thompson advised me.