Publishing in Lockdown
In this article, Freya Charlotte discusses the obstacles faced when publishing a book during lockdown; an already difficult process for most first-time authors without the addition of a pandemic. Freya is a recently published children’s author and travel enthusiast who has spent her years post-university trotting the globe looking for inspiration. Lockdown brought her back home to the UK where she currently resides in Somerset, writing stories in her parent’s shed.
In March 2020, about a week prior to the world locking down, I opened the front doors to my new home. It was a flat on the fourth floor of a sand-coloured building in the central district of Palma, Mallorca. The flat was owned by a friend of mine, an old housemate from university who occupied bedroom one. Bedroom two housed a workmate of hers, which meant that bedroom three was all mine.
Unsuspecting of the year to come, I had upended my life and poured it into this little box bedroom in Mallorca only to find myself, just shy of a week later, stuck in Spanish lockdown.
Unlike the English iteration of lockdown, Spain took theirs incredibly seriously. The main rules were:
- Don’t leave your house.
- Seriously, DON’T LEAVE YOUR HOUSE!
You may think I’m exaggerating here but, rest assured, I’m really not. The Guardia Civil had barricades and patrols on every major road and there was no daily exercise allowance. In fact, if you were caught out on the street after curfew, the fines were so steep they were almost vertical. This meant that for my initial few months on the beautiful Balearic island of Mallorca, the only sightseeing I managed was taking the long way round to the supermarket, not ideal.
Now, as a person that thrives within structure, I found the first lockdown particularly tricky. I was unemployed, I was in an unfamiliar country and I was stuck indoors, so the majority of my days were spent lolling from bed to sofa and back again watching endless Netflix and questioning the life choices that had brought me there. So, I gave myself a project.
I decided to try and get a book published.
Like most creative people, the notes app on my phone is littered with inspirational quotes and half-finished ideas. One note in particular was a fully written children’s bedtime story that I had titled Witches Don’t Wear Flip Flops. It had been in my phone for two years whilst I pieced together the story that I wanted it to become and it was this that I was desperate to get published.
However, we were in the midst of a global pandemic which meant that getting a publishing contract as a first-time author was not going to be straight forward. The first step I had to take was submission.
The larger publishing agencies in the UK do not accept manuscript submissions from authors themselves, instead they expect them to come from an agent. So when it came to submitting the book, I had two options: try to find an agent or submit to a smaller publishing house that would accept the book straight from me. I chose to hedge my bets and did both to give my book the best chance of being accepted.
A vast amount of manuscript submission is done online nowadays so the pandemic hadn’t changed any element of that process. However, finding a smaller publisher that Corona hadn’t already got its claws into proved tricky. I received instant rejections from some independent publishers simply because their publishing house had been unable to continue during the current climate. Bookshops were closing, meaning that the publishers’ sales were down which led to a distinct lack of money. Corona was squeezing these poor houses until some of them had no breath left in them.
So, my options for publishers were getting fewer and fewer. As time went on during this pandemic, who knew how small my window of opportunity was going to become? I bit the bullet and sent my manuscript off to six small to mid-sized publishers and waited for a response.
My second step was rejection and acceptance. As an indication as to how long it had taken for any publisher to respond to me, I will add that, in the time between submission and acceptance: Spain had eased up on some lockdown regulations, I had managed to find a job aboard a boat, I had moved out of my flat onto said boat and sailed away from Mallorca and found myself in Greece. Safe to say a significant amount of time had passed.
Out of six publishers my manuscript was: accepted, rejected, accepted, ignored, ignored, ignored and then accepted by the people that had previously rejected it.
Although initially thrilled by the prospect of having a book published, I now had the task of sourcing an illustrator, chalking up contracts and communicating with the publishers all whilst maintaining a full-time job on a boat. It was a bizarre situation to be in I will grant you that. But, eventually, everything got ironed out, contracts were drawn up, illustrations were completed, final edits were approved, my manuscript was starting to look like a real book and I was given a publication date.
Press and publicity is an enormous part of a book’s success and a lot of it comes down to how much work the author is willing to put in. As this was my first book, I was completely unaware of this so it snuck up on me somewhat, bringing with it an accompanying list of COVID-related issues. The primary goal of book publication is getting it in front of people. This could be on social media, in local press and in physical bookshops. Through the power of email and the ability to correctly utilise a hashtag, the first two of these are not impossible tasks. Getting the work into bookshops though might prove otherwise.
Independent and local bookshops are having to adapt enormously to life in a global pandemic and some of them are not thriving as well as others. Some are unable to evolve into an online space which gives them a massive disadvantage against online mega-stores such as Amazon. And even though most people are being encouraged to shop local and support small businesses, some bookshops are falling by the wayside.
Therefore, trying to get a book into a shop that has a non-existent customer base is a futile and vaguely impossible task.
I am currently in the throes of press and publication and even though I am trying my hardest, an email request seems a little puny compared to the magnitude of walking into a bookshop with my book proudly in hand and asking to speak to the stockists.
All in all, I think I would say that my publication experience has been a unique one and I learnt a lot along the way. I just hope that the next time I want to publish a book, a global pandemic doesn’t get in my way!