As with virtually every industry, publishing has faced new challenges during the pandemic, even though book sales have stayed strong (especially in children’s books). The issues aren’t with lack of sales, but with things like the added layer of challenge from all publishing staff working from home, and problems in the printing and shipping pipeline. As a result, some publishers have shut down submissions temporarily simply to lighten the load. So, if you’ve had some struggles finding markets, it’s not you. It’s the times were in.
One of the most important things you can do to avoid wasting your time during the submissions process is researching the agents and publishers you intend to contact. This is always true, but it’s doubly true right now. Sending to houses that have temporarily closed to submissions will gain you nothing. So don’t assume a publisher is open to submissions simply because a market list or market guide said they were. Check out the publisher’s website and (if possible) follow them on social media where the information you pick up is likely to be current and accurate. Social media like Twitter or Facebook are excellent places to learn information about publishers, by the way, especially if you follow specific Twitter tags like #mswl (manuscript wish list).
Consider a Submissions Pause
If the houses you most want to work with are closed right now, you basically have two choices. For one, you can choose a house that isn’t your ideal, but is open. Or another choice would be simply to take a pause. If the publishing experience at your top two publisher choices is virtually identical and one is open while the other is closed, then simply sending to the open house makes sense. But what if the open house is considerably less desirable. What if you know they pay slowly? Or what if you know your book will get less publicity push from this second choice publisher? In that case, it may be worthwhile to simply hold out.
That doesn’t mean you stop writing, by the way. Writing is the thing we do. Writing is the one essential ingredient in our identity as a writer. Sure, if you (like me) are stressed, you may write less, but it’s probably good for your emotional well-being to write as much as you can. Writing helps make you less fretful. And if it’s a source of joy for you, you don’t want to shut it down simply because you’ve taken a submissions pause.
You Finally Have a Tuit
Have you ever seen those silly round potholders that say tuit on them? They’re meant as gifts for anyone who ever said they’d do something when they got around to it. Well, the stalling of submissions during this time can offer you a round tuit. It’s a great time to do all the things you’ve needed to do, but you haven’t gotten around to it, because you’ve been prioritizing other things.
So maybe you could start that blog you’ve been considering. Or you might want to do some real organization of your writing notes. I went through my documents folder (a truly scary place) and collected all my starts and stops of works in progress and reread them all. I evaluated which ones were worth some tinkering and which still needed shelving. That netted me a nice chunk of pieces to work on during my submissions pause. They’d already been started so I wasn’t facing the terror of the blank page, but now I could see them with fresh eyes. Sometimes I realized I’d been trying for the wrong format with the idea (something I thought might grow into a novel actually made a good short story and something I thought was a picture book might actually work as a chapter book with some rewriting).
Also, I’m tinkering with all the older pieces that didn’t do well in submission. Without the internal pressure of gotta get it out there, I find I’m slowing down and giving the rewrite and revise process more careful attention, which is going to reap rewards when all the companies that make up the publishing industry crank back up (which it will, and is already showing slow signs of).
Keep a Foot In
During my submissions pause, I’m not turning my back on market research. In fact, many market lists online are being updated right now because the site owners have their own round tuits these days. So the market information is more plentiful than ever since agents and editors and website owners are finding they have more time. The publishers might be closed to submissions, but I’m building information on them every day.
This is also a good time to network with writers on discussion boards and social media. We’re all facing very similar challenges, and it can be comforting to have someone to invite to your pity party. Plus, it can build relationships when you console people having their own party. Remind your fellow writers that right now, the problem really is not them. No one enjoys an anxious wait for things to get better (especially when you throw in health worries) but if we turn this from the gloom of weak market options to the cheer of finding your round tuit, we can truly squeeze some lemonade out of these lemons.