How COVID-19 will affect the publishing industry

The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted how writers write, what editors want to publish, and how books are sold.


Still, some writers want or need to write about the pandemic

Writers, it seems, are just like the rest of humanity. They mostly wanted to eat carbs, binge Netflix, and disinfect groceries during quarantine. But eventually, they felt that pull. Writers process things through our words. Symbolism, meter, and allegory help us make sense of what puzzles us. And there’s been no national issue more puzzling, more challenging, or more frustrating in recent memory than the pandemic.

Adriana Herrera considers writing about real-life problems critical to grounding her romance series, Dreamers. She says she will probably address coronavirus in a book. “I live in New York City, and the impact of COVID here has been so profound it might compel me to write about some aspect of it at some point,” she says. “I tend to explore themes like social justice and the impact the systems of oppression have on the marginalized, and the devastating impact this virus has had on low-income families is so vast.”

Writers spinning tales set explicitly in 2020 must decide whether to include the outbreak. Meredith Talusan, whose memoir was released in May, has been working on a novel set in the summer of 2021. She realized days into her quarantine that she must retool parts of the book. “The first chapter takes place at a dinner party set in June 2021,” she says. “I’ve already started doing a little bit of revision, making notes to myself about what may be different then.”

Kevin Bigley, author of Comaville, oscillates from 1850 to 1980 to 2020 in his second novel, now in progress. A few months ago, he started to write the 2020 section, but he feels unsure how to proceed. “If I begin to write the story now, who’s to say that story will still exist in July?” he says. “I’m kind of kicking the can down the road a little to wait and see. Or maybe I will just set it in 2019 instead. I’m weighing all the options.”

Editors anticipate the current situation will impact the submissions they see. In romance, for example, “I expect that we’ll start to see an increase in manuscript proposals that will include dystopian elements and others involving enforced proximity. Being snowbound in a cabin, as an example, has always been a popular romance trope,” says Dianne Moggy, vice president of editorial with Harlequin. “I’m sure several authors are working on stories right now about a heroine being quarantined with the man she views as her archenemy. I expect we’ll also see more real-life heroes and heroines – health care workers, police, etc. – become the leads of future romances.”

Originally Published