Curious to hear a comprehensive analysis of the state of the publishing industry, I attended a ZOOM webinar this week put on by Ingram entitled: How has Covid-19 impacted the Book Industry? There was a lot of optimism. Here are the key points I took away from the meeting:
Book sales are up right across the spectrum by 6%, and a whopping 29% for Q1 2021 over Q1 2020 in the US. Global book sales reflect similar upticks. Basically, we’ve seen the market grow five years-worth in a year, with books finishing in the top five in retail sales.
The categories that saw the greatest increases are, 1) Juvenile fiction, 2) Fiction, and 3) Juvenile nonfiction.
Also of note, buys are interested in new formats, as well as titles that dealt with the state of the world today.
They report that the way orders come in changed dramatically due to the lack of face-to-face events. However Ingram’s ability to fill customer orders through drop shipping met a need, and eased issues with shipping in general. (On a global level, think Brexit. UK to EU shipping was particularly interesting, but thanks to Ingram’s multiple manufacturing plants throughout Europe, they were able to sidestep this border-crossing problem.)
Digital sales rose 17%, and with the biggest rise in academic sales which were up 120%. There was also heavy interest form Libraries.
Audiobooks have taken off, not just through ACX (Audible), but across platforms. Here again there was spike in the demand for Children’s titles.
Don’t write off the print marked, however, because it also grew in 2020.
Microtrends spotlighted included African American titles and civil discourse, for example. So, as a publisher, we do need to have our finger on the pulse, and consider bring books to market faster.
Social Media usage is on the rise, with the average user spending 2 ½ hours per day online, and buying things they discover there, and there was a 50% increase in book-related searches on Google and Amazon. And of people surveyed 40-60% of consumers report they expect to continue this new shopping behavior post-COVID
Even brick-and-mortar sales are starting to return to pre-pandemic levels.
We’ve made our nominations for the Pushcart Prize 2020. We wish we could nominate something from every single book we published this year, because we believe all of our authors are winners or we wouldn’t have published them in the first place, but the Pushcart committee limits us to six nominations per year. And every year that means we’ve had to leave six authors out. (We publish 12 titles per year on average)
We at Madville Publishing are pleased to nominate the following for your consideration for the 2020 Pushcart Prize:
“The Last Ride, 1928” by Brian Petkash from his short story collection, Mistakes by the Lake. (May, 2020).
Congratulations everybody! Thank you for providing such high quality work for us, that we want to include it as one of our Pushcart Prize Nominations for 2020. And thank you for all you do to promote Madville Publishing.
Wanted to support your favorite authors somehow beyond just buying their books? We all have a favorite author or artist, someone whose work we love and would like to support. However, sometimes, times are tough and we just don’t have the spare cash to buy a book right away. Or our favorite author may not have a new book for us to buy in the first place.
What can we do to support them so that they can still afford to write the books we enjoy?
#1: Leave reviews.
This is true for any business today, and that is what writing is–a business. Products with higher star ratings and a larger number of reviews tend to sell more, and in this, the era of Amazon, more reviews makes them more likely to be seen. Amazon and Barnes & Noble (the two biggest marketplaces for books in the United States) both require a minimum of at least 30 reviews before they will start to feature a product in a customer’s “recommended” section on their websites.
A lot of people feel overwhelmed at the idea of leaving reviews–especially on books. Our theory is what we like to call PTECD (Post Traumatic English Class Disorder). Don’t worry, this is an E for Effort classroom. Something as simple as “I liked it” is immeasurably helpful. We don’t require full book reports to pass. 😉
#2: Request copies at your local bookstore or library
Despite common misconceptions, authors and (indie) publishers love libraries, because they make their books readily available in an otherwise financially blocked market. By requesting a library stock a book from by your favorite author, you are helping that author and his or her publisher to earn an income while you gain access to the book at no cost to you (as long as you don’t accrue late fees–tsk, tsk!). You are also making the book available to other people who might enjoy it and who may also write a review for it (full circle).
I want to write a review, but I don’t know how!
Here are instructions for writing reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and our own Madville Publishing (the website you’re on right now).
It is important to note that there are many other places where you can leave reviews such as Goodreads (owned by Amazon) and StoryGraph. Our list is not exhaustive, but it will get you started. Every little review (the more stars the better) helps.
After making sure you are logged in to Amazon (or Amazon Smile to also have a portion of any proceeds from your purchases go to a charity of your choice), look up the book you would like to review and select it. In the sample image, I have searched for What Magick May Not Alter by JC Reilly which already has two (wonderful) reviews. It does not matter whether you choose the paperback or kindle edition of a book, they both go to the same place.
Once you have selected the book, scroll down to the bottom of the page. In the sample image I have prepared here, you can see a lovely 5 star review from Linda Austin. There is a grey button labeled “Write a review.” On mobile, it is under the other reviews. On Desktop, it’s to the left of them.
Once you click on this button, you should be taken to a new page with several blanks to fill. 5 star ratings are obviously the most helpful rating for an author and publisher. You can add an image if you’d like. Then, of course, the written review itself. As I said before, this can be as simple or complex as you’re comfortable with. “I liked it” is good, “I couldn’t put it down” is better, and a full essay is simply spectacular. Either way, we are eternally grateful.
Barnes & Noble
Much like Amazon, the first step to leaving reviews on Barnes & Noble is to login or sign up for an account. Then, search for the book you want to review.
As with Amazon, it doesn’t matter whether you click on the Nook version or the paperback version in the search results. They both take you to the same page.
The review link isn’t obvious if you are the first reviewer for a book.
If there are no other reviews, there will be green text beneath 5 blank stars that reads “Click here to be the first to review this product.” If there are other reviews, there will be a blue button labeled “review.” Click on whichever one you see.
Just like Amazon, B&N wants a star rating, a title for the review, a photo if you feel like it, and a review itself.
“Great Read!” is still very much appreciated.
B&N also has a few optional boxes to tick. These help their search algorithm put the book in front of people who would actually be interested in reading it–boxes to tick like, “Would you recommend this book to a friend?” or adding tags that you feel describe the book (tearjerker, laugh out loud, feminist, inspirational), whether or not your review contains spoilers for the book, and what kind of reader you would describe yourself as (casual, literary, book club reader, etc.)
All publishers appreciate reviews on their own websites, as well. We are no exception.
Say it with me, kids: Make sure you’re signed into the website first!
To sign in or sign up for an account on Madville, click either “Sign Up” or “Account Details” on the black menu bar at the top left of the screen. If you can’t see the black bar, it might be hidden behind the dismissible purple banner at the top of the page. Click “dismiss” and the black bar should be made visible.
Once you are logged in, the process begins to sound familiar. Navigate to the book you’d like to review. In my example image above, I’m using Mistakes by the Lake by Brian Petkash. A little less than halfway down the page, you should see three tabs: Description, Additional Information, and Reviews. Click on “Reviews”.
When the tab loads, you should see any existing reviews as well as stars for a star rating, a text box for your review, and a submit button. Fill these out, please and thank you!
Book covers are amazing things. They can lure readers in, jolt their imaginations, prod them to, perhaps, pick up a book and read it. And during the reading of a book, its cover can be revisited, prompt additional exploration as to what the cover means vis a vis the contents, the characters, the story.
While any best-of lists will inherently miss some great book covers, when I reflect on covers that stuck with me, these are a few that come to mind:
The Great Gatsby: The painting by Francis Cugat is haunting and captures so much of the book’s vibe.
Jaws: Yeah, that image says it all.
Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone: The image is arresting and creepy. The extra warning—“YOU TELL ON ME YOU’RE DEAD”—when the book’s held at a certain angle, heightens the creepy.
1Q84: I probably could’ve posted only Chip Kidd covers—he’s that good. I just happen to be reading this particular book now.
The Nickel Boys: Its stark design captures devastating heartbreak and loss.
When I signed with Madville Publishing to publish Mistakes by the Lake, Kim Davis, Madville’s Publisher/Director, sent over her first cover idea:
Initially, I liked it. It has the skyline of Cleveland in the background. And the viewfinder symbolically captures the many and varied views of the city that my stories themselves attempt to capture. I liked how the full image would serve as a nice wraparound cover, too:
And then I decided I wasn’t in love with it. You know, this might be—I hope not, of course!—but this might be the only book I ever publish. I wanted to love the cover.
One thing I appreciate about Madville is how involved their authors can be. So, with Madville’s blessing1, I went a little nuts.
From April through September 2019, I tried out different ideas. A ton of different ideas. I played with different Cleveland skylines, I played with various Cleveland maps, I played with overhead shots of the city, I played with iconic landmarks, I looked at (and even emailed) a few well-regarded Cleveland artists and photographers (Paul Duda [http://www.pauldudagallery.com/] and Jim Lanza [https://www.foundrywoodprints.com/], both of whom were kind enough to work with me should I find a piece of art I liked). As I stated, a little nuts.
One of the challenges, in my mind: Since my collection spans numerous decades of the city’s history, how could we get a cover to capture that timespan?
Here’s just a smattering of what I did. As you can see, I am in no way a designer, but it was exciting when, later on, I learned how to knock out a picture within the title (see the last two). You’ll also see a few early versions of what, ultimately, became the cover.
Madville patiently waited for me to work through my issues. And, finally, I sent six or so for their review.
They really liked the last one. (I liked that one a lot, too. I love how the old 1796 map explodes into the modern skyline. But, it was mildly problematic: as near as I could tell, the Western Reserve Historical Society owned the rights to that map and I had not yet worked out if we could use it or not. But after some back and forth, WRHS kindly agreed to let us incorporate the map in the cover. Also, it was an old map. The best reproduction of it I could find had elements that were roughed up and lost to wear or folds or both. So, I spent far too many hours digitally touching up and redrawing portions of the map to make it whole.)
Then it was in the capable hands of Jacqui Davis, Madville’s graphic designer: “I take the images and fonts the author likes, then, from the images, I establish a color palette. Ideally, this palette contains no more than six colors … three is better. For Brian’s book, the pinks came from a sunset picture he sent—then there’s the black, beige, and white from the map.”
Jacqui sent this back:
I liked it. A lot. And I loved what Jacqui did with the sky and the words and the overall composition. We thought my name might get lost in the busyness of the map, so that was one element to change. Plus, none of us were sure about the sky. We tried it in blue:
We all agreed the surreal pink was a better choice. (I should note that both sky pieces were photographs I took while living in Costa Rica. To not only have such a big say in my cover’s design, but to also use artwork of mine was all very cool.)
A few more tweaks: Could we see more of the map (so “Cuyahoga” was visible)? How would the map look using a parchment color? Could we try a different font? How would “by the” look in a slightly different and subordinated arrangement? From there, Jacqui made additional tweaks. “I chose this font because the letters are imperfect with a slightly organic feel that matches the lettering on the map and the splotchy ink blot textures of the skyline.”
Yes, I loved it. My publisher loved it. And, nearly a year later, I still love it.
1“Madville handles the cover design process a little differently from most traditional and indie publishers in that we involve our authors in the cover design process. This collaboration happens in different ways. We always ask our authors right up front to give us some idea of what they imagine for the cover. Their responses run the gamut from no idea what they want to some who have the artwork picked out and rights secured to use it. From there, the design process goes back and forth with the author allowed to give their input all the way up to the point where I step in and make the final decision, and I’m never going to pick a design the author doesn’t like!” —Kim Davis, Director, Madville Publishing
Brian Petkash was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Tampa and his stories have appeared in Midwestern Gothic and Southword, among other publications. He currently lives in Tampa, Florida, where he remains an avid fan of Cleveland sports.