Toronto book editor Lynn Henry got the news during a visit with her sister in Victoria. The day she’d arrived, March 12, her employer, Penguin Random House, announced it would be shutting down its offices. She decided to work remotely from British Columbia for a month, to limit her movement and also support her sister, Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer.
The news about a beloved project came a few days later: Aislinn Hunter’s novel The Certainties, a book Henry had been editing for some two years, would not be coming out May 12, as planned.
“It’s almost literally awaiting someone to press the button on the printer,” Henry said in an interview this week.
It made sense to push the publication back to August, but it was still a disappointment.
Spring is a busy time for book releases, and readers certainly have more time on their hands and are desperate for distraction during the pandemic-induced shutdown. But Canadian publishers have been busy pulling books from the season. Without traditional means of distribution, sales and marketing – physical bookstores closed, author tours cancelled and Amazon too busy delivering food and toilet paper – publishers know this is not an ideal time for a launch.
“We always try to publish a book at a time when it has the best chance of finding its widest readership,” says Kevin Hanson, president and publisher at Simon & Schuster Canada, which has delayed publication of several titles. “We want to give that book a shot.”
With Indigo, Canada’s largest physical retailer, shut down, along with independents across the country, he says, “it would be negligent of me to publish a book and ... damn the torpedoes.”
Some books have gone on sale and thrived: Kathy Reichs’s A Conspiracy of Bones, published in March, is a Top 10 bestseller. Others that might have been delayed were already en route and couldn’t be stopped from going into the uncertain market.
But those that have been put on hold include former Olympian Perdita Felicien’s debut My Mother’s Daughter, (moved from April 14 to March, 2021) and Emma Fitzgerald’s Hand Drawn Vancouver (from May 5 to June 23). Publication is now TBD for Jordan Abel’s highly anticipated Nishga and Pasha Malla’s Kill the Mall.
In some cases, there are logistical issues: ECW Press has moved Music Lessons by Bob Wiseman from June 2 to July 6 due to a printer shutdown. Coach House Books in Toronto, which has its own presses, had to shut down because printing isn’t considered an essential service. Half the books on its spring list have been delayed into July, and that could change again.
“It’s a tough decision, because fall is going to be jammed full of new releases – and a U.S. election. But we just don’t have the books yet,” said Coach House editorial director Alana Wilcox. “One is half-printed. The press sheets are gathering dust in our pressroom.”
Other delays are content related: Figure 1 Publishing has put off Julien Perry’s Washington Wine + Food until August, since the featured wineries are closed right now. Greystone Books pushed Stephan Orth’s travel book High Tech and Hot Pot: Revealing Encounters and Escapades Inside the Real China into the fall.
Some of the delayed books are being published earlier as e-books. Book*hug, for instance, pushed Where Things Touch: A Meditation on Beauty by Bahar Orang from May 28 to August 11, but will publish the e-book on June 14.
Other writers have had the publication of their e-books moved up, including Saleema Nawaz’s Songs for the End of the World. House of Anansi has moved up the e-book of Ian Hamilton’s latest Ava Lee novel, The Diamond Queen of Singapore, to May 26 from July 7, but moved back its print publication to August 4.
Biblioasis has pushed many of its books, but decided to publish a couple of titles in April because of their current relevance, including Menno Moto: A Journey Across the Americas in Search of My Mennonite Identity by Cameron Dueck and The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen. Both deal with themes of isolation and community.
And some books have been added to spring lists. Greystone is publishing a completely new edition of an older book by David Waltner-Toews which is now called On Pandemics: Deadly Diseases from Bubonic Plague to Coronavirus. This book will be published in the U.K. next week, and in North America in early May.
There will, no doubt, be more movement in the months to come: Greystone – which reports that sales in the last month are “way down” – is one of the publishers assessing its fall list to determine which books might need to be rescheduled into 2021.
“Everything depends on when the market begins to return, and with this in mind we see a few shards of light ahead,” says Greystone publisher Rob Sanders. “Not many, but some signs.”
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