Dear authors and illustrators:
I hope you’re staying safe and well. I’m writing to you from what I now think of as one of several thousand Penguin Random House “offices” scattered across the country. We’re now into our third month of remote work, and so it seems a good time to let you know how we are doing, as a community and as a company.
In March, when I last wrote to you, we were all in the early, shocked period of the COVID crisis. My colleagues and I had completed a hasty retreat from our offices and were just coming to terms with how we would meet the many requirements involved in making books away from what now feels like a luxurious amount of internet bandwidth and high-end hardware. We were also trying to grasp what it would mean to take books to market, when everything in the market was changing daily.
All these weeks later, I think we would all say we feel older (maybe that’s just the effects of all the baking and quarantini consumption), but hopefully also wiser. Happily, the structure on which our role as a publisher stands—the physical supply chain we use to take your books from printers to booksellers around the world—has stayed strong, thanks largely to the incredible leadership of our teams at our three distribution centers in Maryland, Indiana, and Nevada, and the ability of those teams to quickly implement and maintain safety protocols.
Of course, the point of shipping books is to have booksellers to receive them and place them in readers’ hands. So many of our bookselling locations—independents, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and others—have been completely or nearly completely shut down during this period, and that clearly has had a hugely negative impact on their health as businesses and on our ability to connect with readers. Readers themselves, particularly during the early phases of the crisis, were also understandably distracted and overwhelmed in ways that pulled them away from reading.
But all is not lost. Books are one of the most resilient consumer products there is, and, sure enough, readers are now coming back. Many categories of kids’ books are doing better than they have in years—a result of homeschooling and the need for trusted entertainment for children stuck at home. Adult fiction is gradually rebounding. Adult nonfiction will likely take the longest to come back, but there are encouraging signs. After the early shock, readers and booksellers are finding each other again—largely online, but also via curbside pickups and alongside grocery retail.
I think of book people as introverts who secretly love being around other people, and publishing is certainly built on a backbone of close relationships developed over many years. Being physically isolated from colleagues, booksellers, agents, and, of course, from you has been particularly hard for us all emotionally. But at the same time, we’ve been energized and amazed by the explosion of creativity, ingenuity, and generosity that has also characterized every day of this period. For every step of our process that is usually analog or physical, we’ve found a virtual or digital substitute. Our marketing, publicity, and sales teams have paid attention to the problems consumers are trying to solve—anxiety, boredom, isolation, interpersonal conflict, financial stress, home-cooking burnout—and figured out how to serve up books as solutions. And publishers and booksellers have brought authors and readers together via a fantastic array of virtual gatherings with a scale and range we would never before have thought possible. Each week, as we bring another set of new releases to market, we’re learning more and will apply those lessons as we work to plan—as much as we can—for summer and fall publications.
As much as this crisis has brought heartbreak, grief, and seemingly endless uncertainty about the future, we know we will get to the other side, stronger for the struggle and equipped with a new set of ideas and tools for helping you reach readers. And we will continue to do all we can to help bring our bookselling partners to the other side with us. Wherever you have found yourself during these past weeks, I hope that you, too, have found books to turn to for comfort and perhaps inspiration for your own next works.
Wishing you all my best,