How Authors are Dealing with the Supply-Chain Crisis
Publication delays and books trapped on ships are just part of being a writer today
Booksellers and publishers have been sounding the call for months to shop early for the holidays, citing rising paper and cardboard prices, worker shortages and fewer printing plants as reasons some titles will sell out. Standard advice? Patience, and buying different books to replace sold-out choices.
It makes sense–unless the book in question is your own.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
Several authors who spoke with Book and Film Globe are shifting plans and rescheduling events to adjust to an increasing slew of publication delays fueled by supply-chain backlogs.
“I was surprised but not surprised,” fantasy author Andrea Stewart said. She got the news in early October that the publication date of The Bone Shard Emperor, the sequel to her debut The Bone Shard Daughter, would shift from Nov. 9 to Nov. 23. “Fortunately, it was only a two-week delay, but the 23rd does run really close to the holidays.”
She rescheduled one virtual book talk, but had to cancel an in-person event.
“It’s sad for me because my first book came out during the pandemic,” Stewart said. “You look forward to all those things as an author: ‘I’m going to go to bookstores, and sign my books, and meet readers.’ That never happened for my first book, so I was really looking forward to it for this one.”
Recouping lost sales is another concern. Blockbuster books anticipated to be best-sellers typically take precedence on printing schedules. And part of choosing a publication date is creating a window where a book won’t vie for attention with lots of other titles.
“Publishers space out their books so that not everything gets pushed out at once,” explained Grace Lin, the Newbery- and Caldecott-honored children’s book creator. I Am An American: The Wong Kim Ark Story, the picture book she co-authored with Martha Brockenbrough, will publish Nov. 23 instead of Nov. 2. Four Spanish-language versions of Lin’s Storytelling Math books also will publish two months later than anticipated.
“With everything getting delayed, the little space that you carved out to let your book have a moment–all of a sudden you’re competing with a lot more,” she said.
Transit slowdowns caused by a backlog of container ships are contributing to the delays.
“I think it’s on a dock waiting to go,” Lin said of I Am An American. “I have talked to a number of authors who have been told the same thing: ‘It’s waiting to be shipped.’ I kind of have this image in my head … of all these boxes on a dock, these huge, huge piles of boxes that are bringing the dock deep into the water. I have a feeling that might kind of be true.”
Lin said she’s also noticing it’s tougher to keep backlist titles stocked. A standing offer to sign copies of her books purchased at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art near her hometown has resulted in a flurry of messages from fans.
“I get Facebook messages and emails from readers who say, ‘I really wanted to get that box set, but it’s still out of stock’,” she said. “I even asked my editor, who told me there’s 4,000 copies in the warehouse. It’s not out of print!”
Brockenbrough, Lin’s co-author, said she’s disappointed for readers who will have to wait longer for their book, which spotlights the American-born man denied entry to the United States after visiting China on a family trip. His Supreme Court case was the basis for ensuring birthright citizenship.
“You know, it’s the sort of email that you get and your stomach falls and there’s nothing you can do about it,” she said. “It’s an important story for kids and even for adults. That’s why Grace and I set about writing it in the first place … Here’s the life of a person that changed the nation and made us more just and equitable.”
Still, they’re pivoting. Brockenbrough and Lin are incorporating their later launch into a literacy event at Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. Journalist Keith Phipps, whose Age of Cage: Four Decades of Hollywood Through One Singular Career will publish in March 2022 instead of this month, hopes the delay of his Nicolas Cage appreciation will permit events in tandem with screenings and live audiences.
“I don’t know that right now I’d be doing that many in-person events,” he said.
Age of Cage will now also publish closer to the release of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, starring Cage as himself in a Being John Malkovich-esque film. “My book makes reference to it in a pretty significant way,” he said, which could lead to more attention.
How to help? Pre-ordering, which broadcasts support to publishers as well as ensuring a specific book in your hands, and spreading the word.
“Word of mouth in terms of publishing can move mountains,” Brockenbrough said. “It can make a book find an audience and stay alive.”