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Board Members Memo: What You Publish Next Is Important

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by Maggie Langrick, Founder and Publisher, LifeTree Media —

Maggie Langrick

If you hope to sell books post-COVID-19, be sure they meet readers’ needs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to make tough decisions and big changes in our businesses. We’ve had to revise our budgets, furlough staff, and renegotiate with vendors. We may have juggled our schedules and pushed publishing dates back. As urgent as these immediate adjustments may be, there’s another longer-range change that all publishers should be making in response to the current crisis, and that is to reconsider which titles we will put onto our lists for 2021 and beyond.

Publishing works on long, slow timelines that require us to peer far around the corner. Predicting trends is a specialized skill even in stable times, and it’s both harder and more important than ever now. During the shutdown, readers bought books to help them entertain and educate their kids, bake bread, and tend their pandemic gardens. If you happen to have titles in the market on those subjects, you may be one of the lucky publishers who saw an uptick in sales even while bookstores were closed. But how will the books you have in development now support your success next year? Nobody knows exactly how this economic and public health crisis is going to play out or where we will find ourselves as a society next year, but we can be certain that every potential reader will have been profoundly affected by the events of 2020. We already know that many Americans have lost their jobs or businesses and therefore will have less disposable income next year. If you hope to sell your books to them, you’d better be sure they meet a real and urgent need.

Sadly, it’s not a leap to predict that many people will lose loved ones to the coronavirus before the year is over. Many will suffer increased levels of depression or anxiety. And all of us will be feeling some measure of shock and trepidation, shaken by the experience of prolonged isolation, uncertainty, and the stress of moving through what feels like a contaminated world. In 2021, readers will need books that meet them where they are and help them to move forward.

Our company publishes nonfiction, so we are developing books that can help people to heal from emotional trauma, get their careers back on track, dial down the day drinking, and lose the “Quarantine 15.” But before you cry “most depressing list ever!”, let me also add that courage and visionary thinking tend to increase during times of adversity, so we’re also developing books to help readers harness creativity, build resilience, and fuel innovation. On the business books side, we are looking for authors who write about change management, entrepreneurship, and the future of work.

This imperative to be relevant applies equally to publishers of fiction and poetry, both of which can be cathartic and help us to psychologically integrate big life events. Give some thought to the themes and moods that are likely to resonate with readers who have just been through a global pandemic and economic crisis, from epic tales of societal movements or government conspiracies to intimate portraits of close-up relationships. And, of course, let’s not underestimate readers’ appetite for a ripping good yarn or fun frolic that offers a welcome diversion from the daily grind.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that, as book publishers, we have an important contribution to make to the health and well-being of human society. Our commercial success is in alignment with the public good. The way to keep our own businesses healthy is by publishing profitable books—and for 2021, that means publishing books that can lift people up, restore (or mourn) what’s been lost, and inspire readers to bring forth their gifts to create a better world for us all in the years to come.

Maggie Langrick is the founder and publisher at LifeTree Media Ltd, a hybrid publisher of nonfiction books that help, heal, and inspire in categories ranging from business to self-help and motivational memoirs. A longtime fan of prescriptive nonfiction, Langrick believes passionately in the power of the written word to positively affect lives. A board director for IBPA and a member of the IBPA Advocacy Committee, she is an outspoken advocate for innovation in the publishing industry. She lives in Los Angeles.

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