2020 – A Year of Publishing in the Time of Coronavirus

It’s been a year of the unprecedented use of the word “unprecedented” and the majority of us probably didn’t realise what a year it would turn out to be, but isn’t that life! It’s one of those world-changing events where everybody on the planet has felt what it’s been like to go through the experience, all be it, filtered through each of our own world views and personal circumstances. I for one have really missed seeing my children as much (teens now) but I’m grateful for my lovely partner and her hilarious sense of humour that has got us both through some low days. It goes without saying that I’m sure we are all looking forward to putting this year far behind us!

And what a year it has been, one that we decided to relaunch Beachy Books and ensure we can create even better books and provide an even better service to our clients and authors.

And so, the year began with excitement in the air as I foreshadowed in my 2019 yearly roundup blog, I was very excited to be attending and exhibiting at the London Book Fair 2020 in March, alongside the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) stand, had loads of meetings booked with booksellers, distributors and other publishing industry folk to hopefully gain knowledge, make contacts and do business… but, alas… it was cancelled, along with all other public events as “the coronavirus” swept across Europe and hit the UK. I was gutted. I was in the middle of incorporating Beachy Books, trying to get book distribution sorted, gain sales help, along with all manner of other issues I hadn’t realised I’d have to get my head around to have a hope of doing what I’d always wanted to do: Make Beachy Books a professional and valid business in its own right, work at it full time and start to publish a list of books under a traditionally published imprint, alongside my other work in helping people get published.

I found some solace in recording a few podcasts this year, one before the eve of lockdown, and an isolation special where some of my brilliant authors and poets on our list recorded poems and I read out stories. I had hoped to podcast more this year, but due to a combination of being too busy and not feeling so inspired during my walks it scuppered my hopes. I have some plans to reboot the podcast next year and attempt to make it more interesting, get others involved and attempt to make it more content-rich instead of just me rambling on about myself. Watch this space but don’t get your hopes up too high!

I admit at times throughout the crisis I was ready to jack it all in and I became very stressed and exhausted. I was working very long hours and most weekends just to keep things going. Because of various factors I was not eligible for any kind of government help apart from business loans which I steered clear of; instead I invested my own money into the business to keep things going and was so greatly helped by reaching out to the generous folk in the publishing industry such as the IPG, and my contacts with other professionals, who offered me so much support and help with the business and steered me in the right direction.

It is often difficult to sustain enthusiasm when working on books that won’t be out for some time, so it was a blessing when I started to get so many enquiries and submissions from authors, who found themselves furloughed or enjoying retirement, with lots of time to write and send us it all! Beachy Books has been inundated with submissions this year, so much so that we had to temporarily flip the closed sign on the submission door until the new year to catch up with the backlog.

Alongside business shizzle for Beachy Books I had the pleasure of helping a handful of authors to self publish, including our most senior client ever, at over 90 years old, who we helped to publish a hardback personal memoir about his amazing life. It was also great to once again work with the fabulous Shirley Adams (who I’d helped in 2019 to publish The Hungry Fox and Penny Feathers) to publish a new picture book she wrote in response to a child who contacted her with an idea on Facebook: I Want To Be Small Not Tall.

It was a dark few months for a while, battling with the isolation of lockdown, separated and missing my children, but I was very lucky to be living with a lovely and funny lady and together we battled through the madness, entertaining each other while both working long hours from home, and popping out for the regulation exercise walk-a-day during the first lockdown. I admit, I didn’t actually have my first Zoom call until a few months back, as most of my work could be done by emails and the occasional phone call with authors and clients.

Reflecting back, I realise I’ve had to wear so many “hats” setting-up or rebooting many aspects of my business, learning new skills and making new contacts. One day it was learning how to setup royalty runs, another day it was dealing with book distribution problems — of which there were many in the early days of the pandemic with bookshops suddenly closing and the whole book distribution network disrupted. Fortunately my great printers and distributors continued to run all through the pandemic, improving services day by day, and of course we all know bookshops did an amazing job of providing books to customers via collection and deliveries.

I had a bit of a blow when I had to ditch a distributor early on in the year after they just all went into furlough. I had barely signed-up with them, but luckily Gardners Books kindly reached out to us and helped get our first traditionally published children’s book on the rebranded Beachy Books imprint all stocked and ready for sale into the book supply chain: Thingamanose by Lynne Hudson – a silly, comically illustrated book that is a bridge-gapping book between picture books and chapter books, a longer picture book/part comic book that is written to appeal to slightly older children than pre-school kids. It was a thrill to see the book listed in The Bookseller Buyer’s Guide – another first for us!

Lynne was our first author to be signed on the new imprint and it’s been so much fun working with her as we really share the the same passion for rhyming books and comical illustration. I especially loved interviewing Lynne Hudson about her inspirations and background. We have already got some wonderful reviews and sales are progressing well. In spite of the pandemic, Lynne managed to arrange her own brilliant book signing in her home town of Weston-super-Mare at an artisans’ shop called the Weston Collective, just before the start of the second lockdown!

Alongside the publication of the paperback of Thingamanose, another milestone for us this year was to commission and publish our first ever audiobook, where we worked with a wonderfully talented voiceover artist called Amy Putt, who did a brilliant job of creating voices for all of Lynne’s characters in the Thingamanose audiobook available on Amazon, Audible and iTunes.

Thingamanose by Lynne Hudson

We are very pleased to announce that following the success of signing Lynne, we will be publishing more of her writing in 2021, including a classic 32-page colour children’s book with a cat as the hero. Alongside Lynne Hudson, we have also signed three new authors on the Beachy Books imprint more of which we will post about early in 2021. And we are in early talks and drafts with more authors for 2022 and beyond (it’s weird thinking that far ahead!)

It’s also been busy over on our Partner Publishing imprint, which we have rebranded and defined more in terms of the service we provide and our royalty structure. In a nutshell this is a part-pay, part free marketing and sales imprint alongside the Beachy Books brand. We are excited to have already signed five new authors/poets, with another author soon to join the fold.

The first author to be published on our Beachy Books Partner Publishing imprint was Anna Southwell, who lives in the Isle of Wight. She is partially blind and writes all her children’s stories on a typewriter (you can read more about Anna in our interview). It was pleasure to be able to publish the 1st book in her Oliver Gruffle – Secrets of Harmony Haven series, The Runaways, just this December and we were blown away when BBC Radio Solent interviewed her live on the radio on publication day.

As a result we had one of the biggest spikes in visitors to our website and the book has had the fasted online sales in a single month that we have ever had! A fantastic success for author and publisher we think and we are looking forward to publishing more of Anna’s series in 2021 and beyond.

Oliver Gruffle – Secrets of Harmony Haven – book1: The Runaways by Anna Southwell

It’s been a pleasure to work with all our authors this year from contract issues to helping with editing and working on early designs of covers. We would also like to thank some of the fabulous freelancers we have worked with from editors to artists including the illustrator of the Oliver Gruffle books – Joanna Scott, and marketeer and publishing hopeful, Amy Butler, who is helping Beachy Books and gaining some experience. (Read her guest post on our blog about rhyme in children’s books).

We really do have a lovely variety of books due out next year and beyond and I’m already getting excited thinking about them all. Details of the authors and books on all our imprints will be revealed in an upcoming blog for books in production and scheduled for publication (which we refer to as “still at sea”) in 2021.

My head is spinning after such a busy year so it has been a relief to close shop over Christmas to recharge and just do nothing (apart from write this blog), but I think the rest is well deserved after this crazy year. Myself and all at Beachy HQ wish you a happy new year (it’s got to be better than 2020!?) and look forward to seeing you all on the other side when we roll the shutters up once again.

Happy New Year (ya’ filthy animals!)

Philip Bell, Publisher, Beachy Books.