“You can really tell there’s a big, big flood of books coming,” says Natasha Randall. “You can’t pretend it’s not a worry for an author.”
Her debut novel, Love Orange, is published on Thursday. But according to trade journal The Bookseller, the novel will be one of 579 new books hitting the shelves.
That’s a 24% rise on the number published at the start of September last year and, like most imbalances in 2020, it’s because of lockdown.
Scott Pack, a publisher and editor at Eye and Lightning Books and former head of buying at Waterstones, says: “If you’re a publisher and you had a big book coming out between April and August this year, then you probably postponed publication.”
Ms Randall says: “Booksellers and book review sections are really up in arms about the volume of books coming at them. They just can’t cope with the deluge.”
She told Radio 5 Live’s Wake Up To Money: “This is my debut novel and it was ready to be published 18 months ago, but we picked this date before all this happened.
“I know of about four or five other books where the date was switched once they learned about the 3 September deluge.”
But not everyone thinks it is a concern.
Tom Tivnan, managing editor of The Bookseller, says the majority of the books will be academic, educational or professional titles. Perhaps 45% will be mainstream works “jockeying for High Street shop space”, he said.
“I’m not saying it’s not a problem – any extra books during the autumn when bookshops are already hugely stuffed means booksellers will have to make tough choices.
“But I think the hysteria should be managed. The bulk of these books being published are simply ones that are not for the general reader, and so really shouldn’t factor into the thinking about Christmas titles,” Mr Tivnan said.
‘A noisy place’
However, Ms Randall disagrees. “People aren’t going to parties or the office or going to book clubs in person. The avenues for a book’s life to spread through the population are mostly online, which is a very noisy place.
“When so many books are published, there is an awful lot of noise you have to compete with,” she said.
Nicola Gill faces a similar challenge. Her second novel, We Are Family, is out on Thursday.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit worried, especially since everywhere you look there’s another article or tweet about how bookshops are going to be inundated.
“You can’t help but worry about that, particularly as an author at the beginning of their career. But I am trying to take the view that people don’t just buy books on one day. They sell over time.”
However, she does think it will be a more challenging time for authors. “Getting reviews, for example, is harder. Most of the magazines you associate with book reviews said ages ago, ‘Look, we’re deluged, we can’t take any more.’
“It obviously has had an impact, but as a writer, you have to stay positive, do the things you can do to publicise your book, but accept to a certain extent that it’s beyond your control.”
September and October are always big publishing months, Mr Pack says: “When we get to this point in the year, bookshops completely change and become a gift purchase destination.
“During January to October, most books are bought by people to read themselves. When we get to October half-term, that is the classic point at which it shifts towards gift buying.
“Bookshops take on board a whole load of new books and new stock precisely for that market. Big fat cookbooks, celebrity biographies and funny books. These all tend to come out in September and early October.
“And there is only a certain amount of shelf space. Hilary Mantel must be at the front of the bookshop. The 100 copies of the Jamie Oliver cookbook you’re definitely going to sell at Christmas have to have shelf space,” he said.
But this year’s bumper crop of books can increase pressure on smaller publishers. Aimée Felone is co-founder of Knights Of, an independent children’s book publisher. On Thursday, it is publishing the fourth and final part of Lu, a series by bestselling author Jason Reynolds.
Ms Felone said: “We have built a strong following of readers, and so this is a title that has been anticipated. If this was a brand new debut author who didn’t have that following, we would consider moving it.
“The pressure from independent publishers to stand out is huge anyway, whether it’s 3 September or 3 February. It’s a constant struggle to shout out among the bigger players.”
Despite the competition, both Ms Randall and Ms Gill are excited to be launching new books. “You have to trust readers,” says Ms Randall. “Readers read and they tell each other if they like a book.
“One of the most important ways a book becomes known is because someone reads it, loves it and tells their friends.”
And Ms Gill adds: “The reality is that most people would give a limb to get a book published, so you really can’t complain.”
You can hear more on this story by downloading the Wake Up To Money podcast via BBC Sounds.