How you can help support outdoor writers during the Coronavirus pandemic

Although writers are less affected by the current crisis than many others, these are challenging times. Here’s how you can help.

We may not be able to travel to the hills or wild places right now, but writers help us plan our next trips and travel there in our imaginations.

Outdoor writers are often self-employed. Most of us have lost at least some work; some have seen their income collapse to zero almost overnight. Fortunately there are plenty of ways in which you, the reader, can help your favourite writers to thrive – not just during this crisis but beyond.

There’s a lot of crossover here with other content creators such as photographers, video producers, artists and more. For the purposes of this article I’m talking about people who primarily write guidebooks, other non-fiction outdoor books, and articles both in print and online. The same principles broadly apply to many kinds of content creators, though.

My perspective: I’m a professional writer and editor in the outdoors sector.

The problems outdoor writers are facing

First of all, some of us will be getting ill from COVID-19 and may be unable to work for days or weeks. Tragically, people will die, as people are dying right now. Before I dive in to the economic impact on our sector let’s not forget this.

Authors are suffering from multiple problems. Talks, book launches and book tours are being cancelled, and most bookstores are closed, resulting in lost sales. Bookshops that are open are having trouble getting stock. Publishers are facing cash-flow black holes due to these reasons and more. Most are soldiering on with a cut-down staff while they face problems with distribution, warehousing, payments from internet retailers, and staff sickness.

John D. Burns at the launch of Sky Dance in Fort William
John D. Burns at the launch of Sky Dance in Fort William. Launch events are not happening at the moment, which means lost sales, fewer points of contact with readers, and surplus stock for publishers

Meanwhile, there are indications that Amazon has stopped ordering or restocking books from some publishers. It has been widely speculated that Amazon may be focusing on more important goods during the crisis, or at least goods that are more profitable for them (they have denied this).

Self-published authors, while enjoying greater flexibility in some respects, are typically even more dependent on Amazon than trad authors. Indies often have greater overheads as they have to provide their own budget for editorial, design work and marketing.

Guidebook authors are unable to do research in the field due to travel restrictions. Gear testers may find their jobs a lot more difficult for this reason too.

Gear testing is difficult at the moment unless you're fortunate enough to have mountains within walking distance
Gear testing is difficult at the moment unless you’re fortunate enough to have mountains within walking distance

Demand for books from readers is harder to call. Travel has plummeted worldwide, which means that demand for guidebooks may have declined, but people may still be planning future trips. It’s likely that demand for other kinds of books is actually increasing, though, as many readers now have more time on their hands. However, Waterstones has indicated that fiction is the area with strongest demand at the moment.

Outdoor magazines face many of the same problems as book publishers, with reduced newsstand sales and potential issues with printing and distribution. Also, most magazines are dependent on ad-sales revenue from outdoor brands, and advertising spend has crashed through the floor. As a result, most publications have already slashed editorial budgets. This may make itself felt to the writer as cut fees or cancelled commissions. Not all magazines have done this yet – most are keen to shield their valued contributors – but nobody knows what may happen in future.

Travel writers are unable to travel. Press trips are being cancelled, brand collaborations cancelled or put on hold. Writers who mainly do this kind of work are having to radically pivot in order to survive.

In the short term, writers are looking at lost income, cancelled work, and lower sales. In the longer term the survival of the publishers and magazines we depend on for our livelihoods is at risk.

How you can help

Books:

  • To support an author, your first port of call should be the author’s website. They may have a stock of signed copies, especially if talks have been cancelled, and they will be only too happy to sell to you directly.
  • Some authors even sell e-books direct to the reader. Pay them by PayPal and you’ll receive a PDF or EPUB. If you buy your e-books this way, the author will get a bigger cut than if you buy a Kindle book on Amazon.
  • It isn’t just authors who need and deserve readers’ support. Publishers are positive forces in the world of outdoor literature, and they’re struggling right now. Rather than looking for books on Amazon and then giving up if they’re out of stock, go to the publisher’s website – many sell direct to the customer. Vertebrate Publishing (30% off all books at time of writing), Cicerone Press, Birlinn and Cordee all offer this.
  • Don’t forget your local independent bookshop. Some are still fulfilling web orders, and they desperately need the support of their customers. If in doubt, give them a ring. Amazon and Waterstones will survive this, but will that quirky bookshop with excellent taste in your nearest town?
Day Walks in the Cairngorms by Helen and Paul Webster (a recent release from Vertebrate Publishing)

Magazines:

  • Now is the time to subscribe to your favourite outdoor magazine. By subscribing, you’re not only supporting the magazine directly, you’re also supporting everyone who writes for it. Without a strong subscriber base some magazines may not survive this crisis.
  • While problems with printing and distribution can affect subscriptions, some magazines are offering free digital versions alongside print (The Great Outdoors, for example, now offers this).
  • Most magazines offer digital-only subscriptions, either via Apple News+ or Pocketmags. This is a good option if you’re short on storage space or want to avoid contributing to paper consumption.

Helping writers in other ways:

  • Tell other people about the books and magazines you love. Word of mouth is the most powerful form of publicity. If you’ve enjoyed reading something lately, tell your friends and family. Personal recommendations are worth far more than a retweet or a share – although those help too!
  • Sign up to their email newsletter. A newsletter is any writer’s best tool to reach readers directly, and it’s likely to be a good way for you to find out about future special offers and book releases.
  • Read their blog posts and share them with other people. I know it’s often said that people don’t really read blogs any more, but many outdoor writers have fantastic blogs with a wealth of free content.
  • Post a review of their book – on Amazon, Goodreads, on your own blog, or just on Facebook/Twitter.
  • Support them on Patreon if they use it.
  • Some content creators make money from affiliate links on their websites. When you make a purchase through the affiliate link, the blogger gets a small commission at no cost to you.
  • Buy them a coffee. You’ll often find a link labelled ‘tip jar’ or ‘buy me a coffee’ on writers’ websites. This allows you to send them a direct donation of funds.
The author, thru-hiking the Haute Route Pyrenees in July 2019

How you can support me

Right now, I am fortunate – my writing projects are continuing more or less as planned, although I have already lost some future income. The situation could change at any time. I’m a creative freelancer, and right now that’s a precarious thing to be. If you enjoy my writing and photography, there are a few ways you can help me out:

  • Continue reading my free online work on this blog and on UKHillwalking, commenting, and sharing – it is appreciated, and it does help.
  • Sign up to my Pinnacle Newsletter. My delayed 79th newsletter is due at some point over the next few days. When my book is launched, there will be special offers for newsletter subscribers.
  • Subscribe to The Great Outdoors magazine. TGO is the outdoor magazine that’s closest to my own values, and publishes my best outdoor writing. They have some great subscription deals at the moment: an ongoing subscription with the offer of £15 for the first six issues, or a three-month offer for only £9.99 with no ongoing commitment. This is fantastic value and I highly recommend taking advantage of it if you aren’t already a subscriber. You can also buy individual issues online with free postage.
  • Subscribe to Sidetracked magazine (single issues also available). I am Sidetracked’s sub-editor and an occasional writer. This magazine sets an incredibly high bar for beautifully written and lavishly photographed adventure stories, and working on it is one of the great privileges of my career.
Sidetracked magazine
  • Subscribe to On Landscape magazine. I don’t publish in On Landscape as often, but I have a couple of pieces coming up soon. It’s one of the top digital magazines for landscape photography in the UK. As a reader, I learn a great deal from every issue.
  • Buy books from Vertebrate Publishing. Vertebrate will be publishing my own book, The Farthest Shore. Again, this is the publisher closest to my own values, run by true lovers of the outdoors – and they have an incredible back catalogue of quality books. Please support them!
  • If you’d like to buy me a coffee, thank you! Here’s my tip jar.
  • Last but definitely not least, please support my author clients. Some, including John D. Burns, Keith Foskett, Graeme Harvey, Mark Horrell, and Ellis J. Stewart, are fellow outdoor writers.
  • Ok, one more! Keep the faith. This is temporary. The pandemic will end. We’ll be able to return to the mountains and wild places one day – and when we do, we will appreciate them all the more. In the meantime, writers will help to keep the flame alive. That’s a valuable thing.
This is what an outdoor writer/photographer looks like: my brother James Roddie, working on Beinn Eighe in November 2019. We don’t do this for the money. We do it because we love it.

Transparency disclaimer

I haven’t been paid to mention any of the individuals, publishers, magazines or brands featured on this page, and there are no affiliate links. Most are people or companies I personally work with or have worked with.

3 Comments

Very well put Alex. And remember, it is a two way street – all the work you (and others) make available is playing an important role in helping the rest of us get through these difficult days. Stay well and good luck.

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