The publishing industry gets rocked by a blockbuster title, and for years after that, publishers and authors play “follow the leader.” It’s smart — millions of books are sold and billions of dollars are amassed annually by chasing trends in publishing.
The publishing world is historically one of fads and trends. They descend upon the market like storms, altering the landscape. Ten years ago, it was Twilight-inspired vampire novels. Then came the phenomenon of young adult dystopia and Fifty Shades of Grey-style romance. And only two years ago did we emerge from the fad in which every other thriller novel included the word “girl” in the title.
Over the last two years, oddly, the industry has been in a drought, with no end in sight. That’s one of many things I learned when I attended the Book Expo America in New York City in 2018: There is simply no dominant creative trend dictating strategy in publishing right now.
There are, however, various shifts happening within the publishing industry regarding how insiders are finding new talent, and that will dictate the challenges facing new writers moving forward. Three of the most important trends in publishing include:
- Diversity continues to be a driving economic force
- The competition for readers has reached new dimensions (and media)
- Alternative media will drive tomorrow’s best sellers
1. Diversity is a driving economic force in publishing
One of the most popular sessions put on at the Book Expo was, “Opportunity Cost: Why Diversity is Financially Critical To the Book Industry.”
In it, panel members discussed just how influential the promotion of multicultural voices is — and will continue to be — in the publishing world. In this sense, they dismantled the conclusions of 2015’s “Diversity Baseline Survey,” which stated, “The publishing industry is white, straight, and physically able, and the vast majority of books published are intended for these audiences.”
The panel also highlighted just how quickly things are changing. The bottom line now is this: if authors and publishers do not embrace diversity, they will lose economically. That’s an easy concept to grasp when you consider the recent economic success of movies like Black Panther, Get Out, and Crazy Rich Asians, and even recent award-winning books like The Underground Railroad and Sing, Unburied, Sing.
“It’s incumbent upon us to make sure that diversity is front and center,” BookExpo/BookCon event director Brien McDonald told The Associated Press during a recent telephone interview.
The industry seems to be following through on this commitment. Other panels on the subject at the Expo focused on immigration, gender, and sexuality.
Panelist and publisher Jason Low was one of the authors of the aforementioned Diversity Baseline Survey in 2015. He summed up the momentum for mixed content in this way: “My doctor tells me that my gut or stomach health is at its peak when I give it a diet of different foods to digest — even unexpected new elements. Your reading appetite is just the same.”
2. The competition for readers has reached new dimensions (and media)
Another of the emerging trends in publishing is this: readers are accessing books in an ever-widening array of media.
Vienna-based consultant Rüdiger Wischenbart recently shared data around how much time people generally spend accessing entertainment on their mobile devices. One group, comprised by more traditional readers — such as urbanites, the well-educated, and folks over 40 — has seen their “mobile time” rise from a modest 26 minutes a day in 2012 to over one hour a day in 2017. The younger generation — let’s call them “Millennial Book Lovers” — spend almost three hours a day consuming content on their phone.
This increase in leisure time is good news. The bad news for publishers and authors is how potential readers are spending their mobile time. Consumers have a larger number of entertainment options at their disposal than ever before, and the data is suggesting that people are not spending their time reading books. That means you’re not just competing against other authors and books in the digital space, you’re competing with TV, social media, games, movies, and more.
“Digital means that publishing’s readership is somebody else’s viewership, and listenership, and gamers, and video fans, and rockers,” says Wischenbart.
There’s still plenty of money and attention available for authors — publishing industry revenue last year topped $112 billion, while the movie industry took in just $38 billion — but reader habits are changing. Authors need to be prepared to fight for their attention.
3. Alternative media will drive tomorrow’s best sellers
To garner attention, authors need to turn their focus to alternative media. That’s because one of the next big trends in publishing might just be alternative writing platforms, like Wattpad. Wattpad was launched 12 years ago and quickly turned into a fan fiction platform. Today, Wattpad might be the most important incubation ground for the authors of tomorrow.
How influential is this Toronto-based business? In the last five years, Wattpad has gone from five million unique users per month to over 65 million. The site now hosts over 550 million stories contributed by writers from all over the globe.
And these writers are getting noticed. Beth Reekles, from Newport, CT, wrote The Kissing Booth when she was 15 and published it on Wattpad. Now, she’s landed a major publishing deal and the book was made into a film that debuted on Netflix earlier this year.
While 90 percent of the average users of Wattpad are under 30, this platform isn’t just for kids. Famed Canadian author Margaret Atwood has embraced Wattpad and other new technologies as a better way to reach today’s generation of readers.
And traditional publishers love finding new authors on Wattpad because it doesn’t just lead them to talented new writers, it connects them to their very loyal readers as well.
Embracing diversity and innovation are the signatures of these new trends in publishing that will prove most influential in the publishing world of tomorrow. You would be wise to take notice.
The Traits and Trends of Best-selling Books [Infographic]
Six Myths (and a Few Facts) About Traditional Publishing
Publishers Are Hiring Sensitivity Readers … Should You?
How To Reach Readers Through Mobile Book Marketing
Are TV and Movies Killing the Written Word?