L.A. Kennedy

Beyond the story

Karen DeGroot Carter

Insights into popular genres, author marketing, audiobooks, and more

Photo by César Viteri on Unsplash

For a look at current trends in book publishing, I immediately turn to industry insider Jane Friedman, author of The Business of Being an Author and the top resource on the web for developments in the world of traditional publishing.

In her October blog post “Current Trends in Traditional Book Publishing: Fiction, Nonfiction and YA,” Friedman opened with the following insights into the book publishing industry:
• Nonfiction still tops fiction, but political book sales are down.
• Nonfiction categories lead in the young adult (YA) market.
• Graphic novels are big for all age groups.
• Audio books are continuing to grow in popularity.

She then moved to overviews of multiple panels held at the New York Rights Fair at the BookExpo conference in May that featured high-profile literary agents and editors. Friedman’s takeaways (in addition to the points noted above):
• Psychological fiction rules.
• Readers want to escape and indulge in nostalgia.
• Darker narratives are being given more of a chance.
• A writer’s voice and storytelling abilities lead to more buzz and ultimately prevail over a book’s “high concept.”
• But a book’s elevator pitch is still needed in order for the book to be marketable.
• With nonfiction books, editors want to give the media what it wants, and currently the media is hungry for diversity and authors with established followings.
• Horror and dystopian stories in YA and even middle-grade books are on the rise.
• There has also been a rise in adaptations of television shows and movies in the YA and middle-grade markets.

Another insight offered by Friedman and apparently discussed at length by members of one panel was the absolute need for authors to actively promote their books. In paraphrasing a statement made by literary agent Dorian Karchmar, Friedman wrote:

“…it’s a necessity for the writer…to be part of the conversation and understand the other books and writers with whom their work is in conversation…”

Karchmar also said an author must build their brand and self-promote “through other forms of writing and engagement other than just the novel and readings that the publisher sets up for them.”

But enough of the current state of things, though much of that current state will certainly bleed into the new year. What about the future of book publishing?

2020 and beyond: Audiobooks set to soar to new heights

According to industry publication The Bookseller, audiobooks are not only on the rise, they’re on their way to revolutionizing the book publishing industry. In a recent article, “Voicing a Revolution,” Dominic White of U.K. audiobooks publisher W F Howse made the following predictions:
• “Voice tech” will be the dominant tech of the next decade, with the current use of voice assistants such as Alexa and Siri just the tip of the iceberg.
• You will no longer have to wonder if a book is available as an audiobook; every newly published book will be made available as an audiobook due to the ease of audiobook creation thanks to artificial-intelligence text-to-speech apps.
• Libraries will be at the forefront of promoting audio books. (Considering the current battles being waged between libraries and publishers with regard to audio books — and ebooks — this development may be more complicated than others.)
• Stories in a certain genre or nonfiction category or by a certain author, etc. will be discovered through voice assistants that can not only recommend titles but immediately begin reading them to you.
• The models for the streaming and purchasing of audiobooks will merge.

The impact of audiobooks on the industry was also discussed at length in the 2018 Book Industry Study Group post “Future of Publishing: Challenges and Opportunities for Publishers.” This piece stated that publishers must not only continue to take advantage of the opportunities provided by audiobooks but design content specifically for listening “and other modes of digital consumption.”

“This requires rethinking the definition of product in a fundamental way. The product is no longer just the format or purely the content. It’s in the delivery of stories and information, conveyed the way people want to consume them.”

Think shorter stories in audio and video as well as written formats. Think interactive stories in which the reader determines the ending. Think “a set of related stories from multiple sources.”

“Publishers must adapt to consumer desires for options and think more expansively about the audience they can address, an audience broader than readers. This means getting away from the book- and print-first mode of organization, development, distribution, and consumption.”

As this directive seems to indicate, the future of book publishing lies in the targeted delivery of content.

Formats such as audiobooks and delivery methods such as streaming services will become more varied, and consumers will continue to demand an ever-broader range of consumable content. This will lead to the need for publishers to create even more new material on a constant basis, which means the need for stories — whether they’re fictional, factual, or written for children or teens or adults — will continue to increase, even as the demand for certain types of formats decline.

Whether you consider yourself a writer of stories or a creator of content, I’d call this outlook pretty promising, regardless of the formats through which your work is made available to the public over the next decade or so.

One thought on “Traditional Book Publishing Trends Today, in 2020, and Beyond

  1. Léa says:

    If what I am dealing with currently is a snapshot of the way publishing chooses to conduct itself… I’m at a loss. For months I scoured for a certain book The Essays of Elia and the Last Essays of Elia by Charles and Mary Lamb. The first I bought through Amazon and though a newly printed book, page eight was on the back of page three… you get the picture. They did finally reimburse me. The second volume of the book, different publisher, different vendor, also recently printed, has splotches of ink on numerous pages and on at least one page, page 38, a white space where numerous words should have been. Anger, frustration… just a few of the things I currently feel. Buying a book should not have to be like buying a pair of shoes that one needs to try on. Silly me, I actually expect the book I purchase to be both readable and have all its pages. If only reading were not like oxygen, I might have some other… Local books are all in French and I do read some, but not all and usually that is poetry. Forgive me, I feel as if I’ve just opened Pandora’s box?


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