Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Wendy Lawton, Mary Keeley and I returned last week from ICRS (the International Christian Retailers Show) where we met with editors and publishers to talk about what’s hot and what’s not in the publishing industry.
We don’t spend time at book conventions wandering the aisles to see what’s being showcased. That’s old news, about two years old as a matter of fact. Because the publishers made decisions to produce those books two years ago. Instead, we concentrate our energy on talking to those who are buying new product now–the editors–and those who have spotted overall industry trends–the publishers.
From our conversations we gleaned a couple of trends.
- Walmart’s latest merchandising strategy has created a tsunami of returns for publishers. Several months ago, when you walked into your local Walmart, books were showcased at the front of the store, and significant shelf space was devoted to those titles. But Walmart decided to put the books at the back of the store and to reduce book shelf space. That resulted in major returns for publishers, as Walmart sent back the books they now had no space for. Since Walmart doesn’t take publishers into its confidence, the publishers were caught unaware of this changed policy. Publishers had just figured out what size of print runs to plan in light of the upsurge of e-book sales and of the downturn in physical book sales, but this new tidal wave has set them back yet again.
What does that mean for writers and agents? Most likely a slowdown in the number of new titles being released. With less shelf space, publishers will turn to e-books to make up for the sales lost, but e-books aren’t growing at a significant enough pace to make up for the loss of physical book sales. While that’s depressing news for writers who want to break into publishing, here’s another thought to glean from this information: publishers will, more than ever, buy the types of books that sell well as e-books. That means an emphasis on romance and romantic suspense. And they’ll de-emphasize the types of books Walmart carries, which is historical Americana.
Lest everyone run out to create romance manuscripts, don’t forget that those are the leading genres, not the only genres publishers are looking for.
- On the nonfiction side, narrative nonfiction continues to dominate based on editors’ responses to projects we talked to them about. But, to keep us balanced, a glance at the CBA best-seller list and discussions with editors informs us that prescriptive books are doing well, too.
How can you keep up with trends?
Not everyone has the opportunity to sit down with editors and discuss what they are looking for. And not everyone has a chance to talk over with a publisher what’s going on industry-wide. So how can you keep up with the latest?
Be aware of what’s on the best-seller list. While we agents point out that the best-seller consists of decisions that were made a minimum of two years ago, the sales are in real-time. They tell us what readers are responding to this month or this week, depending on what best-seller list you look at. Everyone in publishing keeps an eye on the lists, and editors know what their publishing houses tend to do well with.
That means you can be pretty confident that several editors are looking for some transmutation of what’s on the list. They’ll also be trying to figure out what’s going to be hot two years from now and what’s going to look worn out. So checking the lists isn’t a guaranteed way to see what’s up the road, but it’s a darn sight better than merely guessing what editors want to buy.
How do you keep up with the trends–through reading blogs, keeping track of best-seller lists (which ones), paying attention to what you and your friends are reading, or…?