By Lauren Wise
The publishing landscape is always evolving; and it’s not slow, like water carving out canyons. It peaks and dips, like shifting sand dunes—and the winds of change have been strong in the past 10 years on all angles. Even though there wasn’t a big book hit in 2016, the industry is still going strong: print book sales rose 3.3% in 2016, according to Publishers Weekly, making it the third straight year of print growth. Ebook sales are still on the rise. Authors are more aware than ever that being successful requires the mindset of running a small company—distribution, branding, publicity, exposure, social media interaction.
I work mainly with fiction, non-fiction and memoir authors, including professionals looking to gain more exposure and authority in their field by way of publishing a book. It’s important to keep up on both industry trends and writing/genre trends, so here’s a taste of the most important things you need to know about publishing in 2017.
A new coming-of-age trend for YA
The “new adult” genre (18-24) took a foothold in 2016, and will continue to grow. YA authors should take a hard look at the emerging audiences, who are coming of age not on the cusp of the digital revolution, but are born fully immersed in it. Many of them have never known life without touch-screen phones and non-stop digital entertainment, social media and the terrible normalcy of school shootings on the news. No—they are coming of age on the cusp of 3D technology and laser printing, cyber-bullying and the endless world of YouTube, even a dating world of swipe left or right. In being more aware and connected, youth inexplicably must grow up a little faster, a little more anxious—so it’s only fitting that their questions evolve as well.
I think we’re past focusing on conspiracies or political agendas—a more valid question is the exploration of what it means to be human; the existential struggle, whether it’s spiritual, physical, or emotional.
Novellas, anthologies, and co-authoring will grow in popularity
These three types of work have already risen up the charts in 2016, partly because of economics (and possibly, shorter attention spans). With novellas, it’s more economical for authors to explore different themes and writing styles with smaller books (which are also cheaper to produce), and more economical for readers to explore unfamiliar stories and authors by reading a book that can be finished within a day. A dozen authors can come together for an anthology for a unique theme, reach multiple fan bases, and also combine marketing efforts and production costs. This works for fiction and non-fiction authors, whether it’s a collection of fantasy short stories, examinations of different cultures, or input on an industry from multiple professionals.
Keep an eye out for new themes
When considering new settings and themes for novels, just take a look around you. Supernatural and dystopia are slowly fading out, while more realistic elements are sinking into society. Culture-defining events definitely impact fiction-writing trends: think LGBT issues, ISIS, ecstasy treatment for PTSD, the presidency under Trump, the refugee crisis, climate change, food industry politics—we’ve currently got a lot going on.
Utopianism has also been sliding into book themes, which could be a result of popular movies like Tomorrowland or the impending (yet constantly pushed back) Avatar sequel, as well as society striving towards a model of hope and beauty.
Marketing is (almost) everything
An author must factor marketing and publicity costs into their book budget. This is a realization that I’m happy to see sinking in more and more. Even if an author writes the next Girl On The Train and elevates it times ten, if no one knows it exists, there’s no reason to think it will sell. In this oversaturated market, it’s best to hire a professional if you don’t have the time (and trust me, it takes LOTS of time) to create and execute a marketing plan on your own. A book publicist or promoter will have the right connections, ideas, and resources to get your book out into the world.
However, if you are creating your own marketing plan schedule it to start at least four months in advance of the pub date, and for an additional months afterwards (this is a minimum suggestion). Be looking for the next emerging thing – Facebook ads are oversaturated now, and Instagram ads are becoming more popular. However, Amazon Marketing Service ads are poised to become the next big thing for indie authors.
eBooks vs. Paperback
While the majority of adult fiction sales came from ebooks in 2016, the concept of “digital fatigue” isn’t going away anytime soon. With people spending so much time in front of screens on a daily basis, more and more have been opting for paperbacks over e-readers. Of course, ebook sales will continue to thrive in 2017, due to more advanced e-readers and the affordability of creating ebooks. So don’t write off paperbacks any time soon.
Indie and hybrid publishers will continue to thrive
There is no one way to publish anymore. While authors may dream of getting picked up by one of the Big 5 Publishers, they usually don’t dream of losing their creative control and not making a dime past their advance check. With good quality covers and writing, and marketing plans, we’ve seen self-published authors thrive. Indie presses are rising up with more confidence, resources, and standards. And hybrid presses (partnership publishing, where the best elements of traditional publishing and self-publishing are combined) are fast making a name in the industry. Many of the indie and hybrid presses have professionals behind them that used to work in traditional publishing, but left because they believed there were greener, more creative and less corporate, pastures. So authors are getting a great collaborative experience, more royalties, and more control.
Amazon: the love/hate relationship in publishing
In the publishing world, you often hear “you can’t live with Amazon, but you can’t live without ‘em.” Amazon requires separate attention for just about everything, and it’s frustrating for authors. When books are shown as “out of stock” and Amazon changes book prices on a whim, the only answers are often because Amazon works from its own rulebook. But the company isn’t going anywhere, any time soon; in fact, the company is on track to occupy 12 million square feet of office space in downtown Seattle, according to the Seattle Times.
That brings the realization that publishers and authors just need to make it work. The more we can try to make the process—and our relationship—as seamless as possible, the better it will become. Amazon currently has 13 active publishing imprints catering to different genres, and often the top 10 Kindle best-sellers are from these imprints. A tip to authors is to study these best seller’s algorithms to benefit off of how Amazon markets these titles, trying to align yours with their techniques.
On the other hand, there’s something scary here: Amazon controls more than 70% of online print sales, and more than 60% or ebook sales. If Amazon started to decline or went bankrupt, the publishing industry would be in steep decline shortly thereafter. So while we need to embrace Amazon has an important customer, it also shouldn’t be the one that an author or publisher solely relies upon. Always keep your ears open and eyes peeled for new opportunities for distribution, exposure, and sales.
Audiobooks will continue to rise
I hate to admit it, but it took me a long time to get on the audiobook bandwagon (truth be told, I’ll take my paperbacks to my Kindle any day). But audio has continuously been the fastest growing format in book publishing over the past few years. Audible and ACX were some of the main resources for authors, but in 2016, more economical recording resources and companies have popped up. Plus, with products like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home, people will be able to listen to their audiobooks not only on their device in their car but also at home.
Based out of Scottsdale, Arizona, Lauren Wise has worked in magazine and book publishing for 14 years in many areas, from editorial and design, to printing and distribution. She established Midnight Publishing in 2009 to provide authors and businesses with creative professional editorial services in the struggling economy, and in early 2015, she began working as an editorial manager with award-winning hybrid imprints She Writes Press and SparkPress. Lauren has lived all over the country and traveled throughout Europe, Vietnam, Taiwan, Caribbean, Cambodia, Canada, and Mexico, making her open to several cultures, ideas, and editorial styles. She specializes in editing both literary fiction and non-fiction, particularly autobiographies, inspirational, and leadership books.