Has your brain also waved goodbye in the last week, prematurely running its victory lap for 2023?
I hope so. Not only will it make me feel better about my growing preoccupation with twinkle lights, the smell of pine trees, and snowscapes, but it will also save you a lot of anxiety over the next four weeks.
I strongly and stubbornly believe that the only truly "European" practices capital-P Publishing has maintained in the American landscape are its robust use of summer Friday schedules and time away from desks each December for holiday parties and much-deserved time pressing reset, sans email.
There are several precedents for this workday shift, and while their use is determined on a case-by-case basis, these are huge considerations for anyone trying to get any new initiative done before 2024 rolls in. Any effort given in the next few weeks is going to focus on the successful sale of those "gift" titles: celebrity memoirs, children's titles with a holiday slant, and gorgeous hardcovers of beloved brand name writers.
If you put your writing into the hands of an editor, agency, or publisher this year: congratulations! You embraced vulnerability and the chance of negative feedback.
If your book is in production: you did it! And there's still further to go. Congratulate yourself on the effort you've put in thus far and gear up for the year ahead when your manuscript turns from a personal document into a book ready for market.
All of us should take this time to reset and refresh. 2024 is brimming with opportunity. I mean it. That's why I've compiled the list below of growing trends in publishing you should know about if you're looking to submit or publish your book in the year ahead.
Catch up on some reading over the holiday with these articles from the past year that can help inform your strategies for the U.S. domestic market once Times Square has returned to its least-confettied state. (+)
AI will continue to be a buzzworthy topic for Publishing, but maybe not in the way you expect... If these haven't crossed your desk yet, it's worth looking into the ongoing legal battles between authors and those language-learning model (LLM) builders (like OpenAI). The headlines began in May this year with the announcement that LLM largely used Smashwords to inform artificial intelligence, and progressed throughout the year with cases brought forward by Sarah Silverman, Mona Awad, John Grisham, Elin Hilderbrand, and most recently Julian Sancton on "behalf of nonfiction authors." And though a resolution has been tough to come by, the impacts of AI aren't confined to creative work in Publishing. Jane Friedman posted on her Instagram, following a full discourse on her newsletter The Hot Sheet, that most publishers are using AI to swiftly move along and inform business operations and marketing efforts. Which, if I'm honest, I'm into! Thanks to reading Dan Sinykin's Big Fiction, I'm (dis)heartily aware that the current focus on bottom-line financials and internal efficiency at the cost of creative exploration is the overwhelming result of the conglomeration of publishing in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. If we could automate the parts that distanced us from the heart of working with books -- why wouldn't we?
Audiobooks, the golden format for books in the past three years, will continue to flourish or stagnate.If you have Spotify, or have a friend who has Spotify, you've probably heard about the newly added audiobook streaming functionality added to Premium subscriptions. First of all: yay! But IMHO, this could quickly shift how audiobook contracts are made. While audiobooks heated up in demand, publishers were playing catch up for a while. More than once in 2019 I saw an audiobook contract for a brand name writer get negotiated independently by an agent for production and distribution outside the publisher of that title's audio division. And at least in the U.K., there doesn't seem to be any consensus on how to now factor in streaming subscriptions for "pick at will" listening like the model Spotify has brought forward. And while many publishers and authors alike have expressed optimism in this shift, I do think this will take some of the leverage out of the hands of authors and agents for higher royalties on audio and into the larger streaming narrative we see with music and video royalties (1,2,3).
Spanish audiobooks, however, will flourish. It may even lead the charge for determining best practices for subscription audio. In 2022, Spanish audio skyrocketed in popularity and use. Podcasts in particular went from an estimated 1k unique titles to 100k that year alone. This year, there have been 500k+ active subscribers for Spanish audio content.
Bestseller lists, and what they mean, will be redefined. This year, we've seen the return of the USA Today National Bestseller list and the (temporary?) end of the Wall Street Journal Bestseller list. As Kathleen Schmidt points out in Publishing Confidential, these two lists were previously critical access points to achieving bestseller status for self-published titles. And while USA Today's list has returned, the informing algorithm has changed considerably since its prior modality, cutting off many self-published authors and genres with prolific self-publishing networks (hey, romance on Kindle Unlimited!) from entry. An important question to ask here: would Colleen Hoover still be Colleen Hoover had she not been a candidate for USA Today's algorithm when she was still self-publishing?
Serialized writing and author use of Substacks will continue to rise. This one is my particular favorite on the list. Here's why: "Publishing house" was coined and colloquialized because the communities that published books were just that -- communities! This origin is part of the reason we still have such rose-tinted glasses (✤) when looking at the publishing industry today. The nominal house is less of the point, however than the sense of home that the community found in these established publishers. That is only found through fostered community and creative authenticity...two things that serialized writing and newsletters like Substack can speak to in the age of digital communication. The Free Press recently released a piece about how writers on Substack are making more than they would in the traditional publishing model right now. And some very well-known authors have flocked to the platform, including George Saunders and Rebecca Makkai.
Before you go, I want to say: Thank you, thank you for joining me during the "birth" year for Foreword Literary Consulting, LLC and Layered Text. Cheers to more publishing growth and success in 2024, however you define i
(+) Notice I did not say "un-confettied." There's likely no way that strip of concrete will ever be glitter & confetti free, and that's how we like it.
(✤) Pun thoroughly unintended.