This year! Books!
When we look back, I think we’ll see 2023 as a significant year of transition for the publishing industry. And yet what we’re transitioning to feels murkier to predict than at any time I’ve been involved in the business.
The year is full of several different potentially massive changes, but the full impacts have not yet revealed themselves.
Artificial intelligence looms largest as a potential disruptor of entire creative ecosystems, but at this very moment it feels more like a curiosity and copyright lawsuit magnet.
Private equity behemoth KKR acquired Simon & Schuster after its doomed merger with Penguin Random House, but where they’ll take the company, and what it signals for publishing conglomerates writ large, is anyone’s guess.
James Daunt is in the midst of transforming Barnes & Noble, which is generating laudatory press, but the overall trajectory of America’s last major bookselling chain remains a mystery.
And social media is in the midst of a huge transition as authors migrate away from Twitter, once a real water cooler for the industry, and disperse into a widening array of social sites or drop off social entirely.
From an author’s perspective, perhaps the biggest point of uncertainty revolves around whether the pandemic’s effects on publishing are resolving or if they represent a new normal.
Calendar headaches, supply chain issues, inflation, shuttering imprints, stretched support staff, transitions to remote work, and pervasive burnout all had significant and tangible effects on authors and publishing employees alike. There’s a vast game of musical chairs for the open slots at major publishers. New entrants have entered the game (Zando Projects, 8th Note Press), but their impact remains uncertain.
While debut books are absolutely selling, previously published authors who in years past might have been able to count on a new book deal are not just struggling to get new contracts, their agents are struggling to get their projects considered entirely. “No response means no” has trickled over to the publishing house side. Publishers are struggling to break out new titles with consistency, and feebly chase trends (romantasy! hockey romance!) percolating on BookTok.
And a positive change from the pandemic era–a renewed commitment to diversifying the industry in the wake of the social justice protests in 2020–is unfortunately showing some signs of creakiness, through clumsy policy decisions around book bans and the pernicious effect of social media algorithms skewing what few bestseller lists are left back to the status quo. Whether the promised changes were lip service or signs of real progress feels in a moment of uncertainty as well, and we all need to continue to do our part to push for meaningful change.
I’m absolutely mindful that the sky has been falling in the publishing industry since I arrived in the early 2000s, but it really does feel this time around that real changes are afoot. The crystal ball is seriously cloudy.
But I remain optimistic overall because people out there really are still reading, particularly young people, and there are more opportunities for authors to reach their readers than ever. If you define yourself against your ability to secure an old fashioned life as an author getting big advances from a major publisher, you face a more competitive landscape than ever. If, however, you just want to write books and find your readers wherever they are, you’re sitting pretty.
2024, here we come, whether we like it or not!
Meanwhile, I still collected a few links from the past week for your perusal, and here they are.
I highly, highly recommend reading this important discussion between Sally Rooney and Isabella Hammad about the role of writers and artists in responding to current events.
Don’t let a scamming grinch get you this holiday season. Victoria Strauss from Writer Beware has tips for avoiding agency scams.
A superfan’s unauthorized Lord of the Rings sequel was quashed by the courts.
Along with Ingram, wholesaler Baker & Taylor is one of the biggest players in the publishing industry few casual observers are familiar with, and it has a particularly important role with libraries. Two years after its CEO, Aman Kochar, purchased the company, Jim Milliot profiles Kochar and his efforts to transform the company coming out of the pandemic and efforts to support diverse books.
These are the poets and writers who have been killed in Gaza. An incalculable loss.
This week in bestsellers
Here are the top five NY Times bestsellers in a few key categories. (All links are affiliate links):
Adult print and e-book fiction:
- Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros
- Iron Flame by Rebecca Yarros
- The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride
- The Exchange by John Grisham
- Icebreaker by Hannah Grace
Adult print and e-book nonfiction:
- Oath and Honor by Liz Cheney
- The Wager by David Grann
- The Woman in Me by Britney Spears
- Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
- Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry
Young adult hardcover:
- Murtaugh by Christopher Paolini
- Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross
- The Official Five Nights and Freddy’s Cookbook by Scott Cawthon and Rob Morris
- Powerless by Lauren Roberts
- Nightbane by Alex Aster
Middle grade hardcover:
- The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs by America’s Test Kitchen Kids
- The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs by America’s Test Kitchen Kids
- Wings of Fire: A Guide to the Dragon World by Tui T. Sutherland
- The Harry Potter Wizarding Almanac by J.K. Rowling
- The Sun and the Star by Rick Riordan and Mark Oshiro
This week on the blog
In case you missed them, here are this week’s posts:
Don’t forget that you can nominate your first page and query for a free critique on the blog:
And keep up with the discussion in all the places!
And finally, a gallery of incredible volcano photos? Yes please.
Have a very Happy New Year, thank you for reading, and I’ll see you in 2024!
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Art: Wintersonne by Jan Grubiński