Agent Savant

The musings of literary agent Laurie McLean

2019 Publishing Predictions

Written By: laurie - Jan• 01•19

The past year has seen a maturation of many of the trends that were sparked by the revolution in publishing that began a decade ago. Indie publishing. Social media marketing. The birth of Author-preneurs. Smart phones as reading devices. Digital diversity. The democratization of publishing.

While a lot of these trends will continue to deepen and extend, there are a few speed bumps or even large potholes ahead that you’ll have to watch out for.

Here are my predictions for 2019. (All opinions are my own.)

Diversity Continues its Dominance

One of the unforeseen yet marvelous results of the democratization of publishing is the emergence of #ownvoices authors and the increasing desire for marginalized voices to be heard and read. Top Ten and Best Books of the Year lists are crammed with nearly unpronounceable author names and stories about people and places foreign to most readers. Publishing is slowly becoming more reflective of our society as a whole and that is a very good thing. We Need Diverse Books. In 2017 only 9% of children’s books featured African or African-America characters. We obviously have a large upside to explore. Editors and agents are hungry for well-written books written by non-Caucasian authors. And I think that trend will accelerate in 2019.

Resurgence of Indie Bookstores as Destinations

When Borders Books went bankrupt and consumers began buying more and more of their books (and everything) from Amazon, things looked bleak for publishing’s beloved retail channel. But something wonderful has happened. Indie bookstores, whose demise has often been predicted but has not happened, began to flourish. They added complementary items to their stores. They added cafes or partnered with good ones. Some added the capability to print books instantly through technology. But the heart of indie bookstores was what really saved them. They are filled with book lovers as staff who can help you find the exact book you want for yourself or as a gift. Bookstores, with their bestselling author visits, workshops and conferences, classes, parties and other events, have finally become the destination book lovers craved. Through smart expense management, good solid marketing, and really knowing their customers, indie bookstores are thriving across America. Let’s hope this trend continues (and it will if you buy books there!)

The Rise of Smart Phones as e-Readers

With the rising percentage of people using mobile phones as an extension of themselves, it makes sense that books would find a home on them alongside texts, games, music, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and all those other handy apps. I would love to predict that in 2019 savvy authors will really study this small, portable reading format and create a new kind of book perfectly suited to the screen size and shortened reading times. Of course I’m still waiting for ebooks v2.0, so we may not see a spark of something new on iPhones or Galaxies for a while yet.

Audiobooks and Podcasts are More Popular Than Ever

The sales numbers continue to accelerate. More people are listening to podcasts and books in commute traffic, at home while relaxing, pretty much anywhere they have a mobile phone or mp3 audio system. And it doesn’t look like they’re going to put the brakes on anytime soon. Because they’re so popular (and profitable) audiobooks have joined ebooks and print books as “must have” rights traditional publishers won’t do a deal without. Audible continues to innovate in this space with subscription-based services, original audio stories, and “all you can absorb” genre titles (romance for now) for a monthly fee. Podcasts are getting more and more professional and interesting. If you haven’t listened to a podcast ever, there’s a new year’s resolution you’ll be happy you made.

Nonfiction Will be King For a While Longer

If you look at the runaway mega bestsellers for 2018, most of them were Trump-related political nonfiction. Fire and Fury. Becoming. Unhinged. Fear. A Higher Loyalty. It seemed like every week there was some political expose that made bestsellers out of midlist or debut authors who had dirt on the President. I expect this to accelerate in 2019 as Trump’s politics continue to dominate the news cycle and we approach the 2020 election cycle. (It’s okay to let out a groan or huge sigh right about now. I feel your pain.) I don’t see a mega bestseller in fiction emerging in 2019, but I can’t rule one coming out of left field either. It is probably a consequence of readers not buying as much fiction because they’re buying Trump nonfiction instead. There was only one novel that sold more than a million copies in 2018: The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. I rest my case.

We’re in Love with RomCom

A micro-trend I see happening in 2019 is that editors are starting to buy a lot of romantic comedy titles (YA and adult). I think it’s a reaction to the gruesome or disturbing news we’re greeted with every moment of the day. Maybe when this trend wanes it will be an indication that the insanity of our world has calmed down and readers will once again want to engage with the real world instead of retreating into fantasy. But who knows when that will occur.

And speaking of gruesome news, there are some negative trends to watch out for in 2019…

Financial Meltdown on the Horizon

The world has been in a bull market for more than a decade and most financial pundits are calling for an end to that upward trend in 2019. In fact, the way the stock market was tanking in December could mean it is already starting to happen. While a financial downturn, or even a collapse, affects all industries, publishing, with its microscopic margins, could be hit hard. Advances will get smaller. Marketing budgets will shrink further. Even the number of books bought by traditional publishers will go down. Might this be the year where Amazon changes the KDP percentages it offers to authors? 70/30 (or 60/40) if you are Amazon-exclusive via Kindle Select and 50/50 for authors who want to have their books on all platforms? Time will tell. But it would not surprise me at all that Amazon will react to financial pressure in every way available to it.

People Are Spending Less Time Reading Books

It should be a surprise to none of you that people of all ages, sexes, races and socio-economic levels have split their entertainment hours into a myriad of activities. Gaming. Social Media interaction. Streaming and binge watching. Outdoor activities. Sports. Dining. Watching CNN or Fox obsessively. And, oh yeah, reading books. The statistics are abysmal. More than one-quarter of U.S. adults read no books last year. Of the 74% who did read a book, many did not finish. The number of people who read has been steadily decreasing since the early 1980s. And the reading portion of leisure activities is continuing to decline. I see an opportunity for cross-pollination here. Books based on videogame characters. Books that accompany favorite TV shows. Even nonfiction that can accompany sports or après-sports time. We cannot deny this long-term trend. But we can capitalize on it. Especially with digital content.

It’s An Ecosystem. Support it All!

For years many have tried to position the publishing “wars” as ebook versus print books and indie authors versus traditional authors. I’ve always felt these were wrongheaded comparisons. We operate in a publishing ecosystem that contains all these components with more emerging every year. Readers want stories everywhere on all devices (even hardcover books whose demise has been predicted by others over the years). They want to start reading a book on a Kindle, switch to a laptop, and finish on their Samsung Note. Hey, when VR really catches on, I hope we’ll see immersive versions of books! But what I hope does go by the wayside in 2019 is the spurious fighting between print/ebooks and indie/traditional books. At Fuse Literary I have a lot of successful hybrid authors who have successful careers in many different ways. It’s an ecosystem. That means buying books in multiple places to protect the fullness of the ecosystem. I mean, buy at Amazon, sure. But buy at Barnes & Noble and your corner bookstore too. Let’s create the world we want to be available to us when we publish books ourselves.

So there you have it. My 2019 predictions. What do you see on the horizon for publishing?

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