The books of 2009
25 Jan 2009
Ten editors predict which books they think will prosper in 2009.
Publishers are always on the lookout for strong narratives, entertaining stories, books that excite us - but that's more true than ever this year. I think it's clear that celebrity books will continue to thrive in the second half of this year, as they have done for many years - with television stars leading the way. We're certainly looking for celebrity-led books but I'm also looking for music autobiographies. I suspect that readers will be thinking twice about paying out for a hardback unless they feel particularly passionate about the subject, and there's something about our love of a particular band, or our teenage crush on a pop star, that never leaves us. I think we'll see books of a nostalgic nature continuing to be successful this year as we look back to more secure and comforting times, and I suspect we'll see readers turning towards self-improvement of a more spiritual kind (cheaper than designer clothes and plastic surgery). Elsewhere, although misery does seem to be slowing dramatically, I think the appetite for books that engage the emotions and inspire readers will remain and I'm looking for memoirs that bring to life the extraordinary stories of 'ordinary' people. Ingrid Connell, Sidgwick & Jackson
My guess is that it will be 'all change, all stay the same'. The notion that the economic environment will change people 's taste in one sweep I think is fanciful. The usual five celebs will have their 'autobiographies' fight it out at Christmas and everyone will be looking for a zeitgeist humour break out - nothing last year interestingly. In 'serious' non-fiction, there will be the usual motivations for buying: narrative, terrific individuality to the writing, the stories of lives... but here, like everywhere, sales numbers may be allied to keen pricing and awards won . I think there may be a mid year drift toward escapism and jollity. Fathers Day may spearhead this with lots of books about bad behaviour. Commercial fiction will be interesting. I have a feeling there's changes in taste afoot: a move back to more 'big', 'airport' novels; historical moving into different eras; a real reduction in 'chic'. The established brand authors will be a safe haven and it will be more difficult to persuade retailers to take a chance on new authors. But smart, well packaged, well written books of all types will still sell. How many? That's largely up to us. Trevor Dolby, Preface
Despite the gloomy economic situation, we will continue to do what Oneworld has long been known for: commissioning well-written and –researched nonfiction titles that say something important about the state of the world. The authors we seek are great storytellers and passionate communicators who are keen to shake up the status quo and who share our belief that a successful book must edify as well as entertain. As an antidote to bad news fatigue, I can imagine that people will shift from misery memoirs to accounts of modern heroes, and we are on the look-out for books which shed light on the more positive side of human nature, with the aim, of course, to publish the defining book of our times. On the fiction side of things, we are betting our new fiction list on the hope that people will flock to pure escapism on a global scale. With the pound down and unemployment at a high, we reckon a new generation of armchair tourists is about to be born with a keen appetite for books that whisk away readers to other lands and immerse them in other cultures. If climate change and the recession has taught us anything, it is that we are all in this mess together! Marsha Filion, Oneworld Publications
It is dangerous to make any predictions on what kind of books will come to the front of the class in 2009. The industry is naturally an environment packed with Cavaliers and Roundheads. The Roundheads will tell you that people will be looking for books that inform and educate; they will tell you that this is no time for frivolity and we need to read ourselves out of the situation. The Cavaliers will be selling fantasy for all its worth, offering escapism from the doldrums. In fact both sides are right, because this year's list will be a lot like many that came before it. It is not necessarily the books that change in the recession but the way they are sold and consumed. Big Ideas, great narratives, individual voices and originality will all shine through as long as the hard work continues to be done behind the scenes.
2009 is the year of many important anniversaries: Charles Darwin, Henry VIII are the most obvious. But it is also the 25th anniversary of the 1984 Miners' Strike. It is safe to say that the 80s will finally become a legitimate historical subject in the coming months with a number of book on Thatcher and how we got into this mess. It is ironic that the 80s revival has been going on in fashion and music for some years now. This, I think, will be very interesting as the history market becoming increasingly focussed on the post war era above all other periods. I suspect that the barrier between history and current affairs will be increasingly blurred with a number of books on why the Credit Crunch occurred. Fair enough, I think, but only a handful of these books will really stand out and become the accepted view of what happened.
A number of other areas I think will be increasingly popular: science in general but also positive psychology and compassion; neuronomics (the way our brains work when we shop); the world of work. Leading up to the Copenhagen Earth Summit in the autumn one can only hope that we will start to think once again about how our behaviour affects others and the planet. One can wish for these things, can't one?
Most importantly, now that books are so expensive and so much information is available on the internet I want my books this year to be individual, argument driven and produced with an attention to detail. To buy a hardback for £25 is a lot of money and I will expect production values; otherwise I will wait for the paperback. The book needs to celebrate its own form; design, typography, quality of paper will go a long way in encouraging me to pick up a book up, turn the cover over and start to want to own it. In addition, the age of the e-book is not far away and we need to start thinking with 2 different head: the physical object has desirability, the electronic version offers utility. Publishers can prove expertise in both fields but we need to prepare for the future Leo Hollis, Constable
If the last 12 weeks of 2008 showed us anything in the publishing world it was that celebrity still sells. Pretty much every book in the top 50 was based, however loosely, around some sort of celebrity factor. So, I think that we’ll all be looking for celebrities, old and new, to grace the covers of our books, fiction and non-fiction. If they are funny and by a celebrity, then even better. Elsewhere, I think we’ll want our history with a twist, to tell us something different and new about ourselves – Tom Holland’s Millennium being an excellent example from the end of last year. We will continue to get a lot of our money-saving ideas, for the home, for our families, for the garden etc from newspapers and magazines, but a book which brought it all together in one place would be interesting. We perhaps won’t be doing as much exotic travelling as we used to, so books which bring alive the beauty and diversity of the British countryside, its landscape and its history may do well. And I think that whatever the book, we’ll still want to be inspired and uplifted, perhaps more so than ever.’ Mike Jones, Simon & Schuster UK
I see 2009 as pretty much the same as any year if I’m being honest. Yes, we can discuss trends and what may, or may not be working for a ‘breakout’ genre or book, but I always stick to the same theme. What interests me as a reader across the subjects of history, sport, music and memoir. These have always been my target areas and I don’t stress about what new angles I can commission, rather does the actual synopsis and writing appeal to me and can I make it work commercially and limit my losses if it doesn’t? It’s for the sales director to put his head on the block and commit to targets, confidence in a book is always there for the publisher, I just have to ensure this ‘feel good’ bubble is maintained to publication, and then hopefully through the Xmas period, especially in our current economic climate.
I hope that personal histories still appeal to the buyer, as I do get tired of dry reads of famous battles or campaigns. As a nation we’ve at last woken up to the fact that our ‘real’ heroes of the Great War and WWII aren’t going to be around much longer and their stories need to be told, individually instead of a collections mind you, and in the first person. A myriad of books come out, but it seems only one or two breakout, and I’d argue because they have a human interest angle too, such as our recent bestseller Kitchener’s Last Volunteer. I am sure there will be an almighty rush to sign the latest sports stars winning trophies and medals, but again, for the smaller imprint you have to box clever and go out and find the book that will work for you. We hope we have succeeded this year for the football and cricket genres. Watch this space! Iain MacGregor, Mainstream
'Entertainment value has always mattered for books, it goes without saying. But in times such as we face this year, escapism becomes even more important and will fuel the need for high entertainment - action, humour, riveting interest - in both fiction and non-fiction. Escapism also encompasses looking at other worlds - be they geographically or psychologically different, or indeed different in time, and good history will always have a place. The constraints of the chain promotions will mean that more than ever books must have everything going for them in terms of the writing as well as the subject. Good, accessible economics will find a ready market.....' Roland Philipps, John Murray
“During the darker days of the Seventies, Jonathan Livingston Seagull was the best-selling book in America for two consecutive years while over here we were reading Watership Down. So I suppose we may be in for another allegorical animal saga of some sort. I’m on the look-out for something featuring a future dystopic global scenario such as John Hackett’s Third World War (an international bestseller in the early Eighties) or Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (which flew off shelves in the Seventies). I suspect there will also be a revived interest in the glories of the past: books based on Arthurian legend, Celtic myths and Tudor England. Certain types of history book have been in the doldrums for a while, but the mid-Nineties saw the success of character-driven narratives such as Dava Sobel’s Longitude so I’m hoping to read some good new history. Also, we have been inundated with proposals about the causes of the credit crunch. It may be too soon for them as there isn’t yet any perspective But I think a really good biography of Bernard Madoff could be very saleable , combining an explanation of the financial crisis with gripping human interest.” Alan Samson, Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
A very famous editor-in-chief once pronounced: ‘Never make predictions. Especially not about the future!’ So how about studying the past to make sense of the present and possibly derive a few pointers what the future might hold? Dangerous? If we go down that road do we have to decide whether we belong to the school of cyclical historians who believe that history inevitably repeats itself; or the group who is convinced of a linear historical development, which is entails that what we do today will have a direct effect on tomorrow and we therefore are responsible for shaping our future? Or can we believe both premises can be true?
For those who are trying to make sense of the current problems history and biography titles were always a good source of information. The hope for the future is that we will dare to look beyond our immediate comfort zone as far as our reading habits are concerned, realising that the world is interconnected and that we should therefore care what happened and why in other parts of the world. That means confronting our own past as well as its links to other parts of the world. The new American President has invoked both that particular aspect of history in his inaugural address as well as identified the themes of the future, such as sustainability and interconnectedness. Through his life’s experience Barack Obama has reached out to people far beyond his native land. And the people who elected him have demonstrated that faced with enormous problems they didn’t go for the old but gave the new, the young and the different a chance. And that they want to get involved in the shaping of their future. 2009 should be the year when books should do well, which not only identify the challenges ahead, but out of that analysis identify ways how the general reader can get involved to make a difference. Because Barack Obama proofed to each one of us that we can. Barbara Schwepcke , Haus
With the adoption of the Kindle and the Sony E-reader and the plethora of nonfiction information available on the internet, I think the look and feel of the book will be more important than ever in 2009. We want to publish books that provide readers with an aesthetic experience of great quality and that celebrate the book as book. One such offering that we are working on for the autumn is Justine Picardie's biography of Coco Chanel. It brings together brilliant writing, an utterly compelling story, and beautiful imagery. And it will publish alongside a major film release, which should heighten interest in Chanel. That is the kind of book that I think people will want to buy, to own and to savour for years to come. I will have my eye out for more like that.
I am also looking for celebrity, but A-list celebrities only. We've seen the bestseller lists this Christmas dominated by celebrity and personality cookery so they are on my hit list too.
I will also be looking to publish for a growing market that want accessible real life stories to round out our first launch list for HarperTrue. HarperTrue focusses on 'triumph over adversity stories,' which offer inspiration. I firmly believe that 'inspiration' and real life narrative will flourish in these uncertain times. And we've been delighted to see how these books have been taken up by various media: spawning documentaries, serial coverage and lots of features. I think we want to find nonfiction around which we can build a real buzz. Harper True's list are stories like the 'Yes we can' stories, if you will: from Rosie Swale-Pope who literally ran around the world for charity, to Melanie Davies who overcame a terrible accident that left her wheelchair bound but her determination brought her success as an athlete, led her to start a charity and also find enduring love . Some of the HarperTrue stories are celebrations of friendship, like The Necklace, in which 13 women club together to share a gorgeous diamond necklace. To me that book has the 'feel good factor' of Mamma Mia--it's a story about women, not all young and glamorous, who decide they shouldn't wait around for life to happen to them. I think people will be looking for those sorts of stories, too. Carole Tonkinson, Harper Collins