15 Feb 2009
January's article 'The Books of 2009' on what editors were looking to buy in 2009 and what they thought would sell was picked up widely in the media, including the Guardian. Here six more editors give their predictions for the year ahead.
"Military non-fiction remains a healthy market and the popularity of shows such as Ross Kemp's Gangs and Afghanistan series suggest there are further big sales in the wider concept-driven crime and war non-fiction genres. And having read plenty about other people fighting, men will also want to learn how to do it themselves; therefore books on mixed martial arts combat, capitalizing on the rise of UFC, could reach out to a wide audience. The success of Shortlist and FreeSport is due in part to a popular male backlash against the Zoo and Nuts stereotype, and a return to aspirational, business-oriented male values. In book terms that means concept-led titles that depict individuals or institutions that reflect those values, such as the Armed Forces and 'ordinary' sportsmen (i.e. not the rich, alien world of Premier League footballers). Books that are obviously self-help will still be off limits however – men don't want to openly admit their problems. Nor do I think 'credit-crunch' books will work – for most people books remain an aspirational flight to fantasy, not a reflection of the dreariness enveloping them." Tim Andrews, Century.
On my annual visit to New York last fall I suddenly realised how many non-fiction books there are whose titles go like this:
Title: An enigmatic and determinedly quirky phrase along the lines of, “The Candlemaker of Vermont” or “A Fiendish Institution"
Subtitle: "The Story of XXX [someone you've never heard of] who YYYYY [did something very obscure and esoteric a long time ago] And Changed the World [my italics]."
I do not want books like this – don't want to read them, let alone publish them. I doubt many people out there in the world who actually have to part with good money to buy books do either. One New York editor confided to me that they were the sort of books where everyone around the table at the acquisitions meeting expressed their scepticism as to the potential market, until it was left to the sponsoring editor to expostulate meekly, "Well, I just thought it was kinda interesting…" A lot of them have still been getting published. I predict that by the end of 2009 hardly any more will be.
I guess a fair rule of thumb in these potentially straitened times is that people want to read good, definitive books about things they're already interested in – they think, "I wonder if there’s a book about that?” or, “I’ve been waiting for someone to write that book for me”. The treatment can be quirky and whimsical along the way, but there has to be a constituency out there already waiting for that book. We did really well last year with the biography I commissioned of the Morris Minor – do the sums of how many people still own one, never mind how many used to – and with our biography of Terry-Thomas. Even GQ readers who weren’t even born when he was making I’m All Right, Jack! regard him as a style icon. We did well with our biography of Pink Floyd: now the book on the band and a whole epoch - which is why I'm really confident about the author's follow-up on Queen. Such books aren't merely "music books": you can't tell the story of a band like that without telling the story of a slice of our culture and our history. Whatever people read in non-fiction, they start from where they're alive now, and the book they're going to have to pay to read – not get given as a complimentary review copy - needs to connect with that and give them knowledge and insight they can use in the here and now. Graham Coster, Aurum
I'm always on the look out for, among other things, history that's told using new voices or approaches a familiar subject from a different angle; fresh approaches to philosophy; and new research in psychology, including where it overlaps with business. And this coming year, I'm confident about the potential for good books in all these areas, and although it's surprised some people when I've said it (and I know it's not the same for all publishers) I think we'll be carrying on signing up these kinds of books. I hope we might even be able to buy things that we might have been outbid on before.
What will thrive this year? It's tempting to say that while misery memoir did well while the economy was booming, some readers will now want to read something uplifting, but I'm not sure that's quite evident so far. As well as certain kinds of celebrity and brand-author books still selling, two areas that I think could do relatively well this year are philosophy (one small piece of evidence: a book we're publishing this Christmas on the philosophy of everyday life has been received very well, here and abroad); and business, where books usually follow the market, but in fact seem to be holding up healthily (perhaps because so many business books are overlapping with other areas), with books on the credit crunch selling decently. But of other possible sweet spots, some may be unrelated to the economy: there look to be more good books coming on the relationships between humans and animals, and – though unrelated – sales of books on Darwin should be strong in the 150th/200th anniversary year. On other anniversaries, Henry VIII should continue to provide good sales, and other strong tie-in possibilities are offered through Galileo (there’s even a book on him and Darwin) and Abraham Lincoln (likewise, based on him and Darwin being born on exactly the same day). But publishers should and will create markets, too, and not just follow them.
I have high hopes of course for my books, which include a cultural history of motorways and everything surrounding them; the first history of the Cabinet War Rooms; a history of the first map to show the world as we know it; literary adventure self-help on the quest to find and learn from the best runners in the world; and a book on the statistics behind relationships. Daniel Crewe, Profile
Besides the usual celebrity-dominated Christmas, I think publishing trends this year will be dominated by the polar extremes of realism and escapism. At Virgin, we are always on the lookout for strong, well written narrative non fiction that explains the world around us in an accessible way. Indeed we had some success in this area in 2008 with The Economic Naturalist, a book that explains economics to the general reader. Given current anxieties about the economy and the failure of market-based capitalism I think this trend for books that explain the 'real' world will continue this year. I am also keen to look for books about what is certain and measurable, eg in popular science. The global credit crisis will bring an avalanche of 'What went wrong' style books from the spring onwards, with only one or two breaking out to sell in big numbers. I think books about austerity and saving money will probably do well. The flip side to the current doom and gloom will see readers embrace escapism, obviously in fiction, but I also believe in inspirational true tales of courage and adventure, so I am hoping to acquire books in this area too. Ed Faulkner, Virgin
Readers seem to be turning against the glut of nostalgia titles that followed in the wake of The Dangerous Books for Boys. However, as the economic downturn takes hold, it's easy to see how this trend for old-fashioned life skills will transfer to an increasing number of books showing us how to save money by sewing our own clothes, cooking up vats of stew and making our own beauty products. As a result, cookery books that detail not only how to feed our families for less but that also focus on wholesome, traditional recipes from our grandparents' era could also make a resurgence. Indeed, in times of doom and gloom people tend to find solace in the glories of the past and so I suspect that forthcoming books from Anthony Beevor and Paul Kennedy on Britain's role in the Second World War could well satisfy this demand.
As recession hits, I'm sure that many people deprived of sun-soaked retreats will be looking for inspiration from travel guides showing what's available just a car journey away. In fact, we seem to have a perennial fascination with our own country and so new books by Andrew Marr on Britannia and Iain Sinclair on his local Hackney are going to be brilliantly placed to tap into this market.
If, as many people predict, it's pure escapism we're going to be relishing this year in fiction, novels like Atlantic's own Girl with Glass Feet – set on a snowbound island and filled with creatures and characters that could have come straight from a fairy tale – could find a large audience. For the past few years the public have also been embracing some significant new literary voices from around the world, but I wonder whether the success of novels like Ross Raisin's God's Own Country and Richard T. Kelly's Crusaders – in which the regional British setting is so integral to the narrative – are a sign that we're beginning to find what's closer to home exotic and intriguing again.
In a year filled with the anniversary celebrations of figures like Charles Darwin, Robert Burns and Arthur Conan Doyle, and with many dissenting voices arguing for isolationism as the answer to the current economic woes, perhaps it will be no surprise if 2009 turns out to be a year for all things British. Sarah Norman, Atlantic Books
In the early part of this year, Piatkus do have a number of credit-crunch titles planned, which we hope will be publishing early enough to be relevant, insightful and inspirational. However, beyond these commissioned books, we are definitely wary of taking on new 'thrift' or 'make-do and mend' projects, as we seeing so many proposals on the same topic, and it will be very difficult to make further titles stand out, especially with the success of books such as India Knight's The Thrift Book.
However, I am excited about the areas of Piatkus non-fiction that I specialise in – biography, humour, gift, sex and popular culture – as I think 2009 will be a year where people are looking for books in these genres which can provide the escapism they are looking for. Whether it be immersing themselves in the story of an icon they love, dipping into a cheeky and entertaining stocking-filler, or reading about how a great sex life can improve their confidence and self-esteem, I’m looking for titles that have a real resonance with people – whatever the economic climate. Helen Stanton, Piatkus