What Can Authors Expect from the Publishing Industry in 2020?

2020 hasn’t quite gone as planned, has it?

The global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted practically every person, and practically every industry, often in more ways than one. But we’re here to tell you that now isn’t the time to put down your pencil. 

Shakespeare famously wrote not one but three tragedies – King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra – during the bubonic plague. The literary world doesn’t stop moving, even in times of crisis. 

But it’s moving towards a different landscape than what many of us were anticipating. So exactly what can authors – and self-publishers in particular – expect from the publishing industry throughout 2020?

Let’s take a look…

Increased Competition

OK, let’s get the bad news out of the way first. This year, the industry looks set to be more competitive than ever before, driven by a slew of new authors using their newfound free time to finally get to work on those short stories they’ve been wanting to start but have never been able to get around to writing. 

Speaking with David Barnett at the Guardian newspaper, literary agent Juliet Mushens reported that her average 10 – 15 daily requests for representation had risen to 27, while Ireland’s Tramp Press editor Lisa Coen was said to be experiencing a threefold increase in the number of submissions received each day. 

And this increased competition is expected to be greatest amongst self-publishers as writers explore alternative publishing options to reduce reliance on traditional brick and mortar publishing houses. 

A report by The Bookseller magazine suggests that 60% of small publishers believe that they could be out of business by Fall due to a drop in sales and the subsequent cashflow problems that come with it. 

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It’s natural that new writers breaking into the field will want to take the approach that we’ve been rooting for all along: self-publishing. And while this may mean more fierce competition for self-publishers in the industry this year, it definitely doesn’t mean that you should think about quitting.

Instead, it could be time to take a closer look at what you’re doing and optimize your strategy to ensure you stand out among the crowd. One option is to consider hiring a literary agent. We know, we know, self-publishers don’t always need an agent. But here’s the thing: literary agents don’t just work with publishing houses; they could help to get your work recognized by film and theater producers, too. 

If you’re not sure how to get a literary agent, then now is the perfect time to learn. Writing a great book isn’t always enough; you’ll need to make sure you’re properly preparing your manuscript and sending out submissions to the right people, at the right time. It doesn’t hurt to have a killer query letter, either. 

Greater Demand

If there’s one thing that the publishing industry is asking for more of this year, it’s content. 

Reports show that around one third of all US adults are reading more during the pandemic, with figures ranging from 28% for ‘Baby Boomers’ to 40% for ‘Millennials’. And a similar trend is being seen across the world. Nielsen reports that 2 in 5 Brits are reading more in isolation, while 58% of Canadians are reading more, and 22% are buying more books now than they did prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The reason, of course, is that many people have more time on their hands to enjoy the things they really love, such as reading. Job loss in the United States is at its highest since the Great Depression, and while this is devastating, it is certainly good to see that many people are filling their time with literature. 

Whether you use a traditional publishing house, or you’re a self-published author, demand for literary content from the publishing industry this year is expected to be greater than ever due to COVID-19. 

But the big question is… what sort of themes are 2020’s audiences looking for? Read on to find out…

Shifting Interests

One of the first pieces of advice you may have been given back when you were just starting out was probably to ‘write what you know’. After all, it makes sense to talk about issues we’re familiar with. 

In 2020, while that advice still stands, the boundaries are beginning to move a little, especially for fiction writers. And this is causing a pretty notable shift in demand from the modern-day publishing industry. 

When you’re writing a book, you not only want to write what you know, but you want to write about something that your audience knows, too. And what do we all know this year? We all know Coronavirus.

But will a book proposal about COVID-19 really hit the mark with the 2020 publishing industry? Perhaps not. Recently, HarperCollins Editor Phoebe Morgan took to twitter with some advice for her authors.

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If you’re used to writing about your life as you know it, now could be the ideal time to start branching out and exploring some new ways of getting creative. Submitting a strongly written book proposal about themes that can help readers to escape from the everyday could be your ticket to success this year. 

Continued Digitization

The large scale shift from print to digital is already well underway, but authors can expect an even bigger move to alternative formats from the publishing industry in 2020 as more people spend time at home.

With worldwide stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders, coupled with a widespread reluctance to be out and about, an increasing number of people are looking for easy-to-access, at-home entertainments. This means that digital books, such as ebooks and especially audiobooks, are in more demand than ever. 

Audio books are already an area that we recommend self-publishers should be exploring. Last year, a report by the Audio Publishers Association found that half of all teens and adults in the US had listened to an audiobook within the past 12 months. Those are some pretty impressive statistics if you ask us! 

If you want to give the publishing industry what it’s looking for this year, now is the time to start learning more about the audiobook landscape, especially distribution techniques. It might also be a good idea to chat with some authors who have ‘been there, done that’… we’ll talk more about the community later.

No matter what format you decide to release in, it can definitely be nerve-wracking launching a new book at this uncertain time, but think about this: a book on your hard drive does nothing for you. You have the technology you need to get your book in front of the right eyes… you should make use of it! 

A Change in Promotional Opportunities

Social distancing regulations and a ban on large scale gatherings have meant that many of this year’s biggest literary events – events that self-publishers may rely on for marketing and promotion – have been canceled. This includes Penguin Presents, the Sydney Writers Festival in Australia, and PEN America’s World Voices Festival in New York, which had Margaret Atwood and Zadie Smith in the 2020 line up. 

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According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, there is a rapidly emerging trend in the marketing industry to delay promotional campaigns at this time. And as a writer, you may think that a lack of physical events means it’s necessary to put off your plans. We say that you should keep moving forward. 

After all, it takes energy to change your plans; energy you could be pouring into your next book!

Penguin CEO Tom Weldon says that now is the time to ‘be imaginative and creative about how to develop clever solutions to promote’. This could mean shifting your approach from physical events to online events, or looking to work with others who are finding themselves in a similar situation. 

Writer collaboration is expected to be a hot topic this year, with self-publishers pooling their resources to help the community thrive at this challenging time, rather than simply survive. If you haven’t already done so, start forming relationships with others in the industry. Learn and grow from each other. 

And don’t forget: support from other self-publishers is just one type of support available right now…

Increased Support

Perhaps the most important thing authors can expect from the 2020 publishing industry is more support. 

Hurrah!

The Self-Publishing School, for example, has been giving away all resources for free for the first time ever. The platform is proud to be supporting self-publishers and the publishing industry as a whole at this challenging time by providing more than 20 writing and publishing resources free of charge this year.

And they’re not the only ones. 

As self-publishing is gaining more and more momentum under the ‘new normal’, it’s expected that other online publishing channels will start to extend services to provide more support when you need it most. 

Amazon’s KDP platform has already started to globalize its offerings, extending its advertising opportunities across both the US and Europe, including Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and the UK. Google Play and Apple are also expected to up their game this year to support self-publishers. Apple in particular is rumored to be placing an increasing focus on its Apple Books branch in the near future. 

As an author – and as a self-published author especially – we can all feel like we’re not always supported by the publishing industry. But we’re confident that we can expect more from the industry this year. 

Riding the Wave

It’s safe to say that 2020 isn’t the best year we could have hoped for. 

But let’s look at this, this way: writers – and self-published authors in particular – are self-motivated, hardworking, entrepreneurially-minded, and certainly aren’t afraid to face a challenge head on. 

This year, while the heart and soul of the publishing industry may not have changed, the pathways that we take to research, to write, to market, and to launch our ideas are becoming more and more flexible. 

Ultimately, what we can expect from the publishing industry this year is an opening up of multiple different avenues to success that, while may have already existed within the literary world, have largely been overshadowed and limited by tradition; by a focus on traditional publishing houses and print. 

This is the year that is going to push us all to our limits, and test us all. But it’s also the year that self-publishing really shines. This is the year we can create truly positive change across the industry.

Whether we write to entertain, to inform, to humor, to inspire, to motivate, or for any other reason, the unique challenges this year won’t harm the publishing industry; they’ll merely accelerate the much-needed change that we’ve been waiting for. Maybe 2020 won’t be that bad after all…

Rachael Cooper

Rachael Cooper is the SEO & Publishing Manager for Jericho Writers, a writers services company based in the UK and US. Rachael has a Masters in eighteenth-century literature, and specialises in female sociability. In her free time she writes articles on her favourite eighteenth-century authors and, if all else fails, you can generally find her reading and drinking tea!

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