From Publishers Weekly:
The big adult fiction title of this past fall was Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. The sequel to the author’s 1985 bestseller The Handmaid’s Tale was unveiled with a 500,000-copy first printing. At the time, The Handmaid’s Tale was benefitting from a surge of interest in its wildly popular TV adaptation on Hulu, and from a renewed interest in dystopian tales following the election of Donald Trump. Now, with the globe seized by a pandemic and millions of Americans hunkered down because of shelter-at-home orders, editors say they are interested in lighter fare—mostly.
So what are publishers interested in buying during a pandemic? According to a number of editors and agents who specialize in adult commercial fiction, escapism is on the rise, to an extent.
“This is the question I think we’re all dealing with right now,” said Harper editor Sara Nelson, when asked if she’s looking for different kinds of books since the Covid-19 outbreak. “On the one hand, we’re so obsessed with our current moment that it’s hard to know what we, let alone most readers, will want to read a year, or a year and a half, from now. I don’t generally buy dystopian fiction anyway, but I am pretty sure I won’t find dystopian novels appealing for the near future.”
Nelson, who has always loved historical fiction (among her notable acquisitions in the genre is Heather Morris’s bestseller The Tattooist of Auschwitz), added that she is taking even more comfort in these types of books now as “reading about the past becomes even more appealing as we slide into the murky future.”
Peter Steinberg, an agent at Foundry Literary + Media, said, “When there’s an unexpected shift in society, I think it has an almost real-time effect on editors’ buying habits. Because of the overwhelming nature of Covid-19, escapism is one of the better ways to elicit those intense emotions.”
But many agents and editors warned that escapism is an incredibly broad term—one that makes room for everything from romantic comedies to dark thrillers.
. . . .
When asked what she’s looking to buy right now, Jennifer Enderlin, executive v-p and publisher of St. Martin’s Press, said, “In terms of fiction, I wouldn’t say editors want more uplifting books over thrillers or tear-jerkers.” But, she added, “bad-news books, not so much.”
For Enderlin, the term escapism is problematic, insofar as it confers a certain levity. That, she explained, is not necessarily what she wants now. “Escapism doesn’t have to mean fluffy or light. It can be searing, devastating, romantic, suspenseful, hilarious, or transporting.” She noted that she is seeing a huge uptick in sales of her author Kristin Hannah’s 2015 bestseller The Nightingale, which Enderlin described as a “box-of-tissues read.”
Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly
From “A Way with Words“:
The job of a network executive has never been easy. Picking a hit is a tall order even for someone with what the industry likes to call a “golden gut”—a knack for sniffing out what’s likely to sell.» —“NBC Seeks Vision of TV’s Future” by Ronald Grover BusinessWeek May 1, 2009.
PG suggests that the golden gut approach to product design and selection is one that is fraught with the potential for serious mistakes. Particularly when acquisition editors at traditional publishers are making decisions about books that are unlikely to appear before a couple of years from now, the view of someone living in a relatively-fashionable part of New York City about what readers will want may be wrong.
Given the social and educational uniformity among New York City publishing executives and editors, their ignorance of serious readers more than 50 miles west of NYC is often profound. For example, what do the editors quoted in the OP know about the tastes of readers in:
- Ithaca, New York
- Pittsfield, Massachusetts
- Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
- Ames, Iowa
- Watertown-Fort Drum, New York
These were The Five Most Well-Read Cities in the United States according to a 24/7 Wall Street study published in 2018. (For the benefit of visitors to TPV who are a little vague about Ithaca and Watertown-Fort Drum, Ithaca is about 230 miles from NYC and Watertown-Fort Drum is about 310 miles from NYC. Both cities are closer to Canada than they are to NYC. (Since PG has never visited either Ithaca or Watertown-Ford Drum, he can’t say for certain, but he would bet good money that each place is very unlike NYC.)
A few quotes from the study:
According to the Pew Research Center, only about 1 in 4 Americans read a book in the last year. That statistic includes e-books and audiobooks, not just the printed word.
. . . .
24/7 Wall St. reviewed a number of measures associated with literacy to determine which American metropolitan areas are most likely to read books on a regular basis. These include the presence of public libraries in a city, residents’ education level, and the presence of higher learning institutions. The best-read cities range from small cities like Ithaca, New York to major metropolitan centers like New York CIty and Boston.
According to Pew’s research, households with higher incomes are significantly more likely to read books on a regular basis. In most of the metropolitan areas to make this list, the typical household income well exceeds the national median household income.
According to the same Pew study, approximately 1 in 5 Americans have never visited a library. And slightly less than half of all Americans have been to one in the past year.
Educational attainment has a significant impact on how likely Americans are to read on a regular basis. Almost 60% of those with a college education visited a library within the last 12 months, but that figure drops to less than 40% for those with no more than a high school diploma.
To determine the most well-read cities in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a number of measures associated with literacy to determine which American metropolitan areas are most likely to read on a regular basis. Our estimate for the number of public libraries per 100,000 people is based on library listings in the American Library Directory, population estimates are the most recent available, and are from the U.S. Census Bureau. We also looked at education levels and income figures, from the Census Bureau’s 2016 one-year American Community Survey. The number of college and universities in the surrounding county of each city came from the U.S. Department of Education. All age estimates are just that — estimates.
So, where did New York City, center of American trade publishing rank as a well-read city?
Manhattan (Kansas) ranked #6. (The better-read Manhattan is over 1,300 miles from the laggard.)
Once again, PG has ranted for longer than he should have, so he will conclude with his contention that indie authors as a group understand the tastes of readers in the United States far better than Manhattan editors do.
From a his dealings with several of them, PG believes that top-selling indie authors understand their genres and what readers of their genre will look for in a book far, far better than anyone sitting in a tall building in New York City does.