Through months and months of pandemic uncertainty, one of our favourite collective pastimes has remained trying to predict what will happen next. This has certainly proven true in the publishing industry; many have made predictions over the last two years about how COVID-19 and other cultural phenomena will affect publishing, some of which have already become reality.
Yet as time passes (and the pandemic, in many places, rages on), many of these predictions have grown stale — which is why today, I want to look beyond the obvious and try to anticipate some of the more “unexpected” publishing trends we might be seeing soon. Of course, the nature of trends means they’re never entirely unforeseen, but here are five you might not have considered for late 2021 and beyond.
1. More Dark Fantasy and Horror
There’s been no shortage of predictions regarding dystopian fiction in a post-COVID-19 world, but I’ll take it a step further and add dark fantasy and horror to that pile. The former, in particular, seems due for a renaissance. And with the building momentum of thrilling additions to the genre (think Harrow the Ninth and A Deadly Education), it’s poised to become a category of choice for readers seeking that perfect blend of dark sensibilities and fantastical escapism.
Horror, too, might get even bigger, and not just in the form of pandemic horror like The Stand. I do think that “the Great Pandemic Novel,” whatever shape it might take, is probably still a ways off. It’s more likely that other iterations will remain at the helm for the time being — especially horror that retells familiar stories and twists classic tropes, in the vein of Lovecraft Country (recently adapted by HBO) and Mexican Gothic.
2. The Next Blockbuster Romance
Pivoting in a totally different direction, another publishing milestone which seems overdue is the next blockbuster romance saga, à la Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. The first books in these series were released in 2005 and 2011 respectively, and I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say there hasn’t been such an industry-disrupting romance series published since (Anna Todd’s After series would be closest, but it didn’t make quite the splash that Meyer and James did).
There are a few other indicators that the Next Big Romance might be on its way — not least of which is the resurgence of Twilight in popular culture. Not only did Stephanie Meyer finally release Midnight Sun in 2020, but there were also abundant Twilight marathons during lockdown (and countless people meme-ifying Robert Pattinson). However, it wasn’t only paranormal romance making a comeback — historical romance also got its moment in the sun, with the release of Bridgerton and the accompanying surge in Julia Quinn’s book sales, despite The Duke and I having been published over two decades ago.
In any case, this trend is potentially great news for self-publishing authors! Romance dominates the charts on Amazon Kindle and other e-reading platforms, where indie series thrive. Obviously the competition is fierce, but the odds are also overwhelmingly high that the next big romance will arise from this pool; indeed, this is precisely what happened with Fifty Shades of Grey. So if you’re thinking about writing an indie romance book, there’s no time like the present.
3. A Decline in Political Non-Fiction
Now for a genre of which we’ll be seeing less: political nonfiction, particularly with regards to our 45th president. But even if he were still in office, if nothing else, political nonfiction would decline simply because people are getting sick of it.
Those who have been paying attention will know this trend’s been on the way out for a while. Jane Friedman predicted in 2019 that “Trump fatigue” would result in less political nonfiction from that point forward. Of course, last year’s election renewed public interest, as did Mary L. Trump’s book Too Much and Never Enough. But this kind of tell-all book is the exception that proves the rule — it fulfills Friedman’s caveat that only political nonfiction with unique access and “freshness of story” would stand out.
Indeed, other political books (while still successful) have paled in comparison to Michael Wolff’s 2018 chart-topper Fire and Fury, which sold 1.4 million copies in its first week. For context, Rage by Bob Woodward sold 600,000 copies in the first week of its September 2020 release, even with the accompanying revelation that Trump had misled the public on COVID-19. It seems even political nonfiction with an exciting angle has begun to feel tired, and that authors might be better off focusing their efforts elsewhere, at least for the next couple of years.
4. Indie Audiobooks
Speaking of where authors should focus their efforts, I don’t want to unequivocally state that audiobooks are the medium of the future, but the data does seem to point that way. It’s no surprise that the audiobook industry (now valued at over $4 billion) grew so much in 2020 and 2021: audiobooks are not only convenient and COVID-safe for readers, but they’re also one of the best ways for authors to bring their stories to life in a modern fashion.
What might surprise you, however, is the greater surge of indie audiobooks beckoning on the horizon. This has been a growing trend over the past few years, as more production options have become available to self-publishing authors. And though it’s still fairly unusual for indie authors to release audiobooks, those who do reach a whole new sphere of readers (or listeners, rather) that’s ever-expanding.
Indeed, many have pointed out the interesting promotional opportunities that audiobooks present — indie authors who’ve perfected their price promotion and email marketing tactics can turn them to their audiobooks and potentially see even stronger sales. As Will Dages, head of audiobook service platform Findaway Voices, succinctly put it: “Deeply discounted audiobooks are hot.” So if you’re an author with the resources to create an audiobook (and a decent-sized audience for your launch), why not give it a shot in 2021?
5. Big 5 Companies will Engage with eBook Subscription Services
Finally, a prediction courtesy of Forbes and other industry experts that hasn’t quite come to pass, but which seems inevitable: that big-name publishers will allow their titles to become part of ebook subscription services. This is another trend that’s been subtly en route for a while, but today’s demand for ebooks is higher than ever, and the benefits of this distribution tactic must be starting to look very appealing to authors and publishers.
The most interesting possibility here is that ebook subscriptions finally take off in a way they never have before. After all, the most common complaint from dissatisfied users is how few traditionally published titles are available with services like Kindle Unlimited (which focuses on indie titles) and Scribd (which limits users to 2-3 titles per month). It stands to reason that once these users can access more than just Harry Potter on KU, subscriptions will skyrocket — and with that, both ebook distribution and publishing as a whole will change forever.
All that said, none of these predictions have a definitive timeline, or a guarantee of ever coming true. But given what we know about the publishing industry as it currently stands, I’d say they’re decent guesses. And isn’t guessing half the fun?
Article Guest Author
Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the world’s best publishing resources. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction, writing short stories, and trying to predict the future.
Thank you for this amazing article, Savannah! I’m so happy to have this article to push going into the weekend. Cheers! -Jenna