Beyond Book Trends: What the Book World Really Needs
Recently, we published a book trend forecast for 2023 from a BookToker* who told us what we should be anticipating and acting on in the publishing world in order to capture the fleeting attention of book consumers. But, are “trends” what the book world really needs? Do you remember the moment, probably sometime around your 30th birthday, when you realized you had no idea what the youth was into anymore? And you weren’t disturbed that your jeans weren’t the correct shape? By catering to book trends, are we not catering to a constantly aging-out population who pays attention to and cares about trends? When literature professors make their class syllabi, do you think they are drawn to a particular book because it is “Gen Z chartreuse” and thus might gain them some credibility with their students? Honestly, I don’t know, the news makes it seem like college classrooms are pretty contentious these days, but if I had to guess I would say I doubt it? My point is, the book world should move away from “trends” and think about what changes would actually serve the book community.
The forecast was created with a tech-adjacent mindset: what the next social media platform would be, how to capture the attention of a social media generation, etc, etc. But you heard it here first: publishing must do everything it can to stand in opposition to tech. Do not be fooled into advantage-by-proximity thinking: they are coming for our books, indeed, for our WORDS. Therefore, what follows is a list of staunchly anti-tech-culture suggestions that are imperative to the survival of the book world as we know it.
First: books should not be Instagrammable, Facebook-worthy, or reliant on TikTok marketing. Books should be collectibles. Think of your grandparents’ bookshelves, covered in austere cloth-like covers and shiny gold print. We should make books like that again. No more of this flashy colorful cover thing, dependent on Pantone trends and expensively licensed photos. Every cover should look like it’s part of a set — books that will be read time and time again and passed along to future generations, filling their shelves with beautifully made items. Wait, filling consumers’ shelves with passed-down books isn’t good for business? Huh. Well, that brings me to my next point anyway.
Let me throw a few phrases at you: Capitalism. Planned obsolescence (as driven by the tech industry!!). Consumerism. Can we have, like, less of them in publishing? Are we really that desperate to make a buck? Oh, we are? Okay I will move on to my next point since you clearly aren’t going to have an open mind about this one.
A few more phrases: Clout. Celebrity. “A good following.” We must move away from them all. The “trend forecast” takes issue with celebrity-driven anthologies and that is something I agree with. But, I would like to see the return of a different kind of collection: literary authors’ collected letters. Whatever happened to a good posthumously published collection of letters? Before you call me truly naive, I understand that people don’t write letters like they used to. But listen, I would settle for emails. Let’s get an archive of modern love letters going: a list of the things X author would like her spouse to pick up at the grocery store – that would be a most welcome collection. We need to reestablish authors, not as social media celebrities, but as romantic figures who compose even their daily correspondence more poetically than us mere mortals. “And do get some mangos, dear, but only if, when you shut your eyes, their smell and texture conjures the feeling of waves crashing upon white sands. That is the only way to spot a ripe mango.” Stunning!
Let’s talk about characters. The forecast suggested that we would be seeing a lot of “cute animal protagonists” in 2023. That is a terrible idea, and if you are writing a novel about Frederick the Aardvark I implore you to stop now. What does Frederick the Aardvark have to teach us about life and literature? Frederick the Aardvark is just waiting to become a meme on the internet. “I can has termites??” If you are going to write an animal protagonist, I ask that you do not make them cute. The book world cannot afford to be lured into cute animal territory; the world only has time for SERIOUS animal protagonists. Contrast Frederick the Aardvark with NAPOLEON THE PIG. One screams of serious metaphor and the other whispers “hug me.”
The last thing I would like to refute in my colleague’s piece is that emojis should be anywhere near publishing. The suggestion that a cover display a “chihuahua, rocket ship, ghost emoji” is truly a dangerous one. Already we rely on emojis in our texts, emails, and I have even used them invoked in casual conversation (sad eyes). If emojis start appearing in the most noble realm of words, we are finished. But, you might argue, an emoji is such an easy way to convey a feeling or response when you, what was that, can’t find the words?????? Exactly. The implication that our greatest wordsmiths might need to turn to emojis is just…ghastly. If you are a writer, I implore you to stop using emojis in any context: your texts, tweets, ANYWHERE.
Listen, call me stuffy all you like, but we must reject tech culture in publishing at all costs. Covers with no eye-catching designs, serious animal protagonists, collected letters (emails), and no emojis, ever. If book publishing can reassert itself as an itch unable to be scratched by tech, books just might have a fighting chance of seeing out this century.
*It is me. I am the “BookToker.” Also I’m not a BookToker.