As 2017 draws to a close let’s take a retrospective of the year’s literary highlights. I’d like to also include publishing industry trends as they have directly affected the material emerging onto the market. Then, we’ll take a cursory glance into the future of fiction books.
Nobel Prize in Literature
This year’s prize went to British author Kazuo Ishiguro. He was born in Nagasaki, but lived in England for almost 30 years before he made his first trip back to to Japan. He is the author of “The Remains of the Day” (Man Booker Prize) and “Never Let Me Go”. His work packs a heavy emotional impact and according to the Swedish Academy “uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”. Ishiguro was surprised by the award and hopes to shake off the stardom and keep writing.
(photo courtesy of The Guardian)
Best Books of the Year
Most of the standout books of the year paralleled current events in some way: rising political and racial tensions, epic migrations, and the emerging self. Slim and historic was the trend with shorter word counts gaining attention. This year, authors were brave enough to tackle new and experimental takes on the traditional historical novel. Here are just a few of the best.
The Power by Naomi Alderman
More of an examination of power than a novel about characters afflicted by it. While confronting gender norms, Alderman discovers that women have a unique super power all their own. Using a revolving door of female characters, Alderman counts down to a global catastrophe.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
A story about exile and migration with a fantasy twist. The refugee crisis is expertly tackled by Hamid as he chronicles the journey of two seemingly ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary journey towards freedom.
Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore
This story takes us back to Europe under the shadow of the French revolution. A marvelous and vivid cast highlight this work along with Dunmore’s usual flowing language. Tragically, Helen Dunmore passed away this year shortly after the release of this beautiful historical novel.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesymn Ward
The author of “Salvage the Bones” returns with a sequel of sorts that once again brings us to a rural town with simple people in extraordinary circumstances. The protagonist is a 13-year old boy on a road trip to pick up his father from prison along with his drug-addicted mother and sister. Alderman creates empathy for the often-overlooked and stigmatized minority who feel the pangs of racial and political prejudice.
Publishing Trends of 2017
Actual statistics are not widely available for 2017, but people are still reading. That’s the good news. The market for books topped 116 billion USD this year according to Statista data. The market for ebooks and self-publishing has slowed down. Although the digital market has hit a plateau, ebooks continue to outpace their physical counterparts. Ironically, Amazon opened it’s seventh brick and mortar bookshop this year in New York. It looks like they’re hedging their bets.
According to a statista poll, the most popular genre of literary fiction is mystery/crime with a 47% command of readership. Although Game of Thrones is a hugely popular franchise, fantasy novels in general are not feeling the George R.R. Martin bump. Also, nobody has topped J.K. Rowling as the highest-earning author of all time. She still wears the crown.
Publishing companies are doing away with rejection letters it would seem. If you don’t get a response within a given period of time, that just means move on to the next one. Also, more literary journals are phasing out their physical print books in favor of digital journals. One trend this year I would like to see undone is the Pareto Principle – where 20% of authors in the industry are making all the income and publishing companies are making author royalty payments smaller and smaller. We can do better.
A Look Into The Future
It’s hard to predict what the future of literature and publishing holds for us. It’s safe to say that ebooks will continue to gain ground over physical books. Also, we haven’t heard the last from interactive, multi-media ebooks. Once thought to be too technical and cumbersome to succeed, developers are gaining ground with smaller, compressed files and devices that support mixed media. Amazon is still beta testing the Kindle in Motion platform that enhances ebooks with the inclusion of video, audio and other mixed media tricks. Expect to see and hear more in 2018.
Consumers are seeking a more personal book buying experience. So, keep an eye on the brick and mortar book shoppes. There is no substitute for browsing the shelves and running your fingers along the spines of new books, seeing the covers with your own eyes, and making connections with actual book sellers. I predict a comeback.
Here are some titles to watch out for next year:
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman: Fifteen authors—including Melissa de la Cruz, Renée Ahdieh, and Julie Kagawa—reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in this anthology. (June 26)
Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman: Carol has a condition that makes her fall into comas that give the appearance of her having died. She always recovers, until the day her greedy husband decides to have her declared dead. (April 10)
Men and Apparitions by Lynne Tillman: Tillman examines humankinds need to preserve everything in images in this story of Ezekiel Hooper Stark, cultural anthropologist, ethnographer, and specialist in family photographs. (March 13)
If you enjoyed this review, then be sure to subscribe to Noteworthy Literature. We have lots more in store for 2018. More book and author quotes, the latest literary news, book reviews and flash fiction stories every week. Oh, and you can find me on Twitter @ReadFreddyB
- Frederick S. Blackmon