Friday, 23 October 2009

Crystal Kindles: what does 2010 hold in store in the literary world?

It feels like I've been away for an age. In reality it's been a week in Northern France eating rillettes and thinking about all things literary.

Which has given me time to think about the future - more important to get my foot in the door and be the first to ask what 2010 holds for the literary world. It wouldn't be a proper one of my blog posts if I just said "This and this and this will happen" so I'm putting a bit of a spin on things. First up, a few predictions about what I think the mainstream will be touting as the hot topics of 2010. Then a little something about the hot hot topics, the nascent waves they haven't seen coming. Not too much on the why and wherefore or I'll be here all night - just enough to get the conversation going; and maybe make some of it self-fulfilling...

Don't forget: when January 1, 2011 comes and I was wrong on every count, you can all have a good old laugh at my expense.


Read the blogs, visit the websites, read the trade papers, flick through the magazines, and what will you see in 2010 (the bandwagons it's too late to jump on though many will try)

1. Google Wave, Apple Tablet, Wiki-software as my TECH no-brainers (and yes, sadly I DO think some people will still think the Kindle's news in 2010)

2. PUBLISHERS will be talking steampunk (yes, STILL - you only think it's passe already because you're ahead of the game) and post-recession (thrillers, dramas of the Full Monty ilk, and lifestyle books - both how-to and "how I survived"). They will lock horns with writers over advances and publicity (or, at least, the more foresighted ones will). They'll also suddenly catch on to serialisation - Victoria Barnsley got there this year, when it was still almost newsworthy, but very few have followed.

3. The LITERATI will probably, courtesy of Neil Gaiman and the fact literature always lags behind art and Gormley got there this year, be talking crowdsourcing

4. PUNDITS will be banging on about the success or failure of Richard Nash's Cursor. The freemium debate will, inevitably, linger on like a stale odour, and some people will still think the price of ebooks is a debate because ebook sales will rise apace, masking the facts that 1 - talking about ebook pricing will be by then a category error in terms of obsolescent business models, and 2 - ebooks will, by early 2011, already be on the way out (despite continued rise in numbers). Note - this is a dead topic for pundits, but very much not for writers - the year and a half the ebook boom has left is very much worth riding.

5. WRITERS be trying to ride the steampunk wave once they've sucked vampires dry. They will also be engaging in full-scale war over Creative Commons, ebook pricing, and how to make a living from content provision. We will see some real disgruntlement at publishers, too, over decreasing advances and increased marketing demands - with particular objection to the demand for authors to do webcasts and YouTube trailers. More writers will catch on to the value fo chapbooks and special editions - expect to see beautiful one-offs and companion pieces.

And here's where the action's really at in 2010 - the waves that are still way out at sea with plenty of time to catch them before they break:

1. in TECH, intelligent paper is a long way from being viable as a mass commodity, but for those who love the book, it's where the smart money is. And for those who like reading on the run, the iPhone is old news but it's still the only news in town, but expect a raft of new apps from serialisations to interactive reading to exciting blue-tooth functionality like random read-shares and collaborative reading (blue-tooth-operated collaborative writing harnessing flashmob appeal is the future of wiki-software, but I'm not sure even the good people of Silicon Valley have figured that out yet - the potential for creating geo-specific novels this way, meshing geocaching, LAN gaming, extreme tourism, flashmobbing, and wiki-creativity IS THE MOST EXCITING DEVELOPMENT I SEE COMING, but it may be for 2011). The only Tablet worth speaking of is the one for the massive hangover B & N and Waterstone's will catch when their e-readers go belly-up. I like ether-pad and the kind of stuff MCM did with 3D1D, involving the reader in the writer's real-time editing.

2. The smart book trends for PUBLISHERS next year are world fiction (come on, we have so much access to so much incredible global talent - we need imprints backed by quality translation teams to tap it); and post-environmentalism: in particular books focused on individualism and existentialism (fiction AND non-fiction) - yet another reprint fo Epicurus would fly off teh shelves, and anything else that debunks the delayed gratification model of environmentalism as people realise 1. we're screwed anyway 2. there are more immediate dangers than climate change and 3. saving things for the future is a philosophy that has serious emotional as well as logical flaws. On a related note, look towards historical fiction that captures the same spirit - the 1920s, fin de siecle, early 1960s and early/mid 1980s are hot for this reason (in particuar the hedonism of the period - Punk is passe, New Romanticism will be, for a very brief window, cutting edge).

3.The LITERATI to watch will be playing cross-genre games - fed up of Bunny Munro and Punk Fictin, writers will want a piece of the music/film/art pie - and they'll want to bend them in literary ways. Collaborations are out (sorry, Mr Gaiman, you're passe in very many ways in 2010, albeit still successful), and DIY is in. And, dare I say it, as people start playing around with form and genre - Modernism is back.

4. PUNDITS may finally sit up and start asking ethical questions about the global implications of the future face of publishing - in particular, how to embrace, expose but not exploit emerging talent.

5. WRITERS should stop locking horns with publishers over advances and push and embrace new contractual models like ebook only contracts and zero advance contracts. They should also consider direct outsourcing - and in particular look to start creaming top music industry PRs into the literary sphere.

Can't make up my mind:

I want to say something about self-publishing and print-on-demand espresso machines, but I really can't make up my mind where to put them. My personal feeling is self-publishing is just a non-topic now - it's about how not whether it's acceptable. Espresso machines are tricky. I thought 9 months ago they were the saviour of the Long Tail. I still think they have a role to play, but I didn't realise just how quickly intelligent paper would progress.

And the "hot topics" that are just stone cold

I think Indie will be a buzzword in 2010 - bookstores and collectives in particular - but I also think these are battles that have been won already. There may even be people who tout niche as hot - it's not. It wasn't this year when I was talking about it. It certainly won't be next year. Collective likewise. I'm afraid anyone who is going to succeed with any of these has already started.

PLAY THE GAME AT HOME by ticking them off one at a time as they headline - or rather, watch as the bingo card stays blank. Happy predicting :-)


  1. Maybe I will just go back to trying to write instead. All the above is too complicated for a cat!

  2. Crikey, Dan! All this from a holiday? You are back on it and the revs are nearing the red zone. As usual you give a bloody great platter of food for thought. I must say, however, that my espresso machine will never go out of favour and as long as I have coffee I'll just keep churning out the content - what they do with it then is 'their' affair, (as long as I get paid that is.)

  3. I predict that paper books will continue to be read all over the world :)

  4. @Phillipa - lovely to see you - your blogger problems must be solved at long last! Amazing whata bit of sea air and a lot of fatty food can do for one!

    @Tony - I predict you're right. @catdownunder actually wrote a great post on the subject of real books yesterday

  5. Why do the comments just vanish without saying they're saved?

  6. That's blogger being its good old temperamental self! Apologies on my blog's behalf

  7. Hi Dan - I'm not sure about the genre thing - Vampire books, for example, have been popular pretty much continuously since 1897 - and about half of the current crop are just repackaged old ones - Night World for example was originally published in '96 - although bizarrely The Vampire Chronicles seem to be out of print. I think writing about anything that's tech heavy is risky as it'll be out of date the week after it comes out.
    I'm not sure how important e books will be at the end of the day - the biggest sales time of the year is Christmas and a lot of books are bought as presents - hence the dearth of celebrity books - Gran likes Julie Walters and we don't know what to get her so we'll get her Julie's autobiography and she can say thanks and then leave it unread on a shelf somewhere... It's more difficult to wrap an e book and put it under the tree...
    I predict the most important future event in publishing will be when the likes of Lu-Lu drop their prices so authors can sell directly to book shops at competitive prices - after all, why would you sign with a major if they expect you to do a lot of your own marketing - fuck that - I want to sign with a major precisely so I don't have to bother with all that shit. Plus, I think it's dangerous ground. After reading Wish You Were Here, the biography of Douglas Adams, I found I didn't like the man much - if my introduction to him had been through some spot on You Tube I'd never have bought one of his books - Similarly, although I love the books of John Irving, I find the man an awful pain in the arse. He makes me angry when I see him interviewed. Evelyn Waugh was a dick. Etc.
    Sorry - as usual I'm rambling - anyway, to sum up, I think the big news will be the drop in price of printing - then all we independent writers need to do is focus on setting up a co-operative distribution system and we're away...


  8. Great to see you, Derek.

    Interesting you should mention that. Printing CAN be relatively cheap already if collectives want to set up as a publisher (I have no desire to - can ruin relationships to get financially tangled with people). Interestingly, my experience with independent bookshops has been that they are quite happy to pay a higher price for books from proactive indies who will drive custom to the shop.

    Indie distribution - I agree this is important - I wonder HOW important it will be as espresso machines take off? But yes, at the moment it's THE thing to come to grips with - Book Depository?

  9. I'm really looking forward to the deployment of the espresso machines. They should be a major factor in years to come. I don't know enough about Book Depository, but it seems to be offering pretty good deals on POD's.

    As for the cost of books - I just mean that I'd like to be able to retail my books at 6.99 on the shelf so they are competitive with the other titles that are out there and still make a few bob. Also, if we're using the same sort of margins as the big boys then it's easier to get involved in three for two offers etc. (Of course there'd also have to be a few bob in it for the distributer - and this would mean that a single successful book within an indie distributor group would be making money for all the members).

    I suppose what we need is some sort of index of all independent book shops that would be interested in buying indie books - not just from a local author, but from anyone. Perhaps encourage them to have a dump bin where there's always a two for three on new stuff or whatever. But it would have to be on a sale or return basis so they run no risk (at least until it gets going) and it would probably be best if the jacket price was the same on all books. If you could get fifty writers to look after one one bookshop each, and receiving commission (just a nominal amount) on each book (not just their own) that sold then that would be a start.

    I'm just thinking out loud here...

  10. Thinking out loud is good. Let me chew on this overnight.