Nature writing and nonfiction for women: trends from the Frankfurt Book Fair 2016

by | Nov 10, 2016 | Blog, Publishing | 0 comments

According to a roundup of rights sales at the book industry’s biggest get-together, the Frankfurt Book Fair, psychological thrillers are going the way of wizards, but nonfiction about the environment is in, in, in.

What’s the Frankfurt Book Fair?
Each October, the world’s largest annual trade fair for books draws thousands of publishers, editors and agents from around the world, who are all attempting to buy or sell rights in books that have sold strongly in their respective home territories. For example, many Australian publishers and/or their foreign rights managers attend Frankfurt in order to interest overseas publishers and editors in books already published in Australia, for which the Australian publishers hold world rights.

According to book industry newsletter Australian Bookseller & Publisher (subscription required), which interviews Australian publisher representatives at the industry event, international publishers are looking for narrative nonfiction for women readers (a genre that describes fact-based storytelling, for example memoir, travel or personal history, or some untold story of a specific group of people). They’re still strong on crime fiction, but less enthusiastic for the psychological thriller – unless, of course, it’s the next global phenomenon (think Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train).

What do these trends mean for authors?
While any publishing professional will tell you that a ‘great story, well told’ will always be publishing’s holy grail, it’s useful for aspiring authors to be mindful of the business realities of the industry. Some subjects and genres do get saturated (zombies, anyone?), which means that it’s that much more difficult to interest an acquiring agent or publisher in your manuscript. If you’re concerned that your subject is too similar to what’s already been published, then you should listen to your instinct and revisit one or more aspects of your story – whether it’s location, historical period, characterization, plot twists, and so forth.

On the other hand, because publishing trends do come and go, I do not recommend that a writer changes his or her project based on a trend that might prove short-lived.  If you happen to be writing nonfiction about the environment, then feel encouraged at increasing interest from those who acquire book manuscripts. If you’re not, just continue with your project – but do your homework about potential audiences for your subject matter. Agents and publishers want as much proof as possible that there are lots of  potential readers out there for what you’re writing about.

A personal example
A book titled The Lost Pianos of Siberia by British journalist Sophy Roberts was one of the most talked-about books of this year’s book fair. Apparently it mixes memoir, travel and nature writing to explore Siberia, including its involvement in the history of piano production. It was acquired in a pre-empt by Transworld (a division of Penguin Random House) before the festival, an example of the kind of literary-commercial nonfiction crossover work that is very tasty to publishers these days.

This was interesting to me because I’ve just completed a nonfiction manuscript titled Girls at the Piano, for which I will soon be seeking a publisher. My project could not be more different from Roberts’s (not the least because one has a publishing contract and one does not!), but at the most superficial level, both cover aspects of the piano’s history. Is that good news for me – Roberts’s book might tap into a hunger for piano-related stories – or bad news, in that her book might obviate the need for anything that seems too similar? From the little I know about The Lost Pianos of Siberia, it seems very different from the hybrid personal-literary-musical history that I’ve attempted in my manuscript. But I’ll have to wait and see. Either way, I’ll let you know how I go.

Let me know if you have any questions – I really want to hear from you.

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