Everyone in the publishing industry from publishers to booksellers and librarians to reviewers always want to know what the biggest book trends are so that they can forecast their publishing and buying strategies. So far, political books are among the bestselling books of 2018.
Most of my conversations with friends in the industry this year have revolved around the political nature of 2018's bestselling books so far. In mixed company, politics are commonly a taboo subject, but when it comes to discussing 2018's bestselling books, it’s inevitable. The more I think about the current state of media and publishing, the more our politics have become entangled with reading habits. Two out of the top three 2018 bestsellers so far are political: Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff and A Higher Loyalty by James Comey.
Here is my theory. Despite political leanings, the average book-buying American also watches television and participates in social media, fostering a twenty-four-hour news cycle. Typically, we see moments of escapism in literature during times of political unrest. However, we are seeing a different trend in 2018. The literary market has seemingly shifted to become a continuation of the news cycle instead of providing a break from it.
Even books like The President is Missing by James Patterson, albeit fiction, plays into the political zeitgeist. It has spent the past six weeks at number one on the New York Times bestsellers list. Co-written by Bill Clinton, the book description reads, “Uncertainty and fear grip the nation. There are whispers of cyberterror and espionage and a traitor in the Cabinet.” This is the epitome of a “ripped from the headlines” plot. Even though it isn't non-fiction like it’s top bestselling counterparts, it again feeds off the endless American fixation with topics such as presidents, spies, and terror.
Even children’s books are political this year! A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Marlon Bundo clocks in at number six on the 2018 bestsellers list so far. This book, brought to us by HBO’s John Oliver, is about a boy bunny who lives with his grandfather (Vice President, Mike Pence) and falls in love with another boy bunny.
Books Reflect Life
Sure, there have been plenty of political books that have flopped this year, but more that haven’t. It doesn’t matter if you’re a democrat, a republican, or a simple book nerd who exists in a happy gray area, you've probably heard of these bestselling books…and I think that’s the point. We exist in a world where it's difficult to avoid these topics and that applies to the books we read as well. The political culture has pervaded media consumption and books have not been immune to that creep. The escapism books have historically provided may be dwindling in this current state of affairs.
The Nature of Trends
Trends are trends for a reason. Think about the famous "What's Trending" sidebar in Twitter and how quickly the hashtags churn. What's popular now, will be replaced with what's popular to come. You never know what will capture the minds and imaginations of readers everywhere (and what will hopefully break them out of the endless news cycle). Trends come and go and are worth paying attention to so that you can forecast trends in the future, but not worth putting all your eggs in one basket. If you're able to tap into a current trend, that's fantastic, but don't change course to write a political book just because it's "what's hot" or currently trending.
I beg the writers out there to keep writing in whatever genre or on whatever subject you're passionate about. There's an audience for every book. Write what speaks to your heart because that's what comes through in good writing, and at the end of the day, that's what truly resonates with readers.