Ep. 01: Self-Publishing Trends 2018-2019

We're back for Season 3 of Go Publish Yourself! Join us as we discuss self-publishing trends with Robin Cutler and Justine Bylo.

Whether you're beginning a new novel, writing a book marketing plan for an existing title, or in the final stages of your self-publishing journey, now is the time to examine the self-publishing landscape at the conclusion of 2018 and prepare accordingly for 2019. Robin Cutler, Director of IngramSpark, and Justine Bylo, Author Acquisitions Manager for IngramSpark, are back to discuss 2018’s popular book trends—reviewing politics, poetry, sassy self-help, and more. Learn how these trends affect self-publishing and start publishing today!


Robin Cutler [00:00:07] Hi, everyone, welcome to Season 3 of Go Publish Yourself, an IngramSpark podcast. We had such an amazing first year of the podcast in 2018, that we're back this year, covering even more publishing topics and offering more self-publishing tips and advice from experts in the industry. Hi, I'm Robin Cutler, Director of IngramSpark.

Justine Bylo [00:00:30] And I'm Justine Bylo, the Author Acquisitions Manager for IngramSpark. Welcome back, Robin!

Robin Cutler [00:00:35] Happy New Year!

Justine Bylo [00:00:35] Happy New Year!

Robin Cutler [00:00:38] I can't believe it's 2019, can you?

Justine Bylo [00:00:40] No, we are so close to 2020, and I just want Barbara Walters to say, "And this is 20/20."

Robin Cutler [00:00:49] That's so funny you know that, because that's an old show.

Justine Bylo [00:00:52] Yes, I'm older than people think I am.

Robin Cutler [00:00:55] Oh, well, you're not, I have clothes that are older than you, Justine. So, let's kick off this season, we're really excited and what we're going to talk about today is, kind of looking backwards and looking forwards to the self-publishing landscape, and you know, what really hit in 2018 and what we think will carry forward in 2019.

Justine Bylo [00:01:20] This might be my favorite thing to talk to you about all year, because you know I get super nerdy about this, and trying to predict what will happen in 2019 and getting very thoughtful about 2018, so, yeah, let's dive in!

Robin Cutler [00:01:37] So, obviously, one of the easiest and most predictable, I guess, is sort of political books, you know, satire, social commentary.

Justine Bylo [00:01:48] Yes.

Robin Cutler [00:01:49] I don't see that going away in 2019, those kind of books.

Justine Bylo [00:01:54] No, if anything, it's just going to heat up even more. In 2018, all of the majority of the bestsellers were political in nature. People will say, oh, but the number one book in 2018 was Becoming, but yeah, it was written by Michelle Obama, so yes, it's political. So, I would say that whether it's a book about what is happening in politics, what has happened in politics, what people think will happen in the future of politics, or just plain satire about it, I think it's going to be really popular as things move forward, because that's all people; people are consumed, they really are.

Robin Cutler [00:02:37] I know, so, when I traveled this, in 2018, you know, and I even went to Australia. I was hoping to get away from American politics when I went to Australia, and I could have a little bit of a break, but they cover it as much there as they do here in the States.

Justine Bylo [00:02:56] Yes, I was in Iceland, in Reykjavik, and they were covering American politics even there, and it's amazing how the world is consumed by our political craziness. Whether the book is on, I don't care what side of the aisle it's about, politics is hot.

Robin Cutler [00:03:19] And we did see a lot of things, especially related to Donald Trump, like there were, especially on the satire side.

Justine Bylo [00:03:28] The two big books to hit in the world of satire this year, were A Day In the Life of Marlon Bundo, which was a satire about, a satire of a book that was actually written by Charlotte Pence about her bunny and John Oliver from HBO, and his writers took it and ran with it and wrote a complete satire about that bunny, and so that was a huge hit. Then the other one was from Stephen Colbert, which is Whose Boat Is This Boat? which was for hurricane relief after Hurricane Florence about Trump looking at a boat during a news broadcast and remarking about that boat, and then they just took it and ran with it. So yeah, I would say that our leaders are definitely fodder right now.

Robin Cutler [00:04:26] And I even bought that book, Whose Boat Is This Boat?

Justine Bylo [00:04:29] It was really funny.

Robin Cutler [00:04:30] Because, I'm from South Carolina, and so is Stephen Colbert, and that book was personally benefiting the people that had been hurt by the hurricane.

Justine Bylo [00:04:41] Yeah, and Marlon Bundo went to a bunny charity, actually.

Robin Cutler [00:04:47] Crazy.

Justine Bylo [00:04:49] But even in the Spark world, we had a pretty great book that did well called Mean Mr. Trump, which was a satire of Eloise, that was a children's book for adults. So I would say that, yeah, no matter what, the satire is a fun way to go.

Robin Cutler [00:05:10] And I will just add, as a self-publisher, any kind of politically related book that can change whether or not it's going to be popular based on just overnight, like the public changing its mind on things.

Justine Bylo [00:05:28] Yes.

Robin Cutler [00:05:29] So you have to be prepared for that book having a short life.

Justine Bylo [00:05:33] Yes, and you have to be ready to put pedal to the metal and market it.

Robin Cutler [00:05:37] Get out there.

Justine Bylo [00:05:39] Yeah, exactly, and play to the whims of the people at that moment.

Robin Cutler [00:05:46] Okay, so another trend that we definitely saw and we've seen actually building for a couple of years and I see it continuing, and this is a surprise to a lot of people, is how popular poetry has become.

Justine Bylo [00:06:02] Yeah, poetry is huge. Our top selling books at Spark this year were poetry titles, which when I tell people, they are completely floored by that! But, our authors, Robert Drake and Pierre Alex Jeanty, wrote amazing books of poetry which I'm a personal fan of, and they really speak to people. I think it all started with Rupi Kaur back in 2014, and the trend hasn't let up since.

Robin Cutler [00:06:35] So if you're a poet, now is the time to really get those books out there, because even on the retail side, we had a lot of success, even with big box stores like Target, selling poetry.

Justine Bylo [00:06:49] Yeah, Target sells a lot of poetry now and it's not just those big box stores. I think people seek it out on social media platforms and...

Robin Cutler [00:07:02] Inspirational, yeah.

Justine Bylo [00:07:03] Yeah, and an agent friend of mine had this really great observation about the poetry trend. She said, it's the non-religious daily devotional, and I thought that was fantastic way to put it.

Robin Cutler [00:07:17] Yeah, and the other thing, not quite the same, but along those same lines, I just want to give a shout out, is creativity now is entrepreneurial. I point to author and poet Orna Ross, who is the CEO of ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors, and she started like a creative-preneur sort of movement this past year, and I really follow her. I love her inspiration, especially for writers, and I just want to give her a shout out.

Justine Bylo [00:07:55] Yeah, Orna's great.

Robin Cutler [00:07:57] Okay, and the other thing, and actually, it was you, Justine, that kind of clued me into the the whole idea of stay woke, right?

Justine Bylo [00:08:09] Yeah, I think that the world has become so much more aware of the people in it.

Robin Cutler [00:08:18] Authentic.

Justine Bylo [00:08:19] And being authentic, and a lot of our authors are really tapped into that, and they really just lay it all out on the page which is really, not only inspirational, but a palate cleanser, honestly.

Robin Cutler [00:08:37] Well, and there's even actually, so I would call this an authentic, what I would put in this category are authentic and conscious books that touch on gender, racial, class, age, even. And they now have their own category that's called stay woke, and you see even those bestseller stay woke books like on Goodreads.

Justine Bylo [00:09:02] Yeah, and I think the key to their success is, the honesty, and being able to speak to people in a way that they see themselves in those people's stories. Creating social awareness behind certain issues and promoting change, to further movements, and I think that's what's so fascinating, is how literature has always been a catalyst for change, in my opinion, but even moreso than usual.

Robin Cutler [00:09:39] Yes, and we're already seeing some of these types of books trend in 2019, right off the bat, so, Can't Hurt Me by David Goggins, you've seen him talk on all the morning shows already.

Justine Bylo [00:09:53] He's so inspirational.

Robin Cutler [00:09:55] That's a very powerful memoir.

Justine Bylo [00:09:57] Yes, incredibly powerful, and he, in himself, is an inspirational person, and you just kind of, he makes you reevaluate your life a little bit, which is rare, you know? To have a book that does that. I'm reading it right now, actually.

Robin Cutler [00:10:18] Yeah, it's very, very amazing, and the other, and that kind of goes also into, and I've heard you say this, Justine, the sassy self-help, as a trend.

Justine Bylo [00:10:29] Oh, I love the sassy self-help category. Yeah, remember the self-help books back in the day that were, like, five steps to do this, right? Those are not what people are buying anymore. The number two book this year was Girl, Wash Your Face, and you know.

Robin Cutler [00:10:48] Get Over Your Damn Self.

Justine Bylo [00:10:51] Yeah, and that's one of our books, and it does so well, and so it's these books that kind of become mantras, that you can recite to yourself in the mirror in the morning, and it's great.

Robin Cutler [00:11:06] So, if you ever wanted to just get your advice out, like you know everything, right, and you want to tell everybody what to do, now may be the time to do that.

Justine Bylo [00:11:16] Yeah, and do it with a bit of sass.

Robin Cutler [00:11:18] Yeah, a bit of sass would be good. This isn't really related to the type of book or genre or anything, but we're definitely seeing, and this has been growing over the last, at least year, and I don't see this stopping, is just books are getting shorter. I think it's related a lot to attention span, people are so, you know, torn away from, not just conflicting with other books, but conflicting with video and streaming.

Justine Bylo [00:11:53] Well, people a have to make choices in what content they want to consume, and it's impossible to watch, read, listen, to everything you want to, so you have to make those choices. If something is shorter, you're probably more likely to fit it into that schedule, right? And also, you have to think of things in context of people's lives, you know, my commute in the morning is 45 minutes door to door. If I can read something or listen to something in 45 minutes, that's great, because it gets me from the door of my apartment to my office. So, it's how it fits into people's lives.

Robin Cutler [00:12:39] And when I say shorter, I would say the average is about 200, 250 pages.

Justine Bylo [00:12:44] Yeah, and sometimes even shorter.

Robin Cutler [00:12:46] Yeah, and novellas that are even 100 pages or less. So if you've already written something that's quite large, you might want to really think and rethink, maybe creating a series, cutting that up into smaller bites.

Justine Bylo [00:13:02] Series, or if you're authors out there who want to band together to bring power to a project, I'm seeing a lot of people do compilations, more and more.

Robin Cutler [00:13:15] Anthologies.

Justine Bylo [00:13:15] Anthologies, yep.

Robin Cutler [00:13:18] Yeah, and I will say now, and I'm in a couple of book clubs, but I don't pick a book that's more than 250 pages because if I do, I'll hear groans.

Justine Bylo [00:13:28] Yeah, you're the best person in book club, Robin!

Robin Cutler [00:13:31] Although, I do like longer books myself, like I like to stay with a really good book, and hate for it to end.

Justine Bylo [00:13:36] I have to read so many that when book club chooses a long book, then I'm like, oh, no!

Robin Cutler [00:13:41] Yeah, that's just horrible. This is something we are really delighted to talk about, especially being here at Ingram, and we've actually toward the end of the year, we started seeing stories about this, not only in the US, but also in the UK, which is that the return of the local bookseller. Amazon has not put bookstores, physical bookstores, under like everybody thought they would. There's actually now more bookstores that have come online than have been dying over the last decade, so, that is fantastic news.

Justine Bylo [00:14:19] Oh, it's music to my ears, because I love my local indie so much, so so much. The reason why I love it is because I can go there, and get a recommendation for a really great book every single time, and those people who run that store are not only friendly and wonderful, but know books so well, and you can't get that from a website.

Robin Cutler [00:14:44] No, browsing experience online is not the same as in a store.

Justine Bylo [00:14:47] Yeah, it's great.

Robin Cutler [00:14:51] So we're really delighted about that. We have been talking about this for a while and making sure now that you're a self-published author, to feel part of the publishing community, and that includes patronizing your local bookseller, so I always give a shout out for that.

Justine Bylo [00:15:12] Yes!

Robin Cutler [00:15:12] So, and now, you know, more and more stores are actually helping authors, like even figure out how to get published.

Justine Bylo [00:15:21] Yeah, the local indie author movement started a few years ago, but has really taken hold and there's been this wonderful relationship that's been built between local authors and local bookstores, that just feels so natural and wonderful. It makes me happy to see those relationships forming because it just feels right, yeah.

Robin Cutler [00:15:47] Yes, so it's really really great. So, anything else that we want to make sure our listeners know about?

Justine Bylo [00:15:55] Some predictions I see coming in 2019 are, here's a big one. Over Christmas break, Netflix launched Marie Kondo's Tidying Up show. I know, Robin's shaking her head right now, everyone.

Robin Cutler [00:16:13] I tell you, I am all, I am so tired of, like, just renovation and updating and getting rid of clutter. It's just like, I can't take anymore.

Justine Bylo [00:16:24] I know, but the crazy thing that happened was that we've seen that book hit, like, hit lists again. The Container Store saw this crazy uptick in sales, which my husband likes to point out, is not the point of the book, but that's beside the point. I really do think that there's going to be this whole new trend in 2019 of creating calm in your home when there's chaos outside the home. Whether that be decorating, food, anything along those lines, I think we're going to see a lot of books in that space, a la Joanna Gaines which, yeah I know.

Robin Cutler [00:17:16] Well, I tell you what creates chaos for me, is those Property Brothers, they have a different name for the same show, like, over and over and over.

Justine Bylo [00:17:26] I know, I saw one of the Property Brothers in Nashville at a restaurant. I know, but yes, I do think that that's going to be something we see. I could be wrong, I'm often wrong, so.

Robin Cutler [00:17:39] Well, no, I think that stuff always is popular. It's just not popular in my house, because I just want, like, travel, and I want to go outside.

Justine Bylo [00:17:49] Well, and I also think travel's going to be a big one in 2019, because of the same thing. I think escapism is going to be a huge theme, and so travel's part of that escapism, so in the home and abroad.

Robin Cutler [00:18:05] So we got you covered, both sides.

Justine Bylo [00:18:07] Yeah, so, yes, so.

Robin Cutler [00:18:09] Okay, well, this was fun, Justine, like it always is.

Justine Bylo [00:18:12] Yeah. Thank you for letting me geek out, Robin.

Robin Cutler [00:18:15] Oh my gosh, always. So, thank you guys for listening. To help us spread the word and help even more people learn how to self-publish, please don't forget to leave us a review on iTunes after listening, and if you're ready to publish today, please visit the IngramSpark website, and for more tips on publishing like a pro, check out our weekly blog and our free online self-publishing courses available in the IngramSpark Academy. Talk to you soon!


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