If Marty McFly arrived in 2022, he’d be baffled why a) no one is using hoverboards and b) everyone seems to be reading books about a band of elderly sleuths who live in a retirement home written by one of the presenters of Pointless.
Since his first book in 2020, Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series has sold 3.1 million copies, earning £25 million, and turned the “cosy crime” genre — gentle mysteries set in small communities with no unseemly gore — into the book world’s current blockbuster trend.
Helped by Janice Hallett’s brilliant pageturner The Appeal in 2021, the enduring influence of Agatha Christie and Reverend Richard Coles’s Murder Before Evensong, the growth of the genre has seen publishers scramble to capitalise on its popularity. Suk Pannu, writer for The Kumars at No 42, author Tilly Bagshawe and even Strictly’s Shirley Ballas all landing cosy crime deals in the past 18 months.
After all, a publishing trend (often with similar-looking book covers) makes it easier to connect with readers; we’ve all finished a really good book and wanted to repeat the experience immediately. Despite this, the science of publishing isn’t that simple.
“If only we truly understood it, we would all be millionaires. I think some genres will never be exhausted — there will always be a huge psychological thriller, a breakout new crime series,” says books agent Cathryn Summerhayes, whose authors include Adam Kay, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu and Lucy Foley. “But the issue agents and publishers face is that it takes a long time to publish a book and we often see books published into trends that are no longer trendy.”
Plus, there’s now the unpredictable influence of social media. BookTok, a passionate subsection of TikTok, has transformed fairly successful writers into global titans through word of mouth and readers video-weeping over the final pages of a book.
Colleen Hoover’s 2016 novel It Ends With Us became a pandemic sensation and has now sold 20 million copies.
Madeline Miller’s 2012 book The Song Of Achilles had an initial print run of 20,000 but by July this year had sold two million copies, with the hashtag songofachilles getting more than 19 million views on TikTok (a factor influencing the trend for retold classics and myths).
“BookTok has thrown a spanner in the works because it’s based on reader recommendations and nothing to do with publishers — it could be a long dormant classic that’ll just take over,” reflects Alice O’Keeffe, The Bookseller’s books editor. “Publishers are consequently taking note: for example, Orion has just bought 10 books from the self-published Jessa Hastings, who went viral with her Magnolia Parks romance series.” Alongside the rise of BookTok, other real-world influences play their part, reflects Summerhayes: “I think what is going on in society and the world has a big impact on trends — certainly the pandemic saw readers reach for comforting books. In this new period of financial recession, people are most likely to buy books they know they will like rather than risk a new writer they are unfamiliar with so backlist crime can see an uplift as well as people returning to classics and books they read when they were younger.
“Essentially publishers want books that all sorts of readers can respond to on different levels so big debuts such as Georgina Moore’s The Garnett Girls (out February) offers romance and glamorous women to those who want an escapist read but also gives complex emotions, heartache and jeopardy to a younger, more intellectual readership.
“The importance of books that offer many talking points, that can suit a book club selection, a Waterstones window and a supermarket shelf cannot be underestimated.”
So with all these factors affecting the odds, these are the major trends leading publishing right now…
Alice Oseman is leading the way in books celebrating LGBTQ+ love stories with her graphic novel-turned-Netflix-hit Heartstopper (£10.99, Hachette Children’s) . There’s an appetite from readers for stories that buck, rework and celebrate the heteronormative tales of yore such as Akwaeke Emezi’s recent You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty (Faber), We Do What We Do In The Dark by Michelle Hart (Headline) and We Are All Constellations by Amy Beashel (Oneworld).
Ones to watch in 2023: Marlo by Jay Carmichael (February, Scribe) “think an Aussie Brokeback Mountain”; the 1890s-set The New Life by Tom Crewe (January, Vintage), Sunburn by Chloe Michelle Howarth (June, Verve) and Neon Roses by Rachel Dawson (May, John Murray), a queer working-class love story set in Wales during the miners’ strikes.
With more Thursday Murder Club books and a new detective series from Richard Osman on the cards, this genre is going nowhere. Sunday Times-bestseller author Janice Hallett is releasing her third book, The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels, in January (Profile) while other cosy crime titles that have huge readerships include SJ Bennett’s Murder Most Royal series (the late Queen investigates), MC Beaton’s latest, Agatha Raisin and The Devil’s Delight, and the new snowbound Blood on the Siberian Snow by CJ Farrington.
Ones to watch in 2023: The Expectant Detectives by Kat Ailes (June, Zaffre) — pregnant women solve mysteries; Grave Expectations by Alice Bell (May, Atlantic) “Janice Hallett meets BBC’s Ghosts” and Death Under A Little Sky by Stig Abell (April, HarperCollins).
Witches are an enduring trend — from the delightful second life (due to #WitchTok) of Madeline Miller’s 2018 book Circe and Juno Dawson’s hit Her Majesty’s Royal Coven series to Netflix’s adaptation of Sally Green’s newly repackaged 2014 Half Bad YA novels as The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself. However, 2023 is set to be the year of the witch with January bringing a raft of smart wicca including Kirsty Logan’s Now She Is A Witch (Vintage), Kate Griffin’s Fyneshade (Profile) and The Witches Of Vardo by Anya Bergman (Manilla).
Ones to watch in 2023: The Witching Tide by Margaret Meyer (July, Orion), Weyward by Emilia Hart (February, HarperCollins) and The Ghost Theatre by Suede bassplayer Mat Osman (not strictly witches but a supernatural tale by Richard’s brother; May, Bloomsbury).
Locked room and destination thrillers
Lucy Foley’s breakout success with The Paris Apartment (2022) and The Guest List (2020, both HarperCollins) has seen publishers seek to replicate her success with stories held together by a central location and a brain-scrambling whodunnit. This autumn’s The Prisoner by BA Paris (Hodder & Stoughton), The Rising Tide by Ann Cleeves (Pan Macmillan) and Bleeding Heart Yard by Elly Griffiths (Quercus) all scratch that particular itch.
Ones to watch in 2023: The Library Suicides by Fflur Dafydd set in Wales’s National Library (January, Hodder & Stoughton); The Launch Party by Lauren Forry (June, Zaffre) and the highly anticipated The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz (March, Oneworld), which is described as a “wildly entertaining thriller set in an isolated retreat with a publishing deal to die for.”
Untold historical fiction
As agent Cathryn Summerhayes explains: “I hope we are going to see a huge diversity in the big books and a shift away from the white middle- classes to people and places from far- flung countries or simply north of the M25.” Historical fiction is doing just that by giving new unheard perspectives. Actor Paterson Joseph’s The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho celebrates the life of Black writer and composer in Georgian London (Dialogue) while Vaseem Khan’s Malabar House series interweaves post-colonial India with twisting thriller plots.
Ones to watch in 2023: Les Liaisons Dangereuses meets The Crucible in The Disenchantment by Celia Bell (February, Serpent’s Tail); All Your Children, Scattered by Rwandan author Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse (February, Europa) tackles the effects of the Tutsi genocide, and Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein (February, Bloomsbury) is set in colonial Trinidad.
Reimagined classics and myths
One of the biggest trends of the past few years is reworked classic tales and myths with a feminist bent. This autumn alone has seen Stone Blind (Medusa’s tale) by Natalie Haynes (Pan Macmillan), a reworked Great Expectations in Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (Faber) and Darling by India Knight (Fig Tree) which updates Nancy Mitford for the modern era.
Ones to watch in 2023: Romeo & Juliet as Fair Rosaline by Natasha Solomons (August, Manilla Press); Lady Macbethad by Isabel Schuler (March, Bloomsbury) and 1984’s feminist reboot in The Sisterhood by Katherine Bradley (March, Simon & Schuster).
Cli-fi, or sci-fi and magical works inspired by climate change, have been a steady trend for the past decade from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road through to Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Recent releases include Joanne Stubbs’ haunting The Fish which imagines paddy fields in Cornwall (Fairlight) and the lyrical Limberlost by Robbie Arnott (Atlantic).
Ones to watch in 2023: Don’t mess with octopuses in The Mountain In The Sea by Ray Nayler (February, Orion); Saturnalia by Stephanie Feldman (October, Verve) and Camp Zero by Michelle Min Stirling (March, John Murray).