'Bun fight' for autumn as publishers move new titles

'Bun fight' for autumn as publishers move new titles

Publishers are preparing for a “total bun fight” for shelf space and media attention owing to a number of key spring/summer 2020 books shifting into the autumn, though there will be less of an overwhelming glut of Covid-19-affected titles released during the industry’s key trading period than previously feared.

The Bookseller’s tracking of frontlist trade titles (see Books on the Move, below) shows that just 43 books have moved from the coronavirus-hit period into October, the month of Super Thursday and when the Christmas selling season traditionally kicks into high gear. Just 19 titles have been shunted to November, though September and August have 89 and 147 respectively.

Yet though 89 and 147 titles moving into what is already a crowded schedule seems like a lot, it represents just a small snapshot, based on titles previewed in The Bookseller. According to Nielsen BookData, September will see 10,069 titles published (technically, there will be that many titles with new ISBNs in all formats out for the first time), of which just under 6,500 come from trade publishers. Just under 2,600 new hardbacks are scheduled to come out in September; the top 10 UK trade publishers, per BookScan sales, are issuing 830 of them. The Big Four publishers (Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins and Pan Macmillan) account for almost 500 of those.
Though the sheer volume of titles brought to the autumn may not be daunting, the difficulty is about quality, not quantity, as those moved to the autumn rather than shifted to 2021 tend to be books that can go toe to toe with Christmas releases. Just a smattering include Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults (May to 1st September), Kate Allinson and Kay Featherstone’s Pinch of Nom Food Planner (June to 3rd September), Jane Fonda’s climate change manifesto What Can I Do? (July to 8th September), Ruth Jones’ Us Three (May to 3rd September) and Nadiya Bakes by Nadiya Hussain pictured above (July to 1st October).

Make some noise
Many are wary of being able to cut through a lot of noise to shout about particular titles. Georgina Moore, director of books and publishing at Midas PR, said: “We are already hearing from newspapers and reviewers that it is going to be a total bun fight this autumn, and many authors and titles will lose out in the fight for reviews and coverage. Last autumn at Midas we had a huge amount of big-title work from publishers, but this year PR budgets for freelance are likely to be cut because of lost revenue. We are hopeful, though, that work will come pushed by agents and authors themselves, worried that without specialist, dedicated PR help they won’t stand out in the autumn and find sales.”

PRH division Cornerstone has a big autumn schedule with the likes of Robert Harris’ return to the Second World War in V2 (29th September), Tim Peake’s memoir (15th October) and heavyweight champ Tyson Fury’s fitness tome, The Fury Method (12th November). Director of publicity and media relations Charlotte Bush agreed with Moore’s concerns: “The challenges will be many more of us competing for the key media which we know drives sales, especially broadcast, in those key weeks of gifting in the run-up to Christmas.”

Bush added: “At the moment there is so much uncertainty around events. We don’t know when bookshops will reopen, or if we will be in a position to hold physical events or signings this autumn. The key is to plan for every eventuality and explore online opportunities, and start to map out how we sell books while delivering a great experience for audiences and authors. We will work very closely with retailers on this.”

A fruitful August
One of the consequences of the movement of titles is that there looks to be a lengthening of the autumn selling season, which traditionally kicks off on the last Thursday in August. (Not unrelated: that day tends to be when Michael Joseph releases its newest Jamie Oliver.) Yet 6th August is now one of the busiest Thursdays of the year in release terms, with previous spring releases such as Emily St John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel (Picador) and Sophy Henn’s Pizazz (Simon & Schuster Children’s) joining the likes of Conn Iggulden’s The Gates of Athens (Michael Joseph), and Jeff Kinney’s Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure (Puffin). 

There are now arguably two mini-Super Thursdays. Usually, the first Thursday in October is Super Thursday, with a star-packed yet less busy rival following two weeks later. That remains the case this year (1st, 15th October), but 3rd September is now packed (approximately 140 trade hardbacks published) with original spring books: with original spring books such as Jones’ Us Three and Adam Buxton’s Ramble Book joining the likes of Ant and Dec’s memoir, Richard Osman’s first foray into fiction, The Secret Barrister’s follow-up and Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest.

There are 436 frontlist trade hardbacks due to be published on 1st October, but some of the titles that have moved into Super Thursday suggest publishers are thinking deeply about placement against rivals. Hussain’s Nadiya Bakes (Michael Joseph) has changed from July to the most crowded publication date of the year, but there isn’t a major cookery book being released that week to compete—though Cosima Hussey’s intriguingly titled chicken recipe collection, How to Eat Cock (Century), may be a sleeper hit. Similarly, Cape moved Roddy Doyle’s Love from May to 15th October, a day which, in addition to a ridiculously strong non-fiction and children’s roster (Nigella Lawson, Aday Kay, Arsene Wenger’s memoir), is chock-a-block with genre fiction heavyweights such as Martina Cole, John Grisham and Jenny Colgan—but there is really no one of Doyle’s stature being released that week in his “accessible literary” space. 

The Bookseller has collated a list of titles previewed whose publication dates have not changed (thebookseller.com/unchanged-release-dates); and a full listing of publisher-supplied data of delayed titles (thebookseller.com/titles-postponed-publication-dates). A special “corona” preview will be published on 12th June to highlight titles moved from May, June and July into the autumn and winter. Submissions should be sent to tamsin.hackett@thebookseller.com by 29th May. To advertise, contact emma.lowe@thebookseller.com.