Acclaimed American playwright William Goldman once said: “No one knows anything”. He was talking about films – no one, according to him, knew with a certainty whether a particular idea would be successful or not on film. He could very well have been talking about books.
Every year, countless titles hit the market, most quickly disappearing into obscurity. The ones that do make it, however, are usually quite unexpected: who knew that stories about a teenage boy wizard or a rich man with strange sexual quirks would become so popular?
These successes usually end up starting trends; countless paranormal romances came into being after the success of the young adult (YA) fiction Twilight series, for example, while The Hunger Games, The Da Vinci Code and Gone Girl created in their wake hundreds of copycat YA dystopia fare, historical quests, and twisty thrillers with “girl” in the title.
Predicting a publishing trend, however, is no easy task, especially today. When approached, many local publishers said it is hard to identify any recent publishing trends, especially in the Malaysian market. This is partly because of how 2017’s economy affected book sales, and it’s an effect that many publishers expect will spill over into this year.
Instead, most prefer to rely on “evergreen” titles: book genres and styles that have proved to be popular year after year.
“If we look at recent years, we have the strong titles of adult colouring books in 2015, which was the trend then, and then in 2016, the launching of the latest Harry Potter book,” says Popular Malaysia’s executive director Lim Lee Ngoh, referring to Harry Potter And The Cursed Child.
“Whereas in 2017, sales were falling due to the weak ringgit, which resulted in high book prices and an impact on buying.”
According to Lim, however, there are certain books that always sell well in Popular Bookstores: children’s books, YA fiction, genre fiction (such as romance, fantasy and sci-fi), autobiographies, and webcomics.
“We would expect these types of books to remain popular in 2018. We expect 2018’s sales to be similar to 2017’s, unless there are new or special titles or sagas being introduced this year,” Lim says.
Pansing Distribution Pte Ltd marketing manager Samantha Teo agrees that 2017 hadn’t been marked by any outstanding book trends. She did, however, note an increase in sales of books about particular subjects.
“Children’s books are still selling well, and we see more publications about unicorns. This year we have about four Asian/Singaporean female writers who have been published internationally – Sharlene Teo, Rachel Heng, Clarissa Goenawan and Thea Lim,” says Singapore-based Teo via e-mail.
“There are several publications about Trump – publishers have been publishing steadily since he was elected president,” she adds.
Politics will also be a big issue for some local publishers, like nonfiction specialist Gerakbudaya. According to Gerakbudaya Publishing Group editor Charles Brophy, the upcoming Malaysian general election will be a big focus for them, and their output will centre on politics more.
“In terms of the market we aren’t the best to judge. But 2017 was difficult in terms of sales and 2018 will perhaps continue to be. We just try to continue doing what we do but better to try and maintain a niche and interest among Malaysian readers,” Brophy says.
MPH Publishing is also sticking to their strengths for 2018 and will be pushing short memoirs and biographies of successful entrepreneurs with inspirational, easy-to-read content in text or graphic form, says MPH Publishing general manager Kuah Sze Mei.
“Others that work well for us would also be books on health, fitness and healthy eating, as well as compilations of Malaysian anecdotes. These are a few genres that have worked for us in the past few years and will continue to do so this year.”
A Title-Lating Wait
While publishers and book distributors might be wary of predicting trends, they are quite happy to share information about “hot” titles. These are books that have particularly current subject matter, that sold rights for large sums or have already been booked for screen adaptations; then there are titles from big names that always sell well, as well as big names from beyond publishing that release books.
Here are some titles that offer potentially exciting content, arranged in publication order. Keep an eye out for them and tell us what you think if you read any of them. (Publication dates are expected Malaysian publication/availability dates.)
From BMF To 1MDB: A Criminological And Sociological Discussion
Author: Teh Yik Koon
Expected publication date: Out now
Criminologist Prof Dr Teh Yik Koon did her doctoral study on the Bumiputra Malaysia Finance Ltd (BMF) financial case that broke in the 1980s and that included the murder of a civil servant. In this timely book, she juxtaposes the BMF case with the very current 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) case, tracing money trails, examining the problematic structure of both organisations as well as the political and social structure and environment in Malaysia as these two cases took place. Both cases are compared to provide an analysis of the social and political progress of Malaysia in the last three decades.
Author: Rose McGowan
Publisher/Distributor: HarperOne/MPH Distributors
Type: nonfiction, memoir
Expected publication date: Jan 30
If the red hot #MeToo movement encouraging women around the world to speak up about sexual assault has an instigator then it’s Hollywood actress Rose McGowan. She was one of the lonely early voices that accused Harvey Weinstein of assault and triggered a flood of similar complaints about the movie producer. You can imagine there is a lot of (a lot!) of interest in this memoir....
Even without the Weinstein scandal, McGowan’s life is fascinating, what with her being born into the sexually fixated Children of God cult and then becoming a teenage runaway in Los Angeles before, as she puts it, another cult – Hollywood – caught her up.
Author: Rhiannon Navin
Type: dramatic fiction
Expected date of publication: Feb 8
This debut novel had literary agents fighting over it before its rights were sold for a six-figure sum. We think it’s the intriguing idea of a six-year-old narrator that has captured everyone’s attention.
Zach’s story starts on the worst day of his life. A gunman has entered his primary school, and before the day is done, will take 19 lives. The bewildered boy watches as the adults around him fall apart until he, too, learns about loss. The book has been called “timely and tragically universal” and Zach, an unforgettable character.
Legends Of The Condor Heroes I
Author: Jin Yong
Publisher/Distributor: MacLehose Press/Pansing
Type: Fantasy fiction
Expected publication date: Feb 22
The “Chinese Lord Of The Rings” is now published in English for the first time. Translated by Anna Holmwood, this is the first volume of the beloved Chinese epic saga telling the tale of Guo Jing, a hero who must return to his birthland, China, to confront a deadly enemy and fulfil his destiny.
The wuxia-style (fighting hero) novels were written under the pen name Jin Yong by Chinese journalist Louis Cha Leung-yung and feature the young martial arts fighter during China’s Song dynasty involved in fictional plots set amidst a real historical background. The novels became the biggest Chinese publishing hit of the last century.
Between The Blade And The Heart
Author: Amanda Hocking
Publisher/Distributor: Wednesday Books/Pansing
Type: Young adult fantasy
Expected publication date: Feb 22
Paranormal romance author Hocking (known for the Trylle Trilogy, Freeks) returns with the first book in her new Valkyrie duology. As one of the Norse god Odin’s Valkyries, Malin’s responsibility is to slay immortals and return them to the underworld. But when she unearths a shattering secret, she and her friends must decide where their true loyalties lie.
Author: Clarissa Goenawan
Publisher/Distributor: Soho Press /Pansing
Type: Magical realism
Expected publication date: March 20
Set in an imaginary town outside Tokyo, the debut by Indonesia-born Singaporean author Clarissa Goenawan follows a young man’s path to self-discovery in the wake of his sister’s murder. Ren Ishida heads to the town of Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, only to end up accepting her now vacant teaching position there. As he gets to know the town’s local figures, he realises that his sister kept many secrets from him.
Amara Hoshijo, the acquiring editor at Soho Press, called Goenawan’s writing “beautifully literary and effortlessly transportive ... capable of resonating with a wide audience, much like the works of Haruki Murakami and Elena Ferrante”.
Author: Christine Mangan
Publisher/Distributor: Little, Brown/MPH Distributors
Expected publication date: March 22
Here's another debut that has drawn a lot of praise – and even comparisons with Patricia Highsmith, Gillian Flynn, and Alfred Hitchcock, no less!
This psychological thriller is set in 1950s Morocco, where two women with a shared painful past meet again. Alice Shipley quickly falls under the spell of controlling Lucy Mason once again – until Alice’s new husband goes missing.
Imperative Entertainment won an auction for the film adaptation with George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s Smokehouse on board to produce and Scarlett Johansson attached to star.
The Fates Divide
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher/Distributor: Katherine Tegen Books/MPH Distributors
Type: Young adult fantasy
Expected publication date: April 10
Anything by Veronica Roth is hot following her mega selling Divergent series.
Fans have been waiting eagerly for the second, and last, book in the Carve The Mark duology, which continues the tale of Akos and Cyra, two young people from opposing cultures whose fates are intertwined.
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Publisher/Distributor: W.W. Norton & Company / Pansing
Type: Literary fiction
Expected publication date: May 1
This is Chuck Palahniuk’s first novel in four years, so expectations are high – how will he follow up the crazily magnificent Fight Club?
Following the iconic “you don’t talk about fight club” line, in Adjustment Day, you don’t talk about the mysterious blue book of instructions except with the people you trust most. Aaand we’re off on another of Palahniuk’s quests to skewer the absurdities in society.
Author: Stephen King
Publisher/Distributor: Scribner / Pansing
Type: Crime fiction
Expected publication date: May 22
Horror Meister Stephen King has been dabbling in crime fiction of late, and we’ve been awaiting his next offering eagerly.
This one begins with an 11-year-old boy being found horribly murdered. Shockingly, all evidence points to a popular baseball coach as the murderer. But then the twists begin with alibis contradicting clear scientific evidence and confusing the heck out of Detective Ralph Anderson....
The President Is Missing
Authors: James Patterson & Bill Clinton
Publisher/Distributor: Little, Brown / Pansing
Expected publication date: June 4
Yes, you read the author’s name correctly. Former US President Bill Clinton teams up with bestselling author James Patterson to deliver a thriller about the American president suddenly going missing.
Hmm, could this be based on a well-hidden fact from Clinton’s days as Potus? Not much else is known about the book so far, but a television adaptation is already planned by American media company Showtime.
The Concubine’s Child
Author: Carol Jones
Publisher/Distributor: Head of Zeus / Pansing
Expected publication date: June 14
In 1930s Malaysia, 16-year-old Yu Lan is in love with best friend, Ming – but her ruthless father sells her as a concubine to rich but ageing Towkay Chan. The consequences of Lim’s betrayal resonate through four generations to the present day, where Yu Lan’s great-grandson, Nick, is searching for his lost family history.
Australian author Carol Jones says she was inspired to write this novel “over the last twenty-five years of annual visits to Malaysia” to stay with her Malaysian husband’s family.
Author: Rachel Heng
Publisher/distributor: Sceptre / Pansing
Type: Dystopian fiction
Expected publication date: July 10
In the near future, immortality is within humanity’s grasp. The Ministry is the all-powerful arbiter of how healthcare resources are allocated, with most going to “lifers”, those predisposed for a life expected to be lived healthily beyond 100 years old. A group of disillusioned lifers called “The Suicide Club” are branded as terrorists for wanting the right to die as they choose.
London-based Singaporean author Rachel Heng’s debut novel sparked a bidding war that ended in six figures from both British and American publishers.
21 Lessons For The 21st Century
Author: Yuval Noah Harari
Publisher/distributor: Jonathan Cape/Pansing
Expected publication date: Aug 30
His book Sapiens (2011) – which sold in the millions – showed us where we came from, while Homo Deus (2015) looked into the future. In his new book, eminent historian Yuval Noah Harari looks at the present, asking questions such as: How can we protect ourselves from nuclear war, ecological cataclysms and technological disruptions? What can we do about the epidemic of fake news? And which civilisation truly dominates the world?
Three Malaysian crime novels
Authors: To be announced
Type: crime fiction
Expected publication date: October
Last year, indie publisher Fixi Novo put out a call for local crime novel manuscripts in English, that were set primarily in Malaysia. The deadline is April this year, with local authors Brian Gomez, Chuah Guat Eng and Mamu Vies judging the submissions. It’s a bit too early to speculate on what the accepted novels will be about, but expect dark tales of devious deeds, told with a distinctly local flavour in the vein of Fixi’s previous publications. (Covers not ready.)