In an industry so reliant on consumer trends, in our Trendspotting panel we looked at how trends are spotted and predicted. Chaired by Sarah Barnard, she was joined by panellists Miranda Jewess, Mia Oakley, Heather Leonard and Tom Hodges.

To begin, the panel was asked how we spot a bestseller. Heather begins with the reader perspective, by suggesting that a book’s cover can directly impact how well it sells, especially from a social media standpoint. From a bookselling perspective, Tom mentions how they can tell how well a book will do in their shop based on their customers reading tastes. Mia mentioned from a marketing perspective, that there needs to be an engaged audience, while it doesn’t need to be mass-market, it does need to be proactive. Miranda mentions from an editorial perspective that spotting a bestseller is two-fold, firstly a book will be on trend and well-written so will do in a crowded market but also sometimes a book will be something new in an empty market and that might also do well.

Moving on to whether publishing sets trends or follows them, Miranda notes that while publishers would like to think they set trends, as it is a business they have to publish what they think will work. Importantly Mia outlines the risk of publishing exclusively based on trends as by the time a book is released, it may no longer be relevant. By following trends, publishers also risk saturation with the consumer finding they can get enough of this trend from other mediums. Tom notes how bookshops can create micro-trends as they each do ‘staff picks’ which influencers consumer purchases and through local author engagement. Finally, Heather mentions how publishers mindfully selecting the bookstagram influencers that they approach can positively create trends, however when ARCs go to readers who don’t usually read the genre, it can look out of place and inauthentic.

Next the panel was asked, who the tastemakers were, Mia outlined how so much of the content herself and her team consume is discussed as potential book ideas. Furthermore, she notes that Penguin Random House have a questionnaire system which can tell you who it thinks the audience is, however there is a caveat, that it often caters for a white audience. Miranda notes that conservative tastes which are prevalent are also limiting. Broadly speaking Tom notes how bookshops can be tastemakers as they only stock and sell the books they want to sell but also points out that most book sales aren’t done through independent booksellers.

It was also addressed whether we are seeing trends being created online by algorithms Tom mentions how aside from this, booksellers can look worldwide on social media at what other booksellers are doing and bringing this to customers. Mia notes with social media that bookstagram influencers tend to have an engaged audience who are generally quite authentic. Following this, Instagram and TikTok have created a space online which is less intimidating and in turn helped more people into reading. Heather notes the differences between Instagram and TikTok with Instagram being more in-depth reviews with posts being dedicated to one book, whereas TikTok moves much more quickly as rapid collections. Miranda highlights the importance of the book cover with the rise of Instagram and notes that she will shrink an image to thumbnail size to gauge how it will look on Amazon to a browser as most people will not see a book in person before the buy it.

And finally, a quick-fire round of imminent trends they predict; Heather predicts morally unhinged women, Miranda seconds this with another Gone Girl, Tom with diverse magical occult and Mia with affordable and accessible cooking, fanfic and better representation for POC.

Thank you to our chair and all our panellists for participating in our Trendspotting panel, the recording of this is available online to all ticketholders until 31st May.

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