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Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Staying Up To Date on Upcoming Books: A Guest Post by Emily Hughes

I went to Disney World for 4 days to watch my kid lead the marching band through the Magic Kingdom, and even though I got back after midnight this morning, thanks to my good friend Emily Hughes, you get an awesome and helpful post today.

Emily Hughes has worked for many years in the publishing industry (she will explain below). Most recently, she has come into the library world's orbit for her extremely useful schedule of just about every adult and teen horror title that is coming out in the current year. I will let her explain it all in detail below, but here is why I asked her to write this guest post.

Hughes explains very clearly how her upcoming books list is made, how she collects the information for publishers of all sizes, even how she allows authors of self published and small presses to contribute. She "got into the weeds" as she told me, but that is what I wanted for all of you.

This examples is for Horror and it is VERY comprehensive. However, her explanations can work for any genre. Because she knows the publishing industry so well, this post is helpful for you to understand how you can stay on top of what is on the horizon and either use it for ordering or to help patrons.

We all often feel like we can never catch up, we will never know all the books we need to, and then books pop up, especially from smaller publishers, that we had no idea about and they are super popular. We feel blindsided. Hughes takes the time to explain how her upcoming books list is made, giving all of you a better idea on more streamlined ways you can stay in the know for every genre. You can use her example to build your own lists, for any type of book. Your lists don't have to be as comprehensive as hers, rather, use her process outlined below to make your own smaller, more focused lists to make your ordering and suggestions for all genres easier.

Now of course, her specific Horror list is a super useful resource for that specific genre. You can use it for upcoming titles AND she has easy access to previous years' lists. You can use those for suggestions. It's all at the top of the page. I also have her entire site highlighted on the Horror blog in the Resources page, including a link back to this guest post.

Thanks to Emily Hughes for doing this guest post for all of you. Now, enough of me, here is Emily Hughes.

Click here to enter Jump Scares...

The what: 

So I have this list. It’s a list of all the new horror books hitting shelves in 2023. As of today there are 307 titles on the list, and I feel pretty confident that by the time we reach midsummer that number will top 350. The list covers a huge range of subgenres and age ranges, contains novels, short story collections, anthologies, poetry, and more, and has something for pretty much everyone. I started maintaining these annual lists in 2020 for the Tor Nightfire website (you can still find the 2020, 2021, and 2022 lists over there). When I left those fine folks at the end of last year, I took the list with me to my own site. The ever-wonderful Becky Spratford, who uses the list herself, invited me to talk a little bit about how and why I maintain this resource, and how you might be able to use it yourself. 

The who: 

Hi, my name is Emily, and I’m a horror fan and recovering digital marketer. I worked in Big Five publishing for about a dozen years, split across stints at HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Macmillan. For the last eight of those dozen years, social media and content marketing were my domain – I ran consumer-facing book websites for both Penguin Random House (Unbound Worlds) and Macmillan (the Tor Nightfire site). All of this is to say that I know the publishing industry well (including all its quirks and foibles) and I have a passion for helping readers discover books that really speak to them. 

The why:

“Well, someone’s gotta do it” is a flippant answer, but it’s not an entirely inaccurate one. When I was trying to plan book coverage on the Nightfire site, I felt like I was playing whack-a-mole–just when I thought I had a good handle on what books were coming out in a given timeframe, I’d stumble upon a new release I’d totally missed. And when I started looking for other people’s horror new release lists, I couldn’t find anyone doing quite what I needed – I didn’t want highlights, and everybody already knows about Stephen King. I needed something comprehensive. From there, I started maintaining a spreadsheet of new releases, which I quickly realized would be helpful to readers, reviewers, booksellers, librarians, and more. And thus, the list was born. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that new release lists sorted by month and year are a consistent SEO traffic driver.)

The list is also my drop-in-the-bucket contribution to discoverability, a nightmare that publishers have never really solved. There are a lot of contributing factors, among them the decline of brick-and-mortar retail, the dominance of Amazon, the lack of a central iMDB-like resource for books, and the fact that publishing as an industry has never met an algorithm it knew what to do with. Bigger publishers have metadata guidelines that editors and marketers can use to try to make sure a book finds its readers, but that’s far from a sure thing and highly dependent on guesswork. Algorithmic book discovery is even more detrimental for indie presses, who generally have less money, less staff, and less time in the day to try to decipher the inner workings of tech giants.

The effect is undeniable: unless you have a gargantuan marketing and publicity campaign (and a budget to match), an author with a big platform, or an unpredictable viral moment, it’s really, really hard to get your book in front of potential readers. Word of mouth is still one of the best sales drivers out there, but you really can’t buy it, regardless of what the influencer industrial complex tries to tell you. The horror fiction community on Twitter is incredibly generous at boosting books and authors, but Twitter is obviously an increasingly unstable platform, and as of late February, when I’m writing this, there’s no consensus on where the community will go when Elon Musk eventually drives it into the ground.

By maintaining these lists, I’m also hoping to create something of a library of horror fiction over the years – backlist discoverability is its own unique nightmare, so if the 2021 list helps someone find, say, V. Castro’s Goddess of Filth years after its publication, that’s a win for everyone.

And it’s also just really gratifying to me that this product of my ADHD hyperfocus is useful for other people! If someone checks out the list and comes away with a book or two they wouldn’t have known about otherwise, I’ll be absolutely thrilled. The feedback I’ve gotten has been so kind and positive – librarians and booksellers have told me they use the list to plan which books to buy for their horror sections, and reviewers and podcasters have told me they keep the list open in a tab constantly for reference purposes. Even Reddit has been incredibly nice about it, which feels almost miraculous. 

The how: 

In the beginning, there was a spreadsheet. 

There’s still a spreadsheet, actually, because that’s how my brain works. If I hear about a book today that’s publishing in 2024, it goes in the spreadsheet. I add a link if I can (at this stage, it’s usually a link to an acquisition announcement or an excited tweet), or note the publisher to make Future Emily’s life a little easier. As we get into late summer, I’ll start double-checking on those spreadsheet entries, seeing which pub dates have moved, tracking down book product pages on publisher websites, and looking for books not yet on my radar. And then those spreadsheet entries start to get compiled into a post on my website. 

The initial version of a given year’s list usually goes live in November or December of the previous year (the 2023 list went live in December 2022, for instance), but because of the way publishing timelines work, very few titles that will be published in the last 4-5 months of the year in question have information or confirmed pub dates available by that point in time. Basically, if I want this list to be comprehensive (and I do), it has to be a living, breathing document. I update it at least monthly, if not more often. I also break the list down into separate monthly entries, published at the beginning of each month, which are more easily digestible and help more people find this resource. (They’re also more useful for readers who aren’t affiliated with publishing in some way and get more use out of information about books they can buy right away.)

I keep the format relatively simple: title, author, pub date, publisher, some descriptive copy, and a link – I prefer to link to the publisher’s website where possible, but I’ll use retail websites or even a Goodreads page in a pinch. I don’t want to overwhelm people with information, but rather give them just enough information to pique their interest so they can decide which books to pursue further. 

And how do I source that information? The single best resource for title info on new books is always the publisher’s website, where the release date and cover copy will always be the most up-to-date. I have saved searches on all the Big Five websites, and a series of indie presses bookmarked so I can check catalogs as needed. (NB to indie publishers: I know you’re doing the professional equivalent of juggling twelve flaming knives at all times, but please, if you can try to get product pages live for your books as early as possible, it makes it so much easier for people to promote them!)

But publisher websites only go so far, largely because of the way publishing timelines work. I could write another 5000 words on the absurd time dilation of the publishing pipeline, but suffice it to say it’s an industry that moves very, very slowly until suddenly it’s doing 95 in the left lane for a hot minute. Big publishers usually release title information on their websites somewhere in the vicinity of nine months ahead of publication (though there are outliers in both directions), and for indie presses that info often isn’t available until six or fewer months before publication. As if that weren’t enough to try to navigate, publication dates often change in the months leading up to pub – sometimes by a matter of a week or two due to printer availability or to avoid a particularly crowded pub week, or sometimes by a matter of months or more due to writing and editing requirements – so I check and recheck those dates and move books around as needed.

To supplement what I can find on publisher websites, I put out calls on Twitter periodically for authors, agents, editors, marketers, and publicists to tell me about books that might be a good fit. I check Edelweiss and NetGalley compulsively. And when I’ve exhausted those sources, I look through retailer sites, filtering by genre and then by pub date (this is often an exercise in frustration with Amazon, and not an option at all on Bookshop, so Barnes and Noble is my go-to). 

If it sounds like I’m constantly playing catch-up here, well, I am! It’s a pretty good system but not a surefire one. I still miss books here and there – sometimes a publisher has a book listed under a different genre (thrillers, I’m looking at you), or sometimes I’ve misjudged how horror-y a book actually is based on the cover copy. So I invite readers to tell me about books I’ve missed, either in the comments of the post or via this Google form.

I have a few self-imposed rules: I take a very broad view of what counts as horror – dark fantasy, thrillers with strong scares, weird unsettling unclassifiable shit, it’s all game. I don’t include the paperback editions of a book that was initially released in hardcover (unless the hardcover was a limited or special release) because that would easily double the number of titles on the list. I don’t include reissues unless the book was out of print for a significant amount of time. And I generally don’t cover self-published books – I don’t have anything against self-pub, I promise! It’s more a matter of time and vetting. This isn’t something I’m getting paid to do, so I have to draw the line somewhere, and also if a publisher has picked up a manuscript, I have more confidence that the book won’t turn out to be horribly racist, sexist, transphobic, etc. (This is also not foolproof, of course, but I can’t read everything myself, so it helps.)

The so what?:

This is all a very long-winded way of saying “here’s some work I’m doing, I hope you find it useful.” As I said above, if I can connect one reader with a book they really love, that’s incredibly meaningful to me, and my guess is that if you’re on Becky’s site, it’s meaningful to you too. Hopefully the list helps you do that. If you have any questions about the list or the methodology, please don’t hesitate to reach out through my site contact form or on Twitter

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