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Reading Trends 2020: Lockdown Survey Reveals A Huge Shift

Writing.ie | Magazine | News for Writers | The Big Idea
Amanda J Evans

By Amanda J. Evans

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We’ve been in lockdown for a period of 7 weeks in Ireland and for many struggling to cope, reading has become a therapy of sorts. The UK has been on lockdown since the 23rd of March. Research conducted by Kate Nash Literary Agency in the UK has revealed some interesting facts about 2020 reading trends during lockdown.

There has been a radical shift in the semiotics of popular book covers as well as three main reasons people are reading. People are reading through fear. People are reading to escape, and people are reading about helping others.

“Readers are turning to feel-good and escapist books as well as books about pandemics, politics and apocalypse but readers also talked a lot about stories about supporting and helping others: men asking for help, women supporting women and stories about kindness and family,” said Kate Nash.

“In stark contrast to our 2019 survey which identified the trend for dark and menacing book covers, readers now perceive book covers are becoming brighter and identify books representative of the now with very different semiotics: blue, white, clear, cosy, no threat.”

2019 Reader Survey Results Flipped on their head as New 2020 Reading Trends Results are Revealed

In the 2019 readers survey by Kate Nash Literary Agency, readers were asked what upcoming novels looked like the sort of thing they wanted to read. The results were books that looked dark and dangerous, books featuring mythical monsters, books where the enemy might be lurking next door, and anything that has the word ‘psychological’ in the tagline. Examples were A Stranger on the Beach by Michelle Campbell, Th Bone Ships by RJ Barker, My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, and The Choice by Edith Eger.

The survey results from the 2020 reading trends looked very different. Readers chose covers with cartoons and bright colors that represented cosy reads, books that didn’t pose any threat, books that they could escape into, and covers with white and blue on them. Titles included The Switch by Beth O’Leary, The Garden of Forgotten Wishes by Trisha Ashley, The Secret of the Chateau by Kathleen McGuire, Saving Missy by Beth Morrey, and Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.

Key Findings From 2020 Reading Trends During Lockdown

  1. Reading now reflects diverse genre trends more typically seen at Christmas including increased non-fiction and children’s books: Compared with data compiled in September 2019 the figures for April 2020 show some startling similarities to the run up to Christmas sales. In September 2019 48% of bestsellers were crime and thriller with 45% of the bestsellers in this genre for April 2020. 16% of bestsellers were children’s in both September 2019 and April 2020. Non-fiction bestsellers accounted for 7% in 2019 but this has jumped to 11% in April 2020. While romance didn’t feature in the bestsellers for September 2019, it accounts for 3% in April 2020 with more readers looking for escape. Science Fiction and Fantasy was at 4% in September 2019 and this has jumped to 6% for April 2019 showing once again the reader’s need for escape.
  2. Lockdown is amplifying some existing trends we identified in 2019: friendship, love stories, strong women, mental health, isolation, politics, apocalypse: The 2019 survey asked what would we be reading in 2020? The predicted trends were World War 2, political corruption, #MeToo, climate breakdown, friendships, and dystopia. What wasn’t predicted was the emerging trend in feel-good stories, comedies, men asking for help, family, travel, and survival.
  3. Reading now falls into three key thematic areas: reading through fear, reading as escapism and reading about helping: Lockdown has had a dramatic effect on reading habits. Those reading through fear are choosing psychological thrillers, dystopia, books on isolation, revenge, pandemic conspiracies, and books on survival. Titles include The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides and The Eyes of Darkness by Dean Koontz.
    Those reading for escapism are choosing comedies, books about hope, feel-good stories, books about travel, redemption, and stories that happen in new worlds. Titles include The Mum Who Got Her Life Back by Fiona Gibson and Logging Off by Nick Spalding.
    Those looking to read about helping are opting for NHS stories, books about women helping women, family, men asking for help, books about kindness, and books about overcoming adversity. Titles include Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano and Half a World Away by Mike Gayle.
  4. Emerging trends include tie-ins of many types including TV and holocaust stories, folklore and magic, seaside and holiday settings, stories from diverse backgrounds and stories with strong female characters: Readers during lockdown are opting for stories containing folklore and magic, books with seaside and holiday settings like Meet Me in Cockleberry Bay by Nicola May, books with bright covers, and books featuring strong female friendships and older women protagonists like The Dressmaker’s Gift by Fiona Valpy.
  5. High frequency words used in novel titles brought up some surprising results too: Popular words in bestselling book titles included One, Bay, Little, Date, Secrets, Family, Love, Home, Island, Friends, House, Perfect, Hope, Wife, Man, Light, Sea, Life, Cottage, Woman, Cockleberry, White, and Corner.

With more people staying at home, it is clear from these findings that books have become a staple and a way for many people to cope with the current situation. Book sales are similar to those seen in the run up to Christmas and more and more eBook and audiobooks are being sold as brick and mortar stores are forced to close their doors. The emphasis seems to be on books that allow readers to escape from the realities of lockdown with feel-good stories in demand. What the rest of 2020 will bring, we still don’t know, but one thing is for sure, reading and the demand for quality stories has never been so high.

I spoke to Kate about the types of stories her agency is currently looking for and here’s what she said:

“We are always looking for new writers of all types of fiction and narrative non-fiction. We represent some fabulous Irish authors but there is space for us to represent even more writing talent to a world audience. Current submission guidelines can be found on our website www.katenashlit.co.uk.”

The research compiled by Kate Nash Literary Agency was comprised of qualitative online fieldwork in April 2020 of UK book readers, including repeats of questions asked in September 2019 as well as desk research of the Kindle Top 100 UK bestsellers for April 2020 coding by genre, title key words, and subjects.

All research and findings © Kate Nash Literary Agency 2020.

(c) Amanda J. Evans

About the author

Amanda J Evans is an award-winning Irish author of YA and Adult romance in paranormal and fantasy genres. Growing up with heroes like Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones, her stories centre on good versus evil with a splice of love and magic thrown in too. Her books have all won awards and her latest novella, Hear Me Cry, won the Book of the Year Award at the Dublin Writers Conference 2018. Amanda has been featured in a number of poetry anthologies in 2017 and 2018 including A Bowl of Irish Stew, a charity anthology for Pieta House and her short story Moonlight Magic was included in the Owl Hollow Press Anthology, Under the Full Moon’s Light, published in October 2018. Amanda is currently polishing her novel, Winterland, which will be submitted to agents and publishers in 2019, and is also working on a Bronte inspired story for an anthology due for publication in 2020. Amanda is also the author of Surviving Suicide: A Memoir from Those Death Left Behind, published in 2012. You can find out more on her website www.amandajevans.com, Facebook and Twitter: @amandajevans

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