5 Questions Writers and Readers Should Be Asking About Brexit

5 Questions Writers and Readers Should Be Asking About Brexit

It’s no secret around this parish that, despite occasionally unprofessional lefty leanings, I read the Financial Times. I have many, many reasons for doing this, none of them book-related, but given its business-oriented viewpoint, occasionally the FT will come up with a cracker of an article that neatly encapsulates the publishing industry in a fresh way.

A few weeks ago an article by Alex Clark called “How the financial crisis changed our reading habits (behind paywall) did just that, asking the question: “beyond the business of making books what effect did the 2008 crash have on the books we actually read?”

The article then ran through a neat timeline of reading trends in the past decade, starting with the fantasy and modern takes on the quest story which dominated in 2009 from Stephenie Meyers, Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson.

Brown and Larsson could be said to have come from similar stables to the legal thrillers which had dominated pre-crisis, but Meyers’ Twilight series was to have the most lasting effect, marking a decided turn into the fantasy and YA fiction which would come to dominate the next 6 or 7 years.

Most commentators are of the opinion that when things go badly economically, we tend to seek solace in fantasy. Even I agree with that, because I’m only 97% contrarian. Also, misery memoirs went gangbusters in the last economic boom, so what does that tell you?

The article also pointed to the connection between Twilight and EL James’ thin reworking of its characters into the Fifty Shades trilogy. Fifty Shades was the result of both the internet-based fan fiction phenomenon which was enjoying its heyday around 2011 – 2013, and the post-crisis turn towards characters with obscene wealth, a trend which hadn’t been in vogue since the bonkbusters of the 1980s.

Around the same time, readers were eating up a different kind of fantasy. Dystopian smashes The Hunger Games and the Game of Thrones were to dominate both page and screen for years: other less fantastical, but still dystopian, books also found bestselling success, such as Dave Egger’s tech-horror The Circle and Lionel Shriver’s reverse US-Mexico immigration satire The Mandibles.

On the non-fantasy side, books dealing with the direct effects of the financial crisis were finally getting to market, both in fiction and non-fiction, where  Big Think books explaining both the financial crisis and capitalism itself were starting to own the bestseller lists.

5 Questions Writers and Readers Should Be Asking About Brexit

More recently, as political instability eats all the headlines and some of our will to live, we’ve seen a turn towards the ‘Up-Lit’ of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and a noticeable trend in empowerment books such as Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible.

All this reads like a logical progression through the minds of readers struggling to deal with economic and political turmoil in the real world, even if we only realise it long after the fact. So now a different question remains: with Americans spinning political plates on one side, and the UK walking merrily into a Brexit fog on the other – what the hell does all this mean for publishing?

This is a question that even I won’t mess around with comically, because it’s too damned important. Also, I think anyone reading this blog as either a reader or a writer needs an answer. With that in mind, here are the questions I believe we should all be asking right now.

1. What will we be reading after Brexit?

Judging by what we read after the financial crisis, my guess is that we’ll be straight back into fantasy – but what type? Given the recent awakening of diversity demand in publishing, will we see more dystopian stories dealing with racism, sexism, radicalisation, or the demonisation of the poor? Or will the up-lit readers have been enjoying lately go two steps further and turn into a hard demand for utopian fiction? One thing’s for sure: the books we’re going to be reading after Brexit are being written as I type this.

2. What should writers be writing now, in light of Brexit?

See above. There are strong feelings out there about the issues at the top of today’s agenda. Most of these are currently political rather than economic, but they’re sure to turn economic in a post-Brexit world, a fact which writers will be aware of subconsciously at the very least. The headlines screaming on our screens today are slowly turning into the stories of tomorrow in writerly brains.

But if you want my take on it, my gut is telling me that the rise of global anxiety is creating a demand for truth and optimism, given the environment of fear and anger stoked by political upheaval, together with the stress and strain caused by social media and fake news. So my money’s on utopian fantasy, with trust, truth, love and community at its heart, despite the inevitable barriers.

3. Ireland and the UK are currently grouped as a single book market. Will this stay the same after Brexit, or will publishers have to open non-UK based European offices?

I don’t know the answer to this question. In finance, Brexit is top of the agenda every day. Newspapers also are filled with answers every day: this bank is moving operations to France; that insurance company is setting up a brand new office in Dublin; that hedge fund is going to move 100 staff to Amsterdam, etc. I can find nothing on what publishers or agents are doing.

I really, really want to know the answers to these questions. If any booksellers out there have anything to say I would really like to hear it.

4. What will it mean for writers outside the UK, now that the majority of their agents and publishers will be in a non-European market and legal jurisdiction?

I assume that those published authors based outside the UK who have publishers and agents inside the UK – i.e. most of them – have been had at least one professional conversation about this, but it’s a question worth asking for unpublished authors, too. If you’re an EU-based author writing in English, is it even worth submitting to agents in the UK anymore?

Again, sorry: I don’t know the answer to this. But just like banks are expected to explain to their customers and shareholders what’s going to happen after Brexit, it would be good to know this about publishing, too.

5. What does Brexit mean for the sales and distribution of English-speaking books after Brexit?  

Again, for those of us buying books online, or buying books which are produced and distributed in the UK for other English language markets, Brexit is going to have an impact, and not through trade tariffs alone: but what impact? What’s going to happen with Amazon? Will book prices go up because of Brexit? Is there anybody out there? Anybody??


Now, see what happens when people write excellent news articles? They get me thinking, and asking questions. And just like Brexit, we all know that very little good can come of this…

  32 comments for “5 Questions Writers and Readers Should Be Asking About Brexit

  1. September 9, 2018 at 11:01 am

    Probably the most optimistic forecast of anything I’ve seen since ever. A return to Utopian fantasy? Gee, I wonder how that will work out for a guy who writes about The Lands of Hope! Not holding my breath, but there’s something to hang onto there– maybe in a world where permanence has been shattered, the legendarium can make a comeback.

    On the other hand, I see analysis like yours based around “what people are reading” and it always leaves me behind. Have we actually proven that people are omnivorous about genre? I know for a fact I’m not. I guess I always assumed that when thrillers are popular, the people who read thrillers pick up books, and then when horror makes a charge it’s a different bunch coming into the store. Alternately, maybe they both buy books all the time, but when your genre is not “in” you’re just reading stuff that doesn’t make the bestseller list.

    Liked by 4 people

    • September 9, 2018 at 1:33 pm

      It’s not at all that people are genre-omnivorous, Will. It’s that whatever trends as a bestseller begets other books in the same genre. So when dystopian fantasy is at the top of the charts, others are commissioned, and authors rise from the slush-pile who otherwise wouldn’t.
      My reading changes from genre to genre all the time, but it’s simply a fact that whatever is most popular is most available. That’s why agents and editors are constantly looking for what the market wants. In the absence of truly ground-breaking works of literary genius, serviceable copycats will always sell away in the background.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. September 9, 2018 at 11:42 am

    Of course, more immediately, the plunge of sterling has implications for the income of UK-published authors resident outside the UK which aren’t fun to contemplate.

    Liked by 3 people

    • September 9, 2018 at 1:37 pm

      This is a most excellent point which should be made 20 times an hour for the next 6 months, Nigel – and to my shame I’d forgotten. Having your earnings entirely dependent on something as volatile as currency fluctuations is precisely the reason why any individual or company rich enough to do so will protect themselves with currency trades to hedge that risk. Another case of needing money to make (or in this case, secure) money, and not an option for any author.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. September 9, 2018 at 11:56 am

    Good points that lift my perspective a little further than “Shiiiit!!!! We’re all doomed!”
    I guess satire aimed at how the ordinary person is manipulated and shafted by higher powers may increase. And perhaps semi-dystopian thrillers where plots are uncovered and foiled.
    Brexit fiction will be more extreme than simple recession fiction because it will be a bigger shock to everyone. A shock that will last years, possibly decades. So perhaps some extreme lalala uplit will arrive, possibly as satire.
    Still wish I had Irish or French relatives so I knew we could escape the coming shitshow. :-\

    Liked by 4 people

    • September 9, 2018 at 1:41 pm

      Nick, that sounds like a bloody great idea to me, and of course I would harbour no personal interest whatsoever in a rise in the popularity of satire. Excuse me now while I go and do some creative thinking in a way which is by no means cynical and commercially-driven.

      I’d offer you up an Irish grandmother, but unfortunately I’ve none left – having said that, some of our footballing descendants seem to have no interest in theirs anymore, so there might be a few to spare?

      Liked by 4 people

  4. September 9, 2018 at 4:54 pm

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Interesting points raised by Tara 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

  5. September 9, 2018 at 5:34 pm

    This has long been the way Sparling. Following the McCarthy era in the 30s, America thrived on heroic spy movies and war stuff, with Casablanca being the one that has survived time’s ravages the best. With the arrival of nuclear arms, shockers like “Them” (giant, mutant, sugar hunting ants roaming the Nevada desert) took a grip. I do wonder if the popularity of the Marvel and DC movies is a reaction to the state of politics at present. In that it has led to that clown occupying the seat just in front of the big red button?

    Liked by 3 people

    • September 9, 2018 at 8:07 pm

      All too true, Conor. And of course the invention of the superhero was in the 1950s, 20 years after the Depression and the rise of populism, and 10 years after World War II.

      Now we’re not far off 20 years after 9/11, when the politics of fear truly took hold, and 10 years after our Depression. Well, at least we can take comfort in the fact that nothing ever changes, and we never learn anything, eh? All I have to do is invent a superhero chef who takes down a tyrant with an avocado, and I can retire to New Zealand like all the fake news peddlers…

      Liked by 3 people

  6. September 9, 2018 at 7:14 pm

    I’m expecting toilet and sewer fiction to take off.. I think ‘float’ is the right expression. Fatbergs Will have to be climbed and we will all enter the Wetwipe Zone. And of course the consequence will be we writers are flushed with excress

    Liked by 2 people

  7. September 9, 2018 at 8:45 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful information.Never thought political things are so depending to genres. Michael

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 9, 2018 at 10:15 pm

      I suppose genres reflect the human condition at large, Michael. And there’s no escaping from that! Thank you.


  8. September 10, 2018 at 11:54 am

    Reblogged this on writerchristophfischer and commented:
    What will we be reading after Brexit?
    Most commentators are of the opinion that when things go badly economically, we tend to seek solace in fantasy. Also, misery memoirs went gangbusters in the last economic boom, so what does that tell you?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. September 10, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    Interesting blog. My two pennyworth? Well writing in English (and not being anywhere near popular enough to spend time and money translating) my main market is the UK, and the two next are the US and India. I probably sell more in Japan than in Europe.
    In theory e-books could be cheaper, after all out of the EU, we could get rid of the VAT on them (Not that I think it’ll happen)
    As for somebody publishing with Amazon, I note that I have to give them my details so that the US tax authorities don’t deduct money, but I’m never approached by Amazon to fill in forms for any other fiscal jurisdiction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 11, 2018 at 4:55 pm

      I have to say I think the chances of books becoming cheaper after Brexit for any reason other than a fall in the value of Sterling are slim to none – and even then, that would only mean cheaper books in Ireland, where booksellers are forced to do their wholesale buying in GBP. But the UK abolishing VAT on books? Well. That’s about as likely as oh, £350 million a week extra being given to the NHS…?!

      It’s also possible that the reason that you’ve only had to fill in tax forms for the US before now is because of the EU rather than in spite of it. Brexit might mean a need for multiple dual taxation agreements like there is with the US, otherwise.

      Liked by 1 person

      • September 11, 2018 at 5:16 pm

        Remember there is no VAT on books, only e-books
        I suspect that when we do leave the EU the UK government will ostentatiously stop charging VAT of female sanitary products (which they’ve been campaigning to do but cannot without Commission permission)
        So it’s not impossible that they’ll cut it on ebooks but I think unlikely
        Remember I don’t have to fill in anything for taxation in India, Australia, Japan etc, so I cannot see why I will need them for the US.
        I suspect that the US issue arises because of where Amazon is based rather than any US/UK taxation agreements but I’m not a tax lawyer 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • September 11, 2018 at 6:37 pm

          Ah, yes. The old tampon tax. Which has actually been repealed, incidentally, just not put into effect. And not at all one of the great straw man arguments used to avoid massive fibs in other less humanitarian areas!

          There are dual taxation agreements between countries all over the world, usually agreed on a bilateral basis, either to impose double taxation or prevent it. The point I was making is that Brexit may mean that the UK could need them after Brexit, where they were not required before.


  10. September 10, 2018 at 2:18 pm

    We do tend to seek comfort and escape during these times. When a tragedy occurs on the left success can be found on the right. Interesting world we live in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 11, 2018 at 4:56 pm

      Absolutely, Bryan. And as the Chinese curse goes, may we live in interesting times…!


  11. September 13, 2018 at 9:59 am

    Thanks for writing this article, Tara. It was so very interesting.
    As an Italian writing in English, I am very interested in this. I don’t like the climate of the US market at the moment, so my main interest is in the UK and Ireland, but let’s face it, London alone offers the highest possibilities.
    I don’t understand anything Brexit, starting from why was that ever an idea, so I don’t pretend to understand what it will be of the publishing market. I just forsee hard times.

    As for what may become popular in the publishing market, I agree with you that feeling-good books will be on the rise. I think people is getting very tired of all the hate, which is why hate is on the rise (aren’t we humans wonderful speciments?). But beside screaming against anyone and their dog, I believe we do need to know that deep inside there is still something good in us, no matter what it appears outside. Because you know, we can shouts and offend everyone, but that’s not because we are haters, it’s because we are miserable with all the situation.
    My recipes would be to use a modicum of rationality… but I don’t think that would make for a very popular story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 13, 2018 at 11:28 pm

      Great points, Sarah – thank you! And I agree, irrational behaviour always makes for a better story!


  12. September 21, 2018 at 11:12 am

    Dear Tara

    I’ve heard a rumour that after Brexit the internet will stop working in mainland Britain. Do you think this is true? Not that I’m bothered because I’m moving to Ireland to become an extra in Vikings Series 6.


    Liked by 1 person

    • September 21, 2018 at 6:04 pm

      That is completely true, Chris, but only because you’ll have no electricity. I’m delighted to hear of your new and exciting career. Have you been growing the beard for long?

      Liked by 1 person

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