Why is March 2024 the Best Month in Years For Books?
In Her Debut Column, Maris Kreizman Considers This Spring’s Flood of Great Books
What they don’t tell you when you decide that you’d like to cover books for a living (or something like that), is how guilty you’ll feel a lot of the time. Just consider for a moment the plight of the individual critic or editor or literary podcaster or anyone else who really cares about new books, and the existential pain of knowing that you will never get to read even a small percentage of them.
The books that move me aren’t the kinds that are written by celebrities; they’re often labors of love that are beautifully written but don’t necessarily have a built-in audience. They probably aren’t getting huge sales pushes or bookings on morning shows. I feel beholden to advocate for these debut novels or essay collections or literary biographies, but there are not nearly enough hours in the day to look at all of them.
Which is why this March is my nightmare. Usually there are about eight or nine books per month that I’m interested in, that I note down on my trusty spreadsheet, and I get a chance to read four or five of them. But in March of 2024 there are 30 books on my radar that I want to read. You might think, what a wonderful problem to have! Doesn’t this abundance of exciting new books mean the publishing industry is thriving?
Not quite. According to Kristen McLean of Bookscan, in 2022 most book publishing revenue came from a very narrow band of publishing successes in the top 8 to 10 percent of new books. In other words, very few brand new books make the bestseller list. Most that do stay there for a while.
The odds of a new book breaking out were never great to begin with, but with media coverage and marketing budgets sparser than ever for midlist books, it’s even more difficult. Thirty titles is beyond the scope of one person or one publication to adequately cover even a few of them, and the more books that come out at once the more that might fall through the cracks of the critical eye entirely.So much book promotion is tied to publication month in hopes that an initial push then leads to that elusive white whale, word of mouth.
How did this happen? Why is March so popping? Some may just be coincidence, but there are plenty of practical reasons why we’re seeing such congestion. The main one is that the 2024 presidential election is going to be a shit show in a lot of ways, so publishers are giving it a wide berth, figuring that we will all be paralyzed by whatever the hell is happening on the news. God forbid any of us would want to take a break and read a new novel! So this fall, often the time when the Big Important Books come out, is going to be much less busy than usual.
March and April had always been more low key than other months, tucked between the New Year, New You self-help push of January and the Big Beach Reads of the summer. Publishers trying to give breathing room to debuts by placing them in early spring have now, ironically, cluttered it up. There are only so many spaces on the bestseller lists.
Now you may think, okay, so why not push these March books beyond their publication month and keep covering them all year? I would love that, but it’s not how marketing and publicity usually work. So much book promotion is tied to publication month in hopes that an initial push then leads to that elusive white whale, word of mouth.
So let me try to give you a rundown of what’s coming up in March so you can make sure your own personal radar is attuned (you can refer to my spreadsheet for the complete list). There are so many debuts, both fiction and nonfiction, by writers I’ve admired for years. To name just a few: Vinson Cunningham, Jennifer Croft, Jane Marie, Alexandra Tanner, Rita Bulwinkel, Emily Raboteau. There are also a significant number of authors with highly anticipated follow-ups to buzzy debut novels coming in March: Adelle Waldman, Xochitl Gonzalez, Lisa Ko, Jeannine Capó Crucet.
Then there are the established names who are taking major new swings: prolific novelist Percival Everett makes his major publisher debut with James, his reimagining of Huckleberry Finn. Queer theorist and scholar Judith Butler makes their major publisher debut with Who’s Afraid of Gender?, poet and YA sensation Morgan Parker is putting out her long awaited first essay collection, You Get What You Pay For. March also has its fair share of new books stalwarts, all superstars in my mind but all of whom I’d love to see break out in even bigger ways: Tana French, Helen Oyeyemi, Cristina Henriquez, Andres Dubus III, Téa Obreht, Hanif Abdurraqib.
There is also one celebrity memoir in March I have my eye on: One Way Back by Christine Blasey Ford. I just want that woman to take my money.
So please, let me use my debut column to encourage you to look beyond the three or four buzzy books of the month and consider the many gems you may otherwise miss. Talk to your local librarian or bookseller; they’ll have a good handle on what’s coming or what to go back to.
In an ideal world publishers would invest in these titles long after publication month, and literary coverage would be so rich and thriving that there would be plenty of room for each and every one of these books to gain the attention they deserve. Until then, let’s agree to keep on reading March books all year long.