What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
I think a lot of readers are experiencing news-cycle fatigue this year and are turning either to books that help provide a greater context for what’s going on in our world right now (We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood) or to fiction that feels like a reprieve from the noise outside (Tom Hanks’ Uncommon Type, the fabulous Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman).
I also think we’ve seen more attention and prestige given to voices that have historically gotten too little of both, including women, people of color, and LGBTQ writers. I’m hopeful that that’s not a trend and is just going to keep growing until the bestseller list is as diverse as the people buying books are.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I’m a secret romantic, so right now my version of fiction that feels like a reprieve would be a love story. But I want a really good, smart, complicated one. I want a protagonist who feels nuanced and makes you wish she were real and your best friend, like Bernadette in Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette or Ruth in Rachel Khong’s Goodbye Vitamin. Basically, I want Nora Ephron’s ghost to get together with Aziz Ansari and write a rom-com for me.
I am also always looking for smart, commercial women’s fiction, thrillers that feel distinctive and keep me up all night, or human stories with a slightly magical or speculative element, like Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker or Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
I try to never say never—for every rule, there’s usually an author who can pull off breaking it— but I am sick of women being helpless victims or personalityless plot devices. I think the thriller world has felt particularly disappointing in this regard recently. I’m hungry for more badass heroines, like the protagonist of Karen Cleveland’s Need to Know, who’s a wife and a mom and a top-level CIA agent and never stops fighting back even when she’s backed into the craziest of corners.
What do you want to change about publishing?
We need to see more diversity in the industry—in the authors we publish, in the audiences we publish for, and especially in the people who get to work here and help make decisions about the first two. No one wants to only work on the same kind of books for 20 years, and readers don’t want to read the exact same thing for 20 years. Along with that, I wish there was more room for risk, more opportunities to take a chance on something that might be really wonderful but maybe the author is an unknown or the subject matter is way out there or the format is hard. Everyone’s always afraid of short stories, but two of my favorite books so far this year have been short story collections—Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang and Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
Ballantine publishes some of the biggest brand-name authors—when I first started working here, I almost couldn’t believe they all lived on the same list. Getting to work with people like Jodi Picoult, Diana Gabaldon, Emily Giffin, Kathy Reichs, and so many others has been a true master class in the art of storytelling. No matter what genre you’re writing in or what audience you’re writing for, you have to know how to tell a story. These are authors who know how to light people up inside and keep them coming back for book after book, and it’s a great joy to be part of that process.
Anne Speyer is an editor at Ballantine Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. She reads and runs in Brooklyn.