Save the date: Three major Australian authors go head to head

The spotlight was always going to be on Trent Dalton when he released his highly anticipated second novel – but he probably didn't expect the light to shine quite so much on his face.

Dalton coyly admits he has invested in a ring light, aka a vanity light, with the hope it will provide a flattering hue during the Zoom calls that will dominate his schedule after All Our Shimmering Skies is published on September 29.

Author Trent Dalton’s highly anticipated second novel All Our Shimmering Skies will be released on September 29, the same day as novels by Richard Flanagan and Craig Silvey.Credit:Paul Harris

This time round will be a very different affair to the publication of his 2018 debut Boy Swallows Universe, which saw Dalton attend an exhausting number of bookstore events, bookclubs, writers' festivals and award ceremonies.

"I am a hugger, a massive hugger. I am doomed in this new sort of landscape of social distancing," Dalton says. "The computer screen really strips about 50 per cent of the heart you want to get across. That's always going to be a challenge. I am going to do the best I can."

But if he will miss in-person interactions, Dalton will be in fine company on bookshelves, with Booker prizewinner Richard Flanagan's The Living Sea of Waking Dreams and Jasper Jones author Craig Silvey's first novel in more than a decade, Honeybee, out on the same day. The three lead a summer showdown, as publishers, booksellers and authors rumble for readers in the lead-up to Christmas.

Dalton's book is set in Darwin in 1942 and follows a journey into the Australian wilderness; publisher Nikki Christer described Flanagan's 304-page novel as an "elegy to our disappearing world"; Silvey's coming-of-age story is about a teenager with gender dysphoria.

According to data service Nielsen BookScan, the final four weeks of last year accounted for 20 per cent of total annual book sales in Australia in 2019. The four months leading up to Christmas are always important – even more so now as the industry tries to find a stable footing after the havoc wreaked by coronavirus.

New novels from Craig Silvey, Trent Dalton and Richard Flanagan will be published on September 29.

"It's absolutely essential. That period is what helps you stagger on through the rest of the year," says Lindy Jones, a senior buyer at Abbey's Bookshop in Sydney and a Miles Franklin Literary Award judge. "It sets us up for coping with the year ahead. A good Christmas means you can coast through for the next few months."

Publishers often save their heavy hitters for the end of the year, but this Christmas will see a particularly crowded market with postponed books – including Dalton's, which was originally slated for June – nabbing their last chance for release in 2020. There will also be new novels from Chris Hammer, Jane Harper, Sofie Laguna and Steven Conte.

Australian Publishers Association's TitlePage data reveals there will be 10 per cent more fiction books released in the Australian market in the next four months than during the same period last year.In the UK, 600 new hardbacks will be published on September 3, up more than a third from 2019, according to The Guardian.As well as the local releases, books from Nick Hornby, Martin Amis, Robert Galbraith, Elena Ferrante and Jodi Picoult will join the race for readers.

Justin Ractliffe, the publishing director of Penguin Random House, which has Flanagan's new novel on its list, said there would be more competition than in previous years.

"I think it's a bit of a two-edged sword. It's really important for booksellers that Christmas is really strong this year of all years. It is increasingly important. It is good for all of us if booksellers have a strong Christmas when there is really big books and there is a bit of a halo effect where customers will go into the store to buy that book and leave with others."

But with the likes of Dalton, Flanagan and Silvey sucking up the oxygen, it's small independent publishers who are most likely to find it difficult to carve out breathing space.

"From a publicity point of view with both COVID and the already changing media landscape, we do have to think out of the box," says book publicist Debbie McInnes. "Each book is unique, and we chase the media that suits the book. The principles are the same, it is just a lot busier and it takes longer to get the coverage."

And while fans might be impatient to get their noses into Dalton's novel, he's got his own reading list. "It so ridiculous my book is coming out on the same day as those two. I will be lining up like everyone else to buy their books," he says. "Richard and Craig, we're in the trenches together. It is nice to have someone in the trenches with you."

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