The Mouse That Roared—Invasion of the Micro-Trend & Why Indies Hold Increasing Power

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The Digital Age has arrived, and the ramifications of a connected world are still being revealed daily. But, there’s one trend I’d be hard-pressed to argue with. The 20th Century was all about homogeneity. Madison Avenue flourished by telling us which clothing brands made us cool, which car made us special, what foods were “healthy.” Tower Records controlled what music we heard and The Big Six selected which books we read.

Gatekeepers controlled information and retailers restricted commodities because homogeneity dictated many business decisions. Homogeneity was simpler and required less paperwork and thinking.

Generations bought Wonderbread because it was “fortified with vitamins” and “good for your kids.” In 1986? Hope you liked stirrup pants. There was a cultural need to “fit in” and be like everyone else, especially those who were the “cool kids.”

“Pillars of Same” Go Crashing Down

With the advent of the Internet and widespread use of social media, homogeneity is crumbling while counterculture is exploding. Individualism is now revered more than ever in human history. And, no matter how weird, off-beat, or All-American we want to be? There is a subculture to embrace our style. Mega-trends have lost their power, and this change is accelerating as the globe becomes increasingly interconnected.

Today, changing lifestyles, the Internet, the balkanization of communication, and the global economy are coming together to create a new sense of individualism that is powerfully transforming our society. ~Microtrends, Penn/Zalesne

What this means is that, as consumers are faced with more and more choices, we’re segregating ourselves into smaller and smaller subgroups. Love tattoos? Interested in what Alaska State Troopers actually do? Love looking at wedding dresses? Enjoy motorcycles, skateboarding, cooking, or remodeling your home on a budget? There’s a show, a Pinterest site or Facebook group to cater to countless passions.

Can’t get enough of Jackson Galaxy and cat whispering? Are you Stay-at-Home-Mom who kicks butt on a Roller Derby Team each Saturday? It’s all out there, and most of us are a unique mixture that can’t easily be categorized.

Send cookies.

What Does This Mean for Publishing?

Big publishing has a number of limitations. First, their size. Second, massive overhead. Third? 20th Century thinking. They have to find the mega-trend to stay in business, but what does this mean in a marketplace that is rapidly shifting to micro-trends?

NY is less able to spot the micro-trends, because in a world of algorithms, numbers and spreadsheets, one relies on the past to predict the future. Business is always looking backward in order to move forward. It’s like trying to drive our car using the rearview mirror as the main guide. Says a lot about where we’ve been, but gives limited information as to what’s ahead.

Indies Have Revealed the Micro-Trend

We’ve talked about the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon before, yet I’ve met the agents who turned down the manuscript. It was through E.L. James’ massive volume of independent sales that the micro-trend surfaced and then NY could turn this success into a mega-trend. A genre which received little to no attention has grown exponentially since.

This was one of the reasons I recommended NY create e-book divisions as early as 2009 (REAL e-book divisions, not vanity-press retreads). Find a good book, give it a chance and see if the trend emerged. If not? The product cost less to produce and the writer could earn a higher royalty.

Even if the book didn’t sell bazillions of copies, writers didn’t have to sell that many books to make a healthy living and be freed up to write more books. Now instead of NY banking the farm on finding the ONE mega-trend, they could reap the rewards of countless micro-trends.

Which is exactly what Amazon has been doing.

Amazon doesn’t need one author to sell two million copies (not that they are opposed to it), but they can easily have 20 or even a 100 authors sell two million copies. The money spends the same.

Additionally, there were entire forms of writing nearly rendered extinct until the e-book. Agents didn’t want poetry books because, “People don’t read poetry.” Yet, how can we read it if no one publishes it? The real truth was that in a paper paradigm, NY couldn’t make enough money off poetry, novellas, short stories, etc. to make publishing them a sound investment.

An indie, however, can cater to those who want to read poems or essays or blended genres, because they can produce and distribute without going in the red. They can afford to experiment and see if a market/fan base emerges.

The e-book revolution also opened the door for the far larger works. When I began querying over a decade ago, agents wouldn’t look at a high-fantasy that spanned 160,000 words. Why? Because it made the book too large to be shelved easily. Simple math. Nothing to do with whether or not people “no longer read epic high fantasy.”

This is Why Social Media is Vital for Authors

Social media is vital for keeping our fingers on the pulse of the public (code for “readers”). We can use blogging to define our brand then use content to attract those who share our “subculture” tastes (which I teach how to do in my latest book).

It’s the main reason it’s death to be the All-Writing-All-The-Time-Channel. That’s a one-dimensional subculture that is overfished and quickly grows stagnant.

Also, any writer worth his/her salt should be interested in a lot of things. The more we feed our unique subculture, the healthier it becomes, and the more loyal. We are all seeking our peeps, our tribe, our “friends” in a world that has become explosively larger.

Small is the New Big (Thank, you, Seth Godin)

Modern humans are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of choices, and, as a response, we stick to what we know. Sure, in 1999 we LOVED the megastore because it was new and shiny. Fifteen years later? We’re tired of needing to hail a taxi at the Mega Wal-Mart because we forgot the ketchup on aisle 3 and are now in the school supplies on aisle 93.

We’ll pay a bit more to shop at the corner market who appreciates our love for Organic Raw Kombucha, GF hot dog buns, and foie gras. We can buy Wonderbread at a supermarket or go to the small boutique grocer that sells sprouted grains for those of us in the crowd of Wonder-Why-We-EVER-Ate-Wonderbread.

Everyone wins.

But to spot and nourish the micro-trend, we must be present. Micro-trends can earn us a healthy living. A single writer doesn’t need to sell as many books to keep the lights on as NYC does. Also micro-trends have the potential to grow up to be mega-trends. This is why beginning as an indie or self-publishing can be a good idea for the right author/content. Spreadsheets can’t tell us as much as people can. And, trust me, people have a lot to say. Numbers can’t tell us as much about the future as relationships can.

What are your thoughts? Do you love a world where you can define your own style? Create your own genres? Mix in your varied interests? Have you met people on social media with similar hobbies that you’d never have met in person?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital Worldand get prepared for 2014!!!!

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  1. #1 by Marilyn Hudson Tucker on December 27, 2013 - 9:23 am

    incredible insights, as always.

  2. #2 by Daven Anderson on December 27, 2013 - 9:29 am

    The “Independent” advantage also applies to smaller publishers who can adjust to market conditions much more quickly than the Big Five can…. (and there are many areas in which the Big Five have not adjusted to the new market realities at all).

  3. #3 by Lanette Kauten on December 27, 2013 - 9:29 am

    Why has Amazon made it so authors can’t put multiple tags on their books? If the point is to sell more books, and self-publishers and small presses are blazing trails with unique and/or niche books, then why limit how readers can find these books?

  4. #5 by bwcarey on December 27, 2013 - 9:32 am

    whatever about the digital age, the age of revelation is a little more exciting, children need love more than ever before, all of them, and i have the picture of the man in the sky, the real one, it’s a warning from heaven, you have a good heart, pass it on, blessings to you, amen

  5. #6 by Daven Anderson on December 27, 2013 - 9:34 am

    Reblogged this on Vampire Syndrome Blog and commented:
    This post explains why I’m glad to be on PDMI instead of the Big Five…

  6. #7 by Arphaxad on December 27, 2013 - 9:49 am

    Awesome job. I agree with what you say and you say it better than I could have, thank you.

  7. #8 by Kerry Ascione on December 27, 2013 - 9:52 am

    It is a challenge keeping up with all the changes; Kristin, you do a great job keeping us new indie authors apprised of what is important to us. Keep up the great work!

  8. #9 by swiveltam on December 27, 2013 - 9:52 am

    “This was one of the reasons I recommended NY create e-book divisions as early as 2009 (REAL e-book divisions, not vanity-press retreads). Find a good book, give it a chance and see if the trend emerged. If not? The product cost less to produce and the writer could earn a higher royalty.”

    After reading this my heart sunk. Did I make a mistake turning down an agent who said they wanted to rep me for “digital first” release? Is this something we really need an agent for? At the time I thought “I could digital publish myself,” but now I’m thinking how nice it would have been to have a partner?

    Would you consider writing a blog about the benefits of epub first and advantages and or disadvantages to having an agent for THIS?

    I’m hoping I didn’t blow my chance?

    • #10 by Author Kristen Lamb on December 27, 2013 - 9:57 am

      I wouldn’t worry. There was A LOT of predation going on, so you might have saved your skin. Many of these “digital first” releases were a nightmare and many writers signed away all rights indefinitely. The deals were SO BAD and there was SO MUCH watchdog outrage, that many of these “digital-first” publishing deals had to be pulled and reworked because they were bloated with Hollywood accounting and barley better than vanity press. In fact, they were using writers as human piggy banks and though they took ALL the rights, there was no assurance the writer would even make a DIME. These publishers grabbed up ALL international publication rights with no promise they’d ever publish in other world markets…and there was NOTHING in the contracts spelling out terms of any rights reversal to the author if the publisher failed to explore other avenues (international markets, movie rights, audio, etc.).

      • #11 by swiveltam on December 27, 2013 - 10:47 am

        Thank you, I had read blogs about that as well which is why I was leery. You’re the best!

  9. #12 by Catherine Johnson on December 27, 2013 - 9:58 am

    Thanks to you, Kristen I’m ready for a very experimental 2014. This tortoise has found the power button ;)

  10. #13 by melorajohnson on December 27, 2013 - 10:15 am

    Very interesting. Even as we have to be looking forward and actually anticipating the changes before they take place, I’m wondering how the old adages of “the more things change, the more they stay the same” and the fact that history repeats itself might apply here. I’ve recently been acutely aware of people saying “but it’s always been done that way” when, in reality, it’s only been done that way for maybe 30 to 100 years. Our cultures have evolved so drastically over that time that most people can’t even grasp how much. It seems like change may be speeding up.

  11. #14 by sharonhughson on December 27, 2013 - 10:31 am

    Still vacillating between the paths. My YA fantasy series will fit fine in the mega trend started by Rowling and perpetuated by Riordan and others. I just don’t want to put sup-par writing out there. Most of the time, I feel like every word sucks and what on earth was I thinking when I quit my job?
    I love that you teach craft and business on your blog and that you genuinely care about those of us who have yet to arrive in the starry world known as Published Authorship.

    • #15 by Jennifer Rose on December 27, 2013 - 4:51 pm

      Never be down on yourself. You’re working towards your dream and doing what you love! That is all that matters in the big picture. I’m impressed you took that leap. I’d love to read it when its published!

  12. #16 by Kim Handysides on December 27, 2013 - 10:48 am

    Love your blog, Kristen and what you say about being present to be able to participate.
    I also think the American Dream has shifted right along with your take on Indie Micro-Trends. People are no longer looking at being the biggest, the best, the most, the fattest, on a super highway, but following their individual hearts and splintering off into a myriad of paths to discover their (our) own true happiness.

  13. #17 by aliveatnight on December 27, 2013 - 11:20 am

    Thank you for writing this. Although I’m a long, long ways away from ever having a book published, knowing things like this is helpful!

    • #18 by Author Kristen Lamb on December 27, 2013 - 12:00 pm

      Time passes faster and faster. Best to be prepared ahead of time :D.

  14. #19 by Sandra Wagner-Wright on December 27, 2013 - 11:30 am

    Today’s blog brings to mind something I’ve been wondering. Kristen, you are the WANA Mama & (as far as I’m concerned) the queen of social media. But….I would be grateful if you blogged more on the process of self-publishing. You’ve done it, and I trust your insights. I would really like to know. Mahalo for your consideration.

    • #20 by Author Kristen Lamb on December 27, 2013 - 11:53 am

      Hmmm, I don’t know how much of an expert I am on that yet. Still learning. I hired professional outside editors, a professional cover designer (Go Bold Designs) and then used Green e-books for formatting, the ISBN and they handle the uploading. Total cost, roughly $1,000. I’m certain there are far less expensive ways to go about this, but I’d been waiting on an agent for almost 2 years and needed another book out STAT so tightened my belt and came up with the money. What I might be able to do is get some guest posts from people who know more than I do. I know Amy Shojai regularly offers WANA classes to teach how to format an e-book. We are also bringing on WANA Approved cover-designers who offer a range of prices to accommodate a range of budgets.

      • #21 by Edward Owen on December 31, 2013 - 4:39 pm

        An excellent idea. I’ve been down the road and done it all myself. It’s not terribly difficult but there is a learning curve.

  15. #22 by Papi Z on December 27, 2013 - 11:36 am

    Reblogged this on The Literary Syndicate and commented:
    Interesting thoughts my friends, check it out, see what you think!

  16. #23 by Stacey Brewer on December 27, 2013 - 11:36 am

    I, for one, am grateful for microtrends. I love the different and the unusual. Cookie cutter is boring. Let’s have some fun!

  17. #24 by CKoepp on December 27, 2013 - 11:41 am

    So, do the little presses, indie authors, and The Huge Publishers (5, 6, however many there are now) … split the same pie of readers that they did before and everyone gets smaller pieces or is the pie growing?

  18. #25 by Rebecca Fyfe on December 27, 2013 - 12:14 pm

    Other micro-trends that has been booming since the advent of Indie publishing are short stories sold individidually and anthologies and collections of them. :)

  19. #26 by symplysilent on December 27, 2013 - 12:15 pm

    Kristen – You are so awesome. How do you find the energy? Anyway, I like the idea of microtrends. Maybe I still have time to finish my novel. Silent

  20. #27 by 1authorcygnetbrown on December 27, 2013 - 1:15 pm

    I agree, micro trends are where it is. I have been following the tips you give in your new book the rise of machines and took a look at your website to discover how I can improve my website! I look forward to a better year in 2014 and you’ve been part of my inspiration!

  21. #28 by Arphaxad on December 27, 2013 - 2:08 pm

    Reblogged this on Random Thoughts and commented:
    “Pillars of Same”, I am so going to use that term. Kristen Lamb gives a great look at how the book industry is changing from publisher driven to book driven.

  22. #29 by Lucy Lit on December 27, 2013 - 2:16 pm

    Timely post again. Will be self-publishing my first two novels in early 2014. Loved Rise of The Machines and have been implementing many of your concepts. I’m excited/terrified to help create/market a sub-genre that I feel is ignored/underserved but wonder how to help people find it. Just hope my target market information is even a little bit correct!

    • #30 by Author Kristen Lamb on December 27, 2013 - 2:36 pm

      All we can do is try and see what works. Do our best and hope the market responds :D. SO HAPPY you liked my book ((HUGS)). I hope it blesses you very much.

  23. #31 by Lara McGill on December 27, 2013 - 2:18 pm

    Reblogged this on Lara McGill and commented:
    Brilliant as always, Kristen. Reblogged on Lara McGill

  24. #32 by Lara McGill on December 27, 2013 - 2:20 pm

    Reblogged on Lara McGill. Brilliant as always, Kristen! You’re my guru…

  25. #33 by conniecockrell on December 27, 2013 - 2:32 pm

    Good points. As a new author I love the fact that I can experiment with genre and story length. I’m not pigeonholed into one thing forever.

  26. #34 by Pamela Beason on December 27, 2013 - 2:54 pm

    Your posts are always useful and entertaining, Kristen. I do love this new world where I can publish mixed-genre books that editors used to turn down, saying they didn’t fit neatly into a tightly defined romance or a mystery slot. I write mysteries about environmental issues and about signing gorillas, and both series have a touch of romance. But indie-publishing unique stories does make it more difficult to find your potential readers, too. Marketing is always the biggest challenge for fiction authors.

  27. #35 by Selene on December 27, 2013 - 3:41 pm

    Agree, Kristen. Small and independent means being positioned to offer unique books with stories that still attend to the art of the craft but take risks that push the art in new directions. Of course, I’m the type that gets excited by change.

  28. #36 by robbear13 on December 27, 2013 - 3:46 pm

    There was a time when I wrote for magazines and newspapers and was published regularly. I’ve retired from that. Now, about a book. I have some book ideas in my head, but I don’t know if I have the energy to work on them. If I do, I doubt that I’ll go the traditional route; indie publishing seems more reasonable.

    Blessings and Bear hugs, Kristen!

  29. #37 by Barbara Hinske on December 27, 2013 - 4:50 pm

    Hi Kristen. Just discovered your blog and am looking forward to following you in 2014. Very insightful article — and encouraging!! Here’s to the new frontier of publishing where the writers get to control their destiny!

  30. #38 by Jennifer Rose on December 27, 2013 - 4:54 pm

    I’d love to learn the updated statistics on self-publishing for Middle Grade. Especially after the holidays? Did more young people get readers? Is the YA/MG marketplace larger now?

    I love the idea because then I could publish my 5 book series over the course of 3 years, instead of waiting to publish one a year. (three in the series already written; all five drafts will be complete in June).

    • #39 by Author Kristen Lamb on December 27, 2013 - 5:11 pm

      Here in Texas our kids are being issued iPads instead of text books. More and more young kids are growing up on tablets.

  31. #40 by karibovee on December 27, 2013 - 5:53 pm

    Hi Kristen! I read your book Are You There Blog It’s Me, Writer and now I have subscribed to your blog. I am trying to learn all I can about craft and publishing – traditional and indie – and I can’t wait to read more of your sage wisdom!! Thanks for putting your expertise out there!

    • #41 by Author Kristen Lamb on December 27, 2013 - 6:42 pm

      You are most welcome. I learned from others who freely gave so paying it forward :D.

  32. #42 by jbiggar2013 on December 27, 2013 - 5:59 pm

    Reblogged this on jbiggarblog.

  33. #43 by abdul j. on December 28, 2013 - 6:19 am

    I’ve been thinking about this myself in a way, albeit a less-serious one. I was wondering about the link between the internet and superglobalisation and the rise of hipster culture. I mean, like you said, there’s always been countercultures present everywhere you look, any time period you check. But now it’s exploded into its own unique thing where people like what they like and some even pride themselves on how out there they can be with their tastes.

    It’s pretty cool to be the generation on the fringe of this major change in mindset.

  34. #44 by knotrune on December 28, 2013 - 6:33 am

    I’m very excited about the new paradigm, both as a writer and as a consumer :)

  35. #45 by pmillhouse on December 28, 2013 - 8:18 am

    Kristen – I love your perspective on this topic of microtrends and self-publishing.

    I’ve dipped my toes in both pools – I self-published two romantic suspense thrillers, then went on to publish two fantasy romance short stories with a small but growing e-publisher.

    There are advantages to each, and I plan on blogging on those topics this year.

    Why not take advantage of both camps? I like the idea of being the hybrid author who gets her stories told, and finds her audience. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but hey, it’s work I love and I agree social connection is key.

    I like cross-genre fiction: Most thrillers don’t have enough romance for me, and most romances don’t have enough action/suspense – so I combined them and came out with the types of stories I want to read.

    New York’s old business model wouldn’t know where to shelve my stories – but the virtual shelves are open with endless possibilities as long as we focus on craft and deliver a product that satisfies the market.

    Happy New Year, Everyone!

  36. #47 by Gry Ranfelt on December 28, 2013 - 8:59 am

    You really are a maven.
    I don’t have a lot of comments for this except that you’re awesome as always.

  37. #48 by tracikenworth on December 28, 2013 - 1:29 pm

    This is something I’m struggling with right now: which direction to go? Traditional? Small press? Self-publishing? How do you figure out the right path? I heard not to do this or this, or that. I guess the decision will rest on my shoulders, but I’m not sure what to do yet.

    • #49 by Jennifer Rose on December 28, 2013 - 1:41 pm

      I don’t know if you have read Kristen’s new book, but I found it really helpful. Since I have no idea where you are in your process, I hope you don’t mind me sharing an idea I had from my experience with market research: To analyze your situation, first I would research the digital marketplace in the category you are looking at publishing in. Have there been any hits, lots of readership? A place for you to make your mark? Or if you dream of being traditionally published, then why not?

      Given the awesome new digital market place and single-print options, the only thing I, personally, would steer clear from is doing an expensive mass self-publishing print. (Okay, unless it is non-fiction and you have an audience, regular workshops to sell them at already like one of my colleagues).

      Good luck!! :)

  38. #50 by ontyrepassages on December 28, 2013 - 2:44 pm

    This is actually an exciting time to be an author. The rapid, sometimes chaotic, changes in the publishing industry are the birth of a writing revolution. The publishing industry has told us to eat cake—and so we are.

  39. #51 by julio urvina on December 29, 2013 - 4:58 pm

    I would love to take you up on your offer to provide the authors with “The unvarnished truth from yours truly”.
    Would that apply to a book as esoteric as mine?
    The Tao for CEOs and Investors – Managing and Investing with the I Ching

    julio
    juliourvina@icic.com

  40. #52 by kathmcgurl on December 29, 2013 - 5:21 pm

    I love that epublishing has opened the doors to novellas, short stories and other works which weren’t profitable as print books. I love to be able to read a complete novella on my 2 hour train journeys. And I love the choice. My only gripe is with the self-published books which are badly edited and formatted, and which give self-publishing a bad name.

  41. #53 by Taylor Ramage on December 29, 2013 - 6:03 pm

    Great posts! I think a lot of people are finding genre mixing an interesting new foray into writing and reading.

  42. #54 by donnajeanmcdunn on December 29, 2013 - 6:56 pm

    Great post as usual. Thank you for the positive looking future for all of us!

  43. #55 by feltenk on December 29, 2013 - 11:24 pm

    Cute pics, Kristen!

  44. #56 by Katie Cross on December 30, 2013 - 7:00 am

    I agree with Kristy, very cute pics. I, too, wonder about Wonderbread, but I can’t eat gluten, so that’s probably why.

  45. #57 by cicampbell2013 on December 30, 2013 - 8:06 am

    Another great post. I love the new trend, the advent of epublishing, indie publishing, all of it. It’s exciting and it gives us all an equal chance in many ways. I’m looking forward to the time when things settle down and the cream rises to the top, though, and I hope I’m in among it!
    Christine
    cicampbellblog.wordpress.com
    Author of
    Family Matters
    Making It Home
    And Flying Free…about to be released.

  46. #58 by D.G.Kaye on December 30, 2013 - 11:55 am

    Fantastic article, particularly at this time of the year ending. I am one of those grateful authors for the advent of epublishing. This allows us to express ourselves and put it out there on our terms, no rejections, higher royalties and the ability to promote ourselves is limitless. I am sure publishers are scanning plenty of author pages, seeking out that ‘prized gem’ as they realize so many Indies are making their own brand, sidestepping traditional and succeeding and perhaps they now want a piece of the pie.

  47. #59 by R. E. Hunter on December 31, 2013 - 5:32 pm

    So true. I’d noticed the same trend toward ever smaller and more unique interest groups enabled by the internet, but you expressed it more clearly than I could have.

  48. #60 by Raani York on January 1, 2014 - 12:17 pm

    Thank you Kristen for making me SEE the problems *or let’s say, “hurdles” coming up! I really appreciate it!

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