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.
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.
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 novel, or 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!!!!