Why Book Trends Come and Go

Many authors constantly try to outguess what book publishers want to acquire. In the indie self-publishing world, we try to outguess what readers want to buy.

Both of these actions are doomed because the book industry isn't static. It's always changing. What publishers or readers wanted last year won't be what they want next year.

With both traditional publishing, you must stay attune to trends because what publishers bought last year when a trend was hot won't even be on the shelves until next year or the year after.

With indie self-publishing, authors also must stay attune to trends. It's easier to catch a wave if you indie-publish than with traditional publishing, which has less flexibility in responding to the marketplace.

Publishers Gamble

Every time a publisher buys a manuscript, he's gambling that the subject matter of that manuscript will still be of interest in a year or two when the book rolls off the presses. Sometimes that gamble pays off in a big way. Usually this happens when the publisher has been building an author so that the author is who readers buy, not necessarily a particular book. The author has grown an audience so that readers anticipate the book because of previous books.

For indie self-publishers, this is also an important fact. Grow your audience book by book. 

Sometimes the trad publisher loses the gamble, and the losses can be huge for the publisher and for many of the other contracted authors.

Sometimes, an author in whom the publisher has invested time and money hits a roadblock. Either the book or the author's personal life becomes an issue that turns people off. Often, it's because the author has unwittingly written about something that in the interim period has been linked to tragedy or an infamous event.

I remember many years ago a romance author had a book come out that featured an astronaut as heroine. The book hit the shelves in the weeks after the Challenger disaster. No one wanted to read about a woman astronaut after Christa McAuliffe and Judith Resnick died so tragically despite Sally Ride's previous success. The book couldn't find an audience.

The Market Changes

Book publishing also changes because culture is always changing--because people are always changing.

Basic human nature doesn't change, but how people want to be entertained does. It changes in response to societal changes. Our culture is less inhibited than our parents' generation. We grew up on R-rated movies so many of us want a reading experience that matches the movies--sexually explicit, violence in action, realistic language, etc.

What was new and innovative last decade is old and passe this year. Ten years ago there was little demand from publishers for erotica. Now that market is huge.

Years ago, paranormal was a limited genre with more offerings on TV i.e. Buffy, Angel, and the SciFi Channel than in book publishing. Now, that genre has saturated publishing. Editors and agents say they'll croak if they see another vampire book. Yet the genre seems to be chugging along. Will it crater this year? Will zombies finally die off? You'll just have to wait and see.

Change Or Die

The only constant is change. I'm looking at other genres and sub-genres with the thought of expanding my reach. I'm exploring change. As the market changes, you must change with it or die. In the writing business, to die means you don't get published. For indie authors, that means you publish but your books don't find an audience.

Sometimes, you have to explore new genres if you want to keep writing and selling. I don't mean sell out and write something that's not you.

Instead, find an element in an existing market or the trending market that has resonance for you. Embrace that and write for the popular culture in which you live.

Adapting to popular culture while remaining true to yourself is a fine line to tread, but successful authors do it every day. Read widely and find authors you like and respect. Use them as role models for what you wish to achieve.

Takeaway Truth

Carpe diem!

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