Hey Word Nerds! Welcome to this week’s episode of DIY MFA Radio. Now that Book Expo America (BEA) is behind us, I wanted to take a look back at the conference and its notable moments and start looking ahead at the publishing industry and the trends I see coming up in the future.
This year I spent a lot more time than any other year at the actual conference portion of the event instead of on the show floor. Don’t get me wrong, my feet were still killing me by the end of BEA from all the walking and visiting booths I did. But I spent more time listening in on the panels this year, learning about where the publishing industry is going, and then connecting with the people that I wanted to meet.
Overall, two main themes stood out to me at BEA this year: Identity and Community.
During a panel on big data and the publishing industry, Scott Galloway, founder and chair of L2, talked about the four big industries in our culture: Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple. His prediction was that Amazon and Google will lose relevance while Facebook and Apple will gain relevance in the future.
When I stepped back and tried to think through why this might be the case, it occurred to me that both Facebook and Apple put community and identity front and center, while Amazon and Google don’t. It’s just not in their business model. If all the data is pointing for Facebook and Apple to continue to dominate, while Amazon and Google lose relevance, it seems to me that identity and community may be the key reasons why.
What else did I learn?
Brick and mortar bookstores are coming back!
This prediction came up on several panels and I see it happening all around. Indie bookstores are springing up everywhere again. Why? For one thing, we are what we read; books speak to a deep part of our identity. And as we share those parts of our identity, books become a center of community, a common topic to discuss and share our feelings about. It makes sense that indie bookstores would start popping up again, but with a new focus on creating individualized experiences for the customers, and serving as a center where the community can gather.
Print is not dead!
When Kindle came on the scene, a lot of people began to predict the death of the print book. People have been bemoaning the eBook revolution and dreading the day that printed books will go the way of the dodo bird. Yet a decade later, print is still alive and well.
The fact reminds that digital publishing hasn’t quite figured out how to give its customers the same experience they get from print. Physical books allow for a physical exchange of ideas, which again strengthens community. It’s so much easier to hand someone a book and say “Read this!” than it is to tell someone to click a link and download an eBook. Seriously, have you ever tried to share a book with one of your friends via Kindle? It’s a HUGE pain in the you-know-what.
Having a lot of information is not always useful.
You might think that information is power, but the truth is that having tons data is useless unless you know how to interpret it. The publishing industry is sitting on a mountain of unanalyzed data, and there aren’t common industry-wide standards for collecting, organizing and interpreting this data, so much of this information just sits there. Any stats geeks and analysts out there? This is an untapped career niche that I think will be in much demand over the next few years.
The other problem with having a lot of information is that you may get some valuable nuggets, but you also get a lot of noise, and it’s often hard to parse these out. Numerical data can only give you part of the picture. Without digging into the details you might miss valuable insights about who your customers are. Understanding your readers and how they integrate with the larger community is crucial and the numbers don’t always tell the whole story.
We Need Diverse Books
After realizing the panels at last year’s BEA were sorely lacking in diversity, a new movement was born: #WeNeedDiverseBooks. This movement held its first panel exactly one year ago at BEA 2014. Now, a year later, WNDB is still going strong. I enjoyed their panel discussion, and especially love their idea that diversity equals inclusiveness. There are many diversities and they all deserve to have a share of the spotlight. Again, individuality and community go hand in hand.
Multimedia in Publishing
I was really excited to check out new developments in multimedia and while there are some interesting things happening, we still have a long way to go. Most of the multimedia still seems focused around educational resources. I was excited to see multimedia being implemented in education because it allows for different learning styles, but would love to see broader applications in the future.
Where Do Writers Fit In?
Nothing happens in the publishing industry without writers. If community and identity are the main themes for publishing, that means that as writers we need to embrace these themes as well.
This means we need to let readers into our world. We must use social media, our blogs, YouTube channels, podcasts, etc., to let our readers understand who we are and bring them into our world. Multimedia isn’t an end in and of itself. It’s one piece of a larger picture. It’s our job to think of new and creative ways for our readers to experience our stories
In the process, though, we also need to honor the ecosystem, the medium, where our story lives. We shouldn’t just copy and paste across platforms and expect our ideas to translate smoothly. Instead, we need to focus on the delivery system and target our content to how it’s delivered and who we’re delivering it to. The medium should serve the message, and not the other way around.
Finally, I always love looking forward at storytelling trends that I see on the horizon. I’ll focus on YA here, because it’s my favorite thing to read and it’s the area I know best. As far as trends go, things always seem to move in cycles. What’s important is to recognize why people are interested in certain trends at certain points in history.
From fantasy (Harry Potter) to paranormal (Twilight) to dystopian (The Hunger Games) to contemporary (The Fault In Our Stars), the last two decades have exemplified this cycle. We’ve seen a strong movement from fantastical and speculative stories to those that are grounded in the hear and now. I have a hunch that that the next step will be historical fiction because as we become grounded in the present, we start becoming interested in where we’ve come from. And of course, from historical fiction, it’s not a huge leap to to high fantasy where the whole cycle will start over again.
Through these shifts in genre popularity, I still think the themes of community and identity will crop up again and again. Look for a lot of underdog narratives and fish-out-of-water stories.
I know this is all really theoretical, not the usual nuts-and-bolts kind of predictions you might expect. But I find that those kind of predictions often really only reflect the surface of the industry. What I want is to challenge you to think about what the next big trend is going to be and–more importantly–why that will be the case and what implications it has for us as writers.
As always, I love hearing from you! Please join me in the comments section and share your insights on the future of the publishing industry with me.
(Right-click to download.)
If you liked this episode…
Head over to iTunes, leave a review, and subscribe so you’ll be first to know when new episodes are available. Also, if you know anyone who might enjoy this podcast, please share!
Until next week, keep writing and keep being awesome.