Saturday, May 22, 2021

Assertions and Observations

As threatened promised, here’s some of what I’ve learned from my deep dive into publishing market research. In no particular order and with no apologies for any overt cynicism:

• Children love stories. They love to have stories told to them, they love to have stories read to them, and as they grow up, they love to learn to read stories by themselves. If you have never seen the joy on a child’s face that comes when they realize they can read a story all by themselves, I feel sorry for you.

• But then, something goes wrong. By the time most children graduate from high school, they have had the joy of reading beaten completely out of them. As a writer, there is nothing you can do to change that. For a long time I believed there was something I as a publisher could do to try to change that, but I’ve since regained my sanity. The problem is systemic.

• Those few young people whose love of reading survives high school will have it further warped in college, by being repeatedly bludgeoned over the head with “important” literature to the point where they are nearly incapable of reading fiction for pleasure. 

• And then real life kicks in, and what free time they used to have for reading for pleasure is dramatically curtailed. They develop a sort of critical tunnel vision. By the time the reader is in their 30s, it’s almost impossible to get them to look at new fiction unless it promises to deliver exactly the same experience that they already know they will enjoy.

• The universe is not making any more readers your age. In fact, there are fewer people your age every day.

• There is usually a good reason why “they don’t write ‘em like that anymore.” Typically it’s because no one reads ‘em like that any more.The problem is compounded by the fact that literature is durable. Those dwindling numbers of readers who really do want to read old Heinlein juveniles can go back to their dog-eared copy of Rocket Ship Galileo any time they like. Or get it on Kindle, if they need a large-print edition.

• The book-buying and book-reading population is in constant churn. New potential customers are coming into the market and old readers are aging out of it every day. 

• The new readers coming into the market every day are shaped by their culture, not yours. They really don’t give a fig about what you liked to read when you were growing up.

• The sweet spot, such as it is, is readers between their early teens to their early thirties. After age 30, getting their interest is exponentially more difficult as they get older, unless you want to produce fiction product that promises to deliver a pre-sold entertainment experience they’re certain to enjoy.

• Therefore, your target market is people who have come of age in the past twenty years, at the outside—or to define some boundaries, between the inauguration of Bush the Younger and the end of the Trump presidency. To them, the Clinton presidency is ancient history, and anything before that is simply out of their realm of experience.

To be continued...





GuyStewart said...

So, "come of age" is 18?

I would argue that "come of age" is more likely 15. My reasoning is that around 15 most young people have both disposable income (which will continue to grow) AND they are unable to own anything but books.

XBoxes (Switch, Nintendo, laptops, cell phones) are expensive and likely to be gifts...from parents...who can then "take away rights" when the grades go into the trash, or the kids say, "I don't wanna...". Also, "I bought the Xbox!" "Yeah? Well I pay the electric bill!" [These are conversations I've had with the target humans. They are not imaginary.] MOST parents won't remove a book from a kid's hands, "Gimme that! How dare you read LORD OF THE RINGS?" one reason being that they have a sense that "reading is important". Levar Burton and Big Bird say so!

So, changing the parameter slightly, you have people born between 1985 and 2005. What was "popular" then? That's what they'll want to read -- only with some sex and adult situations (though NOT breast and prostrate cancer or Alzheimer's yet, except as it impinges on them. The tech needs to be from that era or reasonably advanced from something with which they are familiar -- implanted video game console would likely be appealing...You can take it from there. Oh, and then young characters can't be idiots or annoying...because that's now how THEY saw themselves. Taking away an XBox IS A DISASTER!!!!

~brb said...

Perhaps "came of intellectual age" would be a better way to put it, rather than something that implies "legal" adulthood. Some people have their psyche begin to gel and take adult form at 14; others at 16 or 18 or 24 or some other year in that general range; some never do, and they become Vikings fans.

GuyStewart said...

HEY!!! That's talkin' religious smack!