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Boomer Lit Three Years Later: What Next?

Lear and Cordelia 1849-54 Ford Madox Brown 1821-1893 Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund and subscribers 1916 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03065

Lear and Cordelia 1849-54 Ford Madox Brown 1821-1893 Phttp://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03065

In a way, Boomer Lit has been around for ever. Any book dealing with the challenges of “mature life” (meaning over 50) could be said to be “Boomer Lit”.

And now that some 78 million baby boomers in the US have reached 50 or are older – and that’s a big segment of the American population – the term Boomer Lit given to the kind of books they want to read has truly come into its own.

Why do I claim “Boomer Lit” was founded three years ago? Some people may say they’d heard the term before, that it was “floating in the air” and they could well be right.

But something specific happened three years ago that made it literally come out of its chrysalis and be born as a new genre –  a genre, I’m convinced, destined to become a great marketing success, given the sheer number of baby boomers. Not just in the US but around the world. And these are people who are rapidly reaching retirement age or are already retired…which means they’ve got plenty of time on their hands to read!

The Love Story stars, reunited today, see here

So what exactly happened three years ago to launch Boomer Lit? By chance, at this time of year (actually September 2012) I had just published a novel about a man facing a new phase in his life after retirement and the choices he makes threaten his marriage.

My problem was I didn’t know in which genre to place it. Romance since it dealt with a marriage relationship gone awry? Yes, but the man is over 60, and he has a love adventure with a woman in her 50s.

As we all know, “classic” romance is like Segal’s Love Story, all about young people. Also my book drilled in depth with how it feels like when you stop working and the rug is pulled out under your feet. Not the usual stuff of romance!

How to market such an odd book that didn’t fit anywhere?

That’s when I turned to a Kindle Forum thread for listing new books under specific genres and asked the moderator to allow the addition of a new genre aimed at Baby Boomers (I figured they were my audience). My request was granted and that boosted my confidence. I felt I was on the right road.

Happily armed with this new Amazon avenue that had opened up for marketing my book, I turned to Goodreads, looking for a group to discuss Baby Boomer novels and possibly get a chance to talk about my book and list it and reach out to more people.

Tough luck. I found no such group anywhere on Goodreads (and there are thousands of groups dealing with thousands of different themes!).

Determined to launch my book, I wasn’t discouraged. I’d been already fairly active on Goodreads for years and achieved the status of “librarian”, so it was a no-brainer to found a group to discuss Baby Boomer novels – or BB novels as I called them, I liked the humorous, facetious aspect of this term. If YA was for Young Adults, surely BB was for Baby Boomers?

I started the group in October 2012 with an explanatory pitch around this BB novel concept and put up a photo-shopped picture of my husband reading his Kindle ( washed over in blue color letting his hair show white – he actually has dark hair!).

By December 2012, the group had attracted over 50 extremely enthusiastic and active members and I started to write about in several online publications  and the Baby Boomer ball got rolling (for details on how it went, click my Boomer Lit tab above)…

In fact, today, three years later, the group has grown to nearly 600 – most of them, if not all, Boomer Lit authors.

That’s a lot of writers who claim to be writing Boomer Lit!  Writers who belong to the Group know that they also have at their disposal a Facebook page to announce their books or special events and a Twitter account (@boomerlit. To support Boomer Lit events, there is a dedicated hashtag: #boomerlit

To go to page, click here

In the spring of 2013, the Goodreads member of our BB novel group discussed the title of the group and there was a unanimous agreement that it should be called “Boomer Lit” because it didn’t cover just novels but also memoirs, poetry etc.

And there was a pointed discussion about the very nature of Boomer Lit: did it cover just challenges facing the “third age” or did it  also evoke the past, what it was like growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s? I’ve always felt that the former was truly Boomer Lit while the latter was not. In my opinion, nostalgia pieces – whether a poem, a novel or a short story –  that deal with, say, a first love that happened some 40 years ago should still be classified as YA romance and not Boomer Lit. Why? Because it features, yes, a “young adult” (or maybe not so young, perhaps someone in their twenties) – but surely not anyone over 50!

At least that was my view and I fought for it, but not always winning that battle. Many Group members felt nostalgia was definitely part of Boomer Lit even if it dealt with a first love.

I believe this is the kind of intellectual “battle” only a Big Publisher could win.

That’s why Boomer Lit, to get truly established and go mainstream, needs to have a traditional publisher, preferably one of the Big Five, set up a Boomer Lit imprint. With a clear definition of what the term Boomer Lit covers and a clear outreach strategy to Baby Boomers.

I’m convinced such an imprint, correctly launched, would automatically access a huge market. Some authors have already made a splash with books that are clearly “Boomer Lit”, notably “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” that’s been turned into two films, and there’s no reason that many more Boomer Lit authors of quality cannot be found.

Source: click here

For a partial list of Boomer Lit books, check the Wikipedia entry, here. A publisher could also ask its editors to look among the members of the Goodreads Boomer Lit group. The group discussed a number of books and those discussions were very fruitful in helping to define what was and what was not quality Boomer Lit. And all those discussion threads are online, easy to access.

Furthermore, I’m pleased to report that the Goodreads Boomer Lit Group has started a particularly interesting thread about Boomer Lit, its challenges and potential as a major genre, to read it click here.

Yes, Boomer Lit has a future and in America, its future is 78 million strong! The first publisher who wakes up to this opportunity and establishes a Boomer Lit imprint is likely to be richly rewarded.

Your views? What do you think you can do to help put Boomer Lit on the map?

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2014: A Pivotal Year in Publishing

This is the end of the year, a perfect day to draw lessons from the main publishing events in 2014.

First, one bit of good news for 2014: it will be remembered as the year audio-book sales took off. In 2013, downloaded audio books hit an all time high in both revenue and units, and that trend continued in 2014 (see Bookstats.org). In February, I wrote on this blog about audio-books (here) reporting on the fast rise of audiobook titles. On Audible there are more than 150,000 titles in every genre – up from less than 5,000 in 2009, an amazing growth.  And 2014 was the year that saw the creation of the Deyan Institute of Voice Artististry and Technology (see here), the world’s first campus dedicated to audiobook production. Yes, audiobooks have come of age! Enhanced e-books, containing music and possibly video clips, long announced but not yet really successful, may come next as the technology progresses.
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But the news were not all good. We were all captivated by the show put on by Amazon and Hachette in their long, drawn-out dispute that took up half the year. As a result, we tended to overlook what was happening to the e-book market as a whole. Few of us listened when Amazon told Hachette that books should be priced low – maybe like a cup of coffee? – because books in our society are competing with other forms of entertainment, like TV series, videogames, travel and sports. Yet, if we had taken that argument on board, we might not have been so surprised at what happened next – specifically, when Amazon created in July its new subscription service, Kindle Unlimited or KU, that allows you free access to some 700,000 titles for just $9.99 a month – that’s a lot of cups of coffee -.

Actually 2014 had started on the heels of a lackluster year for the e-book market. Here is a chart that shows sales revenues from e-books since 2008 (remember, the starting point was November 2007 when Amazon launched the new publishing digital age with its famous first Kindle sale):

As you can see, US publishers collected $3 billion from e-book sales in 2013 – and (another reminder!) e-books are the preferred environment for self-published authors . $3 billion may look like a big number, but it’s not so big if you set it against revenues from the whole US publishing industry: $27 billion if you include journals, and $14.6 for “trade” (fiction and non-fiction books).

What is striking in this chart is the way e-book sales started to flatten out after 2012, suggesting that the e-book market by 2014 had actually reached “maturity” (there’s a typo in that chart: 2011 is repeated twice, but the data is correct). It is still too early for definitive data for 2014, but the available quarterly data suggests that sales have continued to plateau through the year. I won’t bother you further with statistics, but the data is in and tells a discomforting story for self-published authors that have come to rely on the e-book market (though they produce printed books too, they typically launch their books on e-platforms). In fact, if the stigma has been successfully removed from self-publishing and vanity presses have become a thing of the past, it is entirely due to the remarkable e-book sales of a score of self-published authors, including Amanda Hocking, JA Konrath, Bella Andre, Hugh Howey, HM Ward, Russell Blake, Elizbeth Spann Craig and many others (no space here to mention them all!).

The sense of discomfort was strong among self-published authors through the year and I felt it acutely, often blogging about it. Many of you, dear readers, must have felt the same way, because the blog posts that attracted the most traffic all had to do with the problems facing us as independent book publishers (being indies, we run our book selling as a small business). Out of a total 103 posts published in 2014, 35 attracted three to four times the average number of views and they all concerned publishing issues, from book discovery and how to improve the Amazon review system to  marketing advice you can get straight from Amazon’s Marketing Central (published in January 2014, that was the most viewed post in the whole year, see here).

Only one non-publishing post made it in the top 35, and this was about Putin and his “New Russia” dream (here). In a way, I regret that, because I enjoy writing about other things, such as politics and art. The best traffic I had on an art post this year was the one about the Mandela monument in South Africa (here).

The conclusion is inescapable: all the posts that attracted traffic were focused on publishing and book marketing (no surprise there, after all, I’m an economist by training). Noteworthy among them:

  • The tsunami of books, particularly in the Kindle Store (see here): when I wrote that post last August, the number of titles was around 3.4 million – now, I just checked, it’s close to… 3.8 million! This flood of books that fill up our e-readers is all the more worrisome that publishing as a whole is threatened by our obsession with visuals (here);  books need to be short to grab the distracted reader’s attention, hence the sudden success of the serialized novel (here); by the end of summer, I had become sufficiently preoccupied with the whole issue to try and summarize what was really happening to the digital publishing environment dominated by Amazon (here); remarkably, my concerns were not reflected in any of the debates about e-publishing held at the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, the biggest writers’ conference on the European continent, bringing together editors and writers from both sides of the Atlantic: here the sun was still shining brightly on the e-book market, with Bella Andre and many others explaining how they had achieved success;
  • The role of book reviews as we all drown into a tsunami of books (here) and the urgent need to improve Amazon’s review system by strengthening its Vine Program (here); I suggested that there is space on Amazon for two different types of reviews: the customer review and the literary critique; this would be an important first step to strengthen the e-book market, as it lacks what the traditional printed book market has, i.e. literary authorities who can help guide readers to good reads;
  • The rise of a new genre, cli-fi or what Margaret Atwood prefers to call “speculative fiction”; several posts revolved around the climate change issue and the kind of books inspired by it, notably here , here and here – including an interview of the father of cli-fi, Dan Bloom (here)- clearly, having just finished writing a cli-fi novel of my own, Gateway to Forever, and bursting with the research I did for that book, I plead guilty – please, consider it “content marketing”!

Looking to 2015, some clouds are accumulating on the horizon.

  • First, in Europe where Amazon (and other American corporations) have been clobbered by the European Union. They have been forced throughout the EU to apply national taxes on e-books – and the VAT on e-books happens to be high everywhere except in France and of course Luxembourg, a place that, as of 2015, will no longer be the tax haven it used to be for American corporations (see here for more on this question – yes, published in January 2014, I could see it coming!)
  • Second, in America, the growing furor over Kindle Unlimited; first, JA Konrath annoucing he is pulling out of KDP Select (the way for self-published authors to have their books listed in KU); next, a notable article in the New York Times reporting on authors “snubbing their nose” at KU, including HM Ward; most recently, a remarkable blog post by author John Scalzi who wonders how the damage can be undone. And the latest blog post on the subject that is a must read, is this one, on the Ebook Bargains UK blog. Is publishing about to go the way the music industry went with Spotify? Are authors going to be left high and dry the way musicians are? That is something that requires some serious thinking – I will post about this early next year.

What about you, dear reader? What would you like to see on my blog? More interviews of authors? I did a few, including one with romantic suspense best-selling author Liz Jennings published by Impakter (see here) that got shared many times and one with Marsha Roberts and Bob Rector. This is an unusual couple in many ways: they are both professional writers, Bob is also a film producer and Marsha a theater producer, and they have been happily married for 39 years, something of a feat for two persons working in the same sector and who are artists to boot, each with a strong independent streak. That post, published in May, got a flood of visits (here). I also reported for Publishing Perspectives on several events in Italy, including, inter alia, a reality show for authors on Italian TV that “ignored the psychology of authors”, the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera (it’s next September, do try and come!) and a publishing startup, Reedsy, a great place to find freelance professional editors and book cover designers. I also covered Reedsy on Impakter, but from a different angle and with some extraordinary images provided by Impakter (strong visuals are a characteristic feature of that site).

And for the first time this year, responding to a request from Impakter, I started to use my real name (Claude Forthomme) whenever I published articles based on my 25 year experience in the United Nations. The Impakter editor argued people were interested in the United Nations, that this was something people knew little about, beyond some (often boring) newspaper headlines. I complied and furnished Impakter with over a dozen articles and much to my surprise, the response was excellent – here is the Impakter section on the United Nations (to go to it, click here):

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As you can see, not all the articles are mine: many more people are now writing on Impakter, including a major FAO official, Laurent Thomas, Assistant Director General.

I’d love to know how you feel about what you read here and what other subjects you’d want me to cover…And how about yourself if you’re a blogger? What do you plan to write about in 2015? Please share.

Since today is 30 December and it’s Holiday time,  let’s ignore the gathering clouds for the moment. Look up, the sky is blue and allow me to wish you a very Happy New Year!

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