2021/03/15

Chasing the Puck

Chasing the Puck

Trying to jump on the latest big trend, what folks in showbiz call chasing the puck, is a misguided business strategy that all-too-many authors fall for. And not necessarily for the reasons you think.

The conventional oldpub wisdom held that an author simply couldn't get a book to market fast enough to cash in on the new hotness. Not that their own rationale stopped them from publishing a slew of Harry Potter and Twilight clones.

Some newpub gurus claim that Amazon and the resurgent pulp work ethic have broken the trend-jumping barrier. Now that an independent author can write and publish a pro-quality book in a month, they say, it is indeed possible to catch that pesky puck.

There's no question that newpub authors enjoy a tremendous speed advantage over the ossified New York houses. The folks who point to this advantage and declare that they've cracked the code miss a key aspect of the challenge facing authors. 

Riding a trend doesn't merely require catching the wave in time. Speed is just one horn of the dilemma. The other problem is visibility.

What everybody overlooks in their haste to join the next big thing is that a million other writers have the same idea. Getting your book into a hot new market means competing with the glut of other books vying for the fad consumers' attention.

Here's something else everybody misses. A new blockbuster trend doesn't just attract fans from adjacent genres. It creates new ones. What happens when the public moves on from a prior fad to the next? Do fans of the old fad go away? Some do, but not all of them. That leaves a large, but not too large, audience underserved.

Vampire fiction: perfect example. Which name authors are writing new vampire books now that Twilight has largely faded from the scene? The answer is nobody. Stephenie Meyer remains the biggest fish in that shrunken but still cash-rich pond. Are there still readers who're interested in vampire books? Almost certainly. Is competition for those readers as stiff as it was a decade ago? Not even close. A smart author would capitalize on this situation.

The problem with chasing the puck is just one publishing conundrum that author David V. Stewart and I tackled this past Saturday. Check out his show for a rollicking conversation about the writer's craft, the latest Death Cult enormities, and more.



One topic David graciously chose to discuss is the currently running crowdfunder for my mecha thriller Combat Frame XSeed: SS. We just smashed our third stretch goal and unlocked the CFXS short story collection, which is available as a perk through the campaign. Mecha and RPG fans alike will be enthused to hear that our current stretch goal is an official Combat Frame XSeed Roleplaying game rulebook.

Combat Frame XSeed roleplaying game

The RPG manual will be confirmed when we reach $5000. Support indie sci fi, choose from a ton of sweet perks, and help make the Combat Frame XSeed RPG a reality.


Combat Frame XSeed: SS 423

13 comments:

  1. This is encouraging. I've been slowly scribbling away at two projects:

    1) an age of sail rpg that uses the same general rules for personal, mass, and naval combat so that enterprising PCs can command a fleet without the standard RPG nonsense of "have the PCs fight a small scale battle during the large battle" or tacking on a clunky, unfamiliar mass combat system that nobody wants to use.

    2) a generic sci-fi RPG that's not married to a setting.

    These have been mostly because I want to play them, and I think I can yet enough people together for a game, but with such holes in the market, I wonder if these systems could be sold for profit.

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  2. The good news in the world of modern publishing now vastly outweighs the bad, for one very important reason:

    In Ye Olden days, you would be a fool to tell anyone to try and make a career out of being an author. Nowadays though? Not so. It can be done.

    There is just one catch: Unlike Ye Olden Days, you need to treat it like a regular 9 to 5 day job, with all that entails. But what exactly did you expect?

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    1. "... you need to treat it like a regular 9 to 5 day job, with all that entails."

      Your comment is spot-on, with one exception pertaining to the excerpt quoted above.

      A working author is on the capital side of the labor-capital dynamic. Many writers do approach their business with the wage-earner mindset, i.e. they go in expecting to receive a certain amount of compensation for a certain amount of work.

      It's more accurate to think of writing a book as a capital investment than as punching a time clock.

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    2. True, clarification noted.

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  3. Find a niche (or two or three) with 1000 or more people who are regularly willing to spend $25 to $50 per year on your creations. Serve that audience with what they crave in these niches. Suddenly, you have a part-time or full-time job as a creative.

    It's not that easy to find that dedicated audience, but it is pretty straight forward as goal.

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    1. *nods* This is what author, editor, and publisher Jeff Duntemann refers to as microcelebrity.

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    2. More creatives need to realize this is a power position if you can get there.

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  4. I think the key is to write what you want to read. If it interests you, the work will tend to flow and the reader will be swept up in your enthusiasm. Of course you can't write just for you. You have to keep the audience in mind. Other wise, you end up with a self indulgent mess, like the later works of Heinlein.

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  5. One other bit of advice that I'd add, would be to not listen to the "expert" who says that Genre X is either oversaturated or dead. If you've got a good hook and it's something you're excited about then passion often trumps puck chasing.

    One example story from my past as a game developer: In the mid-00s, the development team I was on was looking for our next original IP idea. The whole team was really excited about the idea of doing a Western FPS. Unfortunately, our Marketing Director (who worked for the publisher that owned our studio, not our studio itself) nixed that idea because "Westerns are dead, no one makes videogames in that genre, and Red Dead Revolver didn't make nearly enough of a splash."

    A few years later, Red Dead Redemption came out.

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    1. Great example.

      Trends and fads aren't really things creatives need to worry about these days because they no longer have to worry about publishers or top hats coming down and them and refusing to back their projects due to the perceived wants of the audience.

      Check out the recent classic FPS revival, spearheaded by independents. People have wanted those games since they lost them back in the late '90s, and now they are getting them. Those who understood this have cashed in big.

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    2. The Western is a perfect example of a genre we're not allowed to have anymore because of corporate fiat.

      Westerns didn't die. They were murdered. And like you pointed out, they keep coming back.

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    3. They've been trying to kill the Western for decades, starting with the "Rural Purge" from TV in 1971. And yet, not only is there still a demonstrably strong market for them, but the concepts keep showing up in modified form in some of the best shows of other genres.

      Sci-fi, especially, owes a lot to Westerns.

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  6. Aha! I'm currently working on the art for a vampire graphic novel by Corinna Turner, author of the "I am Margaret" series of Catholic teen dystopian fiction, which will certainly appeal to the Twilight fan, especially if said fan ever wished that Twilight were a bit more compatible with Catholic theology!

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