Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Reading Demographic Today

On the way to Nasfic near St. Louis where Linnea and I actually get to do a panel together -- I have a few thoughts on the mega-trends driving change in the publishing industry, particularly in the "genre" end of the field -- and specifically Science Fiction, Fantasy and SFR.

One definition of SF (and thus an important component of Alien Romance) is that SF stories are found at the point where technology impacts society. (the ipod is an example -- revolutionizing the music industry. Suppose it had been introduced by an alien civilization trying to destabilize the Earth civilization so they could take over?)

Well, a similar impact has been made on the publishing industry by technology, and this shift is a prybar separating generations of readers farther and farther apart.

What I've long called the Fiction Delivery System is morphing faster than we can chronicle it. (Second Life for example.)

We have to assimilate the significance of these changes -- and as Alien Romance Writers, we must extrapolate from them. To do that, we have to understand what has happened, what is happening -- and draw a line onwards to what may yet happen as a result. Take a person who is 6 years old today -- and when they're twenty, link them up with an Alien and see if the sparks of love fly.

Now consider the elements of the fiction delivery system now being developed.

1) E-books. The publishers aren't ready to edit to the Mass Market level. Reading devices are up to the job now. E-books are really coming of age.

2) VIDEO -- YouTube is breaking new ground. Animation software costs I think about $3,000 but is of course a whole different profession to learn touse.

We need software that lets a writer TELL A STORY without learning a bunch of technical skills. Graphic Novels are being turned into films all the time.

3) The burgeoning video/ feature film / TV market is hungry for fresh new scripts.
The problem is that the demographic the Historical Romance or Big Fat Book genres sell to has gone elsewhere -- and not just gabbing on the cell phones.

They're finding deep, absorbing, complex stories to become involved in outside the print-book market. If they read a book, it's because others they know have read it. (Harry Potter comes to mind. See my post from last week.)

People think the problem is that the generation of an age to read is wasting themselves on videogames and chatrooms.

I don't think so. I think the problem won't be solved by those who think that.
I think the real problem is that the demographic print books are aimed at doesn't read fiction anymore.

I think the reason they don't read fiction is that the reading demographic used to read fiction in order to feel a sense of communicating with the world.

To read the words of someone "important" enough to get published and to recognize within those words an echo of one's own self -- to feel in contact with others like yourself -- is the real reason people have read fiction in any day and age. But it's especially true of the SF/F and Romance Reader demographic.

Today, that feeling is delivered much stronger on SECOND LIFE, YouTube, Blogs and chats, online RPG's, posting fan fiction they write themselves, or commenting and discussing posted fan fiction -- etc. etc.

My book, Star Trek Lives! blew the lid on Star Trek fandom which published fanzines unlike any that it's root-stock, SF fandom, had ever published. Star Trek fans published fiction in their 'zines -- not just non-fiction. That spread to other TV show pastiche. Then moved from paper to the internet, and exploded into multi-billions of words being posted on every sort of TV show -- not just SF/F.

Some of the demise of paper publishing may in fact be my fault for doing that book on what Star Trek fans do because they love the show so much.

A generation ago, during the boom in publishing, families were being uprooted and moved around the country and the world by corporations -- uprooting kids from the hard won friendships at school and neighborhood.

That's still going on -- but kids have cell phones with circles, and buddies, and other deals that let them keep in touch with old friends during the day, and on their bedroom homework computer blogging and posting fanfiction at night.

It's the readers, you know, who indulge in fan fiction, not the "rest" of the population.

And if you look very closely, you'll find that the "Alien Romance" may have some tentative examples from prior generations (The Leather Stocking Tales come to mind) -- the real origin of today's "Alien Romance" genre is in the Star Trek (Original Series) fan fiction. (check out simegen.com/fandom/startrek/ for a unique early example, an Inspirational Alien Romance!)

When I ran the dynamics of the K/S Star Trek fanfic through my own creative mechanism, it came out as my vampire novels Those of My Blood and Dreamspy which are available on amazon.com .

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Great column, as usual!

    I love the movie, 'Night at the Museum.' There's a scene near the end when the monkey is tormenting Larry and Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) says, "Who's evolved?"

    Larry: "But he..."

    "Who's evolved?"

    Larry: "I am."

    We have to evolve. Adapt or die. That's all. The readers are there, but the time has come in which authors must go out and meet them where they are.

    I have a YA Science Fiction I'll be querying agents for on September 1st. Where are all the teen Trekkies? They're scattered across cyberspace, libraries, used bookstores, and iTunes where their voice is hardly heard because it's not reflected in the sale of new books. I'll have to seek them out if I'm to succeed.

    Even though the mode of transmitting stories to readers has changed, the readers have not changed. They are still human beings and all humans have needs, some of which are met through storytelling. I think this is the most important thing to remember when reaching out to them.

  2. Anonymous4:54 PM EDT

    the reading demographic used to read fiction in order to feel a sense of communicating with the world.

    That's interesting. I'd have said the reverse. At least I think I would. I read NONfiction to stay in touch with the world. Some of my nonfiction reading has been displaced by internet keeping-up-on-the-world, as you describe.

    My fiction reading hasn't changed at all because of new technologies. I find out about books in new places, but I read the same amount and same formats as I always did. I wonder whether there's a generational difference in why people read. Or a certain phase of life. It may be that in my teens I read partly to access a wider world...? That's something I haven't really thought about.

  3. P.S. I've noticed another motivation for FanFic. They're like training wheels for new writers. After a while, they get frustrated with it and start creating their own characters and universes. Before you know it, they're zipping all over the place with their own novels.

  4. Anonymous8:15 PM EDT

    I think fanfic provides the fan with stories of the type they are looking for but not getting from the professional writers and publishers. Granted much fanfic is written with more enthusiasm then craft, but there is a joy, even in the darkest and grimmest of these tales, that one doesn't always find in professional fiction.

    As mentioned in a prior post, fanfic has served as the incubator for many writers. It has also proven that "Hey, I can write a better book than that."

    I'm glad to live in a society which allows fans to indulge their imagination with fan fiction. Not every society will allow such license.