Marketing Fiction in a Changing World
Understanding the Shifting Fiction Market
Previous entries in Marketing Fiction in a Changing World are indexed here:
We have discussed issues of "Marketing" (a whole profession independent writers have to master) and we have discussed the nature of FICTION (storytelling) in mechanical detail and as an Art Form. Under the topics related to Theme, we have discussed the everyday world your readers live in and what that has to do with their taste in fiction.
We have looked at these various topics as fairly static in time. They are not static. But to grasp the nature and shape of the way they change with time, a writer must first see the static flash-photograph.
If you've got that set of static images in your mind, now is a good time to start animating it.
The world is changing.
Science Fiction can be about the past, the present or the future, and so can science fiction romance or Paranormal Romance.
In fact the most interesting novels, and classics in the making, tend to involve glimpses of how the far past, the intermediate past, and the present combine to generate the future -- how a timeline is all connected.
To create this animated vision for your readers you need to do a lot of detailed worldbuilding that does not appear in your story, and that your characters (and readers) know nothing about.
The world you build for your Characters has to be more internally consistent than our everyday real world. You achieve that by focusing on a singular Theme, or for a series, a Theme Bundle (set of related statements about reality which can be disproved by refuting any one of them.)
Science Fiction and Science Fiction Romance are genres that feature "science" foremost. Today, that has translated into "technology."
Star Trek featured the technology of the future by naming devices by their function -- "Phaser" or "Transporter." We use technology to create tools to do things so we can free up our capacity to do other things.
We, as a world, are in the process of leaping across a technological chasm even the writers of Star Trek could not envision. In fact, some argue, the advent of that TV Series did a lot to spur the creation of the present world's technology (such as computers, the internet and even the Web).
Today, those who grew up since 1990 have coined the term "inter-web" because they don't have a clue what the difference is between the internet and the web. They have no idea where the concept "browser" came from or how that concept changed everything about how we use computers -- and now mobile devices more powerful than desktops built in the year 2000.
And change is not "done" yet -- the pace is increasing toward self-driving cars and even autonomous cars. Everyone I know wants a household robot to act as personal maid, butler, footman, gardener -- all by one walking device.
The flying car is furiously being invented.
We think of these things as the forces that will shape the future, and the readers now growing up on currently published fiction (and Netflix Originals streaming).
But as science fiction writers we have to consider an even larger, more stealthy force, and what that force might yet do to the way our future readers will live.
That force that must be factored into the swirling and conflicting forces producing A.I. and autonomous transportation (there go the truck driver jobs, and ALL the Romances about falling in love with a truck driver).
The entire "Internet of Things" or IoT is a bigger force for the change in the way we see the world and interact with each other, most importantly the way we govern ourselves -- maybe even for Religion as part of the social order.
The IoT is all about your connected Thermostat, household Security cameras and motion detectors, taking care of your kids who are at home while you are at work by being able to see them on your phone and talk over loudspeakers into your home -- being able to track their phones, knowing where your car is at every moment, how fast it is traveling, whether it did an illegal turn. "Things" will come to include dishwshers, clothes washers, maybe clothes themselves which will tattle on you when you don't exercise enough.
On the one hand, IoT gives you command of many functions with very little effort (other than upgrade-hell and being hacked).
On the other hand, Privacy is a thing of the past. Already government is claiming rights over your phone's contents. How many generations until government wins the point because nobody is alive who remembers what it is to "be alone."
We use "baby monitors" to be sure our infant is still breathing. How many generations until every breath you take your whole life long can become a matter of public record if someone doesn't like something else you did?
The key to understanding human behavior for the purposes of writing science fiction is to understand that the most powerful human survival trait is adaptability.
Even animals do not have the adaptability that humans have.
We are seeing animal species adapt to city life, or life in cages, and lose the ability to survive in "the wild" where the species would ordinarily live. They are even adapting to a poisoned environment.
Life is adaptable -- but it generations and a lot of death.
Humans can adapt faster. Not being instinct driven, we produce in each generation a few who can and do think the unthinkable and do the impossible, redefining parameters for the next generation.
But just like animals, we lose previously perfected survival skills. How many of us city dwellers could walk across a continent without trails, paths or roads, without water fountains and motels? Who among us is fit to go where no man has gone before?
Yet, humanity does keep producing that sort of person -- and many today are persisting in acquiring basic skills like metal working, quilt making, weaving.
Meanwhile, tides of everyday experience are sweeping toward the computer driven, artificial intelligence, world.
Sneaking up on us from the depths of that world is the tsunami of what is now called Big Data.
As noted previously
all our governments, on whichever governing theory you choose, have for centuries been making decisions based on "statistics."
Statistics does not "work backwards." You can accurately predict the behavior of a large group of people, but you can not discover anything at all about a single member of that group.
In other words, all "prejudice" that we take for granted today, is rooted in a false premise.
1. The Super Rich Do A Lot of Harm
2. Dick is Super Rich
3. Therefore Dick Does A Lot Of Harm
That's a false paradigm, not because of Dick's individual traits, but because it attempts to work statistics backwards -- to infer something about an individual member of a group by attributing a proven trait of the group to an individual member of the group.
Statistics will work well to govern nations provided the governors of the nations are willing to mash, slaughter, violate, and even annihilate pockets of individuals.
The stealth trend that science fiction writers trying to write "classics" that will be readable in the future (worth reprinting) originates at the junction of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence.
Even today, the entire premise of Statistics as a governing tool is being discarded. So far, we don't exactly have anything to replace it, so a writer trying to portray life 50 years from now has to guess what will replace Statistics.
The current scientific guess is Big Data.
To write science fiction, you can choose a Theme based on "Big Data Will Solve All Human Problems" -- e.g. no more poverty, drug addiction, murderous rage, road rage, sexual jealousy.
Or you can choose to write about the next huge shift, and choose a Conflict rooted in the crusade to replace Big Data and restore Privacy by discovering a new principle on which to govern humanity.
Or perhaps you might choose a premise based on genetically altering humanity to erase the combative tendency?
None of those choices would necessarily show up in your Characters, their Conflicts, or the Resolution of those conflicts. It would be nothing but background. If a character wanted to travel from one person's living room to another person's back yard for a barbecue, they might summon an A.I. driven Uber car -- or just step through a "door" projected by their pocket device? Or projected by a brain implant.
Whatever changes you depict as the way your Characters live and procreate, they may seem ridiculous to future readers -- or spookily prescient.
Mostly, science fiction writers working in their "near future" write "cautionary tales" -- depicting a world they really do not want to see realized.
We are currently living in such a world - predicted very accurately in the 1940's and 1950's science fiction novels. But while predicting much of the difficulties we are dealing with (including global warming), they fail utterly to envision anything like the World Wide Web, or Web commerce.
This absence of smartphones and web commerce affects how a Scene can be framed, what the annoying difficulties a character faces are, and how quickly and efficiently they can discover facts. Nobody predicted Google in your pocket! Or Twitter and flashmobs.
A good place to begin thinking about where we are now, as opposed to where we were 50 years ago, and thus where we will be in 50 years from now (when your books will be reprinted if they are classics), is to watch some old movies.
Netflix will surface some of the great ones. Check Amazon Prime video for old TV Shows.
Then read some of the novels popular at those times. Science Fiction is not really the best field to read to nail a historical point to extrapolate from.
Romances written 50 years ago as "Contemporary" will give you a lot of information about how the world seemed, but you tend to get a lot of gut-churning cultural static embedded in old Contemporary Romance. Women had a different self-image at that time, and taught their daughters a different self image (more child-like, to prepare for a life of dependence and perpetual pregnancy).
Humans are adaptable, and women have (since cave dwelling days) adapted to being the victims of their physiology. Science has produced tools to get a handle on those problems (and we're still arguing over how to use those tools without abusing the power they bestow), and that has changed the world.
So reading old Contemporary Romance is good for learning how vastly birth control has changed the world, but the study is hard on a modern-adapted psyche. Historical Romance set in the 1950's (or 1800's Europe) written today generally puts a female character with today's attitudes into that old world -- and thus loses verisimilitude.
Do a contrast/compare study between Contemporary Romance written in 1950's and Historical Romance written today but set in the 1950's.
You will see why, when setting your Science Fiction Romance in the future, you must change the Character's self-image to be a product of their time, not ours.
Today's kids, growing up with a phone in their pocket, are going to have a different self-image -- about what they can do, or not do, what they want to do or refuse to do, and whether or not anyone will ever know what they did.
That attitude shift about Privacy will definitely affect how you can plot a Mystery Novel.
Remember how often I've mentioned that Science Fiction writers often moonlight as Mystery writers (or Western writers) because the fields are the same -- and most science fiction readers also read Mystery and Westerns.
Mystery is allied with the 'science' aspects of science fiction and Westerns are allied with the "where no man has gone before" exploration of outer space, meeting Aliens (Indians), dimensions of science fiction.
Here is a very old Mystery series that depicts and reveals the contemporary world of the 1960's (a famous period of social change well captured here).
The Rabbi Small Novels
Friday the Rabbi Slept Late – 1964
Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry – 1966
Sunday, the Rabbi Stayed Home – 1969
Monday The Rabbi Took Off – 1972
Tuesday the Rabbi Saw Red – 1973
Wednesday the Rabbi Got Wet – 1976
Thursday the Rabbi Walked Out – 1978
Conversations with Rabbi Small – 1981
Someday the Rabbi Will Leave – 1985
One Fine Day the Rabbi Bought a Cross – 1987
The Day the Rabbi Resigned – 1992
That Day the Rabbi Left Town – 1996
There are by the famous (then) best selling mystery writer Harry Kemelman, and here is his wikipedia page.
Read a few of these. They are in Kindle and very cheap and easy to find (that old Internet Commerce change.)
In the 1960's people had to spend hours and hours in libraries, try to order books via inter-library loan, only to discover they were no longer available.
Revel in today's fingertip availability - understand what it means to the world view and self-image of the current teens.
Pick a few Historic points, draw the line connecting them and extrapolate that line into the future of 50 years from now. How will Romance happen? How will people meet each other? Will "dating sites" turn into something more in the world of Big Data and lack of privacy? Will marriages always work when arranged by a particular site?
Will a proprietary algorithm be hoarded by that particular dating site? Will courts demand they give it away so everyone can benefit?
Will government take over dating sites and provide that free service as part of your health-care rights (after all a bad marriage can drive you crazy and stress your body to where you die young!)
What sort of ways will people find to do murder, and what tools will detectives of that future use to uncover the dastardly deed?
wrote the Black Widdow science fiction mysteries that were extremely popular, and Randall Garrett created the Lord Darcy character, a detective who used Magic
All science is detective work. And it can be argued that all Romance is detective work - one must "detect" what is motivating the potential spouse. "What does she see in him?" is the key question.
The answer changes with time and the depth and breadth of knowledge of the other person's behavior.
If you can develop and unfold a Relationship for your readers, you can develop and unfold an entire world for those readers. The skills are the same, but the material differs.
Watch some old TV, and read some old books, then observe how you solve problems today -- a leaky roof, a car that won't start, a subway train that's late, an internet connection that does not work, a store that's out of a critical item.
What mysteries have you solved today? Watch your mind problem-solve, and what tools you reach for without thinking, -- then see how your future self will target these problems 50 years from now.