Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Next Next New Thing

There was a time when writing something new was good enough.  That was back when newness moved at the pace of ocean steamers, trains and winded horses.  Ideas had a chance to be nurtured and loved before they were subjected to the competitive realities of an editor’s desk.  Even then they still arrived with the encouraging scent of promise, the untarnished sheen of an idea that had yet to make its mark on the world.  Back when a beaming editor once queried, “Anyone ever hear of a thing called a vampire?”  I proclaim this time of opportunity the Era of the New Thing, and oh, how I wish I was writing back then.

Take a giant leap forward to twenty years ago.  The paced had picked up exponentially.  Ideas were flashing around the world in a digital heartbeat.  Nurturing had one leg and two arms out the window.  If you were fortunate enough to have an original idea with cross-market appeal, you needed to get it out there and fast because odds were someone else had a concept with the same DNA and they were moments from dropping it in the overnight mail, or worse, pressing send.  Editors, agents and Hollywood scouts were abandoning their quest to find something new.  By the time they got their hands on the manuscript, it was already turning old.  They wanted that New Thing just over the horizon, and paid handsomely to get it (or so I’m told).  I proclaim this frenzied time the Era of the Next New Thing.

Which brings us to present day.  We live and imagine in a time when going viral is good.  Or maybe it’s bad.  Who knows, things are moving so fast.  If you’re writing a trilogy (which I am), you better have all three ready to go (which I did not) because the original idea that sold book one will be cloned and re-cloned (by a factor of fifty) before the Kindle ink is dry on your first print run.  Social media in all its iterations keeps everyone at the info trough 24-7.  With game changing heavyweights like Amazon in the self-publishing arena, book-to-market times are collapsing faster than a shaken souffle.  According to a study of publishing data in 2011, forty-three percent of all printed books (including from traditional publishers) were self-published.  When your new idea emerges and draws its first tentative breath, it will already be graying around the temples and contemplating a condo in Boca Raton.  Hence the name of our current time, the Era of the Next Next New Thing.

In this era writers are faced with a vexing challenge.  How do you write the book in your head when it isn't in there yet?  And when it finally arrives, how do you keep it from getting scooped?  By the time I finished the second book of my YA scifi trilogy, I was reading that the YA wave had passed, that post apocalypse was, and that trilogies had moved on down the road.  Someone needs to write an app that will assess the originality of your idea and how long you have until it becomes yesterdays news.  No, scratch that idea.  Odds are someone already wrote that app.  And even if it did exist, I would rather take my chances.  Because the truth is there is something old under every rock, waiting for someone to make it new again.  And if you turn over enough rocks you will find that glittering diamond of newness.  You just have to dust it off and give it your unique voice.  The only catch is this:  you need to do it yesterday.  


Jordan Dane said...

Ha! Sad but true. Indie pubbed books have changed the scenary, alot. Even traditional publishers have their digital divisions producing new material faster. And now I'm hearing that serialization is gaining legs. That's where a reader can subscribe to getting a novel, broken up into short cliff hanger segments, over their phone or other device for a discounted fee (like $1.99 total). That could change how books are potentially be written, to make them a good candidate for serialization. I smell another subright shift ahead.

Welcome to ADR3, Stephen. Interesting post.

Maureen McQuerry said...

How do you write the book in your head when it isn't there yet? Just that question has got me thinking...and how do you protect it? Will there come a time when all our ideas can be scooped because others have access to our thoughts? We will need mind vaults. I smell a SciFi book in this.Or did someone write that one yesterday?
Thanks for getting me thinking.