The Rise of Individuality—What This Means for Publishing & Authors

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Larry Lamsa

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Larry Lamsa

We’re now into the Digital Age, and the ramifications of a connected world are still being revealed daily. But, there’s one trend I’d be hard-pressed to argue with. The 20th Century was all about homogeneity. Madison Avenue flourished by telling us which clothing brands made us cool, which car made us special, what foods were “healthy.”

Information was controlled by gatekeepers and commodities restricted by retailers, thus homogeneity was the goal. Homogeneity was simpler and required less paperwork and thinking.

Generations bought Wonderbread because it was “fortified with vitamins” and “good for your kids.” In 1986? Hope you liked stirrup pants. There was a cultural need to “fit in” and be like everyone else, especially those who were the “cool kids.”

“Pillars of Same” Go Crashing Down

With the advent of the Internet and widespread use of social media, homogeneity is crumbling. Individualism is now revered more than ever in human history. And, no matter how weird, off-beat, or All-American we want to be? There is a subculture to embrace our style. Mega-trends have lost their power.

Today, changing lifestyles, the Internet, the balkanization of communication, and the global economy are coming together to create a new sense of individualism that is powerfully transforming our society. ~Microtrends, Penn/Zalesne

What this means is that, as consumers are faced with more and more choices, they’re segregating themselves into smaller and smaller subgroups. Love tattoos? Duck Dynasty? Duck Dynasty tattoos?

Can’t get enough of Jackson Galaxy and cat whispering? Are you Stay-at-Home-Mom who kicks butt on a Roller Derby Team each Saturday? It’s all out there, and most of us are a unique mixture that can’t easily be categorized.

For instance, yesterday I began my day with green juice and 50 minutes of yoga. I ended the day watching my husband reload ammunition while we watched Duck Dynasty and I prepped the grill. We also debated briefly over which superhero we were.

Actual Conversation in Our House:

Me: I’m so happy I had a boy.
Hubby: Why?
Me: Because the world needs more good guys. In fact, you’d be a really dull superhero. You’re Superman. All paladin. No baggage.
Hubby: I am SO not Superman. I call Green Lantern.
Me: Green Lantern didn’t have baggage either. Not like Batman. You don’t have enough drama to be Batman.
Hubby: As long as I’m not Aquaman.
Me: I’m Poison Ivy. Or Harley. You good guys are suckers for chicks with drama.

And what all of this means is that 20 years ago, we knew which table to sit at–Jocks, Preps, Nerds, Geeks, Good Kids, Band Kids, Kid Who Smells Like Old Carpet. The lines were clearer, namely because we had only a handful of networks and limited retail outlets to define our identity.

Now? We have the reins of individual freedom and we like it.

What Does This Mean for Publishing?

Big publishing has a number of limitations. First, their size. Second, massive overhead. Third? 20th Century thinking. They have to find the mega-trend to stay in business, but what does this mean in a marketplace that is rapidly shifting to micro-trends?

NY is less able to spot the micro-trends, because in a world of algorithms, numbers and spreadsheets, one relies on the past to predict the future. Business is always looking backward in order to move forward. It’s like trying to drive our car using the rearview mirror as the main guide. Says a lot about where we’ve been, but gives limited information as to what’s ahead.

Indies Have Revealed the Micro-Trend

We’ve talked about the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, yet I will point out that I’ve met agents who turned down the manuscript. It was through E.L. James’ massive volume of independent sales that the micro-trend surfaced and then NY could turn this success into a mega-trend. A genre which received little to no attention has grown exponentially.

This was one of the reasons I recommended NY create e-book divisions as early as 2009 (REAL e-book divisions, not vanity-press retreads). Find a good book, give it a chance and see if the trend emerged. If not? The product cost less to produce and the writer could earn a higher royalty.

Even if the book didn’t sell bazillions of copies, writers didn’t have to sell that many books to make a healthy living and be freed up to write more books. Now instead of NY banking the farm on finding the ONE mega-trend, they could reap the rewards of countless micro-trends.

Which is exactly what Amazon has been doing.

Amazon doesn’t need one author to sell two million copies (not that they are opposed to it), but they can easily have 20 or even a 100 authors sell two million copies. The money spends the same.

This is Why Social Media is Vital for Authors

Social media is vital for keeping our fingers on the pulse of the public (code for “readers”). We can use blogging to define our brand then use content to attract those who share our “subculture” tastes (which I teach how to do in my new book).

It’s the main reason it’s death to be the All-Writing-All-The-Time-Channel. That’s a one-dimensional subculture that is overfished and quickly grows stagnant.

Also, any writer worth his/her salt is interested in a lot of things. The more we feed our subculture, the healthier it becomes, and the more loyal. We are all seeking our peeps, our tribe, our “friends” in a world that has become explosively larger.

Small is the New Big (Thank, you, Seth Godin)

Modern humans are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of choices, and, as a response, we stick to what we know. Sure, in 1999 we LOVED the megastore because it was new and shiny. Almost fifteen years later? We’re tired of needing to hail a taxi at the Mega Wal-Mart because we forgot the ketchup on aisle 3 and are now in the school supplies on aisle 93.

We’ll pay a bit more to shop at the corner market who appreciates our love for Organic Raw Kombucha, GF hot dog buns, and foie gras. We can buy Wonderbread at a supermarket or go to the small boutique grocer that sells sprouted grains for those of us in the crowd of Wonder-Why-We-EVER-Ate-Wonderbread.

Everyone wins.

But to spot and nourish the micro-trend, we must be present. Micro-trends can earn us a healthy living. A single writer doesn’t need to sell as many books to keep the lights on as NYC does. Also micro-trends have the potential to grow up to be mega-trends. Spreadsheets can’t tell us as much as people can. And, trust me, people have a lot to say. Numbers can’t tell us as much about the future as relationships can.

What are your thoughts? Do you love a world where you can define your own style? Create your own genres? Mix in your varied interests? Have you met people on social media with similar hobbies that you’d never have met in person?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).


Since it was such a HUGE success and attendees loved it, I am rerunning the Your First Five Pages class SATURDAY EDITION. Use the WANA15 code for 15% off. Yes, editors REALLY can tell everything they need to know about your book in five pages or less. Here’s a peek into what we see and how to fix it. Not only will this information repair your first pages, it can help you understand deeper flaws in the rest of your manuscript.

My new social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU. If you REGISTER NOW, you get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE (and all recordings) for $119 (regularly $149). Sign up today, because this special won’t last and seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.


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  1. I love that the market is changing because most of my stories don’t fit the perfect package of one genre. I really love that authors have so many options and control over their careers they didnt have before. Awesome time to be a author!

    I’ve met so many interesting people on social media some with interests similar to mine and others that made me want to take up their interests.

  2. Reblogged this on A Ripple In Culture and commented:
    Kristen Lamb’s post talks about how the desire for individuality in our culture affects publishing and authors. Even if you are not looking to be an author it is interesting to think about how our social media culture can shape us.

  3. A senior editor at a NYC publishing house once told me to eliminate the minimal amount of romance in my book because as he put it, “there is no shelf in the bookstore for a humorous romantic mystery.” My response was that there should be. I’m thrilled to be in charge of my destiny! Thanks for another great post, Kristen.

    1. Bah! What does he know? Sounds like something I would LOVE to read!

  4. Kristen, I love how you weave in the research and expert commentary on these trends – I always learn something! Thanks for an interesting post, and a lot to consider. 😀

  5. Very encouraging! I’ve been reading Copyblogger, about marketing as an indie, and that’s encouraging, too. I love how blogging and talking about Cumberbatch being in the new Star Wars are all networking.

  6. The modernity of your comments is inspiring for a writer like myself. I have struggled with how to advertise my work, and just recently started utilizing social media sites. I also loved your point that writers should try different genres and sub-genres to expand their “sub-culture”. Thank you for this great post, Kristen.

  7. Reblogged this on The Written Odyssey and commented:
    An excellent post concerning the evolution of writing, publishing, and our ability show the complexity of ourselves through the ever interweaving of genres available today.

  8. I am personally very happy with this “new world” for authors and publishers. I’ve had a dream of being published for the past few decades. Now that I see what is being published lately (books and blogs) it gives me the confidence boost I needed. Now I’m writing every day, and I feel much closer to my dream.
    I also have to say that I have met ppl through social media with my interests that I would not otherwise have met. And I’ve grown because of it. The sharing of ideas and opinions allows me to grow as a writer, and as a person.
    I love your posts, Kristen. I may not stop to comment on all of them, but I do read them religiously. Very interesting and very inspirational and very educational 🙂

    1. THANK YOU! I really appreciate that. *HUGS*

  9. Kristen, I do love the fact that the world can define their own style and be proud of what they can accomplish on their own. I have lived my life being judged on all that I haven’t accomplished rather than on what I have. Now, I have the freedom via social media to prove (not only the world but myself) that with this new outlook prosperity and abundance is mine for the taking. There is a world in and outside of my computer aka my rooftop that I can shout from and my voice will be heard by everyone who is interested. I am a writer with a purpose and believe that my stories need to be told and that there is an audience who will appreciate them. Years ago I had only one option, like everyone else, and that was to pray that a traditional publisher would find my books to be a lucrative undertaking. Now, I have the ability to publish them myself and get my message out there while raising awareness and giving donations to the people who deserve to be noticed for all their hard work and good deeds. We are lucky to be part of this phenomenon and take advantage of this time.

  10. I’ve told my kids for years, “If we all liked the same things, the world would be a very boring place.” There’s always room for people who like different things. And everyone should be able to find things they like, no matter what they are.

  11. I love the idea of books micro-trending. This allows the writer to break the mold of the NYC publishers and write what they want.

  12. Spot on again. I couldn’t help but have a “Breakfast Club” flashback. I hope the publishing houses are paying attention! This is an exciting time to be a writer.

  13. I love microtrends, Kristen, I’m happy to live in the world where being weird me, a scientist who writes chick lit and dresses up like an extraterrestrial alien, is socially acceptable 🙂

    1. Any guy who does what you do is my kind of guy.

      1. cheers, Tammy. Always nice to know that a fellow writer understands 🙂

        1. And if we can’t understand, we’ll end up in your books. ;-D

  14. From technology to art to society, so much of progress is just peeling away the burdens, the bundling, and the blinders to let us focus on what we really want. The customers are always right, and now that they have more choices, things have to change.

    (But, did you really call your husband Superman and too boring to be Batman? And he puts up with it… oh, you’re Ivy or Harley, of course he does.)

  15. I have just released my second novel, a sequel to my first, and I am pleased to find that I have an extremely small, but very enthusiastic following. My books are pretty far outside the mainstream, and I doubt seriously that any traditional publisher would have chosen to publish them.

    As a self-publisher, though, I don’t have to worry about trying to cover a high overhead and can just concentrate on pleasing my particular fan base, small as it is.

  16. True story from 2 weeks ago – at a group critique several people thought I should change part of a plot because they hadn’t heard of it ever being done before. I got suggestions to “look in the rearview mirror” and change it to some similar, but in a totally different way successes of past works…. I say, “More micro-trends and more choices, please!”

  17. I am new to WANA, despite the urgings of an author I’ll refer to as “Li’l Sis.” It seems indie authors, myself included, have a tendency to also look backwards when we’re trying to look ahead. (Just look at my Twitter feed. On second thought…)

    • lccooper on September 3, 2013 at 9:36 pm
    • Reply

    I agree. I write a variety of books to suit my taste, hoping possibly one day one will be part of a micro trend. In the meantime I’m enjoying writing whatever I want across genres including mash ups, and it’s fun.

    Sent from my iPhone

  18. It’s great to know the world is becoming less homologous & individuality is now being seen as asset. I can remember when being weird was so weird, now it’s cool. Anyway, thanks for the information. I can tell you, as someone who is trying to self publish her first novel, the amount of information on what needs to be done (branding, marketing, getting reviews, price point, connecting with readers, blogging, etc.) can be overwhelming and downright discouraging. But, it is an incredible time we live in and one with real opportunities for some. Thanks again!

  19. All this individualism sounds a little bit chaotic. My head is spinning. There’s room for unlimited micro-trends in the “long tail.” But anything micro is so small it’s virtually invisible. Who’s going to see (let alone buy) any micro-trend that’s ranked below the top 100 or 1,000 in its category on Amazon?

    I’m reminded that people in the most successful democracies (US and UK) have traditionally organized themselves into two political parties (whether we like it or not). Anything more than three competing political parties gets confusing quickly. The long tail of micro-trends has a way of periodically creating a mega-trend, like Fifty Shades of Gray or Hunger Games. Two or three mega-trends can nearly clear everything else off the bestseller lists. This post is a really good survey of contemporary individualism, but I’ll admit I’m confused.

    1. I have 2 voting-age kids. One is the opposite party of her parents and the other is an Independent (no pun intended). Each, I think, is more interested in making a statement, than the actual politics. Perfect example of individualism.

    • Johney Brown on September 4, 2013 at 1:30 am
    • Reply

    Really enjoyed this! Brilliantly written 🙂 I totally agree and am so excited to be in this new age of individual writers and publishers. Freedom at last 😉

  20. Reblogged this on Saundra Fox: Author, blogger and more and commented:
    Kristen Lamb shares some amazing insights on her blog, and I recommend that anyone hoping to publish their work either independently or through publishing houses go and read what she has to say. Also, check out her book, Rise of the Machines, available on Amazon here:

    I am currently reading that as well, and can not recommend it enough.

  21. Wonderful insights. Did see a lot many genres coming up, Metro reads etc in here. Never thought of them as micro trends. Though I am still not sure how much can a writer actually earn using Amazon. Its good for people with the energy to blog,create a brand , market and publish. Successful ones will have huge followings already and they can tap into it..But then I am sure many publishing houses will entertain them..Regular blogger though can get published but does he get a chance to earn. I am not sure but I am yet figuring out few things here and there..Are there any insights there as well??

  22. So true that society is moving from homogenisation to micro-trends. I look at my co-workers and every one of us dresses differently. But I imagine if we were back in the 70s we’d all be wearing bell bottoms and paisley shirts!

    I recently signed with Harper Impulse, a new imprint of Harper Collins which is doing exactly what you suggested. It’s a digital first imprint which is experimenting with micro-trending women’s fiction books … sagas, Chick lit (who said Chick Lit was dead?), RomComs and my own little niche: fairy tale romance.

    1. I’ve been doing the query route for a long time and have only received on request for more. I want to try self publishing but there are so many places I could do it that it’s just a daunting as finding an agent. Do you have any suggestions on how to pick a place to self publish? Are the sites all the same?

      1. That’s was meant to go on the main blog! Sorry! Commenting by phone is super complicated…

    • Cal on September 4, 2013 at 10:26 am
    • Reply

    All along I was one of those weird kids who was happy being an individual. BBS setups way back when were a start, but the explosion of Social Media has really helped people with individualized interests find each other.

    All the reviews I’ve found of your “Blogging for Brand” workshops are highly praising. Will you be running another one?

  23. I like the analogy of driving forward by watching the rearview mirror. 🙂 There’s so much to consider here. Thanks.

    Jan at Website
    Beyond Acadia
    Faith Talk
    Swamp Lily Review

  24. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you make an excellent point! As someone who never quite fit in with the trends, the rise of individualism is thrilling. As a writer, it is exciting to now I have a real chance to find my audience. Thanks!

  25. Interesting post.

    But it’s still difficult to pigeonhole many books using the current classification system. Some authors suggest that their peers know in advance the specific genre of their book before they begin to write; however, that squeezes a novel into a tiny box that doesn’t allow a writer full freedom of expression.

    My point? Amazon and counterparts need to expand codes to include emerging microtrends.

  26. I actually just found my “niche” so I’ll be looking forward to exploring it 🙂

  27. Death to the gatekeepers. Authors of the world unite ! All power to the authors.

  28. You’re right about the micro-trends and that people tend to stick to what they know. I know I only have a limited amount of time. While I love hearing about new things, I have to fit it into a limited window. You’re blog is one of the ways I get access to new trends. Thanks!

  29. What is it mean for the short story writer. Is there more interest in short stories or less. This article is encouraging. Really like the comment about not fitting into a certain genre. Sometimes stories could fit into many genres. Gives us all hope.

  1. […] No matter what branch of publishing you are pursuing, Kristen Lamb talks individuality, micro-trends, and what those mean to the modern author. […]

  2. […] Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Larry Lamsa We’re now into the Digital Age, and the ramifications of a connected world are still being revealed daily. But, there’s one trend I’d be hard-pressed to argue with.  […]

  3. […] change in blogging mostly comes from a post by Kristen Lamb about feeding our subcultures in order to reach more people. She talks about how […]

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