Imagine you are a small Canadian publishing house that wants to move away from the ‘classics’ and dive into the world of online culture, but you have no idea where to start. You understand that ‘buy-in’ to some trends may help put your books on the map, but which trends are worth it?
Social media experiences such rapid growth that those not perpetually online are overwhelmed with the various types of information they are experiencing as soon as they open TikTok or Instagram (Zhang, Zhao, and Xu 2016). But social media is here to stay, and you can continue on continuing on, or you can embrace social media for the long term (which is excellent if you plan on attracting a new customer base).
If you choose to step into the online world, you need to learn the differences between a trend and a fad. For example, if you see a book getting a lot of attention, but it has no comparables, and many creators are only posting once about it and then moving on, do you want to create that comparison? Chances are, you don’t. Books getting that type of attention from online creators tend to be “here today and gone tomorrow” (Spiridakis 2020). However, when you find a book that influencers have created separate pages or stories on their social media pages for, that is something you want to keep on your radar. The book may not have many comparables, but it has carved out its own little space on the internet, impacting culture (Spiridakis 2020). These are the trends that you want to step into and are usually much more genre-based than content-based.
Most of these trends online tend to be in the YA and Genre sectors, so keep that in mind as you spend time scouring social media sites. But in 2020, the top-selling subject in the Canadian book market was young adult fiction at 41.2% (Ontario Creates 2021), so it is not a bad market to consider.
There are also lots of trends that are non-content related, such as eBooks, audiobooks, and the colours on your covers, but should you pay attention to these as well?
My first answer is: don’t fear innovation. A trend can have a vital impact on how culture will change, whether vampires or eBooks. But it would be best if you still learned to look out for fads. Fads can be used, but they need to be treated differently (Dilenschneider 2016).
What is a Fad?
A fad is a behaviour that is followed for a short period of time. (Dilenschneider 2016) Once the novelty or joke is over, the fad loses popularity. Fads are short-lived crazes that draw publicity and a crowd. (Spiridakis 2020). They are often forgotten about after a season as they are not built for a sustainable future.
Fads do exist in literature (TKACHEV 2018 , and it tends to be a book that an entire group picks up, talks about, then forgets about quickly. An example of this is Ice Planet Barbarians, an erotic sci-fi about women mating with large blue alien men. “They’re fun to talk about, but they also tend to be fleeting and fairly one-dimensional.” (Fitzpatrick 2014). It was fun to engage with this book and the online memes that followed as a creator, but for a publishing house, they are “not worth investing a large amount of money or time” (Schneider 2020).
It can be challenging to recognize a fad when it emerges, as they are much easier to realize in hindsight (Sternberg 2017). While there are no defining characteristics, there can be defining features about how these fads are shared.
That all being said, fads CAN affect your sales, but these fads should be saved for books already on your roster. For example, if you happen to have a comparable for a particular fad, that can be great! Or, if a new popular song suggests something that your book has, it might get on the bestseller list (Graf 2018). But it would be best if you did not go chasing fads; they will disappear quicker than you can publish your book.
What you SHOULD pay attention to are trends.
What is a Trend?
A trend has a lasting impact on society but still tends to come and go over time. (Spiridakis 2020). Trends do not have to be a constant, as there are ebbs and flows or multiple ‘peaks’ (Zhang, Zhao, and Xu 2016). Trends are built on values and cultural behaviours, not on a particular product, or in this case, a book.
So, while Ice Planet Barbarians was a strange fad, that doesn’t mean you should publish more books about giant aliens kidnapping women; maybe you should keep your eye out for female-fronted sci-fi.
Classically loved books and ideas can also become trends, and that’s when you should put more out. Right now, fairy-tale retellings are on-trend, and so are villain-centred narratives (Córdova 2017).
5 Ways to Tell the Difference Between a Fad and a Trend
and Why (and When) You Should Buy-In
Trends gain momentum, and fads fade. One of the most telling differences between a trend and a fad tends to be how fast something gains momentum. (Digital Marketing Institute 2019).
- Influencers and Fans
Influencers can be a good indicator of if something is a trend or a fad because they will take advantage of both – but in different ways! A trend can remerge thanks to influencers. It does take some time to grow, but if it grows steadily, it is usually passed as just a fad. (Digital Marketing Institute 2019). If an influencer posts about a book just once (at the same time everyone else is posting about it) and that post is inundated with jokes, that book can fall into the fad category.
Engagement for a book is much more solid if it has “fan pages” (Fernandes and Inverneiro 2020). Influencers won’t spend their time and energy on just a fad. They won’t put their brand around it because it will not help their brand in the long run.
A trend is a tool that becomes more influential as it gains engagers, but people online can be fickle – you don’t want to buy into something people won’t care about in a while.
Paying attention to these influencers is essential is due to the influentials hypothesis. “With the help of influentials, large-scale popularity might be achieved at an extremely low cost.” (Zhang, Zhao, and Xu 2016). Five groups are around a book, innovators, early adopters, early majorities, late majorities and laggards (Zhang, Zhao, and Xu 2016); if you can spot the trend early on, you should buy in! If everyone is already talking about a book, you can take advantage of the free marketing!
- Merch and Memes
Does the book that is gaining popularity seem crazy? Does it seem insane that anyone would like it? (Stanley 2016) Then it is probably a fad. Kissing the Coronavirus, published by Viral Erotica, gained popularity as memes surrounded the book, and it ended up making thousands of sales. Still, it was popular because it was funny to post about, not because everyone suddenly wants to read romances about deadly viruses.
This book didn’t gain merch because influencers won’t spend their time, money, and energy on ‘just a fad.’
Elle Kennedy, who writes sports romances, has recently had an emergence of Etsy sellers using her Briar U (a fake University in some of her series) on sweaters, shirts, and other items. If people are making (and buying) merch about a specific series or genre of books, it is certain they are also looking for comparables and now would be a good time to buy into this trend.
Replication is when you are moving but staying in place, and that is always a good place to be (Sternberg 2017). You can also be moving the field forward in the direction it is always going—what a good time to publish your diverse comparable.
Comparables that are also gaining attention after a book goes viral are always a good indication that you should take that step and publish your comparables!
- Product or Behaviour?
One book that gets popular generally isn’t a trend. “Products are trendy when they are a part of an overall behaviour” (Spiridakis 2020). You should consider whether a book is just one book or a part of an overall movement.
The Hunger Games was an instant classic, but it wasn’t the only book in the trend of dystopia (which is currently having a second wave).
Have you seen this book before? If it is a trend back again, join in! This is a remerging behaviour that is being reused and redefined, and you can create the next book that people will love because you are viewing this trend differently (Sternberg 2017). Remember, buying into trends isn’t about not using your creativity.
- Does it Fill a Gap?
“Trends have identifiable and explainable rises that are driven by audience needs. They help solve a problem for people” (Dilenschneider 2016). Trends tend to gain momentum when it is filling a gap. (Digital Marketing Institute 2019). Advancement is a great thing, and many new technologies fill gaps lost in publishing for a long time.
If it is a technology, it is worth it to buy in, if you can. Audiobooks and eBooks are essential. “In 2019, 81% of buyers bought a print book, a decrease of 3% from 2018. In contrast, 20% bought an eBook (up 11%), and 8% bought an audiobook (up 41%)” (Ontario Creates 2021).
With filling gaps, you should never forget diversity and accessibly should not be trends that you follow because it is a trend but should be something you do anyway. But if you can’t, you’re not alone. Technology that helps accessibility can be unattainable for some publishers that have financial limitations. Over half (59%) of Canadian publishers have said money is the main challenge to innovations (Ontario Creates 2021).
When Following a Trend – What is the Most Important Question?
To understand most trends, you need to ask yourself, would I read this even if no one else was? If the answer is yes, great, it probably isn’t a fad! But, as a publisher, you need to ask, would I publish this if it wasn’t a trend?
Now that you know what you should not waste your valuable time on as a small press (i.e. fads) consider where you can spare your time and money on a trend. Consider your audience with this question. Would your ideal reader want this book if it wasn’t popular (Spiridakis 2020)? Then think of the quality of work you can produce and whether it is worth the pay-off. Trends don’t have the same short-term appeal as fads do, but you shouldn’t publish something just because it is a trend. Your mandate and mission are much more important than the latest vampire romance.
“Remember that you don’t want to be a part of every movement. You want to be at the forefront of a single trend that’s in your specific niche. The more refined and defined your portfolio, the greater your chance of success with your audience.” (Spiridakis 2020).
Córdova, Zoraida. 2017. “21 ‘Trends’ YA Literature Needs to Embrace in the Coming Years.” Bustle. March 31, 2017. https://www.bustle.com/p/21-trends-ya-literature-needs-to-embrace-in-the-coming-years-33808.
Digital Marketing Institute. 2019. “How Can Marketers Differentiate a Valuable Trend from a Fad? | Online Digital Marketing Courses.” Digitalmarketinginstitute.com. March 19, 2019. https://digitalmarketinginstitute.com/blog/how-can-marketers-differentiate-a-valuable-trend-from-a-fad.
Dilenschneider, Collen. 2016. “Fads vs Trends: How Organizations Can Tell the Difference (and Why It Matters) – Colleen Dilenschneider.” Colleen Dilenschneider. April 27, 2016. https://www.colleendilen.com/2016/04/27/fads-vs-trends-how-organizations-can-tell-the-difference-and-why-it-matters/.
Fernandes, Teresa, and Inês Inverneiro. 2020. “From Fandom to Fad: Are Millennials Really Engaged with and Loyal to Their Loved Brands on Social Media?” Journal of Product & Brand Management 30 (2): 320–34. https://doi.org/10.1108/jpbm-02-2019-2262.
Fitzpatrick, Tara. 2014. “Trends vs. Fads: Can You Tell the Difference?” Food Management, October. https://hartbeat.hartman-group.com/article/561/Food-fads-How-they-differ-from-meaningful-shifts-in-food-culture?utm_campaign=Goingfirstname.lastname@example.org&utm_source=tailoredmail&utm_term=CHECK+OUT+EXAMPLES&tm_campaign=Going+beyond+food+fads+&tm_keyword=HFTXQ7AnlBelp928df0q.
Fr. Andrey TKACHEV. 2018. “Decadence and Fads in Literature.” OrientalReview.org. March 18, 2018. https://orientalreview.org/2018/03/18/decadence-and-fads-in-literature/.
Graf, Rebecca. 2018. “The Latest Fads Could Affect Your Book Sales.” The Writing Cooperative. November 8, 2018. https://writingcooperative.com/the-latest-fads-could-affect-your-book-sales-f9b28f50aabf.
Ontario Creates. 2021. “Industry Profile – Book.” Ontario Creates. October 2021. https://ontariocreates.ca/research/industry-profile/ip-book.
Schneider, Mark. 2020. “FAD, TREND or CLASSIC: WHAT’S the DIFFERENCE?” Mark Schneider Design. May 23, 2020. https://www.markschneiderdesign.com/blogs/jewelry-blog/fad-trend-or-classic-what-s-the-difference.
Spiridakis, Sophia. 2020. “Trends vs Fads: How to Sell the Hottest Products.” Www.sellerschoice.digital. February 21, 2020. https://www.sellerschoice.digital/blog/trends-vs-fads-how-to-sell-the-hottest-products.
Stanley, Andrea. 2016. “What’s the Deal with Celeb Health Trends?” Seventeen, 03, 80. http://proxy.lib.sfu.ca/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/magazines/whats-deal-with-celeb-health-trends/docview/1777353327/se-2?accountid=13800.
Sternberg, Robert J. 2017. “We Can Do Better Than Fads.” In Psychological Science Under Scrutiny, 340–48. Hoboken, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119095910.ch17.
Zhang, Leihan, Jichang Zhao, and Ke Xu. 2016. “Who Creates Trends in Online Social Media: The Crowd or Opinion Leaders?” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 21 (1): 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcc4.12145.