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Baby boomer author Claude Nougat knows the next trend in publishing

6 December 2012

From Boomer Cafe:

A new genre is born, a pendant to Young Adult literature, with one difference: Baby Boomer novels address “coming of old age” issues just as Young Adult novels are concerned with just coming of age. The word “age,” or “aging,” used to scare marketers intent on targeting the young, but no more. With a huge and growing market of some 70 million boomers — technically, all those born between 1946 and 1964 — Hollywood was the first to notice the change in its audience. Recent Baby Boomer movies, such as RED, Hope Springs, or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, have all been smashing successes.

Yet most movies are based on books and perhaps, historically, the first book that led to a hugely successful movie, was Louis Begley’s About Schmidt in 2002. The movie was only loosely based on the novel, but Jack Nicholson’s star performance made it memorable. And it certainly opened the way to the new Baby Boomer genre.

Since then, many Baby Boomer novels have been produced without being categorized as such by publishing houses. Literary conferences still tend to focus on the classical genres (romance, thrillers, sci-fi etc.). If they happen to aim at an age group, then they talk about Young Adult literature. People in the industry appear not to fully realize that Young Adult has been around a long time and that its success is largely attributable to the boomers themselves. Some forty years ago, when the Young Adult craze started, boomers were just leaving their teens behind: it was the boomers, interested in their own transition to adulthood, who provided the natural market for Young Adult literature.

Link to the rest at Boomer Cafe

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43 Comments to “Baby boomer author Claude Nougat knows the next trend in publishing”

  1. Sorry. I don’t see this. Anything can change but Boomer Babes don’t give me any indication of wanting to read about how they’re falling apart, or bravely being happy living alone. They read romances and women’s fiction, yes, featuring younger women. Men read Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler. 15 years ago I thought there would be a market for this but (crickets).

    As for many baby boomer novels being published, last time I pitched one I can’t remember if the agent guffawed or gagged.

    • I agree.

      There are, Lord knows, some Baby Boomers out there who are so self-absorbed that they think the sole function of popular culture is to chronicle their every whim and eructation. In my experience, those particular people have never even come to terms with growing up, and have no wish to be reminded that they are growing old. All the other Boomers are, you know, just people.

      • By that definition, Tom, YA fiction is targeted to a self-absorbed audience. Instead of, you know, people who find things to identify with the protagonists.

        I mean, seriously? The ONLY function it can serve is to feed the egos self-absorbed people?

        • One of fiction’s primary functions, I believe, – what makes it appealing – is it helps people work out their own problems. They watch the protag grapple with and resolve challenges (or not) and learn from that.

          • Fiction isn’t to help people work out problems – it is to give them temporary escape from problems.

            I think that you have wandered into the wrong section of the library.

        • That’s a nice straw man you’re beating there, Mr. Wright. Let me know if you ever want to engage what I actually said.

          I am not objecting to the existence of novels about Baby Boomers growing old. I am objecting to the claim that this is ‘the next trend in publishing’ — the next trend, with the definite article — the major trend, the sole important trend, possibly the only trend. To come to such a conclusion does indeed require the assumption that whatever stage of life the Baby Boomers are going through at a given moment, the paramount purpose of popular culture is to record it.

          • There’s plenty of straw to go around, Mr. Simon. “The next phenomenon in publishing” does not mean “the most importantest thing in the whole wide world, ever plus infinity.” It does mean “hey, this could be a big market, there are a lot of potential readers in it.” You are adding hyperbole where it didn’t previously exist.

            I see a writer talking up a market she thinks can be big, and comparing it to a market that already is big. That’s pretty much all I see.

    • Well, Barbara, just a small point here.

      I think when an agent guffaws or gags, and announces the book they are holding is unsellable, that often means they have a bestseller in their hands. 😉

      In other words, the fact that you couldn’t find an agent who thought there was a market, doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. Sorry, that must have been frustrating!

    • It sounds like proposing a rousing Baby Boomer story receives a response of The Big Chill 🙂

    • I suspect that Barbara is dead on right. The bottom line is: Old people just aren’t very interesting (I know, I am 65).

      I recall a successful female novelist saying that she preferred to write male protagonists because, like it or not, men do more interesting things. True or not, I do know that old people do less interesting things.

      • Well, is your average young person very interesting? No. Novels are written only about fictional interesting people. Your average person’s life is pretty boring–so I’m not sure I get your point. Obviously, someone is not writing about someone who sits around an old folks’ home all day doing nothing, just like they don’t write about a teen who plays video games all day or a twenty-something CPA who can’t get a date.

      • Michael, surely you’d be interesting if you were stumbling across dead bodies whose killers you have to find, right? Like Marple and Poirot? Or if you were an old agent who had to overthrow a government, like Retief? You as yourself could be boring (no offense; it happens to the best of us). You doing something interesting would be something to talk about, regardless of how old you are. Bonus points if you can draw on experience, institutional knowledge, or insights that a younger person may not have

    • To all those who participated in this thread, I urge them to read my full answer below. And I’d like to add that I’m sorry Barbara, that your experience with your BB novel was so negative – no doubt you were ahead of your time! Deborah Moggach and Louis Begley both hit the jackpot, and Hollywood picked up their books!

  2. Yes. I think Claude has put his finger on something here. Very smart, Claude! Although, I don’t think the title of the genre should be: Baby Boomers, because that’s too specific to a generation.

    The reality is that all of the human race will be living longer and longer, and the challenges inherent in that, and the psychological developmental stages that may be pretty much unknown (since people have never lived so long) will all be great fodder for stories. And people will want stories they can identify with, that will help them learn how to age and stay older gracefully and happily.

    I think older folks will always read books about younger folks, but I think they will also want to start reading books that are relevant to them.

    • Nicely articulated, Mira. And I agree.

    • I totally agree with you. I’m not sure why people are acting like this is so outlandish. As David Hansard said below, good writing isn’t a cliche. There’s no reason a sixty-year-old protagonist can’t be doing something interesting. To scoff at the very idea says something very disturbing about our culture.

      • Thanks, Leslie and J.M. 🙂

        Leslie, I totally agree. This culture is so saturated with ageism; it’s a very powerful and (often hidden) type of targeting.

        To say that older people by their very nature aren’t interesting is a good example of that. Internalized ageism is a part of that too – I’m older, so I’m not interesting.

        Very sad, but hopefully that’s part of what these books will address. I think one of the reasons ageism is often unchallenged is the population wasn’t physically able to. With Boomers, and advances in medicine, people staying stronger and more able-bodied for a longer period of time, that may change.

        In fact, books about the impact of ageism are way overdue.

        I have to say, too, that ageism, of all the “isms” has always struck me as completely, for lack of a better word, dumb. Every young person who perpetuates a system of ageism will reap the benefits of that themselves, personally. It’s like people don’t believe they will also become old and targeted.

        • Thanks Mira for a thoughtful comment and let me emphasize that BB literature has nothing to do with ageism! Please read my full explanation below, but let me point out here the reason why this should be called BB literature: it has to do with the market, in other words, it’s a marketing tool. Indeed, all genres used in publishing are marketing tools. YA’s central theme – the transition into adulthood – has been around a long time, but it became a best-selling genre only when the wave of people born after World War II – the baby boomers – came along in the 1960s/70s.

  3. I hate the old fogey movies, everyone of them, and think “bucket list” is one of the most inane terms to surface in the last 20 years. That said, as a pre-1950, life-long dedicated boomer and current crime fiction writer, I think there is a substantial market for and interest in characters at the same stage in life as this substantial mound of readers. What I don’t believe is that main characters must necessarily be the crusty-but-lovable 50-70-year old brats continually sparring with each other, reliving their pasts, and drawing lines in the sand with children and grandchildren. They should be like any other strong focal characters, doing what they’re doing because it’s their life, not wallowing in backstory. Being sixty, or on Medicare, doesn’t mean you can’t be a serial killer or a Robin Hood or someone breaking heads in the cause of justice. Maybe you have to use a wrench to break heads, now, rather than your bare hands. Nothing wrong with a good set of tools. Hell, even Jack Reacher (the book version, at least) is pushing fifty.

    • Did you see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? It’s really funny and it features great actors like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith among others. Quite frankly, I don’t know which is best, Deborah Moggach’s book or the film…

      Indeed, BB literature can be hilarious – no need to cry over the spilt milk of past years! But the point I make is more economic than literary: there is a big market of senior citizens out there (some 75 millions in the US alone) and it’s something the publishing industry hasn’t yet recognized while Hollywood has already caught on. For a more detailed response, see my comment at the end of this thread.

  4. Rather than see this dynamic as the “next trend” I see another industry assumption fading away, just like the self-fulfilling “marketing truth” of “girls will read books about boys, but boys won’t read books about girls.”

    Ageism is no less heinous in its effects on culture than sexism. I’m not a retiree, yet I loved the film About Schmidt. I didn’t even know it was a book first. Roberta Hertzel (as brought to life by Kathy Bates) is one of my favorite characters ever. I didn’t love it because of the age of the main character, I loved it because it was a great story.

    And hey, it’s almost time to watch (or read) another of my all-time favorite stories about this crotchety ooooold man who gets visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. Over a hundred and fifty years after publication and there’s still no market for that one, lol.

    • Indeed, Jane, the whole point of BB literature as a “new genre” destined to become very big is really economic, not literary. As I’ve pointed out before, YA also deals with themes (the transition into adulthood) that have been around since Shakespeare’s days, but it became a big-selling genre in the 1960s/70s BECAUSE of baby boomers hitting that age-group and wanting to read novels of direct concern to them. Now that boomers are passing the 55+ mark – some 75 million of them in the US, and I’m not counting the millions elsewhere – history will repeat itself: they will want to read books of concern to them at this stage in life. For a more detailed explanation, see my full comment at the end of this thread.

  5. I’m glad my parents raised me outside of niches. As a child I read boy books (inherited from my older brothers as they moved on to new things), girl books (as recommended by favorite teachers and librarians) and an eclectic array bestowed upon me by my parents (both readers but with far different tastes). As an aging Baby Boomer myself, I find I still enjoy reading what I’ve always enjoyed reading and have not developed a sudden yen for reading about fellow relics.

    I suspect that, like most “next big trend” prophesies in writing, it will circle while some try to promote the idea until the next big book (of unexpected style/genre) emerges and then it will be off to the races for the “catch the next literary wave” crowd. The nice thing about writing historical fiction is that you can write about any age protagonist in any era and don’t have to keep your ear to the ground. But then most historical fiction writers know that it is one of the smaller genres that tends to hum quietly along without a lot of fanfare.

    • Thanks Beverly for the thoughtful comment. I believe BB lit is not about to fade simply because there are some 75 million boomers out there who want to read books that satisfy their interests. It’s a question of markets! For a more detailed reply, please see my comment below, at the end of the thread.

  6. cough *Old Man’s War* cough

  7. Must literature be divided up according to age demographic now? First we had YA, which made a certain amount of sense, next we had new adult, which made no sense at all, since 18 to 24-year-olds or whatever the age range is are adults, and now we have boomer lit, which again makes no sense, because in previous times books with older protagonists would simply have been adult books with older protagonists.

    • Thanks, Cora, for your comment. The age demographic enter into the question because, essentially, as I explain in the detailed response below (at the end of the comments thread) it’s a marketing question – not a literary one!

  8. I must thank Passive Guy for picking the article up and I’m amazed at the long thread of comments from writers who are…against the idea! Really? It makes one wonder whether those who commented took the time to go over to the Boomer Café and read the rest of the article. As a result, I’m compelled to clarify two things:

    1. BB literature is not about aging per se. Like YA literature, it is centered on TRANSITION from one life stage to another; in the case of YA, teenagers transit to adulthood; New Adult(or NA)is centered on young adults reaching maturity, something that does NOT happen in the age group going from 14 to 18 years, the traditional YA group(they’re too young for that, reaching full maturity is a long process); BB is focused on the last stage in life, perhaps the most interesting transition because as you leave your work behind, you find your system of daily references is challenged and, like a teenager, you find yourself once again asking some fundamental questions about your life. You know time is running out on you and this is your last chance to take a stand – true fodder for novels of all types, ranging from comedy to tragedy (just like YA – hence BB is a mirror image of YA, on the other side of maturity!)

    2. Why should BB lit become suddenly important now? That’s a simple economic observation: the size of the market is what does it! YA themes had been around since Shakespeare but they jelled into a big-selling genre in the 1960s and 1970s because of the wave of baby boomers in that age group! Demographics do matter in marketing! Boomers are interested in reading books that raise questions of direct concern to them as they transited into adulthood.

    In short, now that some 75 million boomers are hitting retirement and/or leaving behind their “working years”, books that deal with their concerns is what they want to read. The most recent and stunning example of this is the incredible success of Deborah Moggach’s THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL. It first came out as a hilarious book (about British retirees’s romping about in India) and next, this summer, as a hugely successful film – so successful that a sequel is presently in the works!

    Yes, the publishing industry has been slow to catch on and even slower to categorize this phenomenon as a new genre. Hollywood, as is often the case, is more sensitive to the kind of audiences they are facing and they have caught on sooner to the importance of senior citizens as viewers. The Baby Boomers are here, millions of them, just like in the heydays of the birth of YA lit, and they will give birth to BB lit, because that’s what they want to read…and see at the movies.

    Just watch it happen – indeed, it is already happening! A reading group has been formed Goodreads one month ago to discuss Baby Boomer novels and it is growing by leaps and bounds. Come and check for yourself: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/81261-baby-boomer-novels-a-new-genre

    Incidentally, in spite of my name, I’m a woman, not a man…

  9. I agree, Claude. This is something I have been trying to do for years. As a BB author myself, I originally classified my books as women’s fiction, yet they were always about BBers and what caused us to make some of the decisions we did. When I attempted to find a review site for my books, guess what? I couldn’t find one. Even though I pored over lists of review websites for days, they were only interested in vampires and werewolves and drudges. Or formula romance. Or erotica. Or YA. But never books about people (who make up a huge demographic of this country) of our age. I decided to do it myself.

    There will be many boomers who don’t care to read stories about their own generation. That’s fine. Everyone likes different things. But, as Claude says, it’s economic. It’s about what will sell. I think there are enough boomers out there who DO want to read stories about their own generation. What’s wrong with that?

  10. If I remember correctly, The Golden Girls was a huge success, and that was about the problems of aging.

    • The Golden Girls was released in 1985 – at that stage Baby Boomers were in their late twenties to late thirties. Hardly anything to do with an appreciation based on shared experience. Baby Boomers might find an occasional series, book or movie featuring people of a similar age to be interesting, but the will NOT focus on such characters unless the story, the plot or the acting is exceptional. Contrary to many suggestions here, Baby Boomers don’t want to be constantly reminded of their age. Why would they? Research from the BIG Six – as discussed at the Recent Frankfurt Book Fair (the ultimate industry book fair) indicates that Baby Boomers are focusing on books and movies set in a time frame that encompasses their youth. Noir fiction and movies for instance have become very popular.

      • My point was that age does not really matter. Young people can enjoy watching/reading about the ‘older’ generation. There are several British comedies that focus on old-age.

        My definition of a Baby Boomer novel would include stories set in the 50s, 60s and 70s i.e. the ones set in the time frame that encompasses their youth. This is why I included my humorous novel But Can You Drink The Water? http://amzn.to/a2V4Zy in the BB list.

  11. .
    YA is popular because the Boomer’s kids are more numerous than the Boomers plus the Boomers are reading YA recommended by their kids. BBs are racing for the anti-aging products/plastic surgery/etc and want youth, not being reminded where the sidewalk might end. Comedy probably has the highest probability of success for BB but comedy is hard to pull off successfully and consistently (like a twenty book series).
    Plus if you’re focused on eBook sales then the number of anti-technology BBs out there is another barrier to your success. The technology comfort level is not just being able to ‘single click’ download a book to a popular dumbed-down eye-Tablet, it’s being out there blogging, reviewing, and participating on goodreads and other social sites that push authors’ books. YA is successful because the readers do all of that – a high percentage of them in that big demographic.

    • Thanks for a thoughtful comment JS, and yes, there is a certain number of boomers that are “anti-technology” but I’m willing to wager, not as many as you think! For example, my mother who’s 99 years old (yes, that’s not a typo: she’s ninety-nine), well, she LOVES her Kindle! She reads one novel per week and – true enough – I’m the one who uploads it on her Kindle but that’s all I do. She was born an avid reader, and she still goes on reading as before, except she does it on an e-reader and loves the technology (it allows her to enlarge the letters and the Kindle is lighter to hold than most books!)

      So, yes, the “anti-technology” barrier is there, but I’m not sure it’s anything as important as you suggest. Only Amazon of course knows who buys their books…

      • You realize that the tech boom was BUILT by Boomers. Bill Gates, etc were all Boomers. The assumption that the are anti-technology is another common form of agism.

        I don’t much care about the age of the people I read about as long as they are interesting characters doing interesting things. Is transitioning to an old folks home interesting? Have you ever watched the British comedy Waiting for God? It can be. It’s all in how it’s done.

        But then, I don’t follow “trends” in either my writing or my reading.

      • I don’t think that there are many BBs who are actively anti technology, but there are many who have allowed technology to pass them by. I am constantly amazed at the number who cannot program a VCR – or nowadays a PVR. Many can’t use a microwave (other than pressing the preset buttons). My father is also in his nineties (I am a Baby Boomer but he was in his forties when I was born) and he uses computers, ham radio, Facebook, Twitter and is capable of repairing computers and most electronics at component level. I get several text messages per day from him, plus he updates his Facebook status when he wants family to know anything. He freaks his grand and great grandkids out. Most of his peers (who aren’t dead or senile) couldn’t work a cellphone. It isn’t age, it is attitude. If you are enthusiastic about technology it doesn’t matter how old you get, you won’t lose it. Until you lose it – if you know what I mean.

  12. well I guess then my contemporary novels are BBs. Who knew and is there anyone out there who care?

    • Yes, Jamie, there are at least 95 persons out there who care, and they do care in a very ACTIVE way! Last month, a group was set up on Goodreads to discuss Baby Boomer novels and in addition to the members, we have twice as many friends “looking on”, and so far some 20 books – all BB novels – have been put up on our group’s bookshelf. They’re all sorts of genres, from comedy to tragedy, but they’re all BB novels for sure – just like YA spans a wide variety of genres, so does BB!

      Come and join us, put your books up on our bookshelf, pitch your latest to us so we put it up on a poll list and vote for it: that way, through a poll vote (the current one closes on December 14) we pick every month a new BB novel to read and discuss, interacting with the author. It’s great exposure of course for the author and it’s a way to better define what constitutes boomer literature!

      The link: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/81261-baby-boomer-novels-a-new-genre

      Come, join us, you’ll be among friends. And if you want, you can go over to the Kindle Fora, there’s a special thread where you can list your BB novel, here:

  13. May I add that the number of people in our Goodreads Group discussing BB novels has now reached 117, in just 5 weeks, that’s pretty fast!

    And the news have been picked up around Internet by several blogs and websites, including The Kindle Nation Daily, Digital Book Today and the Boomer Café.

    Surprised? This is a huge market, some 75 million boomers in the US alone (I was told the exact figure is 78.2!) and a very rich one (controls 75% of GNP – and here I speak as an economist). Boomers don’t all want to read fiction for the young, contrary to what publishers are saying at the Frankfurt Fair. On the other hand, Hollywood has noticed and is busy churning out movies to satisfy older audiences, like the King’s Speech, Taken 2, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel etc…

    Just watch it happen: the publishing industry will wake up too any minute now!

    • The Publishing Industry will wake up? That is a rather naive statement. The Publishing Industry is controlled by Baby Boomers – hadn’t you considered that? As for “churning” out movies for older audiences, one or two percent is hardly churning. The theatres showing either of the two movies you mention were hardly playing exclusively yo Baby Boomer audiences, I attended both and the audience did not show and age bias – other than a lack of younger teens.

      You seem determined to see a trend that is not supported by fact or research. It isn’t going to happen, all research (this is an area where I have experience) indicates otherwise. Publishing, Cinema, Television, all do a LOT of research – they don’t guess and pray. Their research indicates a desire on the part of Baby Boomers for nostalgia – to re-visit their youth, not to embrace their age. This is also supported by almost all Baby Boomers in my social circles. (Amazing how many Baby Boomers purchased Shades of Grey.)

      • I’m not determined to “see” any trend I have invented, I’m an economist, I’m trained to look at facts. And the facts first surfaced in the movies which perhaps is not so surprising: a film reaches out to a much wider audience than a book does – a film multiplies the natural market of a book, going beyond those who read to include those who prefer the cinema. Indeed the 7th Art, with its visual advantage, has more aficionados than the printed word.

        After seeing how many people in the blogsphere have responded to the BB concept, I can only conclude that the marketers you mention are wrong. Perhaps they didn’t ask the right questions. Sure, we are all affected by nostalgia but we are also interested in how to deal with our own life in the here and now. As more people get older and retire, those questions become far more pressing than nostalgia, believe me! I assume your group hasn’t quite reached that stage but you just wait and see, it will happen!

        Incidentally I also write fiction and of the 4 books I have published so far, three are New Adult, only one is a BB novel. The fact that youngish people attended those two films you mention doesn’t surprise me one bit. Among the 120 members in our Goodreads Group discussing boomer literature(yes, 120 after only 6 weeks of life, the Group was started in November), there are many who are obviously fairly young – not boomers at all and a couple have actually written novels that deserve the BB label. Again, no surprise there. YA lit is also written by authors who are not Young Adults at all, and attracts readers who are not YA!

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