I’m going to argue that success as a writer is going to get harder…unless you are very good, in which case it’s going to get easier.
Quality is going to become increasingly important.
Quality, by my definition, is the extent to which a book delights its target market.
Delighting one person is better than pleasing ten people, because the delighted can’t help but share their enthusiasm, while the merely pleased move on to something else. With social media creating increasingly more powerful megaphones for the delighted, quality is becoming increasingly more important. Word of mouth was always essential to selling books, but its power is actually growing.
But quality is in the eye of observer, hence “delights its target market.” The book that thrills you may bore me. So it’s critical to understand your target market. This goes for fiction and non-fiction. There’s an old saying from my poker-playing days: “There’s a sucker at every table and if you don’t know who it is…it’s you.” If you don’t know your target market…you get the idea.
Again, social media and on-line niche marketing makes finding and marketing to the target market easier than ever.
Here are three more trends: dramatic growth in on-line sales, dramatic growth in ebooks, and a dramatic rise in the importance of social media relative to traditional media. This, sadly, makes the bookstore relatively less important. This also means, happily, that the frontlist becomes relatively less important (the concept of frontlist is driven largely by limited bookstore space and the preference of traditional media for new books).
So if frontlist is less important, what becomes more important? Quality. The BEST Abraham Lincoln biography will increasingly trump the NEW Abraham Lincoln bio. Every book is competing against every book (soon every page in every book will compete against every other one, courtesy of Google Book Search, but that’s another post). Every book being in play is good for readers and for (very good) writers.