So, a common topic in many of the writing communities I used to frequent was “the next big thing”. Generally, what genre of book was going to be the next Twilight vampire romance or Hunger Games dystopia. I had a lot of fun with those discussions, but only recently have I really stopped to consider how damaging the “next big thing” mindset is. Not only to literature, but to any field and to our characters as people.
First, it’s damaging to the quality and diversity of books coming out. If everyone is chasing the next “popular” genre, they aren’t writing, reading, or accepting for publication many good books who just happen to not be the next big thing or who are part of the last big thing. Even though 90% of the books in the genre of the last big thing were crap, and 7% of the rest were mediocre.
Which ties into my next issue: This attitude creates a hunger for similar books, despite quality or whether the reader would like to try something else because it creates a comfort zone for the reader. They know they like dystopia because they liked Hunger Games, so they’re more willing to take a chance on another dystopia than a high fantasy or Mundane SF. (Mundane SF itself having once been the next big thing, thus the proper noun moniker.)
But this is a false comfort zone for many reasons. The reader may not actually like dystopia, but just that one book. They may like dystopia but ignore other things they would also really enjoy to keep from having to stray outside their comfort zone. They may gorge on so many dystopias that they learn to see the flaws in the genre finally, and therefore ignore a wonderful dystopia down the line, because they’ve moved onto their next big thing.
Or, if they’re jumping on the bandwagon, they may perceive all of YA, say, as mediocre dystopias or obsessed with love triangles. Perhaps they think all epic fantasy is ASOIAF, which they disliked, and so they don’t take the chance on other works. For example, maybe they watched the TV show, and aren’t fans of gratuitous sexposition, and so they don’t read the books or similar books because they don’t want to get buried in another avalanche of incest and prostitutes.
Many authors have stories of agents or publishers telling them they have a great book, but they missed the window, or it doesn’t fit with whatever the next big thing is, and so they can’t sell it. Or they already have ten of these, and even though 8 of them are sub-par, they can’t cancel the contract and pick up this new book.
Or perhaps they like the book, but everyone acquiring fantasy stories right now wants ASOIAF, not comedic contemporary fantasies, or low-key urban fantasies in the original mode without kick-ass leather-wearing, tattoo-bearing heroines with troubled backstories and seriously poor taste in lovers.
And the same can be said for things besides commercial fiction. Google+ was going to be the next big thing in social media. Then it was Ello. Tinder was the next big thing in online dating, and it spawned dozens of clones. Social media itself is something of a successful next big thing in human interaction and the Internet. Object-Oriented programming was the next big thing in software design, and yet now the backlash has been going on for years.
Sometimes a next big thing is a great thing. But the mentality of always hunting for the next big thing is not. And despite the pressure from our capitalist economy, it might be better in the long term to look for alternatives. And it is capitalism that is a major driver of this obsession, because history shows even mediocre products can ride the wave of a predecessor to make big money. Following a successful formula is a bit of a dream situation for many producers of entertainment or products. That’s why Walmart and most other chains have their own brand version of most popular products, from medicine to housewares to groceries. The next big thing trend might make some people a decent amount of money in the short-term, but it has long-term effects that have created a sort of creativity pit that we’ll have a hard time climbing out of any time in the near future. And in the short term, the people who don’t manage to catch the wave, as wonderful as their contributions to literature or software or society may be, are left choking on the dust.