21st Century Inspiration from Donald Maass

As promised here are some highlights of Donald Maass' keynote speech from the 2012 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. This is what agent Weronika Janczuk tweeted after his talk:
Maass gave three predicitons for 21st century fiction:

1. Selling books will be harder, but once you have an audience, selling will be easier. Online sales are harder because you can't see the physical product.

Maass believes there are only two main factors in pre-purchase awareness: in-store displays and word of mouth. You're probably saying, "But what about the internet? Social media?" Maass shared the statistics, and part of the least helpful kinds of marketing included social networks, print newspaper ads, publisher emails, book blogs, reviews, and even bestseller lists.

He said if you walk into a bookstore, just strolling one aisle will expose you to far more books than a chunk of time browsing on Amazon.

2. The whole concept of genre is dying. Ignore genre boundaries. Make your own sub-genre. Don't put yourself in a box. He gave examples of novels that do this already and do it successfully. It makes me realize it's up to writers to find the stories that straddle genres and entice readers.

3. There will be novels that change the world. Maass spoke of his recently adopted son, who is just starting to read. He wondered which books (yet to be written) will affect his son's life. Who will write these books for him?

Maass ended with a fantastic line:
Selling books may be harder, but selling great books has always been easy.

What do you think of Maass' predictions?


  1. Interesting! Thanks for sharing this.

  2. I remain grateful you took notes. :) I hadn't really thought about the exposure difference in person and online, because I think I browse online longer than some.

  3. How is it possible that social media or the internet has no effect in this era? There are fewer and fewer bookstores. Have you read "How I sold 1 million e-books in 5 months" by John Locke?

  4. Thanks for the notes, Debbie. I'm so sorry to have missed the conference and Donald Maass! Hard to accept that social media doesn't have much bearing on sales, but I've heard that from a few others. I guess word of mouth is still the BEST advertisement. :)

  5. Social media IS word of mouth. It's nonsense to dismiss it. As pointed out John Locke is a good example. So is Joe Konrath, Amanda Hocking et al.

    But, I agree with the Maas take on genre; and about time too.

  6. I'm particularly interested in the concept of genre blending. He wasn't the only one talking blending and mash-ups at the conference. Seems like it's the next big thing. And yet, we're still hearing from some quarters that we must define ourselves (brand) and our genre. As someone who's stuck in between, I'm excited about the possibility of not wasting time trying to fit somewhere and spending my energy on writing a good book.

  7. John Locke et al are extreme exceptions and it is very telling indeed that Hocking has decided to go traditional despite her success in the self-publishing field.

    Word of mouth - book recommendations between friends, or the recommendation of the really geeky sales clerk at a book store has done more to convince me to buy books than any amount of social networking bombardment.

    I very much like the idea of genres dying. It gives the writer enormous freedom. I'm no longer concerned about not being able to sell a book because the genre is... indefinable!

  8. I knew Maass' comment on word of mouth over social media would cause some raised eyebrows. Thank you everybody for chiming in! I couldn't write fast enough to record all his statistics, but I'd feel pretty sure he's confident in his sources to make a public statement that would be broadcast over the web.

    What he didn't say was 'don't do social media'. Maass makes use of it himself. As writers we should take advantage of every opportunity to connect with readers, social media included, but we should also be realistic that these efforts don't always translate into bigger sales.

    I think for me, the lesson (inspired by his quote at the end) is to evaluate how I spend my time. If I'm spending far more time on social media than improving and practicing my craft, I won't have a book that's easy to sell.


  9. Wow, I'm inspired. I recommend Maass's books to clients and students all the time, and I was lucky enough to take a workshop from him years ago.

  10. He's such a great teacher. My daughter loved hearing him for the first time.




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