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Reasons Not to Look for the Next Big Thing

by flickr user thewhelming
YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

Today we come to the end of our month-long look at the Next Big Thing. We’ve looked at the Next Big Thing in horror, romance, historical fiction, manga, science fiction, and more. And now I’ve come to throw water on the whole project.

I give you five (possibly contradictory) reasons we shouldn’t be looking for the Next Big Thing:

1. There’s no such thing as the Next Big Thing

By which I mean, that’s simply not the way teens actually approach books. Sure, teens, like anyone, will be happy to jump on the bandwagon of a new popular book or series, but teens are in the wonderfully unique position of being constantly introduced to old books for the first time. For every new generation of teens, or for any one individual teen, something like A Clockwork Orange or Catch-22 can be the Next Big Thing as easily as Twilight or zombies.

2. It’s a fools errand

As we can see from the month of predictions on this site, everyone has predictions, but nobody knows until it happens. Sure, one or more of these predictions might come true, but that’s just statistics. No one really knows what’s coming next, or our jobs would be a lot simpler.

3. It’s a ploy for hipness

We librarianas really like to look like we’re in the know and to look like we know teen habits better than anyone. So we try to jump on the Next Big Thing before it becomes the Next Big Thing.  Unfortunately, when we’re wrong, it makes us look desperate and out of touch. Why take the chance when it’s coming so soon anyway? Which brings us to the next reason:

4. There’s no point of knowing the Next Big Thing before it happens

The Next Big Thing is coming. It’s going to happen. It’s going to surprise most of us … and then we’ll catch up, buy all the right movies and books, talk to teens about them, and savor all the beauty of being part of something new. No need to waste so much time and energy beforehand.

5. But really, there’s no such thing as the Next Big Thing

Finally, and completely paradoxically, if we somehow could say in advance what the Next Big Thing will be, teens would reject it. They don’t want to be told by a bunch of adults what they should be reading or watching. That’s why it’s so hard for Hollywood to predict what movies are going to be blockbusters. 

So there it is: five reasons we’ve just wasted a month of your life on predicting the Next Big Thing. (It was pretty fun, though — wasn’t it?)

— Mark Flowers, currently rereading Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

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  1. Ah, ‘There’s no such thing as the Next Big Thing’ – how very, very true. It’s like that old saying, “Everybody has 20/20 hindsight” – it’s easy to map the progression of a ‘big thing’ once it has been and gone, but predicting the next one? Impossible. And we wouldn’t want to either – part of the beauty of the ‘next big thing’ is that it sneaks up on you. You never saw it coming! Who would have thought that 10 years ago we’d all be crazy for Dytopia novels about doom and gloom, in which child characters battle one another in a Gladiator-like arenas for entertainment. We’d have been shocked and probably would have tried to squelch it before it was even able to hit the shelves.

    No, the very elusiveness of the next big thing is part of its charm.

  2. Michelle Michelle

    I agree we cannot predict the “next big thing”. It’s an impossible task to predict what any person will think is cool, let alone finicky teenagers.

    I disagree that a month was wasted on these blog posts. As someone that is relatively new to YA services, I found it very helpful to learn about the different trends in YA literature. It caused me to think about the various genres, topics, etc. that are in my YA collection. So for that, I thank you.

  3. Mark Flowers Mark Flowers

    Hi Michelle,

    I had hoped that it was clear that my tongue was ever-so-slightly in cheek. I don’t by any means think we wasted a month of posts (I contributed one!), nor did I mean to impugn any of my colleagues at The Hub, most of whom are much better informed and much better writers than I.

    • Michelle Michelle

      Oh, gosh, I totally got the joke! I had just wanted to say how much I loved hearing about the topics, trends, and genres, and wouldn’t view it as a waste. I just reread my post and my tone was totally lost. I should have reread it before sending. The perils of multi-tasking at the reference desk.

      I did enjoy your post! You nailed exactly why we shouldn’t worry about predicting the ‘next big thing’. It’s funny that we want to be in the know and be hip librarians, but what’s makes something hip?

      I appreciate your thoughtful response, Mark, and look foward to more blog posts by you!

      • Mark Flowers Mark Flowers

        Thanks Michelle. Ah . . . the perils of electronic communication.

  4. Allison Tran Allison Tran

    I love this post! Cracking up at the ‘ploy for hipness.’ It’s so true, there’s no surefire way to predict the Next Big Thing… but it definitely is fun to try.

  5. Emily Emily

    I love this post!

    It’s nice to be reminded that you don’t have to watch all the right TV shows and visit all the right websites so you know exactly what’s cool – you can talk to your teens and make sure your collection and programs reflect what is there big thing right now.

    This post reminded me of steampunk. It seems like some very vocal librarians love steampunk! Yes, some people like it. Some of those people are teens. If they are not your teens, then your job is not requiring you to stay abreast on all things steampunk.

    • Mark Flowers Mark Flowers

      And then your teens will probably get into Steampunk a few years down the road, and you’ll be kicking yourself for not learning more about it now ;)

  6. Audrey Shoemaker Audrey Shoemaker

    I love this! You’re right– predicting the Next Big Thing is nigh on impossible. And I guess what this leaves me thinking is whether or not we’d really want to, anyway. Pushing the “NBT” all the time might keep us from really interacting with teens who aren’t always into the NBT. I think the best thing we can do, and it’s something I try to do, it read broadly out of the collection. That way, when a teen comes along who’s NOT into the NBT, and who has different tastes than most of the teens I’m currently serving, I can still say, “Yes! I loved that book, too! Actually, here are some others that I thought were really good and kind of similar to it.” Making sure we know what the NBT is is great, because we want to know what’s coming our way and make sure our collection and services are relevant to teens who might visit us, but we have to make sure we don’t forget that not everyone is into the NBT, and keep in mind that using all of our budget to prepare for it might mean we’re ignoring those who are just as “unhip” as we are!

  7. Alissa Alissa

    By the time we realize what “the next big thing” is, it’s already passe.

    p.s. Sort of on topic, sort of not: A great book centering on trends and predicting trends is “Bellwether,” by Connie Willis. It’s old school, but still good.

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