06-18 Sarah Raplee – WHY PSYCHIC AGENTS?

Saturday, September 12, 2015


Claude Forthomme is an economist and social scientist (Columbia U. graduate) and a United Nations expert (25 years, an aid evaluation analyst, she ended her career as Director for Europe and Central Asia). She is also a writer, a poet and a painter (14 shows in France and Italy), and is co-Editor at Impakter, an online magazine aimed at Millennials. She is a regular contributor to Publishing Perspectives and other publications. Pen name: Claude Bonanno (for her books in Italian) and Claude Nougat for her books in English (so far, 6 titles published, including Boomer Lit romance Crimson Clouds).

In December 2012, I wrote an article about novels for Baby Boomers, predicting that 2013 would be the year of boomer novels as the “next Big Genre” – the term Boomer Lit wasn’t universally adopted then, more about that in a minute.

The article, published on Boomer CafĂ© with the enticing title “Baby boomer author Claude Nougat knows the next trend in publishing” (see here), quickly went viral. It was picked up by major, highly trafficked websites like The Passive Voice , Gawker Media, The Kindle Nation Daily, Digital Book Today and many others (for more details, see here). Within weeks, hundreds of comments poured in. 

Not everyone was happy with my prediction. Some people, particularly on The Passive Voice, were unhappy at the idea of having to deal with yet another genre and leery of what they saw as books focused on old age.

For them, the stigma attached to aging was hard to shake off.

Fortunately, for most commenters, it wasn’t. They felt positive and welcomed the new genre with glee, defining themselves as “mutinous boomers”, punchy and dynamic, displaying the rebellious spirit of their teen years. Indeed, one of my fellow boomer authors, Marsha Roberts, latched onto the boomer spirit and perfectly reflected it in her best-selling Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer, defined by Kirkus in its review as “an optimistic look at the magic of life”.

Suddenly, retirees had become fun, even sexy, their view on life full of a new, fresh wisdom. Boomers were going to change the way people grapple with aging in our society just as they had changed society’s approach to youth forty years before, and Boomer lit was going to be the vehicle of choice to express this.

I felt I needed to ride this sudden wave of interest.

So I proceeded to promote the group I had set up on Goodreads two months earlier (in October 2012) to discuss baby boomer novels. Here is the home page - with a picture of my husband reading his Kindle in the upper left corner (I photo-shopped it and turned him blue which made his dark hair all white, that was my goal – we’re the “silver-hair generation” right?):

By springtime 2013, the group had some 240 members and 70 boomer book titles on its bookshelf.
I was amazed.

So I felt I shouldn’t stop in the Boomer Lit tracks. With the help of best-selling crime author Libby Hellmann (she did this marvellous photo collage) I set up a Facebook page (do visit it):

While I was at it, I also proceeded to set up a Twitter account using the same photo collage:

That account immediately zoomed, helped along by the hashtag #boomerlit, and it now has over 800 followers…Even though I hardly do anything with it (I’ve got already too much to handle with my regular account at @claudenougat).

In parallel, as a way to explore boomer lit, the Goodreads Boomer Lit Group, I suggested that the Group should read and discuss one boomer book a month, democratically selected through a poll that I set up every month (a lot of work!).

The first book to be read was mine, and I was happy it was selected, after all, it won that first month’s poll ( it was a romance titled “A Hook in the Sky” – now re-edited and republished under the title Crimson Clouds). And the last book the Group read was Anne R. Allen’s excellent No Place like Home, a Camilla Randall mystery, I highly recommend it.

As a result, the group was able to quickly do some important work clarifying what exactly Boomer literature is and is not.

Among the major early findings, some of them surprising: Boomer lit is not about nostalgia and evoking the past; any “coming of age” story set in the 1960s or 1970s properly belongs to YA lit – unless it is written from the standpoint of  “age”, looking at it through the lens of experience, as one does in a memoir. Also, having some characters of boomer age in a novel is not enough to qualify the book as boomer lit: it needs to address the transition issues that are central to Boomer lit. 

And of course, my original definition of “boomer novels” was promptly thrashed and the new term “Boomer Lit” adopted by unanimous consent, a broad term meant to cover all genres, from romance to thrillers and all kinds of writing, fiction, non-fiction and poetry (and that forced me to re-write the Group page accordingly).

One member of the Goodreads Group even wrote a “stub” on Boomer Lit for Wikipedia, and since I’m a Wikipedia contributor, I edited it (fine-tuning the definition and broadening it to include more authors, particularly the important ones) and turned it into a regular entry. You can see it here.
Today, three years later, the Boomer Lit Goodreads Group has 589 members and 135 boomer books on its shelves.

A big success?


First, the Group stopped reading books every month – it stopped in the summer of 2014. Next, of the three moderators that helped me in my work (yes, running a group is very demanding and I was most grateful for their help), two of them left.

What had happened, why this debacle in the face of rising numbers?

My co-moderators (best-selling authors in their own right) were deeply disappointed with the way the group had turned out, and I can’t blame them.

I was disappointed too. Most new members were self-published authors new to the marketing game and it was obvious from the way they behaved that they viewed the group simply as a neat way to promote their own work – not as a way to explore Boomer Lit which had been my original intention.
Result? Our group had lots and lots of self-published authors and very few readers. A real shame.
I was convinced that if we could have drawn in Goodreads readers and if we had tried to make a good case for Boomer Lit as a serious genre with a potentially huge market, we could eventually have drawn the attention of a Big Publisher.

That would have really launched Boomer Lit as a mainstream genre, not just a niche for geezers. After all, there are some 78 million baby boomers in the US alone, to which must be added boomers in all other countries with a reading market around the world – potentially 200 million people, more than half of whom are women – yay, romance authors, this is your golden opportunity!

Moreover, there was ample proof that the Boomer lit genre was selling and was selling even before it had a name.

An early example of Boomer lit is Louis Begley’s About Schmidt series: it was an instant best seller and inspired a hilarious film that quickly became a box office hit in 2002, starring an unforgettable Jack Nicholson.

Although the film is rather far away from the book, there is little doubt that its success marked an early turning point. This was noticed in the mainstream media at the time, including by the New York Times in an article recounting how Hollywood was now suddenly paying attention to a “silver-haired audience”.

Many films followed, exploiting the same marketing vein, some humorous and suspenseful like RED (i.e. Retired Extremely Dangerous), others more emotional and historical like The King's Speech, yet others hilarious and heart-moving comedies like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that  became a box office success in 2012, first in Europe, next in America, and now has a follow-up.

All these films featured “mature” characters and explored the challenges facing the over-50 generation.

And (nearly) all of them had their source in a novel: for example, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is in fact based on Deborah Moggach’s These Foolish Things, first published in 2004, a delightful comedy about a bunch of British retirees on a romp in India.

You'd think publishers would be the first to notice that a new genre was in the making, yet that is not the case. It would seem that Hollywood preceeds publishing. Perhaps it's in the nature of the beast. Hollywood has access to a much larger public (everyone views films and videos) than the publishing industry (limited to people who read), so it has bigger shoulders, it can take more risks.

But there’s hope.

The incredible success of Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, with over 3000 customer reviews on Amazon, sent out a strong signal to any publisher with his open eyes. A dark story that would normally not sell easily and a debut novel (they notoriously don’t win prizes), The Unlikely Pilgrimage was nevertheless long-listed for the 2012 Man Booker Prize.

This is a harbinger of new times, of a change in consumer tastes – a change prodded by the boomer generation.

What would be needed now is for a Boomer Lit book to actually win that prize, or for that matter, any other major prize, like the Pulitzer. It hasn’t happened yet, but I don’t despair. There are really excellent Boomer Lit books out there and someday soon, a publisher will no doubt take note.

Why do I expect boomer lit to become a major genre? This is a simple matter of demographics. The same generation that made the success of YA lit will be responsible for the success of boomer lit. In that sense, boomer lit is a true pendant of YA – it is simply on the other side of “maturity” – a vast and flexible genre, just like YA, that can accommodate all kinds of sub-genres, from light comedy to tragedy, from romance to thrillers and more, graphic novels, poetry, short stories and non-fiction. And like YA, boomer lit is likely to attract the interest of people outside its nominal age group, in this case younger people, both as readers and writers.

A definition has already been put forward by two writers, Stephen Woodfin and Caleb Pirtle who are members of the Goodreads group:

"Boomer books reflect fundamental human issues and can be any genre, but they are character-driven stories centred around those who have the experience to understand life: its trials, its tribulations, its triumphs, and its contradictions."

If you write in the Boomer Lit genre, the time has come now to stop promoting your own book and join with others in promoting Boomer Lit. Visit the Boomer Lit Goodreads Group, find out what you can do there and also elsewhere, come with your own ideas, share them, everyone is welcome!

There are two threads you want to visit and hopefully add your views:

1. Boomer Lit definition revisited and debated: click here
2. Strategies to draw Publishing Industry’s attention to Boomer Lit: click here

We need to change the publishing world, and I believe that with a little determination and a lot of cooperation, we can do it.

Goodreads Group discussing Baby Boomer Novels: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/81261-baby-boomer-novels-a-new-genre


Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you so much for writing this in-depth article for Romancing the genres! I've learned a lot about Boomer Lit by reading this. In fact, I'll use your post for reference in the future.

You are an amazing spokesperson for Boomer Lit.

Courtney Pierce said...

All of your comments are spot on, Claude. You have done so much to establish the genre. Its time is coming. Readers are hungry for it, regardless of what publishers think. As a Boomer Lit author myself, I have switched my activities to promoting the genre as much as my books. In fact, I had lengthy discussions about the subject with eight literary agents when I attended the Willamette Writers conference. Some embraced this new trend and asked for my manuscript. Others, depending on their age, were somewhat nonplussed, especially those agents who were Millennials. We can't deny, though, there is power in the numbers. It will only take one breakthrough book to stoke the fire.

I'll be riding your coattails on Sept. 19th with my own guest post on the Boomer Lit subject. Your broad view is perfect for my follow up to drill down.

Thanks so much, Claude!

Judith Ashley said...

Claude, I only thought I understood Boomer Lit before I read your article. Thank you so much for sharing the history of this important genre. I totally agree that time and the numbers are on the side of the authors who write Boomer Lit.

I too will refer to this post in the future as a guide to Boomer Lit and resources.

Thank You!

Claude Forthomme said...

Judith and Sarah, thank you for your encouraging comments, wow, to be used as "reference" is sort of an (unexpected) consecration!And Courtney, I'm looking forward to your "drill down" article!

Yes, Boomer Lit is only just starting, and as you say, it will require some kind of "breakthrough" novel though I thought that "Unlikely Pilgrimage" book was pretty much "it". But it's admittedly rather sad and dark, a lighter approach, like the one of "Best Marigold Hotel" is likely to give better, more permanent results. What irks me is that no Big Publisher has yet started a Boomer Lit imprint. When that happens, we'll have it made!

So yes, we all have to work on this - not just promoting our own book but promoting Boomer Lit!

Diana McCollum said...

I too, thought I knew what Boomer Lit was. Thanks for this wonderful blog post. Being a Boomer, I would enjoy reading about the romance, lives, transitions etc of people closer to my own age. I do get tired of reading about all the 20 yr olds, who I totally can't relate too! Will definitely use your post as a reference when I write my Boomer witch story!

Claude Forthomme said...

Thanks Diana, I really appreciate the support! I hope you join our Boomer Lit Group on Goodreads and if not, start enjoying Boomer Lit titles - I'm looking forward to your Boomer witch story, that sounds intriguing!

Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks for this great overview of Boomer Lit. I was afraid the category had died. As you know, I was very active in the GR Boomer Lit group and it was great to have them read my novel No Place Like Home, which addresses the "Bag Lady Fears" of older women, no matter how well off.

I had to leave the group because of a horrible troll. I made a point of welcoming new members with a friendly "welcome to Boomer Lit" message. But this troll decided to attack me because apparently she hated old people and decided I embodied everything she hated (all because of my bland welcome message to another member.)

She filled the thread with vicious personal attacks on me and I was forced to leave the group. (I never responded to anything she said, but this obviously only fueled her rage.)

I'm happy to know the group survived her. But I'm allergic to trolls, so I won't go back. I hope there is some kind of administrator in charge now who will delete unprovoked personal attacks by people who simply hate Boomers.

Unfortunately, this only confirmed what I've found in other GR groups: author-hating trolls and bullies run the place. Even if you never mention you're an author, they will attack anybody who doesn't share their negative, infantile mindset.