This weekend, over a thousand miles from where I am, a group of friends are getting together. I was invited, but I won’t be there because… well, October.
I’ve avoided explaining what my work involves. It’s difficult to explain.
But, it’s time for me to be more open about this. And risk sounding like a complete geek (which I am) who obsesses over weird topics… or topics that are “weird” at the time. Which, yes, I guess I do.
Okay, let me explain. And yes, this will be long. Really long.
Trend spotting… umm, is that a career?
The simplest way to say it is: I’m a trend-spotter. That’s probably more of a job description than a title, but it’s how I explain what I do.
I scan the virtual horizon and see small flares – indications that a topic will attract interest.
Maybe it’s a one-day, one-hit wonder. Sometimes it attracts broad public interest for months. And, now and then, the trend thrives for four years or more. (Among “enduring” trends, four years seems typical.)
Oh, my work is grounded in real events and places. That’s where it all starts.
I just take it in “what if…?” directions. Often (as weird as that seems to me), I’m one step ahead of the crowd. I’m at the Innovator side of the Diffusion of Innovations curve.
And, though I focus on just a few niches at a time – and have some perennial favorites – I follow my instincts wherever they take me.
If you follow me on Facebook and some other social media – sometimes under a pen name – you’ve seen me drop hints. Often, I’ll note potential trends or news stories as “plot fodder.”
I mean, what if the world was ruled by that kind of blob? Or archaeologists discovered a similar blob sealed in an old jar, with warnings all over the jar? Or what if that kind of blob was accidentally (or deliberately) included in a jar of strawberry jam. Would the person who devoured it acquire super-human intelligence or insights? And… well, you get the idea.
(Confused? Sorry, no smokescreen is intended. I just post links to whatever interests me. I don’t say, “Hey, TV producers! Here’s a potential trend/topic you should look at!” Because, to me, it’s just something cool. With potential.)
My work started in two broad, kinda-sorta creative niches.
In one, I developed a solid reputation. Under a pen name, I’m still a major resource for anyone interested in related patterns of history and future trends. And so, I have fans. Lots of them, apparently, though that was never my intention.
In the other niche, I missed some important social cues, blundered badly, and took a giant step back from ugly politics that followed. I’m easing back into that niche, now.
But, at this point, I avoid labels. I’m only half-joking when I say my work is all about “ooh, shiny!”
In other words, if it seems cool and interesting, I tend to research it. And then talk about it. And maybe write about it.
The risks and rewards
The pay is boom or bust. It was great when I wrote fast books about topics I saw trending. Initially, I called them “flash in the pan” topics… because that’s what they were. (A few became “evergreen,” meaning they seem to remain popular for years & years & years.)
But, researching and writing those books took tremendous time, effort, and focus. A week or two of intense work, followed by burnout that could last a month. After a couple of years, that got old. (Oh, the concept still works, but – for me – it’s not a long-term business plan.)
Around that same time, I also started working for TV producers.
That’s been fun. But we speak the same language, in a way. Since I worked in Hollywood, off and on, for nearly 10 years, I understand the industry.
And, as I said, I ground my research in real people, places, and events, but – commercially – it can align best with fiction. Or reality-ish shows, more than documentaries.
So, I still work with producers, but – to be honest – I’m terrible at business. And after my previous manager had a teensy little PR problem related to, umm, embezzlement, I haven’t found another agent.
I’m not sure I want to.
So, here I am. I stumble onto a potential trend, and when it might be an exact match for a TV series or a movie… I tend to just blurt it out when a producer contacts me. (It’s my personality. I get excited about a cool topic, and I want to tell everyone about it.)
At that point, the producer often offers me a TV appearance or even my own series. And I turn them down.
And that’s the end of that conversation until the next time I post a note about “plot fodder,” and it gets someone’s attention.
Or a producer is frantic for a fresh idea, and knows I can probably rattle off half a dozen trends and concepts, and – together – we can brainstorm even more.
So then there’s the usual email exchange, the chat, or the phone call.
And it’s fun. I don’t want to sound like “oh, I hate this.” I don’t. In fact, I kind of love those conversations.
Yes, it’s the same outcome, in terms of me asking for payment. (Getting paid…? For a fun conversation…? That seems weird. Worse, it seems rude.)
Yes, I know. Like I already said: I’m terrible at business.
Side note: I turn down anything that would place me in front of a camera because I value my privacy. I’ve seen what the loss of privacy has done to the lives of some friends – and their families – and… no thanks. Nope. Not happening with me.
Oh, some friends have handled fame just fine. A few even thrive on it. I’m just not sure I could deal with it as well as they do and, once your privacy is gone, it’s difficult to reel it back in.
Okay, I’ll admit I was on a History Channel show, but when I later reviewed the terms of that contract… yikes. And – when it aired – I was bracketed by people who looked, frankly, kind of crazy. Not my comfort zone at all.
I was also scheduled for a TED Talk about what I do, but I chickened out. (It was okay. They were used to that and had overbooked.)
So yes, that’s my in-front-of-the-camera history. I’ve kept my privacy. And, all in all, I have no regrets.
But what this adds up to is: I’m great at giving away money-making ideas, and getting nothing but a fun conversation (or two or three) and a “thanks, I knew I could count on you” in return.
Wait, is it that time of year… again?
So here we are in October, when I step into a media whirlwind.
Because of niches where I’m an expert, I’m in demand among journalists, mainly print media. During October, they’re throwing together their last-minute seasonal articles. (Many print media pros plan their seasonal topics about three months ahead of whatever-the-holiday is.)
This is also when a lot of TV producers assemble ideas for shows in the coming year. (But, an increasing number are now at one extreme or the other. They’re looking for evergreen themes, or – if they’re high-rollers – they want some hot, just-in-time trends.)
I don’t go looking for them. They seem to find me, even with an unlisted phone number.
So, October can be utterly, off-the-wall bonkers. And exhausting, just when I’d rather be planning a happy holiday season, myself.
The new plan
This year, I looked at this annual routine and said enough is enough.
Oh, I’ll keep sharing plot fodder with authors.
And I’ll keep giving TV producers insights about potential trends and entertaining ideas that sort of “light up” for me.
But I’ll quit pretending this is getting me closer to moving to England, which has been the goal since I was 16 years old. (I’m not kidding. I’m addicted to Shakespeare and have always wanted to live in or near Stratford-upon-Avon.)
Now I need more, reliable income. Numbers I can show, on paper, that get me the visa I need for my move abroad.
My nonfiction isn’t consistently in the income range I need. Not unless I work myself to exhaustion.
And, I refuse to throw a bazillion ads and affiliate links on my websites. Ick.
Also, I want to be doing something that’s fun, and doesn’t require long drives, or crazy hours online and in dusty research libraries… but does pay well.
I guess it comes down to: More woot and loot?
Seriously, I think it’s time for me to get back to fiction.
When my children were little, I wrote Regency romances and nonfiction books. I also wrote magazine articles, spoke at annual RWA and Romantic Times conferences, and wrote for Romantic Times.
So, I know I can do it. And, after pushing past my doubts and recovering my writing focus, thanks to Neil & Jen’s 21-day course, I’m enjoying fiction again.
Oh, I’m very rusty. My current books are short, and range from “Meh” to “Hmm… that one’s almost good.” (I’ll admit to just one pen name: Alice N. Palmer. That name references a favorite character in the old movie, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.)
But, between easing away from the media/production busyness of October, and re-establishing good writing habits… this month is still hectic. Perhaps more stressful than most. I rarely leave my desk.
The good news is, fiction is fun again. And I feel like I’m on the right track for my long-term goals.
So, this has been long. I’ve talked about a lot of things I rarely admit to. And I hope my friends understand why, as they’re partying this weekend, I’ll be here, editing my next book. And producing a video. And… well, all those other October things. Wheeee! lol