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Is Baby Boomer Lit the Next Hot Genre?

The 77.5 million Baby Boomers have buying power and they read. Publishers should cater to them.

By Claude Nougat

Today’s feature story, “Exploring Accessible Publishing for the Print Disabled” looks at several organizations who are working to make books accessible to with an inability or difficulty to read print (known as print disability).

Claude Nougat says Boomers want books about themselves.

As people age and their eyesight deteriorates, reading can become more difficult. But, as we know, this does not mean that one’s ardor for stories diminishes. Of course, you might not know that if you look at the publishing market. Large print publishing has been something of an afterthought for years — one can struggle to find large print titles stocked in bookstores these days. Certainly, ereaders — which can scale text to larger sizes — makes up for this. But ereaders are not for everyone.

Publishers might be making a mistake if they overlook the potentially huge market of the aging. This is especially true when it comes to Baby Boomers.

The Boomer Lit genre is selling and was selling even before it had a name.

Baby Boomers — technically, all those born between 1946 and 1964 — number 77.5 million of them in the US alone, and many, many more once you include the rest of the world. As these readers continue to get older, they represent a huge opportunity for publishers. Boomers are now retiring at the rate of 3.5 million per year, that’s 10,000 per day. They have time to read and they want books that cater to them specifically. Oh, and, guess what? They still buy print…

Hollywood was the first to notice this opportunity. The number of films featuring mature Boomers has increased exponentially in the past few years and they have been (nearly) all box office successes, notably RED (Retired Extremely Dangerous), The King’s Speech, Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated, The Descendants, Carnage, Flight, etc…Heck, even James Bond has gotten older and a little slower. Just think of the issues central in the latest film iteration Skyfall.

Yes, the word “age,” or “aging,” used to scare marketers intent on targeting the young, but no more.

If you have a difficult time imagining what “Baby Boomer Lit” is, think of it as a corollary to young adult literature. It is similar to YA lit in its structure and aims. YA lit was started in the 1970s, sustained by the wave of Boomer readers in their teens, interested in characters with whom they could identify. The rest is history: YA lit became an enormous success and remains one of the strongest and fastest growing categories today.

Just as YA lit focuses on the first transition to adulthood, Boomer Lit is about the next big transition. Now that the youngest Boomer is 49 and the oldest is 67, they once again want to read books that will show them how to address the “Third Act” of their lives. And they want books featuring mature characters that reflect themselves.

Some in publishing and bookselling may be unhappy at the idea of having to deal with yet another genre and leery of what they see as books focused on old age. For some, the stigma attached to aging is hard to shake off, but for most, it’s not: Boomers, free of many of the obligations of adulthood —jobs, raising children — are often punchy and dynamic, displaying the rebellious spirit of their teen years. We live in an age when retirees can be fun, even sexy.

Boomers have already changed so much about the way they see the world and they are now going to change the way people grapple with ageing in our society. Boomer Lit is going to be the vehicle of choice to express this.

A group has already been created to discuss Boomer Lit on Goodreads. It has its own Facebook page and Twitter account. Within three months of being established, the group attracted some 240 members who listed some 70 Boomer book titles on its bookshelf. As a way to explore Boomer Lit, it began reading and discussing one Boomer book a month, democratically selected through a poll.

As a result, the group has been able to quickly do some important work clarifying what exactly Boomer literature is and is not. Among the major early findings: Boomer lit is not about nostalgia or evoking the past. Any story of “coming of age” set in the 1960s or 1970s properly belongs to YA lit. Nor does having some characters of Boomer age in a novel enough to qualify the book as Boomer Lit. Instead, it needs to address the transition issues that are central to Boomer’s lives.

So, why should publishers really care? Maybe they sell enough books already? The fact is that there is ample proof that the Boomer Lit genre is 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 a bestseller and inspired a hilarious film that quickly became a box office hit in 2002, starring an unforgettable Jack Nicholson. The next major milestone was Deborah Moggach’s These Foolish Things, first published in 2004, a delightful comedy about a bunch of British retirees on a romp in India; it was became the 2012 film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. More recently, Rachel Joyce’s debut novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry made waves and was long-listed for the 2012 Man Booker Prize.

Why is Boomer lit emerging now? Many factors have contributed to making 2013 a “magic” year for the birth of this new genre.

First: the Internet accelerates such changes. A few years ago, the appearance of a novel like Rachel Joyce’s might have passed unnoticed; today, thanks to the digital revolution, it resonates with masses of readers and writers: on Amazon it has earned over 644 customer reviews and on Goodreads an amazing 14,105 ratings and 3,378 reviews.

Second, the changing demographics. As I mentioned earlier, Boomers are now retiring at the rate of 3.5 million per year, that’s 10,000 per day. Inevitably, this translates in a change in culture and society’s interests. The number of sites catering to Boomers has exploded and AARP, long focused on the retired and aged, is now turning its attention to Boomers. In partnership with NBC Peacock Productions and RLTV, it has financed an hour long documentary exploring Boomers’ thoughts on their future. The documentary first aired January 31, but many more broadcasts are planned this spring, with discussions hosted by broadcast journalist Jane Pauley. As one of the Boomers interviewed says, “I’m 56, but I feel like I’m 18 with a 38 year experience!”

Third, the marketing industry has also awakening to the need to restructure its marketing strategies and re-focus on Boomers. A number of guidebooks have been written to address these issues, inter alia “Boomer Consumer,” a book that is the result of the Boomer Project, an extensive examination of Boomer habits over several years, uncovering key psychological, sociological, and anthropological aspects of this generation. Ten “new rules” for marketing to today’s Boomers were identified, rules that require a total recast of marketing strategies for an industry historically focused on 18 to 49 year-old adults. As Matt Thornhill, one of the two authors of the book told the Miami Herald, to think that Boomers will go into retirement lying low and spending less is undoubtedly a mistake: they will spend at “Boomer levels.”

And they will buy books, provided they have stories of concern to them. Under the circumstances, it is no surprise that Boomer Lit should be the Next Big Genre. The first among major publishers to set up an imprint focused on Boomers is likely to find he’s come up with a winner…

A former United Nations project diretor, Claude Nougat is the author of four novels and two collections of short stories. You can read more about Baby Boomer Lit on her blog or by following her on Twitter @claudenougat.

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  1. Posted March 14, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    What a wonderful post! I’m so glad to see that Boomers are reading and I certainly agree that we need more books for our age group. I wrote four mysteries with a young lady whom I’ve aged in each one but she’s still in her thirties. I decided last year to write a women’s fiction about lifelong friends in their sixties. I had a blast writing it and folks seem to enjoy the scenarios that come with getting older. I tried to make it funny with a small amount of pathos. I am currently writing another mystery but I DO plan to write more Boomer Lit once that’s done. Thanks for the post and continued success!

    Susan Whitfield, Multi-Genre Author

  2. Posted March 14, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Claude, another great post about Boomer Lit. All the pieces are there: boomers retiring, boomers being a generation of readers, boomers having the income to make the publication of boomer lit novels lucrative. Any day now. It will be largely due to your efforts. You were the first to bring this subject to the attention of many blogs and boomer sites. Congratulations and thanks for that!

  3. Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Claude… thanks for writing this, and leading the way with information about Boomer Lit. You have filled my head with ideas to explore this genre. At 69 I will follow the oldest adage in writing & marketing… ‘Write What You Know About’ .

  4. Posted March 14, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    What an interesting post. For the past few years I’ve been spending time in Coronado, San Diego, which might be described as a giant country club for Baby Boomers. The Boomers in Coronado live active lives, play sports, and read a lot. Last week I met a man who has just published his debut novel at 84 (Around the World in Eighty Years.)
    In my novel, When the Siren Calls, the heroine has been married 15 years, but her actual age is not given. I notice many Boomers who read the book believe her to be a woman in her fifties; they relate to her because she is fighting a ticking body clock, afraid that life is passing her by. The book is categorised as romance, but I’ve often thought it would be easier to market it if there was a genre for Boomer books.

    EReaders do of course allow you to

  5. Posted March 14, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this great article! I just couldn’t write about twenty-somethings–I don’t know them and anything I wrote would ring false, no matter how much research I did. So, I just started writing what I know–experienced women who’ve lived in the world for a while and yet are vibrant and interesting and looking for love. I’m writing sexy romances for Baby Boomers–stories that prove love never ages.

  6. Posted March 15, 2013 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    Since I wrote this piece, our Goodreads Group discussing Boomer lit has grown yet more, gaining over thirty members in one week (at this moment, we are 273 members). And I see with great satisfaction – no, I won’t hide it ! – that the genre resonates with both boomers and writers. I am totally convinced that this is a genre that attracts experienced and professional writers, that it will gather exceptional books in terms of the quality of the writing as it spans a very broad range of sub-genres, from romance to thrillers, and a wide variety of literary forms from novels and memoirs to poetry.

  7. Posted March 15, 2013 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Claude, I’m a member of that group, and it is SO enjoyable! I have felt this for so long, that I really want to read about the joy, challenges, pain and overall coming-of-age journey of people my age. I finally said NUTS and wrote my own boomer novel (Dakota Blues). But then I found BoomerLit on both Goodreads and FB, and I’m a member. I am restricted in how much time I can spend with any group right now as my husband and I are committed until June to a fulltime childcare job (our grandbabies), but after that, I’ll have more time and will see more of you and the BoomerLit gang. Thanks for “getting it.” Good job.

  8. Posted March 22, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Hi Claude
    I am also part of the Goodreads group. You are doing such wonderful work in publicising Boomer Lit. I agree with you, however, that now we have to get publishers to take Boomer Lit seriously. I have started a discussion group for Boomer Lit Writers and Readers on Linkedin with that in mind. There are various Baby Boomer and writers groups etc. in Linkedin along with lots of businesses including publishers. Let’s storm that forum too.

  9. Posted March 26, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    My book. I’m Too Young to be This Old has sold over
    150,000 copies. You can get It at Amazon. It is a fun and inspiring read for boomers.

  10. Magalie
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    What an excellent subject! Never thought about it and I guess I will think a lot around this idea now and join the Boomer group on Goodreads! Thank you for this article!

  11. Phuong Pigao
    Posted April 4, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Baby boomer web sites are growing in popularity as more and more seniors are becoming comfortable with computers and the Internet. Baby boomers benefit from the vast amount of information they find online but those who market their products and services to Baby boomers benefit, too. With over 78-million potential customers, Baby boomer web sites have the potential to generate millions of dollars in revenue.-

    Please do check out our web site

  12. Posted April 7, 2013 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Baby Boomers, please check out our website. http://www.boomerden.com
    Please, follow us on twitter and Facebook as well. There is always interesting stuff to look at.
    Stay connected.

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