Deciding What To Write – Google Trends

The niche trends in the publishing industry are notoriously difficult to predict, this is doubly true in our chosen genres of speculative fiction. While many authors and readers outside of the fandom are quite happy to paint the genre with a wide brush of “speculative fiction” we, as fans, are aware of a lot more of the nuances within.

Jules Verne wrote Science Fiction, but is that truly comparable to Twilight? A Song of Ice and Fire is clearly an ancestor of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but do we really classify it in the same way? The trends within the genre are marked, although not always obvious.

Some of these trends are slow burners. A new generation of authors appear, writing in a similar style and this become its own sub-genre. The advent of “Grimdark” work came as a direct antithesis of the idealism of the previous generation of works, but even this didn’t hit the mainstream until long after the first works were written.

Sometimes there is a wholesale shift in the market, a single outstanding piece inspiring others to write similar books with the same tone.

If you’re an author that’s trying to be ahead of the curve on the next big thing, where would you even start?

The first tool we’re going to highlight is the well known, but under utilised Google Trends. A remarkable tool which allows you to analyse the frequency of search terms across Google’s search history dating back to 2004. You can have a play with it yourself by heading to trends.google.com.

The tool won’t give you hard numbers of search terms, but rather gives you information on general trends in interest by the use of their “Interest over time” classifier. This is defined by:

Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means that there was not enough data for this term.

This means that it gives you an overview of the general interest in a subject.

You can plug in several terms to compare them over the chosen period. As an example, we ran the results for the interest in the term “Steampunk” vs the term “Cyberpunk”.

Cyberpunk is the red line, Steampunk is in blue.

You are able to specify several other criteria. To get the result above we’ve chosen worldwide searches, from 2004 to present, in the Books & Literature category and limited the data to web searches.

You can see from the chart that some clear trends appear and, more importantly, that this data is immediately actionable.

What do we mean by actionable?

Even a cursory glance at the above would tell you that the popularity of Steampunk is falling, whereas Cyberpunk seems to be enjoying an upward trajectory of increased popularity.

The actionable outcome here is that if you, as an author, are struggling to decide on whether to make your next work a Steampunk or a Cyberpunk story, then you’ve got actual market data indicating that Cyberpunk is likely to be more marketable in the coming years.

Is this a guarantee that your next book will sell? Of course not, but it can give you an indicator of where the market is heading.

Another feature that allows you to dig into your specific market in even more detail, is that Google Trends provides a heat map of popularity in specific regions.

Below is a chart comparing the popularity of the terms “zombies” (in blue) vs. “pirates” (in red).

Again, interesting trends, but by having a look at the heat map that Google Trends provides, some more interesting patterns occur.

A simple hover-over function tells us that despite “pirates” being more popular over the past 15 years, Mexico is skewed at a percentage of 95% towards “zombies”.

If there is enough data for the search term, Google Trends will allow you to zoom in to a regional and even a city level.

This is especially important for those of you wanting to publish locally, or in languages other than English.

The last use we’d like to highlight today is that of up-and-coming trends. While you need to be aware of the terms to input into Google Trends to get the right data out, it can highlight new ideas that are ripe for some more work in the area. Check out the trend map below for the term “Solarpunk”.

While we’re clearly working with less data, as it’s a more obscure term, could a trend like this indicate the next big thing? Or is it just a flash-in-the-pan?

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