For me, the words Black Friday usually conjure up several nausea-inducing images:
1. Waking up early
2. Standing in lines
3. Having to make split second buying decisions
4. Jostling around in crowds made up of stressy, anxious and/or unhinged shoppers
Although Black Friday is not that recent a phenomena (the term has been around since the 1930's), the frantic version of it that comes to mind these days originated around 2010. At first it was just a few of the big stores like Target, Kohl's, Macy's and Walmart, but, in the way of the world, more and more stores began to follow suit in the following years. Like a snowball turning into an avalanche, even small businesses began to feel the pressure to offer a day of frenzied consumerism masked in holiday cheer.
And things went crazy.
I can't help but draw parallels between the amorphous beast of Black Friday and literary trends. One of my children just discovered the Harry Potter series this summer. To her, it was just an exciting book series with great characters and interesting settings, but I remember how Harry Potter revolutionized juvenile and young adult fiction. Soon it was magic and witches here, there and everywhere, followed by vampires, then by werewolves, some mermaids and even more obscure creatures in the mythical universe.
Something very similar has happened in the last several years with adult fiction and the dystopian genre. Now you can 't throw a stick in a library without hitting some fascinating book about a terrifying future reality that involves corrupt governments, environmental emergencies and other cataclysmic events.
And what happens when authors pitch one of these flavor-of-the-moment manuscripts to agents? Almost across the board we hear that agents and publishers aren't interested. These trends are already over and under no circumstances will they accept anything in these been there, done that genres.
In the face of these rejections, what do all aspiring authors dream of? To find the next big thing, of course!
Now back to the Black Friday trend. While many marketing directors and R&D departments were trying to dream up even more ways of shopping on Friday and even Thursday, some others were thinking outside the box. For example, this year REI decided to close all 143 of its locations, while paying their 12,000 employees to go enjoy the great outdoors and be a part of their #optoutside campaign.
Early buzz seems to indicate REI's plan, while generally a warm-hearted thing to do, is also a masterful stroke of PR genius. When I last checked my twitter feed the tag #optoutside had close to 120,000 tweets. We'll see what happens in the next few days, but it does make me wonder how many stores will do something similar next Black Friday.
How do we as writers find that outside-the-box idea? The opposite of what everyone else is trying? A lot of trial and error, I think, and courage. Sometimes those novel ideas we dream up are just plain weird (which is why a critique group and beta readers are so invaluable). But I think there comes a time in most writers' career where they just have to go for it and try something different, no matter how crazy it seems. If they are lucky, they may become the J. K. Rowling or REI of their time. And if not? Well, there's always next Thanksgiving.