Chip MacGregor

June 24, 2010

15 Trends Shaping CBA Today


I'm about ready to get on a plane and fly to the International Christian Retail Show (the big religious book show) in St Louis. Since I've had several folks ask me what sort of trends we're seeing in CBA, I thought I'd bang out a handful of things that I see going on…

1. More readers (Remember when we were worried about "why Johnny can't read"? No more. We read all the time. You might read books on your iPhone. You're probably wondering who's on Facebook right now. Wait — is that your Blackberry going off?)

2. More varieties of fiction (Bonnets! Pirates! Prairie dogs! Cowboys! Patriots! Immigrants! Soldiers! Shopkeepers! And some, such as Amish books, have created their own sub-genres.)

3. More historical fiction (People enduring hard economic times long for the good ol' days when life was simpler.)

4. More graphic scenes (There's a good and a bad side to this. I'm all for realism… but what IS it with people — must every fiction proposal I see these days have a rape scene? Be different. Let your character survive something else, like a nuclear disaster, or a car wreck, or waxy build-up.)

5. More creative packaging and inclusions (We're quickly moving toward the place where each editorial team will have a specialist whose job will be to create images, games, widgets, and other stuff to enhance the text.) 

6. More reformed and ecumenical books (CBA has become less the protected domain of evangelicals as we've seen the inclusion of a broader group of believers, including Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox Christians. That means I'm now, finally, a Christian. It's about time.)

7. More book choices (Obviously we're seeing the rise of the digital book, but the real fight to be won is over the significance of the content in them, and how all those titles present choices to consumers. A great book requires time and effort and thoughtfulness and skill — and it trumps somebody who decides to barf some words onto a page and make it available online.) 

8. More new people in CBA (Who was reading a Summerside book three years ago? Now they're doing wonderful stuff that people are buying. AND we're seeing a renewed interest in small, privately-owned Christian bookstores.)

9. More memoirs and creative nonfiction (No, we're not there yet… but it's coming. A renewed interest in memoirs and journalistic writing among Christian readers — see books like SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME.)

10. More of an emphasis on platform (Like it or not, platform is king these days.)

11. More targeted relationships for authors (60% of the books we've sold at MacGregor Literary this year were designed with ONE publisher in mind.) 

12. More micro-publishers (We're seeing an explosion of little mom-and-pop operations, with companies only producing e-books or print-on-demand titles.) 

13. Fewer people at the show (Like it or not, ICRS is in a world of hurt. There were so few editors attending that many agents simply chose not to come this year. I used to fill up a week. This year I had to struggle to fill up two days.)

14. Fewer books on the shelves (Borders, Barnes & Noble, Family Christian, and Lifeway are all simply ordering fewer books and putting fewer books on store shelves. And the major publishers are producing fewer books.) 

15 Fewer agents (It's tough making a living as an agent, and after watching the huge growth of my industry over the past seven or eight years, it's clear that the vast majority of CBA books are being represented by about 20 people. So while it may seem everybody is calling themselves an agent these days, there are fewer of us than ever who actually make a living at it. Which brings to mind the words of P.J. O'Rourke: "My advice on dealing with publishers: Let your agent do it. Agents are more important than publishers. Agents are more important than anyone. Which brings me to my advice about dealing with agents. You can't. They won't speak to you. They're too important.")


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