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Category : Trends
The Leftovers from ICRS
There are a handful of leftover things happening in the world of publishing that should be mentioned. In no particular order…
1. The Christy Salon: In case you didn’t hear, at this years’ Christy Awards (given for the best religious fiction), they featured a "salon" — a discussion of experienced people talking about the history and future of Christian novels. It was an interesting discussion, with Dave Lambert of Simon & Schuster, Karen Ball of B&H, and Carol Johnson of Bethany House (who was also given a lifetime achievement award at this dinner for her 20+ years in the industry). The most interesting part of the salon was the talk about the books that have shaped contemporary Christian fiction. Once you got past Grace Livingston Hill and Catherine Marshall (the Christies are named for her novel), the panel suggested these books have had the most influence: Jeanette Oke’s Love Comes Softly, Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness, Bodie Thoene’s Gates of Zion, Jan Karon’s Mitford books, Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind. It was pointed out that each of these books broke the mold. Each was different from the current popular reads, and each had a publisher who believed in them and worked to promote them. Interesting to think about in our "me-too" world of writing.
2. The Man We All Must Thank: I was glad to hear people in several venues say nice things about Jerry Jenkins. The fact is, we all know Left Behind doesn’t qualify as "great literature," but Jerry’s books hit at the right time, changed Christian fiction, and opened up the rest of the world to the whole notion of religious books. Borders, Books-a-Million, and Barnes & Noble used to have one shelf devoted to religious fiction. Now they have an entire aisle. The New York Times used to not count Christian books when compiling their bestseller list — but they couldn’t ignore
Back from the Front Lines…
Just got back from a week at ICRS (the International Christian Retailing Show) in Orlando. Some notes…
1. Attendance: In a word, awful. One insider told me this is the lowest attendance they’ve had at a CBA convention since the 1980’s. There were only about 7000 people at the show. Ouch.
2. The Bad News: There wasn’t much buzz at the show. Zondervan introduced an interesting idea (more on that later), but the whole event had a bit of a gloomy atmosphere. As you know, Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian publisher on the planet, pulled out of the show. That helped create a sinking ship mentality. My guess is that more publishers are going to follow their lead (more on THAT later as well). In addition, they’re going to have to cut the whole thing back. NOBODY was there on Thursday — you could have whacked golf balls down the aisles and not hit anyone. So, overall, a bit of a negative vibe at this convention.
3. The Good News: On the flip side, book publishing is alive and well. Even though there was a bit of a cloud over the show, a Bowker study revealed that there were more Christian books produced and sold last year than ever before. I figure that’s good news to everyone who works in the industry. And I’d argue there were some excellent new books unveiled. (I loved getting a copy of Baker’s UNCHRISTIAN, and Jossey-Bass had new books from both Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones.) So we can all stop whining. There’s plenty of good things going on.
4. The Floor: It was nice to have all the book publishers close to each other on the floor again. And many of the art-and-trinket sellers weren’t there — in fact, I’d say they took up half the space they used to inhabit. Real shrinkage among the non-book types.
5. The Crazies: Many of the
From my Death Bed…
Okay, so maybe I’m not exactly on my death bed… but I caught this really lousy flu that has kept me in bed with a sore throat, aches, and a fever the last few days. Thought I’d emerge from my Robitusson-induced haze and answer a handful of questions from people.
Janet wrote to ask, "With the advent of e-book readers, how will this affect authors and the money they are paid? Will there be a bunch of ripple effects from all the electronic gadgets?"
Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s e-reader are developing fans, and they are certainly beginning to sell some units. If you’re not aware, Kindle is a book-shaped reader with a great, easy-to-read screen that receives book text via cel phone technology. You can purchase a book from Amazon and they’ll send it to your Kindle wherever you are (using the same technology as text messaging) for ten bucks. A Kindle can hold about 200 titles before the memory is full. Last week Amazon cut the price from $399 to $349 — still too high, but moving in the right direction. I like the product a lot, though I think it’s a bit too plasticky. The Sony e-reader doesn’t have nearly as nice of a reading screen, but costs a hundred bucks less and you can send Word document to it — so many New York editors have been given them, in order to read manuscripts without having to lug around a bag full of heavy books. I’ve thought about getting one just so I could be reading the manuscripts of the authors I represent before they are sent into the publishers.
There are a lot of things to like about the future of these products, though neither are perfect. (The Kindle doesn’t do graphics; neither is doing textbooks yet.) Amazon reported yesterday that they now have 125,000 books available to send to your Kindle, and [get ready to
A Fresh Look
Well, I’m now 50. Older and wiser (hopefully). Please let me offer one short rumination…
Recently I made some comments about Mike Hyatt, the Thomas Nelson decisions, and the direction of CBA. That caused a couple people to write and ask me, "Why are you down on CBA?"
My response: "I’m not. Not at all." But their questions got me to thinking some things…
First, I love Christian books. My life has been changed by books I’ve read — I can point to some titles (The Ragamuffin Gospel, In the Name of Jesus, etc) and say with all honesty, "My life was never the same after having read that book." It’s the ministry a book can have in the life of a person that keeps me excited about words. When I read, I learn, and that changes me. And I’m one of those ignorant types who needs to learn a lot, since I’ve got a lot of changing to do.
Second, I love CBA and the things associated with it — authors, publishers, booksellers. Honest. I’ve been part of CBA for more than 20 years. I feel as though I know it inside and out — both its strengths and its weaknesses. I will sometimes poke fun at the stupid stuff (Armor of God pajamas and Standing on the Promises Insoles, for example), but let’s face it — those things are funny. Still, I don’t want anyone reading this blog and coming away from it thinking that I’m not supportive of great Christian books. I always want to remember the people I work with are trying to change the world for good.
Third, this is the Golden Age of Christian publishing. There have never been so many good books, done with such quality, and at such an affordable price. Some day we will all look back on this time as an incredibly rich season of Christian writing.
As the Page Turns
Lots going on in publishing these days…
First, Borders may or may not be in trouble. It would seem incredible that the nation’s second largest bookseller, in the midst of a growth phase with smaller "boutique" bookstores going up in malls, would suddenly be facing a financial crisis. But they say it’s caused by the tightening credit rules, debt, and the cost of money. They had to refinance a huge debt load at a very high rate — never a good sign for a business. And rumor has it Barnes & Noble is sniffing around, hoping to try and snap them up on the cheap. Nobody in publishing wants that to happen. Competition is always good for business, and B&N would have very little competition in the brick-and-mortar book business if they were to purchase Borders.
Actually, I’m not sure the government would allow it. Borders and B&N combined account for 55% of all retail book sales in this country, and surely the government would see that consumer prices would be bound to rise if the two companies merged. However, if you take into account Amazon and other online booksellers, B&N could claim the two chains only amount to about a third of all book sales…so perhaps a permissive federal regulator would allow it to happen. But I hope not. Having two companies creates competition, which is always a good thing.
Second, HarperCollins made big news with the announcement they were creating a new imprint that would rely on very different business practices than most publishers. Robert Miller, the longtime boss at Hyperion, has moved to HC to head up the new venture. The imprint will offer lower-priced books (word is they’re trying to keep hardcovers at $20), won’t pay advances to authors (instead relying on a profit-sharing plan), won’t buy display space in stores (instead relying on their online marketing efforts), and will sell books outright to retailers (rather
Online Writing and Publishing
Susan wrote to ask, "What is your opinion of e-publishing as a means to break into traditional publishing?"
I’ve yet to see this work much. I keep hearing about authors who plan to e-publish their novel one chapter at a time, which is an interesting concept and might be a nice alternative to those writers with a niche readership, but I’m not seeing it translate into regular royalty-paying deals. Stephen King tried selling his novel chapter-by-chapter and it went nowhere. And now publishers are becoming wary of allowing an author to include material in a book that has already been available on a blog or website or e-zine. I still believe the web is a great training ground for authors, but I’m not sure the practice of e-publishing is actually going to get you a traditional publishing deal.
Laura wants to know, "When an author sends an electronic proposal to an editor at a publishing house through a referral or because of a meeting at a writers’ conference, how long should the author expect to wait for a reply?"
It varies on the editor, the house, and the season (some seasons are busier than others), but it’s generally fair to say that an author will probably hear within 12 weeks or so. If you’ve been waiting longer than 3 months, it’s fine to check back with the editor, just to see if they’re still considering it. Be patient — publishing is a slow process.
Lynn writes to say, "I have an article that has been showcased on an online writers’ forum and has proven popular. Now I’d like to find a publication where I could submit my article. Since most magazines have an online edition, would they consider my article already published?"
You’re asking the question many writers are wondering. The fact is, this topic is still being debated, so I don’t have a definitive answer for you, Lynn. Check