Chip MacGregor

August 1, 2008

Online Rights and Other Things We’re Seeing Now…


Dana wrote to ask, "Was ICRS really as bad as everyone is making it out to be? Were numbers down all that much? I recieve emails from CBA (the sponsoring organization), and they shared some pretty good news to their membership."

You know, I don’t take any pleasure in predicting the demise of CBA. I’ve been a member for years, am supportive of its goals, and have established some wonderful memories at the annual book show. But no matter how you spin it, the numbers are terrible. Ten years ago the convention drew just under 15,000 participants. This year the number was half that. And the number of "industry professionals" who attended the show was half the number of what it was ten years ago. The floor space is obviously shrinking (and word is many publishers may pull out or significantly reduce their floor space even more next year). So, yes, it’s a significant downward trend. No matter how they try to spin it, the show is in deep trouble (in my humble opinion).

Sheri asked, "From walking the floor at ICRS, can you tell us about some of the book trends you’re seeing?"

We’ve continued to see growth in fiction, and particularly in fiction sub-categories. (So while we used to just see "romance," we’re now seeing "historical romance," "contemporary romance," "romantic suspense," "romance with characters named Fiona," etc.) We’re also seeing more emergent writers. More reformed writers. More spriritual journey writers. More charismatic writers. More writers with professional platforms (MD’s writing on health, or investment guys writing on finances, for example). More "social justice" and "green" books. More audio titles. A continuing movement toward celebrity. The beginnings of narrative nonfiction titles. Fewer books from pastors. Few homeschooling books. Very few education titles. Few men’s books. Few humor writers. Few Bible studies. Almost no CBA gift books. More small presses starting up (hoo-ray!). And a handful of companies (Moody is one, Cook is another) who have completely re-made themselves.

Barb wrote to ask, "You mentioned a Kindle… can you describe that for me?"

Yikes! Everybody should know about the Amazon Kindle and the Sony E-reader. Think of them as an electronic book — about the size of a hardcover book, and the text of your favorite book can be sent to it through the air. You can then call up the book on the screen (they both have good screens) and read it the way you would a regular book. You toggle the side of the Kindle to "turn the page." A Kindle will hold about 200 books in its memory, and if you ever lose a book somehow, Amazon will re-send it to you for free. (And, to correct errors I’ve made in the past, Amazon no longer sells all their e-books for $9.99 — some are more expensive. AND you can now email yourself Word documents, so you can read your friend’s work in progress on your Kindle.) They cost $349 and rely on cell phone technology, so you don’t have to be in a wifi hotspot. Oh, and you can get the NY Times or Wall Street Journal sent to you every morning on your Kindle. The Sony product is a bit less money, has more bells and whistles, but somehow doesn’t have the same pinache (and yet it’s the Sony that publishers are purchasing for their editors). We’re not at a place where everyone has an electronic reader yet (they don’t do graphics, and that’s a drawback), but this is the wave of the future.

Tracy wanted to know about the  movement toward selling electronic books: "I’m not sure I understand something… There is no paper involved, no ink, no binding, no shipping. In addition, marketing will be less about store displays and more about internet ads and pop-ups that piggyback on similar audiences, so this should lower the cost of moving books. But they’re paying less money? If authors are squeezed by lower margins, won’t that descrease the number of writers? What do you predict will happen — higher prices? fewer authors? greater sales?" 

There’s a debate going on between publishers and agents about the royalties that should be paid to authors on e-books. I’m of the opinion the royalty should be higher, since there are no hard costs (sure, there is editing and interior design, AND the publisher has to set up a delivery system to send the books…but it still is cheaper than ink/paper/binding). However, some publishers want to view e-rights as a subsidiary right, so they could conceivably sell it cheaply to Amazon and split all proceeds 50/50 with the author. So, unlike regular print royalties that have been agreed upon by nearly everyone, you can find one publisher paying 15% of net for e-rights, another paying 15% of retail, another paying 50% of whatever they receive. Right now it’s all over the map… but right now the money doesn’t amount to much. Give it a few years. Once our kids all have Kindles, and are all downloading their books, this will generate real money — and by then, we’ll have it figured out.

So YES, I predict higher prices for e-books. But NO, I don’t predict fewer authors — the potential for people to do e-books should increase opportunities for writers, not decrease them. And I’d certainly hope it leads to greater sales, as the Electronic Generation begins reading books and not just Facebook.

Cheryl wrote and asked, "Can authors include previously published stories from magazines and web sites in a book they are submitting to a publisher? In other words, can they use previously published stories in a new book?"

That will depend on the contract you signed for your article, Cheryl. If you give a magazine one-time rights, as soon as the next issue of the magazine comes out, you are normally free to re-sell your original article to someone else (though you’ll probably want to tweak it). But if you did an article for an e-zine and sold it to them on a work-for-hire basis, you may have signed over all rights to that story. Check your contract. With most ephemeral or periodical literature, ownership remains with the author, so in those cases you would indeed be free to re-use your piece in a new book.

Ashley asked, "What makes an agent (like, say, Chip MacGregor) who is so passionate about books decide to be an agent instead of writing books?"

I’m good at being an agent. I like the work. It feels like a better fit for me than being a full-time author. The fact is, I love books and words, and this job allows me to work with them. Can’t imagine having any more fun than this. But I have, in fact, written books. (Make sure to check out "The Y2K Family Survival Guide" and other great titles!)

By the way, there are two websites you really must visit… First, check out the new ezine ChristianFictionOnline to see some great stories and advice on writing fiction for the CBA market. Second, make sure to stop by — a hilarious sendup of the church, written by a guy who has spent his life as one of us. The BEST new site I’ve seen in years.

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