• 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

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  • July 26, 2008

    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

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  • July 22, 2008

    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

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  • June 29, 2008

    Talking Compilations and Agents


    Jacob wrote to me and said, "I submitted to one of those compilation books, and the company requested I put my social security number on all my submissions. I wrote to ask them about the practice, since my submission had not yet been accepted, and was told by one of the people who helps with the project that he ‘puts his SSN on everything’ he submits. What’s your advice on this subject?"

    My advice is clear: DO NOT PUT YOUR SSN ON YOUR PROPOSALS. In fact, my guess is that anybody who routinely sticks that sort of confidential information on all his proposals is a dipstick. Don’t take career advice from that individual. Yikes.

    Belinda wrote and noted, "I have been accepted into a compilation book, but their contract has an endless non-compete. When I asked them about it, I was told they ‘don’t mean it like that.’ What should I do?"

    Sticking with the dipstick theme, if the editor said to you, "I know the contract only calls for you to make a 2% royalty, but we don’t mean it — we’ll pay you 15%," would you agree to sign? No way. The reason you have a written contract is to clarify exactly what the deal is. If they want to offer a broader non-complete clause, get it written down, or suggest some wording for them to insert into the contract. Basically a non-compete is there to protect a publisher from an unscrupulous author writing a book with one house, then writing a very similar book and producing it with another house, thereby cannibalizing sales. An author who regularly writes and speaks on a particular topic needs to gain some freedom, so as not to be prohibited from ever writing on that topic again. A good contract strikes a balance between the publisher’s protection and the author’s calling to speak to a certain issue.

    Timothy asked, "How long

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  • June 21, 2008

    Making Money, Attending Conferences, Creating Books


    A heapin’ hunk o’ questions came in while I was on vacation, so let me catch up with them.

    Mike wrote to ask, "Could we talk about making money through publishing in ways other than writing books? Like manuscript critique, reading submissions for publishers, writing reviews, etc. Do you think there’s value in these sidelines?"

    There’s certainly value in these endeavors, Mike, but in most of them there’s not much money. Let’s put these publishing activities into two categories: the EXPERIENCE group, and the INCOME group…

    In the EXPERIENCE group, an author finds ways to get more involved with the industry, learn about the craft, and make connections. To that end, he or she can write book reviews, create a column in a local newspaper, review movies or restaurants, read submissions for an agent or editor, participate in a blog, send an e-zine, regularly post articles on a web site, and send in a short piece for a book of collected essays (like the Chicken Soup or God Allows U-Turns books). All of those are great ways to get some experience and exposure. None of them will pay much.

    In the INCOME group, a writer can set up an editorial service, offer to critique manuscripts for a fee, do copy editing for publishers (who are always looking for good copy editors), create magazine articles, do some collaborative writing, help authors strengthen their proposals, do contract evaluations (if you know what you’re doing), or take a job with a publishing-related company. That could mean working part-time doing office work for an agent, or helping a marketing company with author tours, or even taking a job at Barnes & Noble. When I was a free-lance writer, I wrote study guides for people. I have a friend who works for a travel company and writes traveler-related stories. Another friend puts together a newsletter for one of America’s largest home builders, another is paid

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  • June 5, 2008

    Getting Started in the Business of Writing


    I’ve had a number of questions recently from people in the beginning stages of their careers…

    Deann wrote to ask, "As a beginner, is it a good idea to get published in an anthology? And what do you think about newer authors setting up book signings and doing readings from anthologies? Is that just good local PR?"

    When you’re starting your career as a writer, it’s pretty much a good idea to get ANY bylines you can. So participating in anthologies is one good way to get introduced to the business. You should also consider looking to get published in magazines, e-zines, and web sites. If you’ve got a local newspaper, by all means try to get into that regularly. Think of it as learning to play the piano — it takes lots of practice time and performing in plenty of dumpy school recitals before you get to be the star onstage at the concert hall. What you’re looking for is a chance to perform somewhere. (Or, if you prefer sports analogies: Think of it as learning to play baseball — it takes lots of practice time, and playing in plenty of American Legion games before you get to sign a contract with a major league team.)

    As for anthology participants doing readings… It’s not a bad idea, especially if you have some other pieces to read and talk about. But I sense from your question that you’re wondering if a writer might be over-selling herself. And my answer is "maybe." Still, it’s good PR for your career.

    Ashley emailed me and said, "I’ve been working on my novel for months, and finally got the first few chapters to a place I feel comfortable. But when I sent them to my editor, she hacked it up and told me what to improve. So I worked on those things, until she approved of my new, revised work, and I send them

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  • May 30, 2008

    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

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  • May 15, 2008

    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.

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  • May 11, 2008

    And the winner is…


    So today is my birthday — I hit the big Five-Oh, and I’m celebrating by holding my nose and pouring over all the really bad poetry that faithful readers have sent to my 2008 Bad Poetry Contest. My friends took me to J.K. O’Donnel’s Irish Pub for some inspiration, so let me offer some quick thoughts…

    -Most of you really suck at this. I mean, really. You’re great sports for taking part, of course, but you need to know that poetry is not in your future. Trust me on this.

    -A few rose above the badness and actually had nice rhymes and good images. You were immediately disqualified. (My son Colin sent in a 28-liner that actually rhymed and offered the image of "this violent reek in my nose hair." Sorry, son, but to craft truly BAD poetry you’d have skipped the rhyme and focused more on the cat poo.)

    -Why is it that limericks make us smile? And why is it that nobody can really take a limerick seriously? I mean, Shakespeare never wrote limericks, did he? ("Forsooth and anon from Nantucket…")

    -When will bad poets realize that rhyming couplets get really annoying after the first two lines? Egad. Once I got by the lines like "Happy Birthday Chipperoo, You are really full of poo," I wanted to smack the author with a stick. (Take note, Paulette Harris: "Happy birthday to you, woo woo woo" is not actually a "poem" it’s more like a "bad idea.")

    -While I’m at it, when will poets realize that most haiku is awful? I mean, the faux depth is laughable. Just creating the dumbest haiku imaginable will probably put you into the Poetry Hall of Fame.

    -I’d like to point out that Kelly Klepfer offered us a rap. A RAP! Kelly will be mistaken for a rapper the day after PEOPLE Magazine names me to their list of "50 Sexiest Men." White

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  • May 7, 2008

    The 2008 Bad Poetry Contest is still going on…


    Don’t wait until the last minute — now’s your chance to show off that lack of talent!

    Give us your wretched rhymes, your lousy limericks, your hurtin’ haiku. Every year at this time I celebrate my birthday by hosting the Bad Poetry Contest. We’ve got some absolute stinkers this year — poems about monkeys in cages, acrostics about casseroles,  and "fearsome fanged sparrows from the cliffs of Aldu-Hazziz." In other words, these are bad. Terrible. Rotten to the core. Just the way we like ’em. We even had one woman reveal that the love of her life looked her in the eye and told her, "They look like big blue bowling balls." (Um… it should be noted she THOUGHT the guy was talking to her about her eyes.) And to top it off, two of my students took time away from their end-of-the-semster studies to rhyme "final" with "vinyl." Does my heart proud to know I’m discipling two young up-and-coming bad poets.

    Last year’s winner was "Blind Puppy on a Freeway," which offered this inspiring chorus:

    Love, love, love, love

    Love, love, love


    I don’t know. Whenever I read those words (sniff), there’s just something (sniff) that touches me (snort) RIGHT HERE (honk!). [For the sake of potential children reading this blog, we won’t be showing pictures.]

    Anyway, here’s your chance. Rage. Emote. Show us your deepfulness. Greatness awaits. (So does a copy of Does God Speak Through Cats, which is this year’s Grand Prize Selected Especially For You.) My 50th Birthday is Sunday, when I hope to be picking a winner, assuming I can still read and I’m not overcome by the fumes.

    Poem away!

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