Monday, December 8, 2008

The Changing World of Publishing by Agent Steve Laube

The current issue of Christian Fiction Online Magazine contains a great article by Agent Steve Laube regarding the current state of affairs in publishing. In it, he echoes my thoughts about the value of Christian fiction as an inexpensive form of entertainment in these days of cutbacks and scrimping. With the editor's permission, I would like to share Steve's thoughts and insights with you here. Be blessed! SKD

The Changing World Of Publishing

Everyone seems to be talking about the economy. The most common question among the writing community is how this downturn is going to affect publishing. I have a couple pennies to contribute to the conversation—two cents’ worth from a literary agent’s perspective.

First, concerning new acquisitions, publishers are deciding on books that won’t be released until 2010 and beyond; therefore, today’s gloomy headlines have little bearing on those future books. If Christmas sales are down in 2008, that doesn’t mean they will be down in 2010.

Second, the publishing business is, in essence, in the education, inspiration, and entertainment business. Books are still one of the cheapest forms of entertainment available (I hear that in California it costs $12 to see a first-run movie in the theatre!). And people continue to need to be educated or inspired. This means that publishers are still on the hunt for great books by great authors.

We are seeing some changes, however. Mid-list authors are finding it tough to switch from one publisher to a new one. Their sales history gives a new publisher pause unless their ideas or writing is superior. At the same time, some publishers are finding it hard to keep publishing their mid-list authors because the return on their investment is not very high.

For the top-level authors, it will be business as usual and even some will find a feeding frenzy for their new properties. In the October 14, 2008, issue of the New York Observer, Leon Neyfakh's ARTICLE predicted, “Only the most established agents will be able to convince publishers to take a chance on an unknown novelist or a historian whose chosen topic does not have the backing of a news peg . . . The swollen advances that have come to represent all that is reckless and sinful about the way the business is run will grow, not shrink.” He foresees big publishers spending more money for the “sure thing” and won’t risk much at all for the mid-list or debut writer.

While Mr. Neyfakh is correct at some level, this isn’t really “news.” This has been the way of the industry for a long time. It has always been tough to sell a book by someone without a built-in platform in nonfiction or the novelist whose last two or three books sold less than ten thousand copies.

But before anyone says I’m looking through mud-covered lenses, I remember the economic “recession” of the early to mid ’80s. I was a bookseller back then. The mortgage rate for new homes was nearly 15 percent! And yet it was an amazing time of growth for Christian publishing. When times are tough, people look to books for help, inspiration, or escape. Tough times create opportunities for great communicators.

Our agency tries to communicate a “glass half full” message to our clients and to publishers. The media subjects everyone to a gloom and doom message. All they report is that Waterbrook let go two people in November. What they don’t report is that they hired three to four new people in marketing and publicity in the same month. But all the author hears is “bad news.”

With Thanksgiving just ended we must be reminded of what Paul writes in Philippians 4:6–7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NKJV).

Steve Laube, a literary agent and president of The Steve Laube Agency, has been in the book industry for over twenty-seven years, first as a bookstore manager and book buyer for a major national chain. While manager, his store was named National Store of the Year by the Christian Bookstore Association (CBA) in 1989, out of four thousand eligible stores. He spent eleven years with Bethany House Publishers, rising to the position of Editorial Director/Adult Nonfiction. In 2002 he was named the Editor of the Year by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. He has edited over 150 books, written 1, produced numerous articles, and agented over 400 new books. He has taught at writer’s conferences in more than fifty cities. His office is in Phoenix, Arizona.

1 comment:

Mary Connealy said...

Great article. Thanks for sharing it, Susan.