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Category : CBA
Steve Oates is the VP of Marketing for Bethany House Publishers. Recently, after I had blogged about the significant changes we’ve seen in Christian fiction, he contacted me with some thoughts. I invited him to send me a blog post to use — and here is his initial response…
Hardly a week goes by without another announcement from someone that they are getting out of the Christian fiction market, or another retailer is going out of business or shutting down. So, is it time for all of us working in Christian fiction to quit and find something else to do?
Before we all leave town, let’s check on the data and see what we can actually know about this market. I recently did the second year of a study of what is selling in all markets under the Christian and Amish fiction categories as reported by Bookscan (these are the data folks behind the ECPA bestseller lists). What I found is surprising: While there is a lot of upheaval in what is selling, what is remarkable is that both unit and dollar sales of fiction actually rose slightly from 2016 to 2017. And we are not talking digital here, this is just print, and just in the trade paperback and hardcover formats.
So if sales are growing rather than declining, why so much pain in the market? The pain is real, and there is consolidation taking place. What we are seeing is a migration in the market out of the “C” level books that is going into the “B” level books. By this I mean a movement out of the bottom tier (based on sales of less than 7,500 copies) in to the next tier — let’s say books that sell in the 7,500 to 15,000 range. The shrinking shelf space has harmed stocking of these lower-potential books, stores simply can’t put them all out there, and their marketing
So this month we’re going to let you ask whatever you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent. You send me the questions (or send them to me on Facebook, or stick them in the “comments” section), and I’ll try to answer them, or get another agent to answer them. First up, some questions that came in last month…
Suppose you have a character in your novel that would be perfect for a particular actor. Should you tell your agent about it and let them handle it?
You could… but it probably won’t get very far. It’s rare that a project gets pitched to an actor in a role, unless it’s a major author with clout. (So, for example, if you had a role that was perfect for Leonardo DiCaprio, you could try and talk with his agent. Um, and you would be author #5962 who has the “perfect” role for him.)
If I have an agent, then decide to write a self-pubbed novel, how can I include my agent in the process?
This is one of the things happening in publishing these days that is still in process, so there’s no one right answer for every situation. You could ask your agent to help you with it — the editing, the copyediting, the formatting, the uploading, the cover, etc., then pay a percentage as a commission. OR you could see if your friends are producing a line of books, make it part of that line, and pay a certain commission to him or her. (For example, we helped our authors create a co-op line of clean romances.) OR you could do it all yourself and not pay the agent anything. OR you could do it yourself, but work with your agent to help with things like marketing and selling, and pay a commission.
I am brand new to the industry, and delving into the potential of writing fiction. So
Recently I’ve had several people send me a version of this question: “You seem to be one of the few literary agents who works in the general market (what a lot of people call the ABA) as well as working in the Christian market (the CBA). I’ve published two books in CBA, but think my next book fits more of a general market audience. My question: is ‘crossing over’ from CBA to ABA a reality?”
Okay, I’ve answered this question a couple times, so even if you’re not terribly religious, stay with me for a minute…. I think this stuff is interesting to talk about. First, for those not in the know, I represent books in both the CBA and the general market. There aren’t many agents who do that, so I’m very much in the minority. Second, in case you don’t know, CBA is the Christian Booksellers Association, and it’s the realm of all things faith-based in publishing. ABA is the American Booksellers Association, and it’s sometimes used (though less and less) as a descriptor for the general, non-religious world of publishing. Third, if you’ll indulge me, let me offer a theological reflection that speaks to this issue of CBA and ABA books: Christianity teaches that when you meet God, you are changed. (I don’t care if you believe that or not, just hear the argument.) A Christian would argue that everything about you is different, because you’ve been exposed to God. So, from a theologian’s perspective, a Christian probably won’t be completely understood by those who are not Christians. He or she is speaking a different language. And any cultural anthropologist till tell you that the longer you’re a Christian, the fewer non-Christian friends you have, and therefore the less you have in common. So you’ll have a tough time communicating with non-Christians in language they’ll understand.
Still with me? Okay (done with the theology lesson), from an
I’ve been getting all sorts of follow-up questions to my posts on CBA fiction…
In CBA, what genres do well in fiction and which ones do poorly? Is there a growing movement toward spec fiction and fantasy?
Romance continues to lead the way in CBA fiction, though we’ve seen a bit of a shift from historicals to contemporary stories. Romantic suspense also does well, followed by straight suspense novels. There’s a random sampling of other genres (some women’s fiction, some historical sagas, the occasional apocalyptic thriller), but we’ve seen very little in the way of speculative fiction, fantasy, new adult, YA, horror, or paranormal stories do well in CBA. I keep hearing there’s a growing market for those kinds of titles, and there may be… but to this point, it’s pretty much been limited to indie-published titles and some very small presses who consider it a huge success to move a thousand copies. You may think it makes sense for this to be a growth category, but it hasn’t proven to be true in CBA, at least not yet.
What was it that made the novel The Shack a runaway success after it had been rejected by traditional publishers?
I think The Shack told an intriguing story, had an interesting depiction of God that had some appeal (if you’re not aware, the role of God was pictured as an African-American woman, and the Holy Spirit was portrayed as a rather ethereal elderly Asian woman), and spoke to an audience of people who wanted to feel they were reading something deep about God. (They were not, by the way. The story has major problems, and the writing is weak.) The big picture of the novel is that the lead character had a bunch of crud in his past that needed to be brought out into the light and examined – which is certainly a good message. It was also controversial, which
It’s always interesting when you create a blog post that blows up, since you never know how people are going to respond (or what sort of biases they’re going to bring to their reading of it). I found that out last week when my post on Christian fiction, in the words of two different publishers, “blew up the internet.” Seems I struck a nerve, and everybody wanted to talk about it… but a bunch of people got it wrong. So some notes on the debate:
I said that CBA fiction is facing hard times for authors. It is, no matter how much of a happy face anyone wants to paint on it. A bunch of houses have simply gotten out of fiction, several others have reduced the number of titles, and the slots available at traditional publishing houses for authors is considerably smaller than it was a few years ago. By my count, we’ve seen the number of slots for Christian fiction cut in half over the past six years. That’s troubling.
I did not say that CBA fiction is dying. In fact, I believe just the opposite. This is the Golden Age of publishing — we’re selling more books than ever, we have more readers than ever, and we have more opportunities than ever. (And, since it’s conferences season, I should add that we have more great training and conference opportunities than ever.) The struggle is with connecting books to readers. In my view, that’s the biggest challenge we face.
I said that sales numbers for CBA fiction are down. They are — at least for traditional houses. Ask any CBA sales person. Numbers for fiction titles from traditional publishers may be stabilizing, but at a much smaller number than they were at a few years ago. One can argue that the numbers overall are still greater because of indie-published titles — and that might be true, but
I’ve been getting a lot of questions about CBA fiction lately… [And I updated this column recently.]
Is fiction aimed at the CBA market (that is, the “inspirational” market) growing or shrinking? Those of us who write for that market keep hearing different things and, frankly, I’m not sure who to believe.
CBA fiction is in a world of hurt. When I started my literary agency nine years ago, Christian fiction was the fastest-growing segment in all of publishing, and continued to be a growth category for a couple more years. But, as I’ve said so often, publishing is a “tidal” business — the tide comes in, the tide goes out. Seven, eight, nine years ago, it was in. Then the tide started to recede, and now it’s out. Way, way out.
Several CBA publishing houses that used to do fiction don’t do it any more. (Today, Abingdon announced they’re killing their fiction program, for example.) Several others have cut back their lists. There are fewer slots for authors, and shopping for inspirational fiction has become harder. Barnes & Noble sort of sticks all religious fiction off into one corner, so if you don’t walk in specifically hoping to find that section, you’re not going to stumble onto it. Books-a-Million does a better job, but they’re not a huge chain. The potential demise of Family Christian Stores is a looming disaster — it leaves Lifeway Stores as the biggest chain, and the fiction decisions at Lifeway have been a huge disappointment to many of us in the industry (meaning the company only wants VERY safe Christian romances where nothing truly bad happens, sex doesn’t exist, everyone talks like they’re living in Andy Griffith Land, and in the end the characters will fall to their knees and accept Christ so that All Life Problems Will Be Resolved). Sales numbers have fallen, so that the novelist who used to routinely sell 18,000
Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Last week I did a few publisher visits in Minneapolis, and I thought it would be fun to show some of the pictures from my visit.
In today’s publishing world, publisher visits are really a rarity for those of us agents who don’t live in NYC. So it’s always great fun to meet up with publishing friends and make new ones.
Minneapolis has a handful of houses that are quite well known and successful (It’s funny…we think of NYC or Nashville or Colorado Springs as being the main pub hubs, but in reality, there are publishers all over the US!). So I was thrilled to be able to visit with a few of them.
These in-person visits really help build relationships. Most tend to think that it’s during these visits that business is done and deals made, but that’s quite rare. I’m just as successful doing deals with editors I’ve never met as I am doing them with my editor friends. But still, it’s great to deepen professional and even personal relationships, so that’s why these visits are important.
My first stop was literary house Milkweed Editions. They’re a small nonprofit operation, but very respected and quite successful. Located in the beautiful Loft Literary Center in downtown Minneapolis, Milkweed is surrounded by likeminded businesses and people. The area is a pocket of literary-ness that really does inspire. The editor there, Daniel Slager, is proud of what they do and he has
When a man kisses a woman—and the two care about each other in an amorous way—well, we’re most likely guaranteed some sweet magic. Maybe even some bolts of lightning. And we women never tire of experiencing or watching or reading about those dreamy moments when a man and woman feel those first stirrings of attraction, affection, and then love. However, in many of today’s modern novels, the romantic scenes go far behind an ardent kiss.
So, what sets the inspirational romance apart from the others when it comes to those scenes of passion? First of all, writers and readers of inspirational romances are not saying that these fiery feelings aren’t being played out in their own marital beds. However, they are saying they don’t want to be peeping toms in someone else’s boudoir. They have discernment for what is meant to be enjoyed and a healthy respect for what is meant to be private.
These same readers know their minds and hearts—they are more satisfied when the hero and heroine struggle toward real love, rather than merely give in to temporary passion. Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece, Jane Eyre, is one of the most wildly passionate love stories ever written, and yet we never read about anything more intimate than a kiss.
Also, like in the novel, Jane Eyre, the story encourages readers to consider the whole of a person—which includes the soul rather than just mere flesh. This novel reminds us that we are not only in great need of human affection and love, but that we also desire to be connected to something greater than ourselves—the One true source of all of that love.
On the other hand, if a story revolves around a hero and heroine who are consumed by nothing more than lust and erotic behaviors, well, let’s just say, these kinds of mental images aren’t going raise the reader to
Imagine this: You get to sit down to have dinner with the literary agent of your choosing. You can ask anything you want? So… what would you ask? I’ve been taking the entire month of April to let people send in the questions they’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent. Recent questions include…
A friend of mine in our writers’ group asked me if she can be sued if she uses the name of a real town — i.e., Witch Hazel, Oregon, in her novel. Is that true?
Okay– I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not giving you legal advice. If you need legal advice, go talk to an attorney. What you’re getting is my take as an agent… Sued? For what? No. You can be sued for defaming or libeling someone, but you can’t be sued for simply using the name of a town. Does she think she can’t say, “The plane flew to New York”? (But thanks for the call-out to my hometown of Witch Hazel!)
It’s my understanding that publishers will often pay higher royalties for hardcover than softcover. Why is this?
It’s true. The standard book contracts pays 10% of the retail price on the first 5000 hardcopies sold, 12.5% on the next 5000 copies, and 15% thereafter. A trade paper pays a flat 7.5%. The cost of the hardcover is higher, the production costs are a bit higher, people are willing to pay more, so there is more money to divide. Thus the royalties are higher. (By the way, most CBA publishers pay on net contracts, so it’s a bit different.)
I’d like to know what goes on in a Pub Board meeting, and why does it sometimes take so long for them to make a decision on a book?
The pub board is where a decision is made to publish or not publish a book. Usually it includes the editor presenting the project,
Okay, so this month I’ve invited writers to send in the question they’d love to ask a literary agent, if only they could sit down over, say, a martini. Pretend the two of you are face to face. Relax. Take a deep breath. What would you ask? Here are several of the questions people sent…
When a contract with a publisher expires, I assume the rights to the book revert back to the author. Does the author then have to get a new cover, ISBN number, etc, to put the book out as an e-book or POD? And is that something usually covered in a contract?
Great question. First, with most publishing contracts these days, the rights do NOT automatically revert to the author when the book goes out of print. Instead, the book stays with that publisher as an e-book, and they’ll want to keep it as long as it’s selling some copies and making money. Even when it’s not, you’ll have to write and request your rights back. So let’s say the publisher does indeed revert rights — all that gets reverted to you is your text. You’ll need to create a new cover (unless it’s the rare instance where you own the cover art or can buy it from the publisher), get a new ISBN (since this is a new edition of the book), probably re-edit the book (to make it clean and up to date), then load it to Amazon, Smashwords, etc. And no, your current publishing contract won’t say much of anything about this process, other than to offer some confusing, multi-step process to try and get your rights back.
Is there any chance of getting an agent when you DON’T have a platform? And if I’m just starting, how long do you feel it will take for me to build a platform?
Sure there is. It’s just easier when you have a platform —