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Category : Current Affairs
Someone wrote to ask, “What sources are there for authors to keep an eye on writing and publishing trends?”
Publishers Marketplace, Publishers Lunch, Publishers Weekly, Digital Book World – all of those resources will keep you up to date on the industry. Watching the various bestseller lists can be helpful, as can finding some blogs that talk about the industry. I like www.rachellegardner.com and www.stevelaube.com, but there are a ton of good ones: PubRants, GalleyCat, SlushPileHell, BuzzMachine, Adventures in Agentland, BookSquare… there are too many to count.
Each year Writers Digest does a list of “the 101 Best Websites for Writers,” and they always have some great advice. I discovered GrammarGirl, InkyGirl, and Editorial Anonymous by seeing them in the magazine. (I’m one of those who still thinks Writers Digest is one of the very best resources any writer could have.) To watch trends specifically, check out Seth Godin, Mashable, and Alan Rinzler’s blog. Great spots. It often seems like agent blogs have become a key resource for writers who need to know what’s going on across the industry, so checking out your agent’s blog (or those of other members of AAR) is probably one of the best sources of information.
Going to conferences is really helpful, since it allows you to talk face to face with authors and editors, gaining firsthand knowledge of what’s happening. There’s nothing like having an editor say to you, “We’re looking for a book on Amish vampire pirates in space” to know that everyone in this industry has lost their freaking minds. (Or that they’re all thinking creatively.) If you go to a book show, you can quickly spot the latest trends in covers, colors, themes, what types of books everyone is doing, what everyone is NOT doing, and what the latest scuttlebutt is. And while I no longer do any online writing communities, I know many authors enjoy being part of the
A regular reader of this blog sent me a note that read, “Chip, I know you’ve been to BEA and RWA in the past month. Can you simply tell us what books are selling right now? What are the trends you’re seeing?”
I can try. In the ebook space, it’s pretty clear that contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and suspense thrillers of all types are selling well. That would include PI novels, police procedurals, crime novels, etc. So what we call “category” fiction (that is, fiction that follows certain rules for its genre) really leads the way in ebooks. It’s nice to see literary fiction is finally starting to sell well digitally. For a long time there was a sense that people weren’t buying literary novels on their Nooks and Kindles, but we seem to be beyond that now.
Of course, the whole notion of “fiction on e-readers” is not just a trend, it’s an established fact in the contemporary world of publishing. We all thought fiction was outselling nonfiction about 3-to-1 on e-readers, and that was the figure I often used at conferences. Then a study was made recently that showed fiction is outselling nonfiction roughly 8-to-1 in the e-book market. Wow… My guess is that people who are used to reading things electronically are simply getting a lot of their nonfiction information (recipes, health tips, medical advice, etc) on the web, leaving them to look for fiction on their readers.
In the print space, we’re still seeing the fiction bestseller lists ruled by familiar names. Nearly every big book these days is from an author who has had big books in the past, which seems frustrating to a lot of novelists… but that’s just the nature of the business. When a book breaks out (and there are always going to be breakout novels — see Gone Girl, Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Really Crappy Writing, etc), we add
A wonderful writer friend sent me a note that read, in part, “Those of us in the industry tend to laud writers like Graham Green and Flannery O’Connor, but would anyone publish them now? No Whiskey Priest or Hazel Motes. It seems that, in both CBA as well as the general market, there’s no place for these characters; they have no appeal.”
I respectfully disagree, of course. Contemporary publishers would take both authors because they offered great craft. What would be interesting would be to see how religious audiences would respond to these clearly faith-infused stories.
But don’t misunderstand — commerciality still trumps craft. Good grief — nobody thinks of Left Behind as being great art, but the series sold 70 million copies. No critic seriously believes the Harry Potter series is great literature, but it’s now the best selling fiction series in history. That’s okay. People like commercial stories. And I shamelessly represent commercial stories. I’m happy to work with books that sell — and I also want to be doing books that make a difference in the lives of others. I don’t see life as an either/or decision. We want to create great art, AND we want to see our books sell. That’s the constant tension in working with writers.
So let me ask readers a question… Who is YOUR favorite writer, and why? Let’s have a conversation in the “comments” section on who you think we should all be reading.
I thought you’d find it interesting to know that the staff here at MacGregor Literary have a bunch of books on the market. I’ve long said that one of the best things about our agency is that we’re a group of writers — not just editors or dealmakers or marketing types. Writers. That doesn’t make us better than other agencies, but it does make us unique.
Amanda Luedeke is the author of The Extroverted Writer: An Author’s Guide to Marketing and Building a Platform. A lot of writers love Amanda’s wisdom on the topic of marketing on this blog every Thursday, and her book gives authors the tools to develop on online following. It’s very practical and packed with good information.
Holly Lorincz is the author of Smart Mouth, a funny, touching novel about a very shy first-year teacher who is manipulated into coaching the debate team. Think of it as a cross between Glee and Bridget Jones Diary, with great voice, an enduring protagonist, and memories we all have of the horrors of high school.
Marie Prys is the coauthor of Faith of the First Ladies, which simply looks at a bunch of our First Ladies, and how their faith and character has helped shape our country (as well as their families). The First Lady’s role has shifted over time, from “national hostess” to “policy influencer,” and nearly every woman in the role has put her own mark on it.
And yes, I had a new book release last year, with Bethany House. The title is 40 Ways to get Closer to God, and was simply intended as an examination of my spiritual journey. If someone feels a need to draw close to the Almighty, what does he or she do? What are some things that actually move us in that direction? (Hint: The book talks a lot about doing things for other people, rather than focusing on yourself.)
A dozen years ago, I was working as a literary agent with Alive Communications in Colorado Springs, and we had a great group of people all pitching in. Rick Christian (the boss, and the guy who basically began the notion of a literary agent working in CBA), Greg Johnson (now the President of WordServe), Kathy Helmers (a principal with Creative Trust Agency in Nashville), Andrea Heinecke (then my assistant, now a literary agent in her own right), Alice Crider (who worked as my assistant, then became an editor at Random House), as well as several other good folks. We had hired a new guy, Lee Hough, who’d been working as an editor for a mid-size publishing house, and came in with a great book sense.
Lee had heard this story, about a wealthy art dealer in Houston who had befriended a homeless African-American man while volunteering at a meals program. It was a great human story — the art dealer’s wife was dying of cancer, the homeless man had lived an incredibly hard life, he would eventually step in and take over the ministry that the art dealer’s wife had started, and somehow the characters all came together to help one another. Lee saw the value in it right away. He thought it was a one-of-a-kind, life-changing story of redemption and change.
Unfortunately, nobody else in publishing seemed to agree. I watched Lee pitch that book to house after house, continually getting turned down, people questioning the facts of the story or the salability of memoir in the Christian market. It seemed like week after week, as we’d gather for our Tuesday morning staff meetings, Lee would say he was still pitching that book, still believed in it, still trying to encourage the author to hang with him. I’m not exaggerating when I say most of us would have given up. (I might have actually said that to Lee, truth
Related to the recent posts about CBA and the general market, someone sent this: “I’m a writer who hasn’t been able to find success in the traditional CBA markets. I was told my book is ‘too message oriented for most Christian publishers.’ One house told me they want ‘values fiction, not message fiction.’ Is this a real trend? What is values fiction? How does it differ from message fiction?”
It’s a real trend. “Message fiction” is a story that gets weighed down by the author trying to deliver some sort of obvious, heavy-handed message. An example? Christian writers who want to send me their novel about the naughty 15-year-old girl who fools around, gets pregnant, then has to show me her struggle about whether to get an abortion or not, complete with angst and tears while the author hammers me with the message that “Abortion Is Bad.” WAY too heavy handed, and I see it frequenlty.
Look… I’m pro-life. But the author in that situation isn’t really trying to tell me a story — she’s trying to present me with a Major Life Message. And that’s boring. Who buys fiction to be preached life messages? Nobody. Pro-choice people won’t touch the book, and pro-life people don’t need to read it because they’re already convinced. If I want political messages, I’ll turn on MSNBC or Fox News (depending on your political leanings). If I feel a need for entertaining liberal messages, I’ll listen to NPR. But I buy a novel for the STORY. (And this isn’t limited to abortion books — there’s also the “We’re Destroying The Planet” books, the “Capitalism Is Evil” books, the “Obama Is The AntiChrist” books, and the “You Need To Fall On Your Knees And Accept Jesus Because You’re Going To Hell” books. They are all boring. Nobody wants them And they don’t work. So if you’re writing a book to share a message like that,
In light of the last couple posts, some wrote this: “For the uneducated among us, what exactly does a literary agent do in CBA, and why is one even necessary in Christian publishing?”
A good literary agent will help an author focus an idea, respond to the writing, perhaps offer thoughts to give shape to the manuscript, assist in the creation of a strong proposal, know who will be interested in the project, have the relationships to get it in front of publishing decision-makers, solicit offers, walk the author through the decision-making process, negotiate the deal, and ensure contract compliance. Depending on the relationship the author and agent have, the literary agent may very well serve as encourager, timekeeper, counselor, career guidance officer, and sounding board to the author. Or the agent may serve as a business manager, helping the author map out the details of making a life in the arts.
Why is an agent necessary? Because most authors don’t necessarily know how to do all of those things, and need a specialist to assist them. And because a good agent brings access through his or her relationships in the industry. AND because publishers long ago realized the value of agents, and generally won’t look at unsolicited manuscripts, but ask that all proposals come through a legitimate agent. Think about selling your home — you can do it on your own (my wife and I have sold houses “by owner”), but it ain’t easy. You’ve got to educate yourself in order to make sure it’s all legal and that the deal is done appropriately and fairly. And if you own an expensive home, it’s awfully tough to sell it yourself — buyers want the professionalism that comes from having the assistance of a good realtor overseeing the sale. Similarly, when you sign a book contract, you’re agreeing to a series of legal clauses that will govern your book for
Our discussion yesterday about CBA and the general market lead to several questions, including someone asking, “So what are the differences between CBA and ABA books?”
There are many similarities between the religious market and the general market. Both markets want to offer good books. (I’ve never met the guy who wanted to produce or sell a bad book.) Both want to entertain in some way. Both intend to have most of their books foster some sort of understanding.
Yet there are real differences. Many people writing in CBA are largely doing so because they feel they have a “message” they want to pass along. I meet these folks at conferences all the time – in their way of thinking, God has given them this great story, and they must be obedient and tell it to others. They have “Truth” that must be communicated. Sure, they want to be successful in the market, but even more important is the promulgation of the Gospel, and the notion of being obedient to share that message. Perhaps we could say “effective ministry” supplants “making money” in the hearts of many religious authors (not all, but many). And, of course, one could argue that there are certainly plenty of people in the general market who believe strongly in their own message, and feel that same need to share it, whether it be “how to lose weight” or “how to save the planet” or “why we shouldn’t go to war.” The notion of “calling” is a bit ephemeral — one author can be totally committed to a cause, and another can be totally committed to the opposite cause. In publishing, we understand the importance of exchanging ideas, of making a case, or saying it well. That’s the author’s job, no matter what market you’re in.
However, I think it’s safe to say that, if faith-based authors are often driven to share some sort of message,
Just back from a fabulous BEA convention, where the mood was upbeat, nobody was whining about the future of books, and everyone involved (authors, publishers, agents, sales people, marketing folks) seemed excited about the future of the industry. Loved being back in New York and seeing all the great titles coming out. I like to watch trends, and noticed several at the show (which I’ll talk more about in future posts), including the changes to faith-based publishing. So while I was at the show, someone sent this: “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, 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, 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. Now, 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
So, if you haven’t heard the news, I’ve been asked to be the keynote speaker at the 2013 Christy Awards. Yes — me. Chip MacGregor, literary agent. I’m fairly certain this was a clerical error, but it’s exactly this sort of thing that causes people to shake their heads at the decline of Solid American Values in publishing. Next thing you know, they’ll be having an agent serve as the Master of Ceremonies…
Oh, wait. It turns out they also asked my good buddy Steve Laube to serve as the emcee. He is also a longtime literary agent. Um… Well this just goes to show that anyone can make a mistake. I mean, first they forgot to give Jerry Jenkins a Christy Award, now they hire a couple of agents to man the microphone. I’m telling you, we need a blue-ribbon panel to check into this. (Heads will roll.)
If you’re not familiar, the Christy Awards are really the premier award for those who write inspirational fiction. They’ve been around about 15 years, and are named after Catherine Marshall’s seminal novel, Christy. Originally created by a dozen CBA publishers, the awards intended to honor Ms Marshall’s contribution to the field of faith-infused fiction, as well as providing opportunities to recognize the best novels and novelists in the genre. I’ve long been a fan of the Christy Awards, and have represented dozens of finalists and several Christy winners (including last year’s winners Mindy Starns Clark, Leslie Gould, and Ann Tatlock). We have several finalists again this year in the different categories — which you can find by going to www.christyawards.com .
So I’m completely surprised and flattered that they’d invite me to speak, even if the person on the other end of the line MEANT to call Chip Kelly, the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and, like me, a former Oregon Duck. (Don’t worry — I get that a