Category : Current Affairs

  • August 23, 2010

    A Mixed Bag


    A mixed bag of questions today. Donna sent this to me recently: "Nonfiction seems to be struggling in bookstores, but fiction has been on a growth track. I heard you say one time that this disparity is due to the growth of the internet. Can you explain that to me?"

    Okay, let's call this The MacGregor Theory of Non-Fiction Struggles. First, the core of nonfiction is what we call "problem/solution" writing (or sometimes question/answer writing). A person comes into a bookstore with a problem ("I need to lower my cholesterol" or "I don't get along with my teenage daughter"), and wants a book that offers a solution to the problem ("Lower Your Cholesterol in 30 Days" or "How to Talk so your Daughter will LIsten"). They walk in with a problem, and they look for a book that offers a solution. Or they walk in with a question, and they look for a book that offers an answer. That's the focus of most nonfiction. (There ARE alternatives: history books tend to educate instead of answer, craft books offer an idea without necessarily being a "solution"). Fiction, on the other hand, is usually written to entertain, occasionally to inspire or educate. And during the current economic times, people are turning to fiction because it is basically a cheap, satisfying, and long-lasting entertainment option. (There's plenty of evidence to suggest fiction reading goes up as the economy goes down.) Anyway, with the advent of the web, people aren't buying as many nonfiction books because they tend to look to the web for a solution. (Think about it… the last time you needed to know how to make Yorkshire Pudding, did you dig through a cookbook or look it up online?) I'm not declaring the death of all non-fiction — I'm just explaining why it's struggling, while fiction is growing. 

    Andrew wrote and said, "I couldn't help but read that letter you received the other

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  • July 22, 2010

    How to Study the Market


    Clovis asked, "If you are seeking a market for a particular idea, how do you study the market? What steps are critical in matching the work to the right publisher? How much do you rely on the guidelines, samples, catalogs, etc.? And what other sources are helpful?"

    My answer: If you want to take steps like this , get to know the industry. I can think of a number of things that would help a writer do that…

    1. Read frequently.

    2. Read outside your genre (for example, if you’re a CBA person, read books outside of CBA).

    3. Study the bestseller lists (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, your local newspaper — all have them). Spend time on and to see what's selling.

    4. Note who publishes the books you read and the books on the bestseller lists. (In case you haven't figured it out, not all publishing houses were created equal.)

    5. Take a look at trade journals to find what's hot/what's not/what's happening. These journals would include Publishers Weekly, the email version of Publishers Daily, maybe Library Journal, or Christian Retailing, or Writers Digest, possibly Bookstore Journal. You may also glean some good information in some entertainment journals.

    6. Keeps tabs on the economic climate of publishing and bookselling. Right now everybody is talking about what bad shape the industry is in… but this year there will probably be more book pages published and sold than ever before in history.

    7. It's important that you study a publisher before sending anything to them. Harvest House may be the right place for your gift book, but it's the wrong place for your commentary on Habakkuk. So go to web sites and read catalogues to figure out who publishes what. If you research the house and its list, you'll be better able to target the right publisher.

    8. Check out market resources like the Writer's

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  • June 17, 2010

    Ten Notes for Today's Writer


    1. Lots of big news this week, including something nobody seemed to have sniffed… THOMAS NELSON WAS BOUGHT OUT by an equity company, Kohlberg and Company. Remember, Thomas Nelson is one of the largest Christian publishers in the world, and they were sold just a few years ago to the guys at InterMedia (one of the pioneers in cable TV, InterMedia made the interesting step of pulling the company out of being publicly traded, and went back to being a private company). Anyway, the previous owners had financed a big chunk of the purchase, and Kohlberg must have seen Thomas Nelson was going to make them money, since they paid off the $219 million loan (go ahead and read that figure again) and took control of the company. 

    2. Wow. And it didn't stop there – they had the good sense to keep Michael Hyatt, perhaps the brightest mind in CBA, and the man who has restructured the company and made it both leaner and more focused, AND they brought on Jane Friedman as a board member. Some CBA people may not recognize the importance of that, but Jane used to be the boss at HarperCollins, the owner of Zondervan, before that was the Executive VP of Random House, and before that Publisher at Vintage . I'll tell you there isn't a publishing professional who doesn't respect Jane — she's one of the best, most experienced minds in contemporary publishing. An incredible addition, frankly.

    3. Novelist (and longtime friend) Joyce Magnin, best known for her wonderful "Bright's Pond" novels with Abingdon, has started a company to help new novelists get their manuscripts ready. This isn't just another editorial service — take a look at her website. You'll come away totally impressed:

    4. If you're a married woman (or you have any married women in your life), they can be part of a research project on

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  • June 5, 2010

    Guest Blogger: The ECPA Winners


    Our guest blogger today is Cindy Carter, the Recognition and Resources Manager for the ECPA…

    Thank you, Chip, for allowing me the opportunity to be a guest blogger on your site and to introduce your readers to the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association [ECPA]. 

    ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) is the trade association for Christian publishers with nearly 150 members worldwide.   It is our mission to equip the Christian publishing industry with programs and services that enable them to more efficiently and effectively “make the Christian message more widely known.”  Our programs aim to build industry awareness, and to enhance ECPA members’ access to markets, education, expertise, information and peers.

    One of the ways that ECPA builds awareness of quality Christian literature, is through the annual Christian Book Award program, which recognizes and promotes the year’s finest Christian titles in six categories.  Here are the 2010 winners:

    Christian Book of the YearThe Hole in Our Gospel

    by Richard Stearns  (Thomas Nelson)

    Bibles: Glo by Immersion Digital (Zondervan)

    Bible Reference: The New Moody Atlas of the Bible by Barry Beitzel  (Moody Publishers)

    Children & Youth: B4UD8 by Hayley and Michael DiMarco  (Revell/ Baker Publishing Group)

    Christian Life: The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns  (Thomas Nelson)

    Fiction: Watch Over Me by Christa Parrish  (Bethany House/ Baker Publishing Group)

    Inspiration & Gift: Grace Notes by Philip Yancey  (Zondervan)

    This collection of six books represents the industry's ‘best of the year’ and the program’s retail partners have agreed to promote them to their consumer bases.&#01
    Those partners include, Berean, Family, and Parable, along with Amazon, Borders and Barnes & Noble.  I highly recommend that you consider these titles for your personal reading and for gift giving. 

    ECPA also recognizes and celebrates the impact of Christian titles through our Gold, Platinum and Diamond Sales Award program by honoring titles that have sold 500,000 (Gold),

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  • May 25, 2010



    Winter 2010 headshot


    Even with me wasting brain cells trying to figure out who from Oceanic 815 might come back to life after "moving on" into into the great white light, and Chip and Patti welcoming their beautiful new granddaughter to the MacGregor clan, we've still got a bit of news to share this week…


    Poppy Smith will be doing a book with Harvest House, which at this point is tentatively titled WHY CAN'T HE BE MORE LIKE ME.

    Elizabeth Musser, author of THE SWAN HOUSE, has just signed to have three books release with Cook: TWO DESTINIES, TWO CROSSES, and TWO TESTAMENTS have already released in Europe, but now they're going to be available in the US.

    Jim Rubart, whose novel ROOMS is getting a lot of attention, has just signed to do BOOK OF DAYS with B&H. It's the story of a professor who has lost his wife and is in search of the Book of Days referred to in Scripture — a book he hopes will reveal the secrets of life and death. 

    Janet Lee Barton has signed with Heartsong Presents to do I'D SOONER HAVE LOVE, the story of an Oklahoma couple, and Darlene Franklin has signed to do LOVE'S RAID with the same company. 

    Continuing her series of books with Guideposts, Leslie Gould has agreed to do another in the STORIES OF HOPE HAVEN series, and Susan Page Davis is adding LOVE FINDS YOU IN PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND to Summerside's romance series. 


    Irene Hannon's IN HARM'S WAY is not only a new release, it's on the CBA Bestseller list, having made the ECPA's  "Top Fifty"list of Christian books. Congratulations Irene!

    Shane Stanford's A POSITIVE LIFE released with Zondervan and has been getting endorsements from the likes of John Ortberg and Leonard Sweet. Shane, a United Methodist pastor, shares his story of being HIV positive.

    Charles Foster's THE SACRED JOURNEY released with Thomas Nelson. A

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  • May 24, 2010

    Random Notes on a Monday


    So many things to share, so little time…

    First, if you haven't seen this wonderful youtube ditty about booksignings, you should take a peek…

    Second, I want to suggest two websites to check out —

    Publishing Perspectives offers a really interesting take on the industry [  ]

    and the folks at   solicit a lot of fascinating people to talk about the industry.

    Third, take a look at what one excellent writer, novelist Mark Bertrand, has to say about the future of publishing at

    Fourth, if you haven't yet read Jon Acuff's Stuff Christians Life, you are missing not only a hilariously funny look at contemporary Christianity, but some really insightful stuff on how we live out our faith. Jon was just profiled on this past weekend, so he's getting huge press. 

    Fifth, you might want to check out what Barnes & Noble is doing with PubIt — B&N's own version of self-publishing, which lets you leverage the world's #1 bookstore by making your book available on the Nook. Lots of details online:

    Sixth, people have been asking me when I'm teaching a seminar next…  Bestselling novelist Susan May Warren and I are teaching "How to Create Bestselling Fiction" in Denver June 18 & 19. It's easy to get to, is on a Friday/Saturday, and we'd love to have you join us. Susan is simply the best writing instructor I know. You can find out all the details at

    Seventh, you probably already know the names Lisa Samson and Susan Meissner. They are bestselling, award-winning novelists who are respected by everybody in the industry. The two of them have been teaming up to do a weekend retreat entitled "How to Add Depth to Your Fiction," and people are raving about it. They were going to do it in Detroit in July, but instead they

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  • December 19, 2008

    The Random Stuff in my In-Box


    People send me interesting stuff, but it usually sits around while I'm answering people's questions, so today I'm trying to empty the random non-question stuff in my box…

    –The good people at Library Journal have just released their list of the Best Books of 2008, and in the religious fiction category are two friends of mine: Lisa Samson's wonderful book Embrace Me (about a group of people with deformities who earn their living in a carnival sideshow) and Claudia Mair Burney's Wounded (about a struggling woman who find peace and stigmata). Both of these are great books, from writers with talent and depth. Congrats!

    –A couple times I've mentioned marketing guru Rob Eagar's Wildfire Marketing research on CBA. In his most recent report, he offered one fascinating fact: The e-book version of Rob Bell's Jesus Wants to Save Christians has outsold the print version on Amazon. Now that's interesting…

    –The folks at blog have posted a cool thing: "50 Useful Google Applications for Writers." It's free — check it out. Correction: The full address is:

    –Terry Whalin's website,, has just posted a free e-book entitled Platform-Building Ideas for Every Author. Like most of the things on Terry's site, it's worth a look.

    –While I'm mentioning resources, the folks at ECPA have revamped their site. The proposals can now be screened by literary agents, which is a good thing. I've not always been a huge fan of the program, but this is certainly a positive step.

    Bad news for the industry: Random House made some more staff cuts this week. So did Macmillan and Chronicle. I don't have the gift of prophecy, but with all these cuts going on at houses that have already contracted books, I'd like to predict that people in publishing next year will either be (A) very busy, or (B) looking for a job.

    On the good news side, Wiley,

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  • December 3, 2008

    Black Wednesday


    Ouch. I don't mean to be the bearer of bad news, but today was a really, REALLY lousy day for all of us who work in publishing. Today…

    -Simon & Schuster cut 35 people (2% of its workforce).

    -Thomas Nelson cut 54 people (10% of its workforce).

    -Random House axed some of its top people and announced it is restructuring — and will disband the Doubleday Publishing Group.

    -It has been reported that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has let go of several employees (the company doesn't comment on personnel matters). Becky Saletan, the publisher, has been let go.

    -And Borders' stock price fell under one dollar. That's a very bad thing — if their stock price stays under $1 for ninety days, they have to do a consolidation of stock (the  opposite of a stock split).

    This qualifies as a really crappy day. And yes, most of it traces back to the lousy economy.

    Yeesh. The one bit of good news? Retail sales on "Black Friday" looked better than expected, proving that books are still recession-resistant. Today's news reveals that they are certainly not "recession proof." But people are still buying books, so that's something to take to heart.

    UPDATE: While there was some other news that wasn't too encouraging (Penguin has put a freeze on any raises this year), there was also some good news for everyone… Books sales in November rose 6% over this time last year, according to a story by Jim Milliot on PW Daily. He also noted that children's book sales rose more than 33% in that period (!), and YA sales were also up (thank you Stephenie Meyer!). When times are hard, people still read books.

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  • December 2, 2008

    What’s Happening in the Industry Right Now?


    I've had a number of people asking state-of-the-industry questions, so…

    — In case you haven't heard, the Author's Guild (along with most of the big New York publishers) finally settled their lawsuit with Google over their Library Search program. Basically, Google was scanning books from libraries and making them available, which seemed like a clear violation of copyright laws. In the end, Google paid $125 million and agreed to set up a new licensing system. The goal is to give readers more access to out-of-print books, make it easier for libraries and universities to access hard-to-find pages, and offer new avenues for people to buy copyrighted books online. The $125 M will be used to set up a nonprofit book registry, and it's expected that most American publishers will participate. This is good news for authors, who won't be getting jobbed by Google any more.

    — Publishers Weekly has come out with its long list of the "Best Books of the Year," and in the religious fiction category, there are only two titles: Anne Rice's Christ the Lord and Susan Meissner's The Shape of Mercy. Woo-hoo! SO glad to see Susan's book on that list. From the moment she turned that manuscript in to her editor, I expected to see this sort of response. If you haven't read it, go buy a copy. Honest — it'll be one of the best novels you'll read this year.

    — Rob Eager, the president of Wildfire Marketing in Atlanta, has done a fascinating study of CBA publishers. He dug into the sales numbers of 15 publishers on Amazon, and made some determinations based on the sales of each company's top twenty books. It's an interesting study, since it doesn't allow one hit to skew the results, but bases its research on each house's top twenty books. His findings:

    1. Zondervan's top 20 titles have an average sales rank on Amazon of 1807. (Their

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  • September 28, 2008

    Here’s What’s New in Publishing


    There have been a number of fascinating things going on in publishing recently. Let me catch you up to date…
    1. In October, Esquire Magazine will feature something that's never been done before: an animated cover. Their 75th Anniversary issue, coming in October, will use 3-mm-thick e-paper (the same material used in Amazon's Kindle), and will have images that change and turn on and off. Think of this as a simplified version of the newspapers you saw in the Harry Potter movies. The data and batteries behind all this are actually baked into the paper, but they fully expect hackers to be able to get inside and reprogram the images. Fascinating stuff ahead for the world of publishing. Covers that shift and change. (I was even told the magazines will have to be delivered in refrigerated trucks. Interesting.)
    2. New York Magazine says that book publishing is dead. You can read it all for yourself at  — it's an interesting exploration of the current economics of publishing.
    3. It looks more and more like Borders could be in serious trouble. They picked a bad time to re-finance, and it looks like they may have to sell the company after all. That's a bummer. Borders is a wonderful company to those of us who work with books and words. As an author, you want them to remain in business.
    4. Google has announced they are (finally) making their book previews and searches available to data bases everywhere. And Random House is participating (surprise!). After all the talk of lawsuits and warfare, it looks like publishers are beginning to see the potential benefit of this type of arrangement.
    5. One of the most important, but under-reported, publishing stories of this year has been the behavior of some publishers over Sherry Jones' novel, The Jewel of Medina. In case you don't know, it's the story of Ashia,
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