• July 13, 2015

    The Great Christian Fiction Debate

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    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 rsz_19780312309282-1of 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 rsz_9780060545697traditional 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

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  • Brian

    July 10, 2015

    Publishing & Technology: Open Access Beyond Academia

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    Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

    This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about about the slow, incremental growth of open access monographs in the world of academic publishing and how that business model could maybe have a positive impact on trade publishing in the future. According to a study published in May of this year by Publishers Communication Group (PCG), a marketing and sales consulting firm that exists as a division of the publishers services company Publishing Technology, “publishers and libraries are increasingly experimenting with Open Access (OA) books…with funding derived from a variety of sources including library budgets.” For the entire survey report on the PCG website click here.

    The fact that OA books are slowly gaining in importance in the world of academic publishing, especially in the area of monographs, is not a tremendous surprise, working directly with academics to produce works with an all but guaranteed (if comparatively small) market, effectively cutting out the middleman, seems like a proverbial no-brainer. But, as the report goes on to state, “librarians and publishers perceive the benefits of the OA books movement differently,” with librarians advocating deeper institutional involvement while academic publishers “fear unrealistic funding expectations…vanity publishing, and the inevitability of institutional mandates.” Sound at all familiar? Understandable? I’m sure opinions will vary depending upon perspective. I am left wondering though. Could Open Access book publishing gain any traction in the trade market? And, if so, what would that look like?

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  • July 8, 2015

    What's going on with CBA fiction?

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    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, KeyboardChristian 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

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  • July 6, 2015

    What's the difference between a website, a blog, and a web newsletter?

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    Someone recently sent in a question about websites and blogs… “Practically speaking, what is the real difference between a website and a blog, or between a blog and an online newsletter? And does an author need one of each?” 

     

    Practically speaking, there really isn’t any different between them – they are all simply information shared via digital means. But in common parlance, a website is most often a static site that introduces readers to a person or organization, and a blog is an active commentary about topics of interest to the writer(s).pen and ink

    Think about it this way: a blog provides more commentary than a website, and is updated regularly, whereas a website often presents some basic information that tends to remain the same for a long time. For that reason, we generally see websites as one-way communication, whereas a blog is more interactive and has multiple communication pathways. Media commentator Jeff Korhan has said that a website is a digital storefront, and a blog is a digital magazine — an image I’ve long found helpful.

    A newsletter is similar to a blog, but often is used as a device that is sent out (rather than waiting for people to come visit), and shares information about upcoming events of interest to the regular members or readers of the newsletter. I once heard a speaker say that a newsletter is a “push” device (because you push it into people’s email boxes to get noticed) while a blog is a “pull” device (because you offer writing and ideas that pulls people in).

    Does a writer need all of these? Well… no. There’s no “one right method” for every writer. But I think most writers these days have some sort of website, so that new or potential readers can go and research them. For whatever reason, readers enjoy seeing photos of the writer, reading a bio, hearing him or her say a few

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  • Brian

    July 1, 2015

    Publishing and Technology: Talkin’ Bout That Generation (Gap)

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    Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

    This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about those pesky Millennials and how they still won’t (or rather just don’t) buy ebooks. This week’s post was touched off by an article by Charlotte Eyre on the website The Bookseller regarding information released in Deloitte’s Media Consumer 2015: The Signal and the Noise report. Though the statistics reported in the document are specific to Deloitte’s research in the United Kingdom, I think it’s safe to make some general extrapolations from the data regarding U.S. consumers.

    The gist of the article on The Bookseller was that, though Millennials are the most tech-savvy generation we’ve seen to date, they are not embracing the ebook (not even as they emerge from their tween years). In fact, it may be a bit of a mistake to market ebooks to this generation at all. And, though most respondents in the Deloitte sample did purchase a book (regardless of format) in the past year, they were least likely to have purchased it in ebook form, and did report that the majority of their media consumption was focused on other non-print media. None of this should come as much of a surprise for anyone who’s been even loosely aware of trends in media consumption and publishing. But, it does point to an area of continuing concern for all of us who make a living off of the written word.

    So, how do you get millennials (and Generation Z – if that’s what we’re really going to call what’s next) to buy books, if not via e-readers? As I’ve mentioned in the past, according to the white paper put out by Thad McElroy of Digital Book World in December of last year on

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  • June 30, 2015

    Craft for a Conference: Part 5, The Art of Being Memorable

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    brick green no smile b:wWelcome to what will probably be the conclusion of my “Craft for a Conference” series (unless someone asks a question about an aspect of conference materials that I haven’t addressed already). Through my last four posts on conference craft, I repeated one mantra: that the purpose of any material you take to a conference (including spoken pitches) should be to gain the interest of the person you’re talking to as quickly as possible and to make yourself stand out from the crowd (in a positive way) as much as you can. When I meet with authors at conferences, the thing I see missing from pitches/conference materials more than anything else is that memorability factor– I read a lot of good hooks, some nice one-sheets, but at the end of a day where I’ve taken 20 appointments plus heard pitches at lunch and dinner, I’m often hard-pressed to recall ONE story idea without looking at my notes.

    Now, obviously, there’s an element of information fatigue at play there; even a great, memorable story can get lost in the annals of memory if I heard ten forgettable pitches after it, and that’s what my notes are for. But when I read those notes, I want to go, “OH yeah, this one!” because I recognize the unique elements that stood out for me when you pitched it. I want you to have made it easy for me to remember it by pulling out everything that is most unique and most characteristic of that story in your one-sheet or your pitch. The fact that this doesn’t happen more often tells me not that authors aren’t writing memorable stories, but that they don’t always know how to make themselves/their pitches or materials memorable, that they don’t know what elements of their book stand out from the crowd and how to highlight those.

    With that in mind, here are some places to start in your quest

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  • June 29, 2015

    Ask the Agent: What if another agent took my manuscript out already?

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    This question came to my in-box recently: What is the protocol for getting an agent for a book that was agented before? I don’t think I should withhold that information, but I don’t want to put up roadblocks either. I’ve let it stop me from going forward and could use your input.

     

    If you had an agent in the past who took your book to market but was unable to land you a deal, by all means reveal that to your new agent or prospective agent. For example, if my buddy Greg Johnson has taken a World War II novel manuscript out to all the houses doing those types of books, then I need to know that. Things with the manuscript would have to change for me to take it out to publishers. We may need to shift the story a bit, do some heavy rewrites, re-title it, or do some serious revising to make it work. So if you took this out to editors already once, it’s fine to try again, but you need to let me know what’s changed.

     

    So if you had an agent take the manuscript out a couple years ago, and have done serious work on it to change and improve it, talk to your agent about it. Find out where it was sent, and, if you can, what was said about it. That will help him or her when they start talking to editors about it and somebody begins asking questions.

    The thing to remember is that there’s no magic in MY taking a book out that everyone has already rejected. Occasionally I’ll have an author approach me with a manuscript and say, “Well, this other guy has shown it around to everyone already.” Okay… so why would I be able to land it? It’s not like I can take a book and place it with an editor who has already seen

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  • Brian

    June 25, 2015

    The Sixth Sign of the Amazocalypse…

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    Publishing & Technology: The Sixth Sign of the Amazocalypse

    Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

    This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about about Amazon’s announcement of their new payment plan for authors. Well actually, it’s not for all authors. In fact it’s not even for all independent authors. In fact it’s only for a small segment of independent authors publishing through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Select program. But, if you didn’t notice, social media lit up like the announcement was the sixth sign of the coming Apocalypse (if you can judge by my feeds, anyway). Much of this has to do with irresponsible reporting. Half of the news sources I looked at prior to writing this post announced the story with a baiting vagueness that made it seem like Amazon was simultaneously devaluing the written word and sucker punching all writers in the gut. If you’d like to read the actual announcement from Amazon click here.

    While I have no desire to wade back into the quagmire of discussing cultural agency and digital self publishing on this blog, I do find it slightly humorous that the folks making the biggest fuss about the announcement (in my feeds, anyway) are my traditionally-published author friends and my small-bookstore-owner friends, while the voices of reason that I read in such places as this Fortune article, arguing for the rightness and fairness of paying authors by words read where the same independent author apologists that seem to come to Amazon’s defense every time the giant gets caught up in a little controversy. Regardless of whether or not Amazon’s switch to paying some authors in a small segment of their self-publishing business by words read is a good thing for culture, business,

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  • June 23, 2015

    Want to meet us?

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    I’m frequently asked where people can meet us and talk books, so if you’re traveling and want to chat sometime, look us up.

    Amanda Luedeke is speaking at the Realm Makers Conference, July 7 & 8 in St Louis. For people who like science fiction and fantasy, this is a popular conference to attend. It’s held on the campus of the University of Missouri, and this year’s keynote is our good buddy Robert Liparulo.

    Chip MacGregor will be at the 60th annual Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in Seattle July 16-19. We’re meeting at the SeaTac Hilton, and this year’s conference offers a a robust line up of workshops to benefit writers at all levels, from specific instruction on elements of craft to sessions on the business of writing for those writers ready to publish.  A sampling of topics range from crafting a memorable villain to developing an author platform and Writing Groupmarketing your book. (You can find the full schedule here.) There’s also a long list of agents and editors coming, plus keynotes from authors like Andre Dubus III, J.A. Jance, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Boyle, and Kevin O’Brien.

    He will also be speaking at the Willamette Writers Conference, August 7 to 9 in Portland, Oregon. One of the great writing conferences on the left coast, you’ll find a long list of agents and editors, a very strong list of workshops to attend, and one of the most creative schedules of any conference. Chip even gets to moderate a panel with New York Times bestsellers Jennifer Lauck, Philip Margolin, April Henry, Laurie Notaro, and Daniel H. Wilson.

    If you write for the CBA market, we’ll go right from there to the Oregon Christian Writers Conference, August 10 to 13, also in Portland. Several CBA-focused editors and agents will be there, as well as teaching sessions with such bestselling authors as Susan May Warren, Jane Kirkpatrick, Leslie Gould, Jim Rubart,

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  • June 22, 2015

    Ask the Agent: What if my story doesn't fit a genre?

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    I’ve been getting all sorts of interesting (if sometimes random) questions from readers lately, and wanted to offer some notes on genres, writing style, and the contemporary publishing market. Here are some questions that came in recently:

    What do you do when your story doesn’t fit into the box of any specified genre? For instance, if characters and/or objects in a story symbolize something deeper, but the story can also be taken as a literal story (e.g., The Le Petit Prince or Pilgrim’s Progress), is it going to be classified as inspirational, or drama, or children’s story? Is there some other genre out there that I’m missing?

    If you have a story that uses characters or objects that symbolize something deeper, you’re probably writing an allegory. And right now there is very little market for allegory. A bit, perhaps, with “business fables” that teach organizational principles, or the occasional sci-fi novel, possibly with some children’s books. But for most part, allegories are one tough sell.

    I am a freelance editor and writer, so editing is what (barely) pays the bills, but I have a couple of novel projects I feel need to come out of me. However, my writing style tends to reflect the style of books I love to read—the descriptive, long-sentence style of Dickens, for example. Dickens is one of the greats, but nowadays the passive construction has a bad rap and “show, don’t tell” seems to be the motto of the industry. My question is this: is there a market for descriptive writing anymore?

    The truth? Not much of one. Maybe you could capture a new audience and re-start it, but no, the culture has moved on from that style. Remember, writing is art, and art needs its own new expressions in each generation. That’s why it’s hard to go back and read James Fenimore Cooper – his prose just doesn’t work in contemporary culture. (For that

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