Is the Future Scary?

October 18, 2007 | Written by admin

Staying with the theme of "publishing’s future…"

Barb wrote to ask, "What will happen to CBA once all the Christian publishers are absorbed into big ABA houses? Has this been a good thing in general? And what is the ABA’s position at books aimed at Christians?"

The last question is easy to answer: ABA’s position is basically, "If this is going to sell, and we’re going to make money, we think this is a wonderful idea." And since we’re in a season where faith-based books are selling like never before, it’s a good time to be in Christian publishing. (Let’s face it: the reason New York houses are buying up CBA houses is because those CBA houses are making money.) So, yes, in general I would say this has been a very good thing. Authors have found wider acceptance, a bigger market, and a greater slice of the overall publishing pie. In addition, though some conservatives have argued this will all lead to a watering down of truth, I haven’t found that to be the case. In fact, while I was a publisher at Time-Warner, I never found I needed to apologize to my New York brethren for Christian content in the books I helped create. It’s what they hired me to do, so they expected the books to be clearly Christian.

Your first question suggests Christian publishing could disappear if it becomes unprofitable. It could, but I doubt that. The rise of desktop publishing has meant the birth of numerous small publishing houses, and I expect small houses to fill the gaps. For example, there have been fewer commentaries being produced by major houses…but smaller houses, seeing an opportunity, are stepping in to create those types of products. I believe in the theory of supply & demand in a free-market economy, so I expect to see more of this in the future. And no, I don’t find the future scary.

Jessica wrote to ask, "I’ve been reading your blog for a couple months now, and it seems like you represent explicitly Christian books. Do you also represent authors who write books that are not explicitly religious?"

Excellent question, Jessica. If you were to go back through the last year of blogs, you’d probably find that I used to talk about the industry in much more general terms. But questions I’ve been sent (and, doubtless the audience who sends them) have caused me to focus more on CBA than I used to. However, my enthusiastic answer is YES! I don’t just represent conservative Christian books — I represent a range of books, from a fairly diverse group of writers. In the first six months of this year, I was doing all sorts of deals with New York houses. That’s shifted in recent months, so that the majority of deals I’ve been doing recently are with CBA houses. But my goal isn’t just to represent CBA books — my goal is to represent redemptive books. We don’t have to agree on every point of theology. In fact,  your book may not have anything to do with theology. I’ve done health books, finance books, how-to books, biographies, business books, relationship books, humor, pop culture, sports, memoir, parenting, lifestyle, and current affairs. (I stay away from cookbooks, art books, children’s books, crafts, poetry, short stories, all things science, and most reference. Haven’t done true crime yet, and I stay away from porn.) And, of course, I do a ton of fiction. But the goal is to represent well-written books that feature great ideas and are, somehow, redemptive. I believe in the power of words to change people, and I’d like to leave the world a better place.

And, um…can I brag for a moment? Publisher’s Marketplace (the online Bible for those of us who work in the biz) just started a new feature entitled "Dealmakers." They examine the couple of thousand literary agents in the country, and rank the top 200. I was hoping just to make the first list somewhere. Then it came out last week, and…I was ranked #8. In the country. :o)  Sure, it’s an imperfect system. It requires agents to send in the basic information on the deals they’ve done, so it’s not necessarily a list of "who is best" (for example, they don’t list Rick Christian, who was my mentor and is a star agent; and they’ve got me listed in front of Robert Gottlieb, for crying out loud). But it’s still nice to be recognized for getting a lot of work done on behalf of the authors I represent. Okay — bragging is over.

Back to questions…Jim wrote to ask,"If an agent has an impressive list of authors he represents, when does he decide it’s not in his best interest (or the best interest of his current clients) to represent more writers?"

Well, the basic answer is probably "when he feels as though his plate is full," I suppose. But the answer will be different for each agent, Jim. One agent might feel he can juggle 200 authors; another feels maxed out with 20. It can also depend on the type of work the agent does — some agents get very involved in the lives of their writers; others are there to take care of numbers and stay out of everything else. But a lot of agents divide their author list into thirds… At any one time, one-third of their authors are writing a contracted book (so they basically need to be left alone), one-third are trying to find a new book contract (so the agent is selling their current work), and one-third are doing something else (marketing their new release, taking time off, thinking up ideas, etc). It’s why you find so many agents, when asked, will tell you the represent "about 40 authors" — it’s because they are currently working with 30 to 40 projects.

This points out why I think authors need to research agents before they actually sign with one. Some agents are personal, others are businesslike. Some agents are good with editing, others rarely read. Some agents are great at contracts and negotiations, others focus more on career planning or idea development. Decide what sort of agent you need, then figure out who might be a fit.

Feel free to check out who I represent on my corporate web site — I’ve got the best job in the world. -chip

Posted in Agents, CBA

  • Pam Halter

    “This points out why I think authors need to research agents before they actually sign with one.”
    This is SO true and something all authors need to take seriously. Just this week I declined a contract offer with an agent. He wasn’t a bad agent, just not right for me. And I wouldn’t have known it if I hadn’t asked questions of him and three of his clients. No agent is better than the wrong agent.
    The right agent is out there for me. We just have to find each other.

  • J. Jones

    Congrats on being the no. 8 Dealmaker!! That’s awesome. So proud (sniff). So very proud.

  • Julie

    Congratulations on your impressive ranking, Chip! You’re da man!

  • Lisa DeLay

    # 8! Wow. Didn’t some wise person once say, “If it’s true it’s not bragging,”? Or was that just some arrogrant jerk? I don’t think you were sinning or anything, I’m really glad you said something. I just keep wondering how many people do I telling that MY agent is #8 in the country before they think I’m a braggart. Nahhhh….Very happy for you. Very happy. : )

  • cameron conant

    They ranked you #8? That’s incredible. I’m going to brag about that for you. In fact I just yelled over to my buddy Rory who I share a duplex with and told him. Congratulations, Chip. Very cool.

  • Rob Sargeant

    Congratulations on the ranking Chip! Your job satisfaction level should be riding pretty high right now. Enjoy the promised land.

  • Susan Meissner

    WOW! Congrats and break out the haggis!

  • Daniel Darling

    It was so good to see you in the Chicago area Friday night. I really appreciate your keen insights on the publishing industry.

  • John Robinson

    Number eight! Yowza! And you’re mine, MINE!! Bwha-ha-ha-ha-hahhh….!!! (doing the Happy Monkey Dance for you, Chip; alert the media).
    What can I day? You. Da. Man.

  • Jennifer L. Griffith

    Congratulations! #8 on PM’s list. Worth more than one pass-over and aiyee!
    The future is never scary with God in the commander’s seat. I think it’s encouraging that the ABA houses are recognizing a good thing when they see it. I know, I know…money talks, but so does God. His blessing is upon His people. The battle is His and the victory is our’s for the taking. Amen!!!