February 16th, 2015 | Current Affairs | 27 Comments
I’m trying to catch up on all the questions people have sent me, so let me see if I can tackle several of them having to do with current affairs…
First, a couple of people have asked what I think the biggest story is in publishing right now.
To me, that’s easy… Harper Lee, who wrote one of the most iconic books in American publishing history, is releasing a second book. I loved To Kill a Mockingbird, and thought Lee’s personal story (assisting Truman Capote with In Cold Blood, winning a Pulitzer for her only book, withdrawing from the public eye, starting and stopping but never finishing anything else) was fascinating for any writer. But her second book, Go Set a Watchman, was actually written before she started on Mockingbird — and Lee agreed to let a publisher produce her earlier work. Watching this play out is fascinating to anyone interested in a writing career. There’s still hope for that bad first novel you wrote years ago!
Second, someone sent in a simple question: “What’s the biggest problem facing publishers today?”
I suppose it would be easy to point to profit margins, or discoverability, or the issues facing illegal sales and copying, but I don’t think any of those are really the biggest problem. To me, the biggest problem publishers face was made clear in the Publisher’s Weekly salary survey. Less than 1% of those working for publishers are African-American. Hispanics make up about 3%. Asian-Americans make up another 3%. Various others combine for roughly 4%. And that means 89% of everyone working for a US publisher is white. Eighty-nine percent. Yikes. That’s shameful — and perhaps the first place to look when wondering why we’re not building more African-American readers. You want to diversify your readership? Hire some minorities, fer cryin’ out loud.
Third, I had several people ask me, “What’s the biggest news in CBA publishing recently?”
And, of course, it’s that Family Christian Stores, the largest purveyor of Christian books in this country, has filed for bankruptcy. This is a company that was purchased by a small group of people in Atlanta a year ago, and “donated” to a ministry. (There’s more to that story. Being part of a ministry allows them to be tied to a non-profit group. Think “tax deductions.”) Then they shuffled the senior staff around, hiring a brand new senior exec just a week ago. Then they announce they basically owe money everywhere (reports said they owed 7.5 million to HarperCollins Christian Publishing, and almost 2 million to Tyndale), and that they’re going to re-organize. And who is going to take over? Another part of the ministry! Color me excitement. This looks like a mess, being glossed over with the veneer of “you can trust us — we’re all Christians here.” They owe big chunks of money to some smaller houses, by the way. Imagine the damage that can be done to a smaller house when one of your biggest accounts claims they can’t pay the $100,000 they owe you. This affects authors, so if you’re a CBA author, you need to pay attention.
As big news, this just beats out (1) the fact that Tyndale had to recall a bestselling book about a boy going to heaven because, um, it turns out the guy who wrote the book was a liar who made the whole thing up. (Maybe the author’s name, “Malarkey,” should have tipped them off?) For the record, I think Tyndale acted with integrity here. And (2) the fact that presidential hopeful Ben Carson has admitted plagiarizing his bestselling book (as usual, he claimed it was the editor’s fault). I’m surprised this tidbit of news hasn’t gotten more airplay. And (3) everybody finally wised up and yanked their Mark Driscoll books off store shelves in the past month, seeing as how they finally had to admit that he was a plagiarizing, scheming, bullying, misogynistic, horse’s ass. I guess the fact that there was a mountain of evidence to that for years didn’t mean much. Happy trails, Mark. Don’t let the screen door hit you on the rump on your way out the back door.
On a happier note for all you CBA writers? Religious books were up 4% last year. So look on the bright side of all this — people still care about truth. Something to smile about, as you ponder that next great book.