What’s Working, What’s Not

October 4, 2007 | Written by admin

Devin wrote to ask me, "What’s working in publishing these days? And what’s not working?"

As you know, I love questions where I get to (A) make lists, and (B) act like an expert on everything. So here goes…

What’s Working in Publishing

1. Christian Fiction. Working big time. There are all sorts of new sub-categories in bookstores, we’re seeing new authors all the time, and there are new opportunities. The fastest growing segment of publishing three years running.

2. Agents. Yeah, so I realize this can appear self-serving. But it’s true — most publishers now require an agent to represent your work. That’s led to a plethora of new agents.

3. Creative Nonfiction. We’re seeing fiction techniques used to tell compelling nonfiction stories. Jon Krakauer and Sebastian Junger have completely renewed this genre.

4. Health and Wealth. It might sound like the same-old, same-old, but publishers continue to produce a bunch of books that tell you how to lose weight and manage your money. In an affluent society, these are the two evergreens. (Followed by "how not to screw up all your relationships.")

5. Multi-media. Several publishers are trying to find ways to creatively get their projects noticed. They’re relying on blogs, videos, interactive events, and trying to tie things to music and movies and games. It’s still a growing area, and not everybody has figured out how to make this work yet, but it’s the future.

6. Celebrity. More than ever, celebrity status is driving book sales. Blockbusters are making all the money for publishers.

7. Spritual Memoir. I don’t know if this genre has legs, but we’ve seen a number of successful books offering a fluid re-telling of the life-shaping events an author has experienced, in addition to the principles for living that arise from them. It’s a fact: everybody is looking for peace with God.

8. Online Sales. Last year the major publishers saw online book sales match the sales through smaller, independent brick-and-mortar stores. That’s a huge shift. The big box stores (Wal-Mart, Costco) and the major chains (Borders, Barnes & Noble) still provide big selections and move a ton of books, but the online sellers have figured out their niche.

And, since I know Devin was particularly interested in CBA publishing, let me offer two thoughts directed solely at "things that are working in CBA"…

9. Charismatic Messages. Ten years ago the major Christian bookstores wouldn’t even carry books written by charismatic pastors. Today most CBA stores couldn’t stay in business without selling books by charismatics. Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Tommy Tenney, Paula White — these are the folks paying the bills for Christian bookstores.

10. Improved Craft. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the improved writing we’re seeing in Christian books, especially in Christian fiction. The training and resources available, the growth of good writing conferences, and the availability of online groups that foster talent have helped create a wave of better writers.

What’s Not Working in Publishing

1. Gift Books. Don’t send them to me. The days of Thomas Kinkade paintings are over.

2. Men’s Books. Quick! Name the one that’s selling! Um…right.

3. Children’s Books. It’s a tough market right now. And if you do religious kids books, you’ll find it extraordinarily tough. Except for Tommy Nelson and Zonderkidz, everybody seems to have backed out of this market.

4. Homeschooling Books. Popular though this choice may be, the publishing side has devolved into an ultra-small niche.

5. Holiday-themed Books. Yeah, a few will sell. But the overall feeling is that Christmas has been over-published, so we’re looking at a couple years of seeing few new titles.

6. Bibles. No growth, slow sales, and stores complaining that customers have too many options.

7. The Bush White House. It ain’t working. Hey, I’m a Republican who voted for the guy, but I was promised shrinking government and a sliced federal budget. Instead we get record deficits and more American servicemen getting killed in what amounts to a civil war. So there aren’t exactly a plethora of pro-Bush books on the market, in case you haven’t noticed.

And again, to focus specifically on CBA…

8. Fiction Marketing. While Christian fiction is a growing category, it’s become clear that CBA houses are still struggling with finding an approach to marketing fiction that will actually work.

9. Pastors. For years CBA shelves were filled with books from pastors and speakers turning their sermons and series into books. It was the meat and potatoes of every CBA store. Um…when was the last time you purchased a book like that?

10. CBA. As an entity, this one is struggling. Stores are closing. People are trying to figure out the focus of the association. This year was apparently the last winter convention. Next year may be the last summer convention (since book publishers are planning their own alternative convention). Ouch.

Posted in Publishing, Trends

  • http://jmarkbertrand.typepad.com/writeaboutnow/2007/10/watching-the-tr.html Write About Now

    Watching the Trends Go By

    Chip MacGregor, literary agent extraordinaire — and I’m not just saying that because he represents yours truly — has posted an interesting list of “What’s Working, What’s Not” in publishing these days. As always, the trends are both encouraging (craft

  • http://christianfiction.blogspot.com Dee Stewart

    Although I need to be rewriting for the umpteenth time, I am taking a writing break. Lord knows I wish I could write well in two drafts, but I’m taking a break and chiming in on the ones I liked anywhoo. Just on the subjects I can toot my own horn to be an expert on.
    What’s Working…
    7. Spiritual Memoir.
    Not sure about the sales on that either, but my university class this year is about Spiritual Autobiographies. Our assignment is to write our own. We’re using it as a Christian Education tool. Who knew?
    8. Online Sales.
    My blog makes a nice purse on selling Christian Fiction titles. I think that is because most CBA stores don’t stock a lot of Christian Fiction, and Walmart stocks the top money makers. Somehow the word is getting out that there are more books, which is a very good thing for me. :)
    10. Improved Craft.
    Yes! This fall I have been reviewing some books good enough to buy.
    What’s Not Working…
    5. Holiday Themed Books. Does that also mean Christian Fiction Christian titles? I loves those stories. And I like Holiday cookbooks, too.
    7. *
    8. Fiction Marketing.
    I think that this problem isn’t just on the publisher, but the author and the CBA chains. If there were a CBA Book focused type convention, it would be a great idea to have some marketing workshops. You can’t sell books if they’re not on the shelves or in the mailers. I’m tired of seeing the same three authors featured in the LifeWay mailers. What’s up with that?
    * I left that blank, because they are no wise words to further add. :)

  • http://hopeofglory.typepad.com Nicole

    Here, here! (or Hear! Hear!) on the marketing thing. I mean, come on. Why can’t there be an end cap in Christian stores around Father’s Day, per se, featuring Christian fiction instead of the non-fiction books for men? My opinion is that the non-fiction books aren’t selling because Christian men are tired of feeling like failures when they read them with the exception of some very good ones (i.e. Everyman’s Battle). JMO–that’s all.
    Male fiction writers and a few women offer some hard-hitting Christian novels for men, but most male readers don’t know they exist.
    And while I enjoy and shop (and have worked at) Christian bookstores, I also think the mark up is horrendous for most things in the stores, including books, and since I buy so many (novels), I shop more online than ever.

  • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

    I’m so glad I read your post before for I decided to send you my gift book for men and children about home schooling during the holidays. It appears that sending you the George Bush Study Bible is out too.
    As for what is working, I think that the Internet is the wave of the future in terms of book sales, for now anyway. In store Print On Demand looks promising, but it isn’t there yet. When a customer can walk into Wal-mart or Target and get any book on the planet for a reasonable price without waiting in line, online sales will fall flat.
    The reason books of sermons are no longer popular is that many of the people who were buying them before have discovered the Internet. Our church website gets several hits every week from guys looking for sermons on various subjects. I suspect that most of these guys are preachers looking for something to say on Sunday.
    Concerning Christian Fiction for Men, men tend to read nonfiction over fiction, but I think there are fewer men who read Christian Fiction than would like to read Christian Fiction. Part of the problem is that Christian writers have forgotten how to write. Some people would say that we never knew how, but there used to be some very good Christian writers. A lot of modern Christian fiction reads like a devotional book and a romance novel all rolled into one. Few men read devotional books and romance novels. The reason why men read nonfiction is that they are looking for a challenge. For Christian Fiction to work for men, it needs to challenge men to be better and to do more. It should have characters that face problems that men face, so that men can connect with the characters. The solutions to problems in books should not be a Bible study, a better prayer life or a closer relationship with God. Those things are good, but men do not connect with these things. The problem should seem real. The solution should be action and if you want to throw in some Bible doctrine, try to reconcile the action that a man feels he must take for the benefit of what he feels is important with the principles set forth by God.
    The comment was made that there are some men writers who are writing good Christian fiction for men. I think that there are some Christian writers who are writing some things that some men like and I think that there are some Christian writers that stuff that Christian women assume men will like because it is too weird for women. Mostly, I think that Christian writers are not aiming for the male market, they are writing stuff that is not fit for the male market and men are not buying the stuff that they are writing.

  • http://hopeofglory.typepad.com Nicole

    I beg to differ with Timothy about Christian male writers. Whether or not you like the “quality” of writers like Oliver North, his trilogy is exceptional fare for men who like action. Same with Robert Liparulo. Tom Morrisey, Alton Gansky, Don Brown (not Dan), and John Robinson offer a variety of excellent fare for Christian males who like novels.
    The blogosphere is filled with male Christian fiction hope-to-be writers and avid fiction readers, some of whom have yet to read the Christian fiction of these authors because they don’t KNOW about them.
    I’m really getting tired of the criticism leveled at Christian writers. Usually the only people who proclaim this are the ones who haven’t read a Christian novel in years, if ever. There are quality male and female writers writing Christian novels of ALL kinds. If you haven’t read one lately, I can recommend a bunch of them, and I’d have to believe Chip can, too, or he wouldn’t be representing them.
    Really not trying to be antagonistic here, Timothy, but if there wasn’t some measure of quality out there, Christian fiction wouldn’t be “The fastest growing segment of publishing three years running.”

  • http://danieldarling.com Daniel Darling

    This post is the gold nuggets we come to expect from your blog. A few questions:
    a) If authers follow too hard after “what’s working” won’t they be behind the trends? For instance, if everyone sees that one genre is “working” and flood the marketplace with that–won’t it be saturated?
    b) On pastors and writing. I totally agree. I’m thinking that pastors are still viable–but they have to be as creative and innovative and produce good writing like everyone else. They can’t just turn their preaching into an instant book anymore. Am I right?

  • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

    Somehow, I knew I was going to regret opening this can of worms by putting a critical spin on my comment. As the saying goes, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Allow me to play the part of the fool for a while longer in hopes of expounding upon my previous comments.
    I will admit that I have not read the work of all of the authors you mentioned. I have read some of what some of them have written. I have also read covers and editorial reviews for all of them. (For marketing purposes, those count too.) Without naming names (since they may not be here to defend themselves), I will have to say that I found at least some of these somewhere between pedestrian and downright boring. But what do I know? I suspect that I have very odd tastes compared to most Christian men. Instead of me trying to tell you why I don’t like their writing, let me name a few books and tell you why I like them. In His Steps – This book grabs you from the first page. The writing is quant and ‘queer’ (yes, that word is used in there), but it pulls you into the story. A lot of Christian books would show the pastor with his act in order, but this guy is really messed up. The reader keeps thinking “I you would only listen to your own sermons.” Not My Will – In some ways, this book has more an emotional side to it, so it may not be the typical ‘guy’ novel, but what I like about it is that the main character tries over and over to do something to improve her situation and it is through her failed attempts that she comes to realize that God is in control.
    There is a difference in a book that is about action and a book that solves a problem with action. A book could be about a mountain climber who climbs mountains and while he is contemplating climbing he comes to some revelation about God. That is a book about action. Another book could be about a former mountain climber who is now in a wheelchair. Even though he may never get out of the wheelchair he may be doing things in an attempt to get out and through the success or failure of those attempts he comes to some revelation about God. That is a book that uses action to solve the problem.

  • http://hopeofglory.typepad.com Nicole

    I’m not going to take up Chip’s blog to dispute your taste in fiction because you’re certainly entitled to like and dislike any book(s) you choose. But I will say a couple of the particular authors I mentioned are anything but “pedestrian” writers, and their stories, while maybe not your preference, are anything but boring.

  • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

    As I said, I have not read all of their work. I was simply trying to address the question of why women are interested in reading Christian Fiction and men are not. There is certainly nothing wrong with aiming for the audience that does buy Christian Fiction, but I think that there are still some people out there who might be interested in reading Christian Fiction if it there were novels targeted at them. But if we are going to target them, we must be willing to investigate what has soured the milk for them. My voice is only one among thousands. It could be that I am singing off key, or it could be that all of us are in perfect harmony. I would think that it would be worth the effort of a few publishers to do the research required to find out. Or maybe they have and have determined that there are too many different parts in this choir.

  • Pam Halter

    You didn’t mention fantasy. I’m curious because the agent who is considering me right now said fantasy is HOT.
    Your opinion?

  • http://www.johnrobinsonbooks.com John Robinson

    Okay, let me weigh in here. John Robinson’s the name, Christian men’s fiction is the game (and a big thanks to Nicole for the shout-out).
    Sometimes being a pioneer in a new genre is thrilling. Sometimes it sucks on toast. But I soldier on, because deep down in my knower, I KNOW Christian men will read Christian fiction.
    With a caveat.
    IF they can find the stuff. IF it’s marketed correctly. In other words, IF the houses will step up to the plate and help a brother out.
    Will that happen? Dunno. Hope so. Because the idea of me giving up, slipping on a summer dress, and pounding out a prairie romance to pay the rent doesn’t exactly give me a large charge.

  • http://readinnwritin.blogspot.com PatriciaW

    Interesting post. This is one of the things that makes this blog so useful.
    And very interesting discussion. I read lots of Christian fiction, across genres, as well as secular, but I know my husband, who in general does not read fiction, wouldn’t be interested. Doesn’t matter whether it was written by a man or a woman. Reading fiction just doesn’t work for him.
    With one exception.
    I just read Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee. Amazing book. I told my husband about it, acknowledged that he doesn’t normally read fiction but asked him to try at least the first chapter, if not 50 pages. We wrestled the rest of the week over who would be reading it each night. At one point, he was ahead of me in the book! This fiction, which I heard someone say was in the vein of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters–I’ve never read that work–was right up my husband’s alley.
    I don’t think there’s a lot this kind of fiction out there. He’s not interested in action/thriller stuff with a Christian spin. He would read fiction that makes him think about Scripture in a different way. In this case, much of Ms. Lee’s interpretation was aligned with his own understanding (that certainly helped) but still there were some nuggets that gave him pause. That’s what he requires in his reading.

  • http://danicafavorite.blogspot.com Danica/Dream

    So basically, what I’ve learned here today is that Mr. Timothy Fish stole my best ideas, especially the one about the George Bush study Bible. I had the proposal all ready to go and everything. I’d have sent it by now, but those silly secret service and homeland security guys keep bugging me. Geez. I don’t know why they’re so nervous about a study Bible. Unless there’s something wrong with the subtitle: Daily devotions and spiritual lessons for the American people. Nah, that can’t be it. Do you think it’s the section about dealing with adversity? Maybe the smiting section is too much. Oh well. I guess now that I’m abandoning the project, they’ll stop following me around.
    Since that horse is dead, let’s talk where CBA is going. Any thoughts? I’m particularly interested if you see that impacting the potential for the inspirational market loosening up on some of the taboos.

  • http://www.jennybjones.com J. Jones

    John said, “Because the idea of me giving up, slipping on a summer dress, and pounding out a prairie romance to pay the rent doesn’t exactly give me a large charge.”
    I know a few people who would get a charge out of that. Let us know when that happens so we can bring the Polaroid.

  • http://www.johnrobinsonbooks.com John Robinson

    Really? Hmmm. Maybe I’ve tapped into an unknown market. Yeah, I can see it now.
    “Christian men fiction writers of the male gender! Tired of being ignored by the CBA? Had up to here with editors who don’t get it? Yea, verily, is thy belly nigh unto full with flaming indignant emails from blue-haired Tweety Bird owners who get a case of the vapors whenever your hero plugs some snarling miscreant with a .44 round in the old brainpan? Take heart! All is not lost! While you’re waiting for the CBA to catch up with your vision, slam back a couple of Midol, slip on some lipstick and your wig hat (as we say down South), and start wailing away on the old Mac. Worried that your masculine male manhood won’t be able to take it? Never fear. If you’re secure, it won’t hurt you a lick.”
    Yeah, THAT’S the ticket. Yeah…
    Johnetta Robinson

  • http://www.chipmacgregor.com chip responds

    Random thoughts du jour…
    1. Fantasy is hot? Um…take a look at ANY bestseller list.
    2. I think there are some men’s novelists (or “novelists writing primarily for men”) in CBA. But I’m not convinced they are packaged correctly. More on that in a fresh blog.
    3. Ditto the “where is CBA going” question. Next blog. And sorry if this is sounding like a commercial.
    4. There’s no bashing of CBA fiction on this blog (unless it’s crappy and deserves bashing). And you should know that two of my favorite novelists (Jenny B Jones and John Robinson) chimed into the discussion!
    5. No more “singing in the choir” metaphors will be allowed in the comments section the rest of the week. Too many music metaphors and I start to go into syncopated heartstring arrest.

  • http://www.colleencoble.com colleen Coble

    Timothy, you might try James Scott Bell, an attorney in California. His books are suspense but they make you think as well. Very well writtten and engrossing.
    And just for the record, I have a lot of male readers. :-)