The Changes We’re Facing

October 8, 2007 | Written by admin

Yikes. I upset some folks with that last post… Apparently not everyone agrees with me on the success of men’s books or the efficacy of the Bush White House. On the former, let me clarify… When I say that "men’s books aren’t working," I mean that men’s books are struggling in the market — NOT that the men’s books being produced are bad. I happen to represent two authors who write fiction aimed primarily at men (Brandt Dodson and John Robinson). They are both fine writers, but I think it’s been tough for them in the market. That’s not an indictment of the authors or their publishers — it’s just a marketplace reality.

And when I noted that CBA houses seem to be having trouble marketing fiction, that’s not meant as an indictment — it’s merely a statement of fact as I see it. When I was a publisher for Time-Warner, I discovered that more than half the company’s revenues were derived from fiction. The same is true at Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Penguin. But aside from Bethany House, I don’t think any CBA publisher is seeing anything close to half their revenue coming from fiction. My point isn’t to criticize, only to note that the houses don’t seem to have figured out how to maximize their fiction.

I think part of the problem stems from the shift in readers. For years CBA houses focused on nonfiction, and they created systems for promoting and selling nonfiction titles. When fiction started selling in CBA, they attempted to use those same methods for marketing novels, and discovered it doesn’t work. I"m not sure the marketing of fiction has caught up yet to the greatly improved quality of craft we’re now seeing in Christian fiction — it’s an entirely new audience of readers than those who focused on nonfiction titles, and the new readers don’t know where to find out about the fiction. So it’s a problem that has yet to be completely solved.

Another part of the problem is the delivery mechanism. An Ed McBain hardboiled novel or a Tom Clancy techno-thriller (two writers who focus on men’s fiction) will release in hardcover, then within a year come out in mass market. You don’t see many trade-sized novels in the general market. Yet CBA continues to push trade paperbacks, while at the same time purposefully steering away from mass market size books. (A trade size book uses the same size paper block as a hardcover book, but with a glued-on paper cover instead of a board-and-dust-jacket cover. It’s bigger than a mass market, but cheaper to produce than a hardcover book.) I think that choice makes it tougher to reach the general market reader — because detective readers and technothriller readers and police procedural readers simply aren’t used to seeing their favorite authors in trade paper.

So no, I don’t think men’s books are working in CBA right now. I’d love for them to work, but to this point, I don’t see it. Ted Dekker sells, but I don’t think he’s really a men’s writer. And it’s funny, but several people sent me emails to tell me how wrong I was about CBA men’s nonfiction, noting that John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart and Steve Arterburn’s Every Man’s Battle are both doing well in the market…and thereby proving my point. Both of those books came out in the late 90′s! [Correction: Eldredge's book came out in 2001. -chip] Evidence there’s not exactly a lot of strong men’s books currently selling on store shelves.

I got a handful of "why do you hate Bush" emails, but not enough to matter. (For the record, I voted for the guy twice. I wasn’t terribly excited either time, but I wanted nothing to do with Al Gore, and John Kerry’s candidacy was further evidence that the Northeast liberals are completely out of touch with the rest of the country.) The fact is, I expected a stronger reaction…making me think that there are a lot of other Republicans who feel the same way I do: Enough American soldiers have died. Sadaam is out of power. Declare victory and leave. Trust the Iraqi people to pick their own leaders. Let’s stop being the world’s policeman. And for goodness’ sake, let’s take a trillion or so dollars that are currently being used for bullets, and invest it into something that makes life better for Americans — job training programs, education, health care, road and bridge improvements…something besides armor and bombs.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not advocating my list of "things that are working." I’m just pointing things out as I see them. Certainly this would be a terrible method for career planning — on a par with using Wikipedia to research your book. I had a handful of people ask questions as though they needed to shape their writing careers around my lists. Um…no. You need to write what you know you can write; what you feel gifted and qualified to write. Besides, by the time you can spot a trend, it’s too late — the publishers will have already contracted several books in that genre.

Posted in Trends

  • http://hopeofglory.typepad.com Nicole

    “I think that choice makes it tougher to reach the general market reader — because detective readers and technothriller readers and police procedural readers simply aren’t used to seeing their favorite authors in trade paper.”
    Just wondering if you meant either or both (male) non-CBA and CBA readers as “the general market reader”.

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

    Amen! I love the statement about the trends… I get so sick of how, when a trend develops, everyone thinks they need to be that thing, and flock to it. Suddenly, the market gets saturated with a certain type of book (and yes, Chip, I know there’s your personal favorite, but ICK!). I wish folks would stick to just plain old good writing, tell a good story, and be themselves. I know you have to balance market needs and all that, but boy is it nice to read a book that’s not just like all the rest.

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    Small detail but Wild at Heart came out in 2001.

  • Carrie

    A Barbour editor recently told us they make 45% of their income from fiction. So they are one of the publisher who seems to know how to promote it well.

  • http://readinnwritin.blogspot.com PatriciaW

    Brandt Dobson may be aimed at men but I enjoy his books, and I suspect lots of other women do too, or would if they knew about them.
    I appreciate this discussion on trends. I think CBA is unsure whether its readers will support hardcover fiction, thereby screwing with their profits. Can’t say I blame them. I rarely buy anything in hardcover anymore. I like trade size as a reader but as a writer, I can see how that eliminates the opportunity for the 2nd release in mass market size.
    And for the record, there were quite a few of us Northeast liberals who would no more vote for Kerry than you. Recent choices haven’t been very great. Only now are things getting interesting, in a “let’s-all-jump-in-the-pan-and-see-what-sticks” kind of way, on both ends of the stick. Like Austin, I don’t think Christianity equates to the religious or evangelical right, even though I am evangelical in belief and practice. Politics is a scary animal.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/CarlaGolden/ Carla Golden

    Chip, I couldn’t agree more with your views about the Bush administration. I do not hate Bush. That goes against my beliefs. But I totally disagree with the policies of this administration. Enough is enough. This is not a compassionate country anymore and the amount of money that we’ve been spending on war (killing) is obscene. Thanks for having the guts to speak out. It’s not really about politics–it’s about doing the right thing morally.
    On another note, I am one of those people who love a great spiritual memoir. Give me inspiring stories from real people. Stories that uplift me and that have a strong message of faith. I think the world needs this now more than anything.
    Peace & blessings,
    Carla

  • Angie Farnworth

    I should have commented on how much I liked your last post since so many others were irked by it. So hear it is, a day or two late.
    One big reason I follow your blog is that I know you will speak the ugly truth when necessary. If I want to be a part of this publishing arena, I want to know the harsh realities.
    For example, when I attend a couple of conferences and every publisher told me to send in my stuff, call me cynical, but I got pretty suspicious. I don’t even like most of the bestsellers out there, and they are BEST SELLERS. How could all these Christian editors actually have a genuine interest in my fledgling offerings? So I took the “yes”s as a nice way to have an open door, but I didn’t go out and buy engraved pens or a vacation home with an ocean view (bummer). Other writers insisted I should be hanging from the ceiling, bouncing off the wall, writing my first Emmy acceptance speech excited.
    When I first read on your blog that a yes at a conference just as likely to be b/c the editor was too wimpy to say no (sorry to any editors who might see this), I knew your advice could be trusted. So bash Bush (who, yes, I also voted for twice), tell us what’s not working, give us the inside scoop on ridiculous trade shows, but for goodness sakes, don’t stop giving us harsh reality. If I wanted nice I would write Miss Manners.

  • http://www.christianlovestories.blogspot.com Kristy Dykes

    Thanks for being a voice. An informed voice.

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

    Carrie said, “A Barbour editor recently told us they make 45% of their income from fiction. So they are one of the publisher who seems to know how to promote it well.”
    Yes, but again, it’s CHICK FICTION. That’s what they do. Not to belittle that, but caramba! The distaff side of the aisle has had a solid stranglehold on the CBA for over fifty years, since its inception. Some of us (a few of us…well, me) would simply appreciate a forward-thinking editor giving us lads a chance.

  • http://roberthenshaw.blogspot.com Robert Henshaw

    Interesting info that Christian fiction has been the fastest growing segment in publishing the past 3 years. But have we seen the number of agents looking to rep Christian fiction grow as quickly? Can’t say for sure, but I suspect not. When I first started submitting my Christian Urban Fantasy to agents earlier this summer, I was remiss to see only 24 Agents on agentquery.com looking for new clients….and many many of those were only taking on published authors, client referrals or ‘met you at a conference’ folks. So, that was quite frustrating.
    As far as publishing houses having trouble selling Christian fiction, as a former statitics buff, I think if we compared actual versus target revenues, it may give us a more accurate measure of how much trouble they’re having (gee, can you tell I work for Wall Street?).
    Not to open a new can of worms, Chip, but how would you define “Christian Fiction”? :)

  • Sonja Hutchinson

    I am outraged that someone people complained to you about YOUR opinion that was posted on YOUR blog! If they have a differing opinion, they can post it on their own blog. It’d be nearly laughable if it weren’t so blatantly stupid. For what it’s worth, I voted for Bush twice, too. I’ll keep my opinion to myself. If you want to read my take on the war, come to my blog to find out. And keep giving it to us straight up! I admire your honesty. -Sonja (sonjahutchinson@blogspot.com)

  • http://rmabry.blogspot.com Richard Mabry

    Chip,
    Thanks for giving us the inside story. Of course, it’s given with your personal slant. For goodness’ sake, whose slant should we expect on the blog that you write.
    And I have to second John Robinson’s comments, although I wish he’d learn to say what he really means. Don’t be shy, John.

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

    Concerning Mr. Henshaw’s thoughts:
    While an increased popularity of Christian Fiction will result in more agents taking on more Christian Fiction authors, we should not expect to see a one-to-one comparison in the growth of Christian Fiction and the number of agents. Since agents are the middle men between publishers and authors, there are many factors that come into play from both sides. For the publishers, it is simple; they need more manuscripts to feed a growing market. The agents who have a few Christian novelists that have been struggling to get their work accepted, this is an opportunity to push these authors, but they may not be ready to take on authors that they deem to be of a lesser quality than the struggling authors. More than that, they cannot effectively represent their existing authors if they are spending their time sorting through the slush pile.
    New agents will be more willing to sort through the pile, but publishers can only handle so many agents. If there are too many, the publishers will deal with only those agents they trust to provide them with good authors. With too many agents, it could get to the point where you will need an agent to promote your manuscript to an agent who will promote it to a publisher. The real issue is not how easy it is for a writer to find an agent, but how we can get the manuscripts of books that customers really want to read into the hands of the publishers, while eliminating the others. I do not believe the current system is ideal, but it is what it is. Publishers are risking thousands of dollars when they publish a book and they lose money on many of them. It is no surprise that publishers and agents are trying to find the next sure thing rather than taking on every author who has a manuscript in hand.

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

    Thomas Nelson is doing the mass market like you’ve talking about, Chip. My first hardcover, Abomination, just came out and in nine months it will be re-released as trade and then a few months after that, as mass.
    And just for the record, I still love Bush. :-)

  • http://www.cjdarlington.com C.J. Darlington

    Very interesting discussion one and all.

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

    Wow — some great thoughts. And my additional notes would be…
    1. My note about ABA suspense/thriller fiction coming out in hardcover, then moving to mass market, is aimed at both male and female readers. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, just that it’s a fact: people in the general market are used to seeing those genres release in hc, then move to mm.
    2. It’s true — Barbour has almost half its income from fiction. I stand corrected.
    3. I appreciated Mike Hyatt noting that John Eldredge released in 2001. I corrected my post.
    4. Someone asked if we’ve seen a growth among Christian agents as we’ve watched the growth of Christian fiction. Yes, we have. I have it on good authority that every Christian in America is planning to become an agent.
    5. And I realize people still love Bush. I still love Bush as a man — I really do. I think he’s honest, for one thing (a nice change of pace after the previous occupant of the White House), and for all the criticism about his policies, I don’t think many Americans worry about his character. (Could you even IMAGINE a Monica Lewinski type of situation with Bush? No way.) My problem is that history will judge him as a guy who wasted opportunities. There was certainly a case to make for going to war with Iraq. But at some point we needed to declare victory and leave. Bush had the House and Senate on his side, we’d been promised fiscal responsibility and smaller government for decades, and…all gone. The national debt bigger than ever. The government growing and being more intrusive, not less so. From a historically Republican point of view, BUT I PROMISE TO NOT POST ON THIS AGAIN, since this is a writing blog, not a political blog. -chip

  • http://RadDecision.blogspot.com James Aach

    FYI: Regarding men’s fiction (particularly of the techno-thriller kind) I had one agent tell me this was known as the “Land of Giants” where only a few big names rule and it was a particularly hard market to break in to. So you have a few big authors who may be repeating themselves after a dozen books or so, and not a particularly wide selection. I suspect there is a “mens” market out there for engaging books on interesting topics in the science thriller and techno-thriller genre – but they aren’t making it through the standard publishing process. My own impressions from interactions with literary agents dealing in fiction is that almost all shy away from anything dealing with technology or science – they gave up on this stuff in Jr. High as they continued down a liberal arts path. The few that do deal with it are booked up. There is a site which addresses this topic in more detail, http://www.lablit.com, and my own experiences are covered there in my humorous essay at http://www.lablit.com/article/83 . Another article by a best-selling non-fiction author trying to publish a science thriller is at
    http://www.lablit.com/article/179 .
    James Aach, author of “Rad Decision”, the first insider novel of nuclear power. http://RadDecision.blogspot.com

  • http://profile.typekey.com/KristinBeck/ Kristin Billerbeck

    On the former post about children’s books not working, may I just say that kids are really mature these days, and publishers run into problems with parents not wanting to face this.
    Go on any Christian school playground and at some point, you’ll hear, “You suck!” But the Christian market seems to have books that are marketed for 12 year olds, but written for six year olds. I’m not advocating the use of “you suck” in children’s books — only asking that people get who children are these days.
    Donita Paul seems to get it. Why can’t other houses follow suit?

  • http://carasmusings.blogspot.com Cara Putman

    Brandt’s books are great! I haven’t read anything John is pitching, but his concepts sound interesting. I love to introduce folks to Brandt’s books because I think they’ll be surprised. His stories are gritting and compelling. The pace is fantastic, and Colton Parker is a real character with real emotions. I love those books!