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.