Book Show: State of the Industry Observations

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Atlanta Airport
Condition:Smiling Big

We’re done. Another ICRS under our belts. What a great show it turned out to be. I’m writing my blog on an iPad, typing slowly with one finger. (Why couldn’t I have learned to text as a teen–I’m so jealous of teen textability.) So you are the winner– I’ll keep this short and to the point.

When anyone offers to speculate on the state of an industry, your response should be to roll your eyes. It’s an exercise not unlike the blind men describing the elephant. We only know what we’ve observed. But I thought I’d share ten observations with you.

1. We sensed a whole new energy. Publishers are definitely buying books.

2. Since Christmas 2010 the velocity of eBook sales has been breathtaking.

3. In fiction, historical is still strong but we saw the beginnings of a renewed interest in contemporary. We did see that editors are looking for very specific genres or time periods or settings to fill holes.

4. In fiction, editors seem to be somewhat more open to the unusual. One editor gave us percentages– a small percentage of her line can be used to introduce debut novelists, another small percentage can be experimental, while the bulk of the line is for excellent, but tried-and-true fiction.

5. In fiction, genre is still king. Publishers have not been able to develop any significant market for literary fiction.

6. In Christian nonfiction, basic is back. We talked to editors who are actively looking for books addressing things like simple Bible literacy.

7. In nonfiction platform is more important than ever. We had an editor tell us that if they take a project to committee they are asked to give specific details about the author’s social network platform. Another editor said it takes so long to get a writer up to speed on effective social networking that if it comes down to someone who is already well-networked and someone with a limited network, there’s no question who will get the nod.

8. Brick and mortar bookstores are still struggling. Some of the challenges are:

  • Discount price competition from the big box stores (Walmart, Costco, etc.) and from Amazon and CBD.
  • The ease of direct eBook sales, effectively cutting the store out of the equation.
  • The tough economy–unemployment and underemployment resulting in less disposable income.
  • The high price of gas, meaning people think twice before getting into their cars to go to a bookstore rather than to buy online. It’s created a perfect storm of trouble for the independent bookstore.

9.  We observed a proliferation of innovative new media ideas– the fusion of books with digitally delivered sound, video, extra content and interactive content.

10.  It was exciting to see the birth of several new publishing houses. We had meetings with three of them– Worthy Publishing, whose inaugural list featured a breathtaking offering of potential bestsellers; eChristian who look to be a major player not only in audio and eBooks but are also doing traditional books; and Jericho books, a division of Hachette, focusing on thought-provoking books for the church’s disillusioned, disassociated and disgruntled. Here’s how they put it, “The mission of Jericho Books is to seek new, innovative authors who reflect a growing change in the church. These non-traditional voices will appeal to the fresh perspectives in today’s culture and provide an avenue for those exploring political and social issues as they relate to faith.”

There was so much more, but these ten give you a sense of what we observed. We’re gearing up to meet the challenges.


19 Responses

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  1. Wendy, this sounds waaay more exciting than getting my annual vision exam today! Your news is a great way to kick-start the day. Thanks so much for the sharing!

  2. Self-editing…Strike out “the”… 🙂

  3. Other than the problems for bookstores, that was encouraging information. Thanks, Wendy.

    You talked about platform being of such importance for nonfiction and mentioned a comment by an editor pertaining to social media. I know we all need those connections, the more the better. However, was his comment about choosing between two books by writers with a different social media presence aimed strictly at nonfiction writers or both? With more social media sites being created, how much is enough for a publisher?

  4. Caroline says:

    Thanks for sharing these interesting observations, Wendy. The excitement of the publishers and the trends you’re noticing actually encourage me!

  5. Tricia Goyer says:

    I was actually excited by ICRS. People are starting to think outside the box, and that’s where they need to be. It’s working!

    Also, publishers were VERY excited when I told them I had 49,000 Twitter followers. You’re absolutely right about the importance of having a strong social media presence.

  6. thanks! This is so encouraging. I’m happy to hear the publishers want books on basic Bible literacy. Not so sure about Jericho’s mission. Color me as an old and tired traditionalist, but I don’t smell a lot of freshness in today’s culture. :/

  7. Judy Miller says:

    Loved hearing your report, Wendy. When authors can’t be at ICRS, it’s wonderful to hear the first-hand reflections from those who have been ‘sweatin’ in the trenches.’ Thanks so much for sharing!

  8. Amy says:

    Thanks for sharing Wendy – I always eagerly await the B&S post ICRS breakdown! Love number #7!

  9. This is exciting news, and much more positive than many things I’ve heard and seen lately. Thanks for sharing it.

  10. Thanks for sharing, Wendy. I really appreciate the way you’ve brought those of us who weren’t there this valuable information about what’s happening in the industry.

  11. Are they expanding the time periods in historical fiction? At Mount Hermon we had editors tell us that they were only looking for biblical historical or bonnet fiction. Is that changing?

  12. What fabulous insights and a great discussion. I’m very exicted about this as well. I had heard of Jericho, but not the others. I will have to check them out.

    Not a lot of surprises, especially about the bookstores. Those are the reasons I rely on Amazon and CBD to purchase my books. We have a small indie bookstore that I visit from time to time, but the next closest bookstore is 20 miles away. With gas over $4 a gallon, I’m not browsing the shelves as much as I used to.

    Thanks for the posts this week. Very exciting stuff.

  13. Wendy Lawton says:

    Sandra, the comment about social media platform was aimed at nonfiction. It’s not as important for novelists but that’s not to say publishers don’t ask about how connected a writer is, whether fiction or nonfiction.

  14. Wendy Lawton says:

    Lisa, we definitely heard interest in new settings, new time periods. We also heard the first signs of “ho-hum” with what you called bonnet fiction. (Of course we heard a lot of excitement about it as well but a couple of editors sounded ready to move on.)

    I guess the important thing is, which settings and which time periods?Some are simply historically better than others.

  15. Great information, Wendy. Thanks for giving us the inside peek! (And I think you earned yourself an extra snack on the plane with that one-fingered typing.) 🙂

  16. Jericho books sounds interesting. As the wife of a church planter,”the church’s disillusioned, disassociated and disgruntled” are one group of people we are trying to reach. They are also called the “over-churched.”It will be interesting to see what kind of books are published for this group.

  17. Larry Carney says:

    4. In fiction, editors seem to be somewhat more open to the unusual. One editor gave us percentages– a small percentage of her line can be used to introduce debut novelists, another small percentage can be experimental, while the bulk of the line is for excellent, but tried-and-true fiction.

    [This is good to know. As a reader, I want something new.]

    5. In fiction, genre is still king. Publishers have not been able to develop any significant market for literary fiction.

    [As a writer, this is truly sad. It certainly isn’t because of the lack of talented writers. Perhaps it is a question of the audience, and what they are willing to try. Fiction doesn’t have to be about depravity to be be “literary”, but even abstract or surrealist whimsy seems to not draw a large readership. This is odd, considering the cross-over effect of there being a large Christian fanbase of secular fantasy novels. So whimsy and the fantastic don’t preclude a novel from being read….maybe the potential audience just doesn’t know where to find the fiction? One certainly isn’t going to see it in the secular literary journals…to the facebook then, Robin! 🙂

  18. This all sounds very encouraging and exciting, Wendy. I love that publishers are enthused about buying books and that there are new houses out there as well. I think it may reflect the fact that a whole bunch of us are staying home and reading great books instead of going out and spending a fortune on dinner and a movie. I pray the upward trend continues!

    Thanks for sharing, Wendy, and for persevering through the one-finger typing. I feel your pain there!

  19. It feels like an exciting time as Ebooks are changing things. But not easy. Now the challenge is in learning how to sell your Ebook.