Is ICRS Still Important?

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

Goals of being published are like flying. My plan was to write today’s blog on the plane home from ICRS in order to give you an up to the minute perspective on the International Christian Retailers Show in St. Louis. However, the many Please turn off all electronic devices; we are cleared for take-off messages followed by reversals as we sat on the tarmac for 3 1/2 hours delayed my plans and my blog. Such is life and writing.

Exactly what is ICRS and what goes on there, you may be asking. This trade show has changed drastically over the last ten years. It used to be a selling event. I remember the days when the bulk of a publisher’s book sales occurred during this week-long show. Publishers sent their entire sales staff to take orders and a few editors to be available to their authors who were signing books for book store owners.

Today the scene has flip-flopped. More editors attend than sales staff. ICRS has become a primary venue for editors and agents to meet and discuss future projects. Most publishers still have booths on the “floor” to display their new books and authors, but the value in doing that has changed. The website’s welcome page for the conference begins with, “The International Christian Retail Show is the starting point for new-product launches and latest releases from top authors, musicians, and pastors that you can see in one place.” See it here.

We Books & Such agents schedule time for walking the floor together. It’s a valuable opportunity to see what genres, authors, and books almost all publishers are highlighting “in one place.” And we take mental notes of new trends in book cover design and packaging. There is no other such venue in the industry on this scale that provides this value.

ICRS has become the primary place for agents and editors to meet. Editors give publisher updates and alert agents to the genres they are seeking. Agents present their clients’ new projects. It would be more costly for both publishers and agents if they had to make individual trips to publishing houses and literary agencies for these meetings. And the value to you authors is that your name can be spread across the industry in this three-day event.

Although times have changed the look of ICRS, its value has not. In changing with the times, ICRS still is a win-win for everyone.

The Christy Awards Banquet is scheduled to coincide with ICRS. Congratulations to the nominees and winners. You can view them here.

The most poignant moment for me was being able to say goodbye to one of the industry’s good men at the Awards Banquet. Aside from Janet Grant and Wendy Lawton, the Books & Such women at the time, Lee Hough was a favorite agent to work with when I was an acquisitions editor. Unless the Lord decides otherwise, Lee will be going home to heaven very soon. Even now he is the same gracious, authentic person, who is at peace.

Is this what you thought goes on at ICRS? If you have been there before, how do you see it changing?


A perspective on ICRS 2013 @marygkeeley. Click to Tweet.

ICRS may be changing, but its value remains. Click to Tweet.

29 Responses

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  1. Cathy West says:

    Thanks, Mary, for the insight! I’ve never attended ICRS. What do you think the value in attending is for an author? I understand it to be beneficial if you are published with one of the bigger houses and perhaps have book signings arranged or are a Christy nominee. But what of those authors who aren’t currently contracted? Any benefits? I enjoy ACFW because of the teaching and networking that occurs at that conference, but does ICRS have any similar sessions to attend that would make it worth the cost to go?

    • Mary Keeley says:

      ICRS is the acronym for International Christian Retailers Show, a trade show. Editors and sales staff from national and international publishing houses attend and display their new books and products. Agents attend to meet with them, and authors who have books releasing from these publishers attend for media events and book signings. All that to say the show’s purpose isn’t to offer teaching to writers.

      The ACFW Conference is an annual Christian fiction writers conference. Writers conferences are the place writers can find excellent teaching workshops and continuing sessions.

      I hope that’s a clear differentiation, Cathy.

  2. My prayers are with the Houghs, such a heartbreaking time of leaning hard and fast on the Lord.

    As for ICRS, I’ve been to a few trade shows and conferences (everything from International Missions to boat shows!) and it is always interesting to me to see which streams of focus change from year to year, no matter what the industry.

    Since the only constant is change, I am intrigued to know what is ‘hot’ for the CBA and what is fading.

    Were you surprised by anything this year? Do you see a renaissance of any worn out genres? Do you see a certain hype of any cultures that have so far slid under the radar of Christian fiction?

    Did you get ANY sleep? 😉

    Bummer about the 3 1/2 hour visit to the tarmac. I feel your pain!

    • Sarah Thomas says:

      Yes, insights–what’s new? Eager to hear.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Good questions, Jennifer. It’s interesting that publishers have their own culture and are successful at different genres. Traditional publishers continue to find new ways to meet readers’ needs, which is good to see. It is to all our benefit that traditional Christian publishers survive and thrive. As they find their way, we are hearing that more favorable terms will follow for e-books.

      In fiction Chick lit continues to be a worn out genre. Amish fiction continues but perhaps is not as strong. A mystery series was mentioned. As always, story and writing win out.

      In nonfiction, publishers are looking for eye-opening personal stories for people of faith that are felt-need, not author-driven.

  3. Andrea Cox says:

    Thanks for sharing, Mary! I’ve never been to ICRS, so it’s nice to get an inside look at it from someone who has been to it through both the former and current ICRS.

    My prayers are with Lee’s family.


  4. Sue Harrison says:

    Lee Hough has been a constant in my prayers these past couple of years. My heart breaks for them, but as our local funeral director said a few months ago at the funeral of a friend, “He is a man of faith. He’s just fine right now. It’s the rest of us who are hurting.”

    Like Jennifer, I would love to know what is selling now, in regards to genres.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Sue, I didn’t hear anything surprising about genres, but there were a few shifts in the genres publishers are seeking. Several are looking for memoir, but the kind they want are concept-driven rather than author-driven.

  5. Amber Perry says:

    Hi Mary! I had no idea about the ICRS but its fascinating! I love the Christian fiction market…I am SO grateful that it seems to be doing so well. I can imagine that it will continue to grow in popularity. Like you said, the only constant is change and although certain genres may ebb and flow in their popularity, its the Christian message that will always bring the readers back for more–well, at least where I’m concerned. 🙂 Loved this post, thanks again!

  6. Sharla Fritz says:

    Thanks for giving an insiders look at ICRS. I have not attended so it was helpful to know what happens there. I too would love to hear about what is trending, what publishers are looking for. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Thanks for your insight into ICRS. I’ve never been and wasn’t sure what to expect, but wasn’t sure if it held anything for unsigned authors.

    My prayers are with the Hough family during this difficult time.

  8. Jeanne T says:

    I loved this glimpse into ICRS then and now. I am sorry you had such a delay in getting home. Been there. Done that. Learned lots of patience. 🙂

    It’s interesting to hear the changes you’ve seen. I’m very interested in what others have asked about genre. I’m also curious if you see many companies who do self-publishing represented at ICRS?

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Jeanne, ICRS isn’t a show for self-pubbers. This CBA trade show was originally instituted for traditional publishers to show their new products to retail book store owners. In this era of industry change traditional publishers are finding ways to successfully publish their books in print and e-book versions. Does that clarify what this trade show is about?

      • Jeanne T says:

        Yes. I know someone who attended a couple years ago, and I had thought her book was self published. I guess I misunderstood her. 🙂 Thanks again.

      • Jim Lupis says:

        Hi, Mary, sorry I’m so late to the party. I really enjoyed your insight on the ICRS. At the 2014 show my self-published book will have placement at the Xulon Press booth, so when you say the ICRS is’t for self-pubbers, are you saying it is not a good venue? Thanks for your feedback.

  9. Yes . . . ICRS is important because the reverse; *SRCI is important.

    *Showing Readers Christian Inspiration – through your writing – is important.

  10. Interesting insights, Mary, especially the changes to ICRS that represent the many changes in the industry as a whole. Like others have said, I look forward to future posts with other takeaways, current industry trends, etc. But for now, I wish you a restful return home. 🙂

  11. Thank you for explaining. I’m looking forward to the day I can attend my 1st ICRS. I’ve heard my friends’ reports, but it’s great to hear an agent’s POV.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      I don’t know what ICRS will look like in the future, Anita. Change is inevitable as the number of traditional retailers declines. Hopefully, there will be a successful transition to the current and future world of publishing.

  12. Nancy Moser says:

    I remember ICRS conventions when they were called the CBA Conference (Christian Booksellers Association.) It was a place for authors to meet each other and the sales team from our publishers. There were a few book signings, and super publisher dinners. I remember one dinner at Epcot where we watched Chinese acrobats while having dinner in the China pavillion! But with the internet things have changed. There’s not as much of a reason for authors to be there anymore. But I’m glad it’s become a place for editors and agents to meet! Go Bookies!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Nancy, thanks for sharing your author POV of the CBA to ICRS, then and now transition. Yes, in former years there used to be some grand events surrounding the show.

  13. Sundi Jo says:

    I was there representing a publishing company, but I’m an author as well, so I walked the floor a bit trying to make connections. I didn’t run into many editors or agents, so I must have been looking in the wrong places?

    • Mary Keeley says:

      A few of the meetings were at the publisher’s booth on the floor, but the booth usually had small walled-off meeting areas. The bulk of these meetings took place in private suites or restaurants in the vicinity. Several took place in the long hallway leading to the floor. I’m sure other agents’ schedules were packed like ours were so you wouldn’t have seen any of us just milling around on the floor.

  14. My prayers are with Lee Hough and his family. May God hold them close.

    And thank you, Mary for this very informative blog with insights into ICRA. I haven’t ever attended so this is helpful to put it all in perspective. The changes you mention over the past decade are so telling of the industry.

    I look forward to the day I can attend my first ICRA. I also look forward to future posts with the take-away from all of you that worked diligently for all your clients.

    I hope you get a little respite after returning home.

  15. As an author I still find it very valuable to attend ICRS. I met with a few editors and also met others on the floor and made some new connections where a few requested proposals. I also spoke with many retailers and that’s a great time to share and let them know about my books. I also spoke with the sales reps from my publishing houses and that is valuable as they ultimately sell the books and have more enthusiasm if they’ve met the author. And of course it is great to see other authors and encourage one another.
    As a board member of CAN (Christian Authors Network) we did two events at the Town Center Stage to connect to retailers and those went well too.