Never a Dull Moment in Publishing

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

My morning routine begins with catching up on emails and news in the industry. Lately, more times than I care to admit it’s been as late as 11:00 when I finally glanced at the little clock on my computer monitor. So many changes taking place: mergers, lawsuits, trade book lines ceasing, trade book lines reviving. It’s a challenge to keep up with them. I’m going to focus on two today.

In response to Amazon’s monstrous growth as a publishing giant, we’ve watched larger publishers merge, presumably to be more competitive. Last year it was HarperCollins’s acquisition of Thomas Nelson, which combined two CBA publishers, Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, into one imprint: HarperCollins Christian. This year in the general market we witnessed the merger of Penguin and Random House.

Two medium size publishers shut down their trade fiction or complete trade lines. The first one shut down its trade fiction line, which meant losses of expected income for many contracted authors as well as their agents. The other publisher shut down its complete trade publishing line, both fiction and non-fiction.

The immediate concern among authors and agents was that available publishing slots for books would be cut in half with each merger and reduced again by the demise of the trade lines. It’s obviously the case with regard to the closures, but it’s a wait-and-see with respect to the mergers. I’ve heard varying feedback to date.

What do these changes mean for authors, both published and unpublished? Here are five positive observations for an optimistic outlook:

1.     New genres provide opportunities for new writers. Sharp eyes in the general market recognized these waiting audiences. New adult fiction, which first appeared around 2009 but picked up steam in 2011, targets the Millennial audience, which is too old for YA but can’t relate to established adult fiction and non-fiction. Baby boomer lit reaches that huge audience, which was first recognized by Hollywood. CBA publishers are showing interest in stepping out of their safe categories to embrace new genres as well. This means more opportunity for writers, especially those who haven’t yet established their brand.

2.     Superb writing and a strong following are the primary factors that may convince a publisher to choose your book over the myriad of other submissions. Nothing new here…just true more than ever. For unpublished as well as published authors this means you need to be patient, continue to polish your craft, and write, write, write until you are confident your manuscript is fresh, unique, and can compete in the market. Enjoy the process; don’t rush it.

3.     New people groups. Publishers are looking for stories surrounding fresh, new people groups. This presents creative opportunity in all genres.

4.     Re-launch of trade lines. One publisher recently re-launched trade publishing lines for non-fiction, YA fiction, and Bible studies.

5.     God still rules. Change is inevitable, but he holds the reins.

TWEETABLES:

Change is the operative word in publishing, but there is plenty of opportunity. Click to Tweet.

If you are a writer who is flexible, there are many opportunities in publishing. Click to Tweet.

Authors who write about fresh new people groups have opportunities. Click to Tweet.

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44 Comments

  • Though it’s not a very new genre, Amish fiction is hot right now! People just love the escape from modern life! It seems like there is a new Amish fiction author every time I stop by the Christian Fiction section at Barnes and Noble.

  • Good morning, Mary.

    I went to a dinner last night and was asked “How’s the book coming?”
    Before I could answer the nice friend, and yes, we’re still friends, he shouted “You needed ZOMBIES!! That’ll sell! Zombies are awesome! Jane Austen is doing Zombies too!”

    All I could think of was the scene in ‘A Bug’s Life’ where Hopper the eville grasshopper says “Do I…look stupid…to you?”

    I smiled graciously (not really) and looked kindly at him (sneered and rolled my eyes) and softly whispered (laughed in his face) “Perhaps not.” It was more like “Seriously, Malcolm (his real name) I’ll totally do that, thanks, NO ONE has thought of that AT ALL.”
    Mind you, he was laughing when he said it and I know he was being ironic and making himself look doltish to make me laugh. And he’s a good enough friend to have a character named for him.

    But when I read “new people groups” the thought that popped into my brain?

    “Zombie Navajos!”

    There ya go, I’ll save publishing as we know it with my 29 book series called “The Zombies of Canyon de Chelly”

    Or not.

    Thank the Lord that He is in charge and the zombie loving engineers are not. :)

  • Jeanne T says:

    Mary, I love how you’ve found the positives amid the change. You ladies here at Books and Such have a great way of conveying a realistic, positive outlook with the changes in publishing. Thank you for that.

    I also appreciate the thoughts you shared about the new genres. It’s given me something to think about. If an author is going to consider writing in one of the new genres you mentioned, what does she need to consider?

    And thank you for the reminder that God reigns. This is a great comfort as I walk this uncertain path.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Jeanne, the new genres I mentioned are age-related. The first thing to consider is the amount of research and interviews you’ll need to do to have a deep understanding of their values, priorities, challenges, and things that concern them. Of course, if you are in one of those age groups, you’ll have an easier time.

      The second consideration involves creating a compelling story, one that the age group you are writing to will connect with and characters who struggle with the same kinds of issues they do. Non-fiction authors need to find a fresh topic of interest to the age group, one that hasn’t been written about before that meets a specific need or provides answers to questions.

      The third thing to consider is that your writing needs to be irresistible. Christian publishers are notoriously slow to pick up on new trends. But superb writing will be the tipping point these publishers need in order to take the risk.

  • Change can be scary, or at least unsettling. I think one reason is because writers want their work to be accepted (as in published). When the guidelines and key players change, we rush to learn “everything new”. However, change can be very good. . .

    “Sharp eyes in the general market recognized these waiting audiences. . . CBA publishers are showing interest in stepping out of their safe categories to embrace new genres as well. This means more opportunity for writers, especially those who haven’t yet established their brand.”

  • Mary, when I got serious about fiction a few years ago, I never thought I would need a head for business. I so much appreciate posts like this one that analyze the current market and then end with the wonderful reminder that God still rules.

    I’ve had an idea bubbling around in my mind for a while about a new people group, so I’ll keep praying. It’s an exciting time!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Yes, Meghan, it is an exciting time. I’ve compared the economic hit to publishing in 2008 as an earthquake. Since then the industry has been reacting to aftershocks but will finally stabilize. The ground will have shifted, but those who are flexible and forward-thinking will have opportunities.

  • What’s funny is my first book is very obviously new adult fiction…but when I pitched it last year as women’s fiction, people were telling me it didn’t really fit there — but didn’t fit YA either. Sweet to know there’s a new genre that does take the in-betweeners into account. :)

    I love that put a positive spin on it. I think a lot of people are doom and gloom about the changes in the industry, and even though some make me sad — like the demise of several bookstores — I do think that today there are more opportunities than ever for new authors.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Lindsay, new adult fiction is so needed in the CBA market to provide a positive alternative to some of the seedy stuff that is being published for that age group in the general market. See my response to Jeanne for things to things to keep in mind for your success. I agree, there are many opportunities for new authors.

    • Larry says:

      I wonder how many other new adult authors there are here in the community? I know there are several YA, but don’t know how many New Adult authors there are.

  • Mary, what are your thoughts about new adult fiction with a historical bent? What do you think it would look like, and how might it be received?

  • Judy Gann says:

    A librarian, I’m excited about the growth in new adult fiction. It addresses a need I’ve seen ever since I started working in public libraries 30 years ago.

    This age group, older teens and those in their twenties don’t want to read YA books. Most refuse to select items from the teen section of the library. They’ve always gravitated to materials in the adult fiction section, yet not quite satisfied with what they find there.

    The key is for those who promote these books to find ways to market new adult fiction titles to this audience and for those who work with this age group to help them find the new adult fiction.

    Mary, love the way you describe the reading needs of this audience: “targets the Millennial audience, which is too old for YA but can’t relate to established adult fiction and non-fiction.”

    I hope CBA embraces this trend soon.

    • Larry says:

      Judy, I have always wondered this, but do you know how many publishers in the CBA have discussions regularly with librarians? It seems so obvious, to discuss books and readers with those who daily see the ways readers relate to books, and it could be something which helps publishers get a better idea of their audience.

      • Judy Gann says:

        Larry, it’s exciting to see a growing awareness among CBA publishers re the value of the public library market and librarians’ knowledge about readers.

        An increasing number of CBA publishers exhibit at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference and the Public Library Association Conference–both excellent opportunities for discussions between CBA publishers and librarians.

        Cynthia Ruchti, in her role as ACFW’s
        Professional Liaison, is establishing excellent connections and dialog with librarians.

        There is a huge market for Christian fiction among public library users. Later this month Library Journal is sponsoring a webinar for librarians on Christian fiction. Marketing staff from several CBA publishers will present their fall releases during the webinar. Library Journal sponsors this popular webinar about four times a year.

        Hope this helps answer your question, Larry. Yes, discussions are happening. As Mary said, CBA tends to lag behind ABA, in the area of library marketing as well as others. But I see signs CBA is moving in the right direction.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Judy, thanks for this insightful information. One way to market to this group is through the social media networks they use most regularly.

  • Like some have already mentioned, I appreciate you focusing on the positives. I find this time exciting, but also a tiny bit scary. It’s good to know there are positive things coming out of all the changes.

    I’m going to have to research new adult, even though it’s not my market. I keep hearing about it, but not quite sure what it’s all about. I would love to read a good book in this genre to learn more.

  • Lori says:

    With all these mergers, do you see the demise of print books in favor of e-books and possibly audio books on CDs in favor of MP3s?

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Actually, Lori, print sales were up in the last quarter, which is indeed encouraging. Of course, one quarter doesn’t constitute a trend. But it does quiet the use of the term demise with print book. Audio books may go directly to downloads onto smart phones and tablets.

  • Elena says:

    Thank for sharing, i find your last point with God contribution so simple and true

  • Larry says:

    I agree, Mary, the publishing world is exciting right now: there are more writers than before, new ways to allow readers to read, and prices are becoming more affordable, allowing for more readers.

  • Lou Allin says:

    My original publisher, Napoleon/RendezVous Press, was bought out by Dundurn a few years ago. Now Dundurn has bought Thomas Allen and is the largest independent press in Canada. Can’t help but see larger opportunities for writers as the companies who can still make a profit continue to do so, and those who can’t, don’t.

  • Mary, I loved your analogy of the earthquake in response to Meghan. Whenever I see a big change that causes fear and uncertainty (especially one that will affect a whole industry), I always think of the invention of the automobile. The automobile changed an entire society of people who depended on horse power to live and do business. I imagine there were a lot of people scared and uncertain in those times (especially if you owned a livery stable!). But a lot of those livery stables and wagon makers shifted their focus and started selling cars. Blacksmiths started turning into auto body & repair shops, and so on. And look what automobiles have done for us. Change can be scary and uncertain, but it doesn’t have to paralyze us. We need to be creative and accept the change in the industry. In the long run (if we’re willing to adjust), it could mean great things for all of us.

    Thank you for your perspective–and thank you for keeping up with the changes in the industry!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Gabrielle, those are excellent examples that offer a hindsight view on the positives of change! I’m sure this perspective is easing many a mind right now. Thank you.

  • Lynn Hare says:

    Mary, can you give another example or two of new people groups? Also, would you say that networking and building relationships with others in the industry becomes more significant with the decrease of titles getting published?

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Lynn, new people groups can refer to any group about which not much has been written. It can involve nationalities, location, sect, job/craft, and so on. Look around your own area or somewhere you’ve visited. There may be a story waiting that you hadn’t seen before.

  • Encouraging thoughts, Mary. Thank you! The most important to keep in mind is #5. God is, indeed, still in charge–and God is always full of surprises. :)

  • Sharla Fritz says:

    Mary, thank you for the reminder to enjoy the process. We all want everything to happen right away, but the journey is just as important as the destination.

  • Ashley Bazer says:

    Mary – you said, “CBA publishers are showing interest in stepping out of their safe categories to embrace new genres as well.”

    Oh, that gives me some hope! Dare I ask…does this mean that we might see sci-fi on the Christian market? I know there are several indie imprints getting it out there, but I sure would love to see the genre hit the shelves in the bookstore!

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    All these changes make my head spin, but I embrace them as opportunity.

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