News from Conferences: The Changing World of Publishing

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

Location: Books & Such Midwest office, IL

The “Changing World of Publishing” panel discussion at Colorado Christian Writers Conference reinforced what we’ve been observing in the industry and highlighted developments with a fresh perspective. Several of us have blogged in the past that editors are looking for two kinds of authors: the sure-fire best- selling (celebrity) author and the debut author with a fresh idea. This was confirmed by the panel, and although tough for mid-list authors, it shouts opportunity for aspiring authors. Further discussion involved the following:

1. Here’s the author-publisher relationship succinctly described: editors don’t look at you as merely a potential author. They evaluate you from the perspective of a potential business partner. (Publishing is a business, after all.) You must convince an editor that you have more than one great book in you, that you have the passion, time, and commitment to market and promote your books and that you will be cooperative and pleasant to work with. They also want to see your commitment to the quality of your work and to the publishing house. In short, editors are looking for a long-term, successful relationship with an author that blesses their bottomline.

2. A fairly new group of publishers on the scene could be considered an exception to the long-term trend. Houses in this group operate primarily the same way traditional publishers do, but they don’t give advances, opting instead to offer higher royalty rates. Print runs are smaller and overall sales might be lower with these publishers. But they create greater opportunity for new authors and continuing opportunity for published authors. The co-founder and editorial director of one of them told me her company published more than two hundred titles in the first three years and has been successful adopting this new model. Having been published by one of these houses, authors are free to pursue publication with one of the larger houses if you so choose.

3. Editors and agents agreed that, even with a great platform, marketing plan and an impressively professional proposal, “content is still king.” This is good news for you authors who have poured yourselves into creating a fresh, rich story with well-developed plot and characters or a well-defined solid, compelling work of nonfiction. It could mean you need to employ the help of a freelance editor to help you to identify and fix weaknesses and to proof your work, but the results could make all the difference.

Do these points encourage you? Energize you? Spark a new action plan?

19 Responses

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  1. Kate Barker says:


    It sounds like publishers in the #2 category are not necessarily interested in a long-term business relationship, but more in discovering new authors or the “mid-list” authors. What is a “mid-list” author? Is there then a “high”- but not yet celebrity- and “low-list” also? And is this type of publisher interested in the business-marketing plan of an author?

    What advantage is there to changing publishing houses?

    I would say your post today sparked more questions…might be considered energizing.
    Thanks, I needed a little jolt with my morning tea!

  2. Lance Albury says:

    It’s always a little scary for an unpublished author when hearing the expectation of “more than one great book in you.”

    It can be so hard getting one book published. I’d like to say I have many great books in me, but honestly, I have no clue. My feeling is that as you grow as an author, stories will grow, at least I hope so.

  3. This post is definitely encouraging. Thanks, Mary, for passing on
    the current expectations and thoughts of the publishing community.

  4. Jill Kemerer says:

    I got excited reading your three points. From my observations, most writers do not get published with their first book, so they don’t have to worry about only having one book in them. What a relief! It’s also very nice to hear good news for aspiring authors.

    I’m curious as to what advice is being given the mid-list authors who struggle to stay published?

    Thanks for the inspiration, Mary!

  5. Lee Abbott says:

    Group #1 – marriage
    Group #2 – cohabitation

    My goal is marriage. I’m working on my proposal!

  6. Larry Carney says:

    Quite refreshing! It is good for writers to be reminded that editors have a love for the craft as well.

    Regarding the new publishing model you mentioned Mary, do you think it has something to do with the Amazon e-book model(perhaps adopting the lure of higher royalty rates?)

  7. Lenore Buth says:

    I’m curious how one identifies publishers in this #2 category? Are their specific words/terms to look for when checking out possible markets?

  8. Peter DeHaan says:

    This information is good news and I am encouraged!

    Although the idea of an advance (#1) is appealing, I’ve thought that for me a better arrangement would be to look at the long term, forsaking an advance for better royalties (#2).

    That would also minimize risk for the publisher and hopefully foster a long term relationship.

    My only concern is if an agent would be as diligent in pursuing a royalty only sale.

  9. Mary Keeley says:

    Kate, the few reasons a published author would change publishers is if it looks like your sales aren’t going to earn back your advance, in which case your current publisher may not offer you another contract; (2) your sales are so good that another publisher offers you a better contract with better marketing and promotional support (and everything else being equal or better); or (3) there has been some breach or unethical behavior on the part of the publisher (which is blessedly unlikely among Christian publishers).

    “Mid-list” refers to authors who are published and have a history of moderate sales. They aren’t celebrity, high-sales authors, and they aren’t debut authors.

    The questions you have raised involve areas in which your agent will guide you.

  10. Mary Keeley says:


    Three suggestions for mid-list authors: Content is still king, so the best thing mid-list authors can do to stay published by a traditional publisher is to continue to hone their craft, come up with fresh stories within their genre, and as we discussed yesterday, attend writers conferences and talk to editors.

  11. Mary Keeley says:


    Founders of these new smaller publishers have years of experience in publishing. During these past years when the industry has been struggling, these entrepreneurial professionals developed their own models.

    Most publishers are offering lower advances and higher royalty rates these days. The difference with these new small publishers is that they further reduce their risk with smaller print runs. They’re also open to publishing an author who has never been published before and is less likely to get a contract with a larger traditional publisher.

  12. Joanne Sher says:

    Very interesting! I THINK I’m encouraged. Working on book #2 right now – and first is unpublished. Guess I’ll find out if it have more than one in me in not too long 😉

  13. Publishers in Group #2 are not necessarily inferior to publishers in Group #1. They simply run their business differently for a different kind of writer and reader. For example, it can be very hard to find a publisher who will take Christian speculative fiction. So some of these entrepreneurial people are creating smaller publishing companies to cater to this niche group. And of these publishers that I know, they are looking for quality and long term relationships as well.

  14. Kate Barker says:

    Thank you Mary for taking time to respond. And I look forward to one day having an agent who can answer all the questions I have….because there are a few more I’d like to ask.

    Everyone’s feedback and questions always generate such a wealth of information!

  15. David Todd says:

    I like the thought of what those smaller houses are doing. For me, an advance is meaningless; being published is everything. I’m more than willing to forego an advance and take my chances on royalies.

    See you at WTP, Mary.

  16. Mary, are you free to name names of these smaller houses that offer higher royalties rather than advances?

  17. Just catching up now. Spent yesterday in bed with a nasty virus.

    This is actually encouraging news. I am published with a small press that would fall category #2. I love them. I feel too, that now I am published, I am more attractive to a larger publisher.

    That said, I’m seriously considering self-publishing a couple of picture books to see how it goes.

    Thanks for another great post.

  18. Selah Weems says:

    Your post was very interesting, but I am so ignorant of the publishing world I don’t even know how to contact these publishers. I’ve completed one novel, am over half way through the sequel, and have about 30 different books that I have started. But I am so lost, I don’t even know how to look for publishers. But at least now I know there are different types of publishers. 🙂

  19. Mary Keeley says:

    Selah, even if you plan to seek an agent to represent you, Google Christian book publishers and go to their websites. Read about them to learn what kinds of books they publish. Read their submission guidelines. You’ll also gain knowledge of the industry by reading our Books & Such blog regularly as well as other blogs we recommend on our site. Wait to send queries to agents or publishers until you an understanding of the industry. You will be able to present yourself more professionally.