Blogger: Mary Keeley
Following a recent conversation with industry professionals, I’ve been reflecting on the shifting journey in publishing through the years. Nothing earthly stays the same for long in either life or business. We find ourselves continually tweaking goals, strategies, and yes, manuscripts. This isn’t a bad thing as long as we’re making necessary adjustments with a forward view. After all, we humans get bored with the status quo eventually, and this is a factor that publishers and authors need to consider in their efforts to reach readers.
Think of your favorite meal. How would you like it served to you for dinner every day, with the only variations being a different green vegetable and an occasional baked potato instead of mashed? Eventually, your appetite for your special meal will diminish to the point of tasting same ol’ same ol’. This is why authors need to feed their readers something fresh in each new book, while at the same time holding fast to the core elements of their brand. Publishers that still are operating in the stay-safe rut are missing this characteristic of human nature.
Back in the day when content editors were the driving force in book publishing, they often went with their gut instincts about a book’s chances. This worked well for the time. More recently, as publishers released more books per year, they realized the focused work of editing manuscripts and the business of looking for new books to contract and monitoring reading trends were too much for one role. The solution in many publishing houses has been to divide the responsibilities and thus, the role of acquisitions editor came into being. This has been a good adjustment in my view, because the roles require partially different skill sets.
Acquisitions editors became the primary champions of the projects they took to pub board meetings. They prepared for these approval or rejection meetings by collecting sales data from the sales department and calculating a cost-of-goods analysis for the book’s packaging that would provide a margin of profit.
Notice I used past tense. That’s because in the years following the economic dive in 2008, and the birth of independent ebook publishing, publishers chose the safe, proven route. Sales reps’ projections, based on what sold in the past, became a dominant factor in pub board decisions. It was a sensible choice for the recovery period. It’s the responsible approach any of us would take when our personal finances are in jeopardy.
Generally speaking, sales reps, who have only a few minutes of a retailer’s time, present books by current top-selling authors, which they know retailers are most likely to want to load in to the stores. They deal in the now through the lens of what has been.
Acquisitions editors knew what they had to do to help the publisher turn a profit—and to keep their jobs: offer new, multi-book contracts to their best-selling authors writing in the current popular genres.
Consequently, unpublished and mid-list authors have had to make necessary adjustments too. Adjust to waiting. Perhaps adjust their stories to fit the mold in an effort to make their novels more marketable for publishers. New nonfiction authors have had to put their book on hold while they build a strong platform. Some have resorted to the self-publishing route. Hopefully, they did their homework beforehand and are aware of the massive amount of work that is involved in hopes of selling a respectable number of books.
A Forward View
I’ve given you all this backstory for a reason. Publishers are beyond that recovery period and most have recovered from the more recent losses from the Family Christian Stores bankruptcy. It’s time to embrace a forward view again.
Sometimes it wise to reflect on what worked well in the past, which can be resurrected and adapted to create a new view with growth potential. The new “big thing” publishers are hoping for isn’t going to have a track record of sales. But if pub boards were to invest in a few more risks, based on editors’ gut instincts, they might discover it. The Left Behind serendipity is a classic example. As we know, that series opened the door wide to Christian fiction. Janet Grant blogged about risk-taking on Monday.
What does all this mean for authors? Those who understand that they won’t reach their publishing goals by resisting or ignoring realities have the best chance of living their author dream. Wendy Lawton blogged on Tuesday about circumstances in which it’s best to stay within established parameters, a forward view for writers in those circumstances. For others, taking a calculated risk to offer your readers a fresh twist, within the bounds of your brand, could be the best way to whet their appetite for more.
Years ago I heard wise counsel in regard to the spiritual life. I don’t remember who said it, but the words have stuck with me as a measuring stick for my own spiritual growth. It went something like this: If you aren’t growing, you are shrinking. There is no standing still. Its wisdom can be applied across all areas of life and business.
In what ways have you made adjustments in response to the current publishing climate? As a writer and a reader, what would you like to read in Christian fiction that is already popular in general market fiction? Is there something new you would like to see addressed in Christian nonfiction?
If you aren’t growing, you’re shrinking; there is no standing still. Wisdom for publishers and authors. Click to Tweet.