Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

With the promise of hope that a new year holds, I start pretty quickly to look for signs that my hopes have grounding. Happily, there are several already. The genre news won’t make every author’s hopes soar in the short term. After all, genre trends have always been cyclical. But the news does confirm the consistency of the cyclical nature. This means your genre’s turn will come, if not right now. Other signs are also hopeful. Are you ready for a dose of optimism today?

Cyclical Signs

Case in point. For a number of years, proposals for children’s books have been a hard sell in CBA. Production costs were too high and sales projections were too low. However, children’s books have been trending highest sales increases in Signs2the general market for the last two to three years. I can only guess this why two publishers announced this month their plans to reinvigorate their children’s lines. One was a CBA publisher. Another CBA publisher recently beefed up its children’s line with additional staff and a larger vision during a corporate restructure. This is a hopeful sign for Christian children’s authors.

Data Signs

But the cycle isn’t the only optimistic sign. Two weeks ago published an article by executive editor Jonathan Segura about end-of-year sales data. He reported that print book sales rose 3.3% in 2016. That’s a rise over the previous year for the third year in a row. Let’s analyze this because it’s significant.

First, it isn’t an anomaly. After three consecutive years, it’s trending. Readers are returning to the traditional way of reading. Reading electronically will always have its place, but increasing numbers of readers are going back to print books for pleasure reading and for study. This raises my hope level because the eternal optimist in me dreams of independent bookstores opening up again to meet the resurgent demand for tangible books. Amazon needs healthy competition to keep it from becoming a book-buying monopoly. And to keep prices down for readers. Amazon executives obviously see the trend or they wouldn’t be adding more brick and mortar stores. Is this another sign? Maybe. Hopefully.

A commenter of the online article added that over half of the overall 3.3% increase in print book sales came from Family Christian Stores sales, which Nielsen added in 2016. A sizable contribution and a hopeful sign for Christian publishers and authors if the information is accurate.

Adult nonfiction book sales were up 6.9% for the fourth consecutive year. However, Segura reported that, with the exception of comics and graphic novels, all adult fiction categories ended year 2016 at 1.04% lower than in 2015. But there were no blockbuster novels released in 2016, so another way to view the data is that total adult fiction sales only went down by that percentage. Read the entire article here to view a table of yearly print book sales figures from 2013 to 2016.

Seize the optimism and remember God has this. He will always provide a means for his message to get out. Our part is to watch for the signs.


What is your reaction to this data? What encouraging sign have you seen or heard about recently?


Writers, be encouraged by these promising signs in the publishing industry. Click to Tweet.

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  1. Good stuff, Mary, Thanks. That there was no blockbuster novel in 2016 makes me think there’s a pent-up demand, and my “Last Indian War” will cover the country about two feet deep by December. If I can manage to finish the final edits.
    * My personal best sign this year is a double-header – surviving last Saturday night and surviving this afternoon (Jan 18). I figure that if two dogs can keep me breathing and keep my heart beating, that there’s absolutely nothing I can’t do, and that God still has a plan for me.
    * Hope isn’t where you find it. It’s where you seize it, and bend it to your will.

  2. Mary, it’s reassuring to hear that hardcopy books are coming back in vogue. There were those who declared print books would be obsolete. But it sounds like, from what you’re saying, that there will be a healthy mix of print and electronic books on the market.

    • It’s so encouraging, Jeanne. It would break my heart for hardcopy books to one day be something only observed in a museum. No. I love that the process has found, or is finding that balance.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Jeanne, I remember those days when the majority in publishing were predicting the end of print books. I was working in a publishing house at that time. It was a futuristic view, but as it turns out, not far enough into the future to see how many of us, being connected at the hip to our computers and devices all day, are returning to print books for pleasure reading and also for studying because it’s more convenient for note-taking.

  3. “God has this. He will always provide a means for his message to get out.” Yes! Mary, if you are hopeful … I’m hopeful. Books are entertainment, but so is the process of attaining the books. My girls love nothing more than to go to a book store … it’s a slice of heaven for them and me. It means breathing in the fragrance of paper, sweat, tears, Starbucks, cookie, pizza … quite possibly in that order (we have to go to a mall for the best book store around here). Our faces and hearts change, and we want to race through the aisles to get to our favorite books, and then we want to pull up a chair and savor each moment in the selection process. 🙂

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Shelli, your bookstore trips with your daughters sound like sheer bliss.

    • I love this visual, Shelli. Racing to find your favorite books. How fun that you and your girls share such a love of reading.

    • What a different experience with girls. All three of my boys love to read and are incredibly strong readers. But bookstores! There is so much to break and maim. I am on hyper alert if I take them into someplace with knick knacks and sadly, bookstores tend to have them galore. I will imagine this bookstore experience with fondness all the while enjoying my life of wrestling and pet chickens and death-defying capers. Thankfully, one does not have to be able to safely enter a bookstore to read. I can creep in and breath deep of the pages alone, and then come home with the beautiful books for my wild young men to dive into. I love hearing of your adventures, so different and interesting!

      • Kristen, I couldn’t always take the girls into bookstores without worries. Once, in JCPenney, I pushed the double stroller past a table with a huge stack of display items, and my youngest reached out, taking hold of the tablecloth, and well … not a good scenario. Thankfully, it wasn’t anything breakable. Whew. I learned to stay away from display racks when they were little.

      • Ha! Yes, that sounds more familiar. Exciting moments.

  4. Lara Hosselton says:

    Thanks for sharing such encouraging news, Mary. A little part of me never believed the hype about electronic books replacing a “real” book. However, I think keeping the younger generations interested in reading a hardcopy is crucial to the success of future book sales. I can’t imagine a child picking up an electronic device every time he wants to look at a picture book. There’s something almost magical about turning a page and tracing your finger over
    pictures and words. My girls are already vying for certain children’s books that I’ve stored away, which leads me to believe an outdated media device will never be cherished no matter how many great stories are downloaded.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Ironically, the younger age groups, especially millennials and post-millennials have the strongest preference for print books. I speculate it’s because reading a print book in a welcome change of pace from being on their devices. A study done a couple of years ago reported they also prefer print version textbooks because they find the layout more convenient, and they can take notes on the printed page if they own it.
      Take heart, if your girls develop a love for print books now, it will probably last into adulthood.

      • Mary, there’s also the question of author signatures…kind of hard on a Kindle.
        * But not impossible. When I could still get out and about, Barb and I were in a Barnes and Noble cafe when she overheard a woman at a nearby table telling her young daughter, “No, I’ve never met a real live author.”
        – Barb being Barb, she walked over and spoke to the woman, then pointed at me. The lady looked over and said, “You’re kidding! Him??”
        – Barb gave a what-can-I-say shrug. One must evidently make do with the material at hand.
        – The lady fiddled with her Kindle, and then came over and said, “Excuse me…uh, I just bought one of your books…”
        – And she handed me the Kindle and a Sharpie, and indicated where I might sign.
        – Old school changes, but never dies!

  5. I’m glad that hardcopy is staying around. If you pick up a book that you really hate, you can throw it across the room. Doing that with a Kindle gets expen$ive.

  6. The thing that surprised me was that there wasn’t a blockbuster novel in 2016. There were plenty of really good ones, but perhaps people are more careful about their purchasing habits, in view of so many more books out there?
    That, and *mine* aren’t out yet.
    (Bahahahaha! Yes, I’m on anti-humble medication. Perhaps I should stop…)
    But seriously, this is what I hold on to, “Seize the optimism and remember God has this”. He does, and no one can stand in His way.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      We need to remember the report covers mostly general market sales, but it is useful for monitoring trends. In 2016 the general and Christian markets had no fiction bestsellers at sales levels like The Girl on the Train or Go Set a Watchman. I was encouraged that in spite of this, fiction sales declined only 1.04%. I guess I see the glass half full.

      • My glass is definitely half full, too.
        In a way, I am glad there wasn’t one big fiction blockbuster, because I see that other authors had a chance to break out. And to me, a small decline means an upswing is coming. I hope.
        I just keep my head down and do my work, and know that God has it all in His hand.

  7. Carol Ashby says:

    When the folks in their 20s, like my rabid-reader son, so strongly prefer print to electronic, you know it’s going to last. It’s how you get your print version that I’m more concerned about.
    *I just went into my local Christian bookstore for the first time since the wreck. Before Thanksgiving, most of the fiction volumes were spine-out with a few face-out. Yesterday most were face-out, and there were probably a tenth as many authors represented. Most were those already established as top-sellers. I asked if they were downsizing the store, and the lady said they just hadn’t reordered since the big Christmas selling season. When I asked specifically about the fiction section, she said fiction didn’t sell well, implying they weren’t likely to become spine-out shelves again. She offered to order whatever I wanted, but that means online searching, not browsing to find the next new thing.
    *What is your interpretation of this, Mary? A trend or a short-term problem?

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Carol, it’s been this way for several years. Christian retailers are operating on a shoestring, just hoping to keep their doors open. They can’t afford to risk loading in books that aren’t sure to sell. It’s a cash-flow issue. So, they stock their shelves mostly with books by the bestselling authors. It’s especially true for adult fiction, which has had declining sales for the last several years. Christian publishers, well aware of this and still risk-averse themselves, having been filling most of their publishing slots with proven entities, their best-selling authors.
      But I’m seeing encouraging signs recently. Publishers are beginning to offer more contracts to debut authors with great writing and hooks for their stories. Optimism is blooming.

  8. It’s nice to know I’m not the only “dinosaur” who prefers reading REAL books to e-books. I have lots on my Kindle that are unread, but get more hard copy books from the library every week. And my own bookcases are overflowing.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      I’m with you, Janet. I have a good friend who loves the portability of her mini iPad for reading, and I prefer that too when I’m traveling. But sitting by the fire, or in bed at night…there is nothing like a print book. And yes, we have overflow books stored in the basement and in closets. You remind me that we need pass some on to Goodwill.

  9. That is awesome about children’s books! I write for kids and teens and have known for years that I am working uphill. Nice to see a break in the clouds and maybe catch a few bites!