Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
Having attended the Book Expo of America (BEA) in New York in May and the International Christian Retailers Show (ICRS) in Denver in July, I’ve been assimilating what I took in as I walked the exhibit floors of these once-giant shows; sat down and talked “book industry” with editors and publishers; and attended workshops on the state of the industry. This week I’d like to unpack my suitcase of observations because it’s important for all of us to note where the industry is headed.
First, both shows were shadows of their former grand selves. While BEA is still quite large, the floor is walkable if you devote a few hours to the task. ICRS experienced smaller exhibits, and a few significant publishers chose not to participate (most notably Thomas Nelson and WaterBrook Multnomah). Fortunately the organizers pulled in the space allotted to the show, creating a smaller venue but one that had a buzz of busyness. Lines to receive autographed copies of books were consistently long. It didn’t seem to matter if the person signing was Karen Kingsbury or a debut novelist.
As a matter of fact, I was standing in the Zondervan booth waiting for Robin Jones Gunn to join me for a meeting, when I saw Joyce Ondersma, the head of Zondervan’s author relations, carry a box of Robin’s newest release, Coming Attractions, over to Robin. As Robin pulled out her pen to sign a few books for some fans who hadn’t gotten copies during Robin’s official signing, I watched a line spontaneously form. Not just a small line, but in the matter of seconds, about 20 people were standing there and more flocking in. No formal announcement was needed to bring in people, no billboards, no scheduling–just Robin with a pen and a box of her books. I’d never seen anything like it.
To what do I attribute this book eagerness? Publishers were giving out fewer galleys (bound, unedited versions of books soon to be published), fewer free trinkets (e.g., bags with a book’s cover imprinted on it to hold the stash of free goodies you collect as you walk the floor), and even catalogs. Yes, publishers had limited numbers of their catalogs to hand out. That added up to books being the main giveaway of the show, which is a good thing since a free book is the best (and least expensive) publicity a publisher can offer. Time after time, during the show, authors told me they signed as fast as they could until the books ran out.
The lack of free items reflects the sober mindset among publishers. General market publishers especially have felt the economic downturn, having to release hundreds of staff, often including the most difficult to replace–editors. Everything about publishing is scaled back–the number of titles being printed (and therefore manuscripts being bought), the size of advances ($50,000 is the new $75,000 in the general market), and marketing dollars.
The first two meetings I had with editors at ICRS were daunting. These were the words spoken: “I’ve overbought for the next few years and don’t know when I’ll buy again”; “We’re cutting back on the number of titles we’re buying”; “Great presentation, but I’ll have to take these book ideas back to the office to see if I can generate any enthusiasm.” If I had gone home after those meetings, I would have sat in a funk for the next year.
Fortunately, all my meetings after that were upbeat, with lots of interest in the projects I was offering and good discussions about what publishers are doing to find their way in our economically challenging times.
What does that mean for a writer/author? We’ll unpack those thoughts in the next few days.
Question: What are your observations from your corner of the world regarding book publishing’s current state?
“Cautiously optimistic” seems to summarize what I’m seeing. Hope it’s not the equivalent of whistling past a cemetery. Time will tell.
Do you think that the publishing industry has been hit, too, by the digital media? Kindles, etc.? Is there a way to embrace those technologies and still be profitable?
In regards to your question, one thing I’ve noticed from my position on the verrrrry fringe observing – it seems that publishers are more likely to go back to the well with proven offers, eagerly offering repeat books as soon as they see success with the first book, as opposed to seeking out new authors.
Embrace 1’s and 0’s or perish.
There will always be a market for quality content that hits a nerve.
Author = entrepreneur.
Every new generation needs to be evangelized on its own terms.
I’m gonna keep writing. Buy my book, and I’ll love you forever.
Romance, romance! Both Christian (and secular) romance appears to continue selling? I know Love Inspired recently expanded their line, which leads me to believe that they’re getting great sales figures?
Here’s an article that I saw today about Christian fiction and it kind of addresses some of the things in your blog post:
Miss Britt, digital media will have a profound impact on publishing. But the profit & loss statements are still being written. With Amazon losing money on every Kindle book it sells, trust me, the financial scenario will change. But it’s one of the most dynamic aspects of publishing; keep your eye on how it shapes up. So much is changing so fast in the industry, I refer to it as the Wild West–each publisher and each author is making up the rules as we rush into the future.
Italy is one of the lowest reading public in the world- unlike the sombre English skies where readership is much higher- there are so many distractions here; therefore book publishing is as always, not so bright. Guess I need to become a bestseller myself and engender some enthusiasm.
My vantage point is very limited, but the editor with whom I’ve had discussions seemed to favor a book setting with proven appeal, but with a fresh twist to the story. I suppose they hope to minimize the risk as they offer something new? That’s certainly understandable…
Cecelia, yes, romance is doing well in both the general market and the Christian market. Thanks for the link to an excellent article that gives an overview of the genres that are ramping up in the Christian market (although it didn’t mention romance, which would have been a good idea to include). I’m also sensing that biblical fiction is about to have renewed reader interest, which we’ve seen with the excellent sales of our agency’s Jill Eileen Smith’s novel, Michal.
Here’s a funny video on free stuff.