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It Takes a Committee

by Tamela Hancock Murray

Portrait of a group of panel judges holding score signs

One well-known and frustrating fact about seeing a book finally accepted is the looooooong process. Trust me, literary agents would like to see the process move faster, too.

Believe it or not, the fact that at most large publishers, a proposal must go through several rounds of review before a contract is offered is actually good for the author. Yes, you read that right. It’s good for the author. 

I got dumped
Let me back up to an experience I had writing for a newspaper years ago. I had a pretty good gig writing about real estate. Then, Chris, the editor who hired me, left. 

Soon afterwards, I overheard someone identify me as, “Oh, she’s someone Chris brought on.” 

Her dismissive manner of me and the way she emphasized his name told me my gig wouldn’t last much longer because the new guard wanted to bring on their friends. Assignments from the new guard evaporated within a month. I was fine, though, because I had several other writing gigs at the time and wanted to move away from writing about real estate, anyway. But I might not have felt as cavalier if this had happened while I was writing books.

Strength in numbers
As a book author, you do want your editor to love your work. But you don’t want your editor to be the only person at the publishing house to love your work, even if that advocate is the most powerful editor at that house. 

Why? Because even the top editor may decide to leave, for any number of reasons. Then where are you as an author with your only advocate gone? You may be left as an author with very little support for your current book, which is sure to mean terrible sales numbers and no future contract with that house. Not to mention, terrible sales numbers will ensure a difficult road to a contract with a different house.

All aboard!
The editor who’s excited about you and your work will do everything she can to ensure success for you at each meeting as your proposal makes its way through the chain. When the team of editors, along with sales and marketing people, understand you and your book and are rooting for you, they feel invested in you and your work. Having the team’s support is much better than one editor fighting the good fight alone.

And if your editor does decide to move on, good people at the publishing house will still be left to make your book a success.

Patience is a virtue
Indeed, this is yet another example of how the writing life tries our patience. And to use yet another cliche, good things come to those who wait.

Your turn:

How has being a writer tested your patience?

What is the longest you have waited for a response?

Did You Feel the Tremor in the Industry Last Week?

by Steve Laube

800px-Good_Friday_Earthquake_at_Turnagain_Arm

I know what it is like to feel the earth move under my feet having experienced the ’64 Alaska earthquake firsthand. (The above picture is from the neighborhood where we lived called Turnagain Arm.) Therefore I know the difference between a 9.2 Richter scale quake and a tremor that registers near 2.0 on the scale.

Last Thursday Amazon announced they were reducing the royalty payments for authors and vendors who use their ACX service to sell self-published audio books. The amount will change on March 12th for new contracts to a flat rate of 40% instead of the 50%-90% rate they currently pay.

No big deal, right? Sort of like a 2.0 tremor. If you blinked you missed it. And since many don’t have an ACX account to sell audio books they are unaffected. However this should be a reminder to all authors and publishers who use KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) that Amazon can change their royalty terms at any time.

This is the danger of putting all the proverbial eggs in one basket. If any author chooses to only utilize the economic system of Amazon for their sales they can be vulnerable to any changes. I once met a man who sold the foil that was used to make the dairy creamer packets for McDonalds. He had one client. His job was to search the world for the best price on foil. And he lived in terror of losing his client.

Be very clear, I am not suggesting that this is going to happen. Amazon’s 70% royalty rate on kindle ebooks has not changed. All I am suggesting is that it could.

Wanted: More Choir Members

Dan Balow

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At some point in their writing career, many Christian authors express a desire to write a book that would reach the un-churched. That desire is a completely honorable and wonderful goal, just as any believer should desire to represent Christ in their lives in such a way that unbelievers would ask them questions about the hope that is in them. 

However, the inference by such statements as “preaching to the choir” is that writing to churchgoers is somehow less desirable.  I know the intent of those authors is to have their books used for pre-evangelism, but unfortunately, when most Christian authors use the term “cross-over” to describe their book, it is code for “leave out anything Christian”.  I am not sure this is a wise use of your time unless you are very gifted and unique writer.

Indulge me for just another minute before you start writing a reply, hitting me with examples of Lewis, Tolkien, Sayers, MacDonald, Bunyan, Tolstoy, Chesterton, etc.

First, God Almighty can and does use whatever he wants to get people’s attention.  I hear God even used a talking donkey once. Second, it is a matter of fact that the books that God has used most frequently for evangelism have testified strongly to Jesus Christ and the power of the Gospel to change a life.  Consider these:

Still Wanted: Writing that Sings!

by Karen Ball

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Anyone who has jumped into the waters of agenting knows they’ll be asked one question, over and over and over:  “What are you looking for?” Well, now that I’ve got a couple of years of this amazing work under my belt, let me build on what I said when I started. Back then, I said I was looking, first and foremost, for books that glorify God, then for writing that sings, that speaks to the heart and spirit, that uplifts and challenges. Well, that’s all the same! But there are a few clarifications I want to make.  First, here’s the not so good news:

What I’m Not Looking For

Children’s & Middle Grade Books: As much as I enjoy reading these books (that’s one of the only perks to never having had children—I get all the kid’s books!), I am not representing them. It’s not that I don’t see the need. It’s simply that I’m not experienced with these kinds of books. My work lo, these many years in publishing, has been with adult books. Now, I have worked with Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, but I already have some great clients in that category and am not, at present, looking for more.

And Another Thing, Your Baby is Ugly

by Dan Balow

Man relationship with computer shutdown concept

Have you noticed how much of public and private discourse so quickly moves from a simple disagreement to a personal attack?

I was attending a sporting event not long ago and the people sitting around me in the stands seamlessly moved from displeasure how their team was performing to calling the players, coaches and referees all sorts of names that had nothing to do with how they performed. 

Of course, anonymity (and sometimes adult beverages) is the key to bravery in personal attacks, so I doubt many would be so brave to confront someone in-person.

Anyone who has a message board or comment section to their blog knows the pain of responses that get personal and move from, “I disagree” to “You are an idiot and I hate you” within a few words.  In most social media interaction, we often need to remind people to keep it civil, because they simply can’t control themselves.

Is Christian Fiction Dying?

by Dan Balow

SONY DSC

Last year, a couple Christian publishers stopped publishing fiction.  Some publishers are nervous about it and in a wait-and-see mode. Others are excited about growth potential.  The answer to the title question is no, but it is certainly interesting to explore the reason behind such widely diverse opinions on the subject.

NOTE #1: For full disclosure, I am a member of the advisory board for the Christy Awards, had a substantial period of my time in publishing during growth years of Christian fiction and our literary agency is committed to Christian fiction and its authors (as well as non-fiction projects).  Therefore I have an interest in seeing Christian fiction grow both personally and professionally.

NOTE #2:  I am limiting my comments to traditional publishing only, not self-published novels.  

Here is why I think Christian Fiction is causing some publisher-confusion right now:

Embracing Change – Part Two

by Dan Balow

C

Last week in my post “Embracing Change,” I outlined the six phases that characterize the acceptance of change in our lives and world.  Today, I want to focus on some specifics that you need to consider to adapt to the future.

First, a recap of the six phases when confronted with something new:

Phase One – Dismissed as a fad by those who stand to lose the most or like the status quo.

Phase Two – Attacked as dangerous by those who stand to lose the most or like the status quo.

Phase Three – Accepting of the new thing, but reminding everyone that this too will pass and we will most likely move on to something else eventually.

Phase Four – Accepting that the new thing is important and we need to adapt to it but only in a limited way because it will never replace the status quo.

Phase Five – Seriously looking at creative solutions to making changes, some which are difficult and unpopular with those who still love the status quo.

Phase Six – View the new thing as an opportunity, whatever that means.  Begin to change the way we do everything.

I suggested that if you are not already at Phase Five, you should take stock of yourself and see what you need to get there.

In the world of publishing, what areas should be re-thought? For authors and anyone in publishing, some of them are:

Embracing Change

by Dan Balow

Stockholm

On September 3, 1967 the world changed. It was a day remembered for chaos and disillusionment, despair and confusion.  No, it wasn’t because the last episode of “What’s My Line?” aired on U.S. television.

The above picture is what happened in Sweden the day the country switched from driving on the left to the right side of the road.  Their neighbors, Norway and Finland had already changed, but alas, Sweden held out until they could wait no longer.

Predictably, throughout history, big changes have been viewed first with skepticism and then as a threat to the groups that stand to lose the most or simply like the way things are.

In 1876 an internal memo at the Western Union Company, who were making a lot of money with telegrams stated, “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently no value to us.”

I wonder how that turned out?

H.M. Warner of Warner Brothers was making a lot of money in the silent movie business, so it was no mystery why he commented in 1927, “Who wants to hear actors talk?” (Expletive deleted)

Exceptions are Exceptions Because they are Exceptions

by Dan Balow

Dollar in the bag

You can self-publish a book, sell 10,000 copies in the first week, 50,000 in the second week and be a millionaire in three months.

You can write a book and mail it to a publisher, they publish it without meeting you and you become a wealthy household name.

An antiques dealer can knock on your door and offer you $250,000 for your end table that you bought last summer at a garage sale for $5.

You could be called out from the stands, given a basketball and offered a million dollars if you make a basket from seventy-five feet away. And you do.

These things could happen. But they are exceptions. Exceptional exceptions, but exceptions nevertheless. Planning your life or career around them would be rather futile and frustrating.

The Oprah Winfrey Show was the Holy Grail for publishers when she started her book club in 1996. Her endorsement of a book made it an instant bestseller. Do you know how many books she selected over 16 years? Seventy-two…that is 72.

Steve Laube Buys Marcher Lord Press

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Below the following announcement is a question and answer session with Steve Laube.

 (January 1, 2014 – Phoenix, AZ) Steve Laube, president of The Steve Laube Agency, has agreed to purchase Marcher Lord Press, the premier publisher of Science Fiction and Fantasy for the Christian market. The sale was finalized on January 1, 2014.

Laube has long been a champion of the genre, going back to his days as an acquisition editor at Bethany House Publishers. Jeff Gerke, the founder of Marcher Lord Press, said “I could not have found a better person to buy the company I started in 2008.” Marcher Lord Press has a backlist of about 40 titles with many of them nominated or winning both Christy and Carol awards for being the best in their genre.

The new Marcher Lord Press will be run as a separate company from Steve Laube’s literary agency. The agency, founded in 2004, has four agents and over 150 active authors (www.stevelaube.com) with contracts for nearly 1,000 new books. Gerke will focus his efforts on his freelance editorial and publishing service business and his own writing.

“The plan is to continue with what Jeff started and release between 4-8 new titles in 2014,” Laube said. “I have long believed that this genre has been underserved in our industry despite its inherent ability to tell ‘Fantastic’ stories of philosophical and theological depth.”

______

Q & A with Steve Laube

Why Marcher Lord Press?

I have had a passion for Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy ever since my days as an editor for Bethany House Publishers in the 90s. I first fell in love with science fiction as a kid reading Mysterious Island by Jules Verne and the Pellucidar books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Fiction can portray the power of the Gospel through great stories of redemption, hope, and grace. Science Fiction is a unique genre that attempts to answer the philosophical and theological questions of “Who are we?” and “Why are we here?” In most Fantasy novels there is an implicit story of good versus evil where good triumphs. In addition the whole genre has the opportunity to build worlds never before explored (to quote the famous line: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”). The boundaries for creativity in  storytelling are limitless. No other genre can do that quite the same way.

Aren’t you competing with the same publishers to whom you sell your client’s proposals?

Technically the answer is “yes,” but practically the answer is “no.” Few publishers in the Christian market publish the science fiction or fantasy genres. And yet we continue to sell our clients to those who do well with these books. Patrick Carr, for example, just agreed to a new contract with Bethany House. Lisa Bergren’s YA titles are published by both David C. Cook and the Blink imprint of Zonderkidz. Chuck Black has a new adventure series releasing this Spring from Waterbrook/Multnomah and Evangeline Denmark has just signed with Blink.

In addition, Marcher Lord Press (MLP) releases only 4-8 titles per year. The readership of the genre are enthusiastic and voracious. Thus I don’t see MLP being competition in the larger sense of the word.

One publisher talked with me last Friday and applauded the move saying “We need champions of great fiction in our market.”

Isn’t this a conflict of interest with other agents?

I don’t see that as a problem. The agent community is a small one and we tend to know each other and respect each other’s abilities. I look forward to helping authors find their place and their voice in a niche genre. Our own agency’s agents will have the chance to sell to the imprint because it is set up as a company separate from The Steve Laube Agency. Amanda Luedeke with MacGregor Literary addressed this in her blog last Thursday.

Isn’t this a conflict of interest with authors? Are you only going to publish your agency’s authors?

The goal is to publish the best. Nothing changes in that regard. There are some tremendous writers already in the MLP catalog and I hope to continue those relationships. We will also be looking for new voices as well as those that are already established.

We will consider both agented and unagented submissions. The submission guidelines are found on the Marcher Lord Press website.

What about books published under the Hinterlands imprint of Marcher Lord Press and the recently released Amish Vampires in Space?

These are actually two different issues and should be treated separately. I chose not to purchase those assets and agreed to have those publication rights sold elsewhere or revert to their respective authors.

Hinterlands was created in 2012 as an imprint of MLP to publish science-fiction and fantasy stories with mature content and themes (i.e. PG-13 or R-rated language, sexuality, and violence). That imprint and all those titles have been sold by Jeff Gerke to a third party and will likely reappear under a new publishing name in the near future.

Amish Vampires in Space was not part of Hinterlands and is a well written book (no surprise considering Kerry Neitz is the author). Jeff Gerke, Kerry Neitz, and I discussed this prior to my purchasing MLP. While we have differing opinions on its publication, ultimately it would not have been a book I would have published had I been the publisher. The title has reverted to Kerry and the book is still available for sale in most major online outlets.

What is your vision for the new Marcher Lord Press?

A “Marcher Lord” was a noble warrior who served as guardian of the borderlands. That definition is a perfect metaphor for the Science Fiction and Fantasy stories published by MLP. We will continue to build the company on its existing foundation and through the power of great stories explore the boundaries of imagination. It is there where heroic adventures, sacrificial living, and redemptive characters are found.

Initially it will be business as usual. The people and resources already in place will remain unchanged. There are plans for a number of new releases in 2014 including the debut novel by Nadine Brandes called A Time to Die (which you must read) as well as the continuation of other ongoing series by John Otte, Morgan Busse, and Stuart Stockton. MLP has been and will continue to be the premier publisher of Science Fiction and Fantasy for the Christian market.

A Thank You

I would like to thank Jeff Gerke for the hard work, actually his blood, sweat, and tears, that he put into founding and building Marcher Lord Press into the company it is today.

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