It’s that time of year to reflect on the past year, to learn from our experiences, and to count our blessings. Here are some thoughts on the last tumultuous twelve months.
The publishing industry seems to survive the bad press that loves to find the negative in everything. Each publisher continues to pursue the best content possible. The market is ever-changing, and some really smart people are constantly evaluating it to find new and better ways to get the books out there. I like to put it this way: “When retailers seem unhappy, why are publishers smiling? Because they are always finding new ways to sell their books!”
This past year saw the official demise of CBA. This was the trade organization that supported Christian retail stores for almost 70 years (founded in 1950). It was marked by an annual convention, which was where the industry gathered every summer to display their new titles and discuss industry issues. Unfortunately, the last convention was held in 2018; and the announced convention for 2019 never happened. It is a sad ending to what was a great event. I attended for 36 consecutive years; and it was a huge part of my formation as a bookseller, an editor, and an agent.
Lifeway made big news announcing that it was closing all 172 of their physical store locations (in 30 states) by year’s end. Their plan is to move all their commerce online to serve their constituency more effectively. In September they announced a partnership with 290 authorized dealers in 44 states to distribute Lifeway-branded products in non-Lifeway stores. This was a big move since, until then, those branded products were only available from Lifeway stores or online.
The demise of the Cokesbury, Family Christian, and Lifeway physical store locations has been a blow to the “showcasing” of new Christian books, Bibles, and gift products. There are still a number of independent and small chain operations around the country. A new organization was formed by Bob Munce to fill the void left by the demise of CBA (see above). It is called the Christian Retail Association (CRA) and will be a part of the ongoing Christian Product Expo (CPE), sponsored biannually by the Munce Group. The first was in Murfreesboro, TN in August.
So while the Christian retailing industry as a whole is smaller than a year ago, Christian publishers continue to sell books at a record pace. I wrote last year, “Amazon.com remains as the number one account for most publishers. Many do 50% of their business with Amazon. But don’t forget the other half!” This still holds true.
The biggest news in the general market was the sale of Barnes & Noble (with 627 store locations) to Elliott Advisors, a private equity firm. (The sale price was $683 million.) The new owners also control the UK Waterstone chain and made their CEO James Daunt also the head of B&N. 2020 will be the year of watching the reinvention of the chain. Mr. Daunt has already made some encouraging statements regarding inventory mix and in-store experience. Stay tuned.
We saw another group of great editors and executives retire this year. And there was the tragic death of one key executive as well. Losing the connection and institutional memory of these influential people makes our job that much harder. We will miss working with these great men and women on a regular basis. However, each company has found some great new people with new ideas and perspectives. We look forward to developing new relationships.
I had the honor to speak at eight events during the year (including one in Australia) and was a guest on a number of podcasts. As an agency, all three of us traveled the country from East coast to West coast, attending nearly 20 different writers conferences and meeting with hundreds of writers.
I was so proud that both Tamela Hancock Murray and Bob Hostetler were nominated for the Agent-of-the-Year award by ACFW. Well done!
Thomas Umstattd left the agency in February to focus on his many other ventures. But he continues to do a great job with our weekly podcast, The Christian Publishing Show. We have hundreds of listeners every Tuesday. Check out our past shows and subscribe. He is also the vice president of The Christian Writers Institute. (See more info below.)
The agency has the privilege of working with more than 300 authors. Our collaborative work secured contracts for 137 new books, fifteen for first-time authors. It is encouraging to see that our publishing partners continue to look for new voices.
It was quite a year for author recognition. Many of our clients were honored in various ways:
- We had twelve finalists for the Christy Award (Carla Laureano, Susan May Warren, David Rawlings, Joanna Davidson Politano, Mesu Andrews, Connilyn Cossette, Lynette Eason, Nancy Mehl, Morgan Busse, Kathy Tyers, Patrick Carr, and Nadine Brandes). Connilyn Cossette won for the best historical novel, David Rawlings won for best first novel, and Kathy Tyers won for best speculative novel. It was exciting to see the awards event in person and accept Kathy’s award on her behalf (both as her agent and her publisher, see below).
- Four of our authors won the Carol Award: Connilyn Cossette for best historical romance, Kimberley Woodhouse for best novella, Morgan Busse for best speculative novel (second year in a row), and Nadine Brandes, for best YA novel.
- Carla Laureano won the RITA award (her second). And Susanne Dietze was also a finalist for the RITA award.
- Morgan Busse won an ISPY award for best speculative fiction.
- Ronie Kendig won the Realm Makers award for best fantasy novel.
- Sami Abrams (short novel) was honored as a Genesis Award winner by ACFW.
The Christian Writers Institute and The Christian Writers Market Guide
The Christian Writers Institute continues to provide opportunities for writers to further their education via our online audio and video courses. In his role as VP of the Institute, Thomas Umstattd has brought considerable expertise in communicating our offerings and has created some new content for us as well.
The new 2020 edition of The Christian Writers Market Guide is available now in paperback and ebook. And this year we dropped the annual subscription price of the online version of the Guide to only $9.99! The reason for the price reduction is to remove price as a barrier to this incredible resource. If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the information online and have access to up-to-date content all the time, on any device. We will continue to release the new paper/ebook edition each December and keep the online version updated throughout the year.
Due to some unfortunate circumstances I had to take back ownership of Enclave Publishing in February. This unexpected development gave me the opportunity to rebuild the infrastructure for the company and develop a far-reaching plan for the future. In case you are unfamiliar, Enclave is a traditional publishing company devoted to the publication of speculative fiction written by authors who have a Christian worldview. I created the following description to describe the type of books we publish: “Enclave Publishing helps create out-of-this-world stories informed by a coherent theology.”
We have begun to launch new titles every month in hardcover, starting with Ronie Kendig’s Brand of Light and Sharon Hinck’s Hidden Current. We also will launch a new YA imprint, Enclave Escape, in February with the release of Chawna Schoeder’s The Vault Between Spaces.
It was enormously gratifying that one of our titles won the Christy Award (Shivering World by Kathy Tyers). In addition, Ronie Kendig’s Fierian won the Realm Makers award for best fantasy novel. It was also amazing to see Lindsay Franklin’s debut novel, Story Peddler, win multiple awards, including Book of the Year by Realm Makers. Accolades for her book included the Realm Makers award, the Alliance Reader’s Choice award, and the Carol award for best debut novel. It was also nominated for a Christy award.
A Personal Note
My mom passed away in March at the age of 96. (Dad passed away in 2012.) As you can imagine, or have experienced, this loss is a big one. I will literally be eternally grateful for the Christ-centered upbringing my brothers and I had. There isn’t enough time or space to properly honor their legacy. Suffice it to say that I do, and will, miss them terribly.
It is a difficult thing to predict the future of our industry. We are always at the mercy of a volatile economy and world events. The Christian publishing industry is no longer “recession proof”; but since the sky did not fall last year, many are optimistic about 2020. We still need great stories to fill the fiction market. While politics will engulf the mainstream media, the church and all believers continue to pursue a Christ life. Books and studies are a key help in this pursuit. Hundreds of incredible books addressing every conceivable issue of our day are being written by brilliant authors and published by creative publishers. My hope is that our agency’s efforts via this blog and our ongoing support of clients and aspiring authors will help add to the growth of God’s Kingdom.
As an emerging author and illustrator of my first children’s book( I have had to self publish this one) I have thouroughly enjoyed your blog this past year coming in my inbox. Your year end summary was very touching and informative. My book goes to the printer this Spring after I finish the pencil drawings. I hope to some day see a publisher pick it up. I have loved having an wonderful editor and learned so much along the way. Thanks again for being there. Happy 2020.
Hi Steve, I always look forward to reading your review of the past year. I appreciate your insight and positive outlook. Thank you for faithfully overseeing the agency, your authors, and these other creative outlets that support and strengthen Christian authors and publishing. I’ll be pressing on to share more stories the Lord puts on my heart this year. I hope it will be a great year for you too!
Steve, thank you for this look back (and I confess, I was hoping to see mention of an upsurge of interest in sonnerty, but alas!).
Also, I’m so sorry for the loss of your Mom in this year; Barb lost her parents in much the same time frame (Mom in 2013, and Dad last October), and it does take a toll, breaking a part of the soul into bright slivers of pain that never quite lose their sharp edge (that image comes, I think, from Richard Bach, but it’s too apt not to use).
As for my 2019, I think I set an oddball record.
I don’t know why I did it;
it started as a joke,
and then I found I couldn’t quit,
and my words were now bespoke
to a truly archaic form
(whose executuin can be hard).
writing to the fixed norm
of the sonnets of the Bard.
Two thousand of these little rascals
penned within a living year
placed me square in Pascal’s
wager, in duty, and not fear.
Poetry’s become my voice,
as faith became my choice.
Steve, Our sympathy in the loss of your mom. My mom passed away in March also, at age 93. As for the many hats you wear in the publishing industry, I can say only, ” Do you ever sleep?” I’m joking of course, but you must be one of the busiest persons in your town. Thanks for the timely info you and your agency provide for the rest of us. You all have been so helpful.
Steve, Thank you for your thoughtful look back at 2019. And congratulations on all your accomplishments and those of the authors you represent. You are such a rock of stability in the publishing world, and I am grateful for all I’ve learned on the stevelaube blog!
Also, condolences in the loss of your mother. The blessing of good parents can’t be overstated.
Thank you, Steve, for your honest look at the industry and your optimism in the coming year. I have learned so much from this blog and enjoyed alot of laughs and awe on Fun Fridays.
Many blessings from God above as you move into 2020. Both personally and your agency.
May God continue to comfort you as the days go by without your parents.
Thank you for your informative and encouraging message. After listing all of the changes in the industry, which could be discouraging to many, your voice is still one of hope. I can hear it in your tone. I find that uplifting and refreshing!
I am sorry that you had to say good bye to your mom. I understand the pain of losing a parent. My mom who will be 95 this year is still with us, but Dad passed in March of 2017. Each day is a gift. I am grateful for the influence of your parents on you, as we benefit from your faith, wisdom and optimistic outlook.
Thank you for your keen breakdown of the kaleidoscopic changes in the industry, and for sharing a sacred part of your own life. So sorry about the loss of your parents.
A nice review Steve, I enjoyed reading it and learned a lot, too. Thank you for sharing it with us.
God bless you, Steve. I lost my mother many years ago, but still miss her. I understand how you feel.
With prayers for you and your agency, and your faithfulness to present good Christian reading to the world, I’m sure God will honor all of you this coming year.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Steve, thank you for the update on the world of Christian publishing. I appreciate all you and your staff do to keep us informed and to help us grow as writers. Have a blessed new year!
Thank you, Steve, for the bi-directional look at the year behind and the year ahead. My condolences on the loss of your mother. Mine has been gone 21 years, and I miss her every day. The hole in your heart never fills in. It just quits bleeding quite so profusely. Eventually, you learn to live around it.
Thank you all for your kind condolences and thoughts. I didn’t mean for the personal news to overshadow the rest of the post.
I had someone mention to me the lack of emphasis on non-fiction in the post. If you look carefully it is there. It is the awards section that caused the confusion. In 2018 we had a number of non-fiction award winners, but not in 2019. Many titles made it to a best-books list by some bloggers.
Our client list is evenly spread between both fiction and non-fiction authors.
We also celebrated that Lisa Bergren’s children’s picture book “God Gave Us Christmas” was awarded the Platinum award by ECPA for selling more than one million copies. I was thinking of contests when writing the post originally and left that rather significant milestone out. Doink…
Amy Boucher Pye
An interesting roundup. Thank you!
Quite a year with a lot of ups and downs. I hope you guys have an amazing 2020.
Thank you for this overview, Steve. I always love to hear your perspective on the publishing world.
I’m sorry for the passing of our mother, but glad that we can rejoice that she is now with Jesus. I also want to say thank you to you and your team for your blog posts. I love that you all mention Christ in everything (whether in the actual post or in the comments) It makes me excited about the prospect of one day working with any Christian agents. It’s what I want and look forward to in my interaction as a Christian writer.
I noticed you mentioned Christian conferences you had attended this year and was wondering if you wouldn’t mind listing a few good ones for a first time novelist to attend. Thanks you
I am so sorry to hear of your loss. 🙁 prayers for comfort.