A Year in Review: A Look at 2020

It has been said that one should not look back because it is not the direction you are going. That may be true in one sense, but reflecting on the past can help guide us in the future. Therefore, here are some thoughts on the last twelve months.

The Industry
When the national pandemic shutdown occurred in March, the industry was surprised by Amazon.com declaring books as nonessential! For an entire month they would not receive book shipments nor would they issue new purchase orders. I know of publishers who saw their monthly revenue drop by 40-70%.

The good news is that when the spigot was turned back on, the surge in business broke all sorts of in-house records in April and May. Not enough to cover the March shortfall, but encouraging nonetheless.

But don’t forget that Christian publishers continue to sell books at a record pace. As I’ve written before, “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 situation still holds true.

The shutdown had a devastating effect on authors who are also speakers. Many authors receive the majority of their annual income from speaking fees. I spoke with one who, in a one-week period, had $50,000 worth of 2020 events cancelled. The worst part is that there is no easy way to replace that income. There was an obvious surge in virtual events, which was of some help.

The biggest news in the general market was the pending sale of Simon & Schuster to Penguin Random House. We will see if it survives regulatory challenges, but it is a sign that publishing is still healthy when the sale was a cash offer. Who knew that Penguin Random House had two billion dollars in their couch cushions? Enough to buy a major competitor without having to borrow money!

The end of the year saw the annual Book Expo close for good. This is a blow to an industry that struggles to find a gathering place. The Christian industry lost CBA and now the general market has lost their convention. Hopefully, there will be some creative alternatives in the future.

We saw yet another group of great editors and executives retire this year. I’ve said it before, but losing the connection and institutional memory of these influential people makes our job that much harder. Many of these are friends, and we will miss working with these great men and women on a regular basis. Fortunately, each publisher has found some talented new people with new ideas and perspectives. In an ever-changing industry, we look forward to developing new relationships.

Our Agency
It was strange to not travel to any writers conferences or business meetings (first time since 1981 I had not traveled for business). I did participate in one virtual event. Felt strange to teach to a screen where I could not see any faces or receive visual/verbal feedback. (It wasn’t a Zoom event.) In fact, the only person on the screen was me! Nothing like speaking to a mirror.

The agency has the privilege of working with nearly 300 authors. Our efforts secured contracts for over 150 new books, a half dozen of them from first-time authors.

Tamela and Bob are great agents who pour themselves into their client’s work. I am honored to have them as part of our team. We all continue to find new opportunities, give guidance, and troubleshoot a wide variety of issues.

What was most encouraging was our publishing partners continued acquisitions. Remember that publishing is a long process. Contracts signed this year were not only for books releasing in 2021 but for those to be published as far out as 2025.

It was a fun year for author recognition. Many of our clients were honored in various ways:

  • We had three finalists for the Christy Award (Morgan Busse, Sharon Hinck, and Roseanna White). Sharon Hinck won for best speculative novel.
  • Two of our authors won the Carol Award: Ronie Kendig for best speculative novel and Nadine Brandes, for best YA novel (second year in a row!).
  • Carla Laureano won an INSPY award for best contemporary romance.
  • Ronie Kendig won the Realm Makers award for best science-fiction novel (she won best fantasy novel in 2019). And also she won their Alliance Award that is a readers’ choice award.

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.

We produced a number of free webinars to help writers who could not attend a conference. Some had over 600 registered with more watching later.

We also made an attempt to revive the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference through a Kickstarter campaign. Mount Hermon had to withdraw their support of the conference (after 50 years) but said we could create the event ourselves as an outside group. To do that we needed to raise a huge amount of money from preregistrations before we could commit to an event contract. We came close, but unfortunately not close enough. Thus, for now, the Institute will stay out of the conference business. I personally saw the result as a divine answer to a fleece (Judges 6:36-40).

The new 2021 edition of The Christian Writers Market Guide is available now in paperback and ebook and online.  There is nothing like it on the market—a curated listing of resources for the Christian writer. In the general market, the Writer’s Digest edition of their Market Guide was not published for 2021. I am committed to releasing the new paperback/ebook edition each December and keep the online version updated throughout the year.

Enclave Publishing
In case you are unfamiliar with Enclave Publishing, it 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 released 12 new titles in 2020. Half of them were under our YA imprint, Enclave Escape. These are all tremendous books that are gaining attention. Look for a new hardcover release each month throughout 2021!

One of our titles won the Christy Award (Hidden Current by Sharon Hinck). For the second year in a row, Enclave has won. In addition, Ronie Kendig’s Brand of Light won the Realm Makers award for best science-fiction novel. She also won the Alliance Reader’s Choice award and the Carol Award.

The World
It is stating the obvious that 2020 was a tumultuous year. Pandemic, shutdowns, riots, elections, fires, economic turmoil, etc. We will all look back at this as a watershed year of uncertainty.

And yet, should we be surprised? A world beset by sin only reveals the need for a Savior.

Hebrews 12: 25-29 (CSB)
See to it that you do not reject the one who speaks. For if they did not escape when they rejected him who warned them on earth, even less will we if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven. His voice shook the earth at that time, but now he has promised, yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens. This expression, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what is not shaken might remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (emphasis mine).

The Future
Our industry is seemingly at the mercy of a volatile economy and world events. Yet the world needs our voices to counter the ills of a society bent on self-destruction. We still need great stories to fill the fiction market. The mainstream media staggers from crisis headline to crisis headline, but the Church and all believers must steadily pursue Christ. Books and studies are a key help in this pursuit.

I am enormously encouraged by the hundreds of incredible books addressing every conceivable issue of our day written by brilliant authors and published by creative publishers. No one can say that the Church is irrelevant and unengaged. 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. To help change the world, word by word.

7 Responses to A Year in Review: A Look at 2020

  1. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. January 4, 2021 at 7:45 am #

    Thanks for the looks back and ahead, Steve. I appreciate all that you and the team do to help those of us who love to write get a heads-up on the world of publishing, and how we can have a better chance of getting hit by lightning, which I understand has the same possibility as getting published for the first time! 2021 is a new year!

  2. Avatar
    Susie Bowers January 4, 2021 at 7:50 am #

    I share in your desire to add to the growth of God’s kingdom and to do just that one word at a time. You put into words what God has already instilled in me. This world is certainly a dangerous place for our little ones. Gaining their attention and trust of God early is of utmost importance to me. It is a task given to me that I do not take lightly. Thank you for the additional encouragement and inspiration!

  3. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser January 4, 2021 at 7:59 am #

    It was a dreadful year, and the singling out of bookstoes and churches in many states exposes what seems (to me), a worrisome hidden agenda.

    Some saw in crisis golden chance
    for social engineering
    that would the state’s raw pow’r enchance,
    send freedom disappearing.
    Bookstores, churches, took a blow
    for thought and worship are a threat,
    and how at first were we to know
    that we’d seen nothing yet,
    for we would soon be set to spy
    upon our neighbours, through the fence
    with suspicious searching eye
    seeking disobedience
    and rendering our honour dead
    for a pat upon the head.

  4. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks January 4, 2021 at 11:04 am #

    It is so good to look at a quick evaluation of the year in regards to storytelling. It is interesting that the hard hit of books being “non-essential” was followed by a boom as readers finally got the chance to order more stories. I have heard that ebook sales increased last year as well. Is this true? I know that I rely heavily on ebooks, especially when our library was closed for several months! I have also heard that books for children have been zipping off the shelf as parents working and teaching their children from home look for something not involving a screen to engage their children. What are your thoughts on the children’s market? Anyway, thank you so much for summing this up for us. It is so interesting to see the highs and lows of the year in publishing.

  5. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson January 4, 2021 at 12:07 pm #

    Thank you for the update and encouragement. Congratulations to the winning authors and to those who support them. I look forward to a productive and exciting New Year and I am thankful for The Steve Laube Agency being a beacon of light for Christian writers. Blessings.

  6. Avatar
    Lancia Smith January 5, 2021 at 11:56 am #

    Steve,

    Thank you so much for this recap of the year and for your wise words. This post is very anchoring and encouraging. I am so grateful for you.

    Blessings to you and yours,

    Lancia

  7. Avatar
    Christine Dillon January 18, 2021 at 4:55 pm #

    Love this post especially that it is not only reflections of the publishing scene but wisdom from a Christian perspective. In Christ’s universe, nothing is unexpected. He is more than in control.
    Excited that Kristen Young found you as a publisher. Her series is terrific and as an early reader and in the same group of 4 authors, we’re thrilled when a group member gets their books out there.

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