Perspective on the Sale of Thomas Nelson Publishers

by Steve Laube

In light of yesterday’s announcement of the sale of Thomas Nelson Publishers to HarperCollins I thought I’d present a few thoughts.

Without question this is the biggest news story in the Christian publishing industry this year, if not the last few years. Most of us have been caught flat-footed. Partly because Thomas Nelson is such a large company. And partly because they were just purchased by an investment group last year. The other surprise is the buyer. HarperCollins has owned Zondervan since 1988 which is a direct competitor to Nelson. They publish some of the same authors. (And by the way, HarperCollins is owned by NewsCorp…whose owner is Rupert Murdoch.)

Back in 2002 when I was still with Bethany House Publishers we were sold to Baker Books. So I’ve seen some of the inside of a publishing sale. There will be some obvious echoes to our experience, but Zondervan and Nelson are very different from Bethany House and Baker.

Ten Random Thoughts

Some random thoughts for authors who are worried or wondering about the sale:

1.  The sale has not been completed . It still has to pass Federal regulatory stuff. Anything can happen before the end of the year.

2. This will put both the New International Version Bible (NIV) and the New King James Bible (NKJV) under the same ownership.

3. Everyone at both Zondervan and Nelson is saying “business as usual” and they are being completely truthful. But when management begins trying to merge the two entities under one roof they will find redundancies that must be reorganized. Those are usually in infrastructure, i.e. accounting, information technology, production, design, warehousing (Zondervan’s warehouse was already being closed). Other areas where we see changes are in sales. Which sales reps will cover which stores in overlapping territories? Marketing and publicity could see some shifts. The last place usually affected is editorial. But don’t see this as a blueprint, merely an observation.

4. HarperCollins has enabled Zondervan to operate independently other than typical corporate profit pressures and they have done so with some great success (like the Purpose Driven Life phenomenon). There is no reason to think that management methodology will change.

5. The biggest future question for literary agents comes in the proposal stage. Currently we have had times when Zondervan and Nelson were vying for the same property. If they are under one roof it remains to be seen whether that practice will continue. For example Baker Books, Bethany House, and Revell do not bid against each other because they are under one “roof” as part of the Baker Publishing Group.

6. What does this mean for the existing Zondervan or Thomas Nelson author? One, there will likely be little change for now.  Current projects will move forward as before. Nothing will come to a standstill because that would mean revenue would stop. Two, if you have an old contract with Thomas Nelson for a book they still have under their care I would dig it out and read the “Assignment” clause. Find out if your book can be “assigned” to HarperCollins without your permission. That is likely the case, but be sure. Ask your agent if you are unclear. Three, our understanding is that acquisitions will continue as before. (But see number five above.) If you are an author with Westbow (the self-publishing arm of Thomas Nelson) I doubt if anything will change. HarperCollins has a company called Authonomy that helps give self-published authors a forum for discovery.

7. In a christianbook.com search I counted 2,900 Zondervan books and 3,300 Nelson books. (Only books, not Bibles.) That is astounding. (Tyndale House has 1,400 titles listed.) It truly will make this the largest Christian publishing company in the world.

8. Should authors be worried? No. The corporate landscape is always changing. Does this mean fewer publishing slots will be available? Possibly. Time will tell. Fortunately there are some pretty smart people in charge and they all have a vested interest in not breaking what isn’t broken.

9. Will they change the name of one of the companies after the purchase goes through? I doubt it. At least not in the foreseeable future. Both company names are iconic and have a rich tradition of quality and strength.

10. Is HarperCollins done? Or are they going to buy up other Christian publishers too? I had to chuckle when I heard that question….as if I would know or could predict. 🙂 My two cents says that they will have their hands full with this integration process. I could be wrong, but if it were me, I’d make sure this went very smoothly first before acquiring other companies.

Do you have any questions or thoughts on this? I’m happy to try to answer them in the comment section below.

Update 11/07/2011:

News Corp. is paying $200 million for Thomas Nelson, the parent company of HarperCollins disclosed in its quarterly filing on Friday November 4th. In 2006, InterMedia paid $473 million for the publisher which had sales of $253 million at the time.

 

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More on the Purchase of Thomas Nelson by HarperCollins

One bit of speculation about the sale of Thomas Nelson to HarperCollins comes from PaidContent.org written by Laura Hazard Owen: “Thomas Nelson has been on the forefront of experimentation with digital publishing, and HarperCollins is buying not just the company but also that digital experience….Thomas Nelson has done a bunch of …

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BREAKING NEWS! Startling industry news. HarperCollins will purchase Thomas Nelson by the end of this calendar year. HarperCollins already owns Zondervan (which they purchased in 1988). The combination will create the largest and most dominant Christian publishing company in the world. Wow. Here is the official press release.

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C.S. Lewis on Writing

by Steve Laube

On June 26, 1956, C.S. Lewis replied to letter from an American girl named Joan with advice on writing:

Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
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Don’t Quit Your Day Job

I’ve been talking with writers who have another job as well as their writing to see how they juggle doing both. I was a social worker before my daughter was born and started writing soon after, but now that my youngest is off to college I’ve thought about getting back into the work force. I just don’t know how I’d balance the two yet.

The first thing I thought of was that I’d have to do some serious time management to get everything done that I do now plus working. Getting my family used to the idea that I wouldn’t be as available would be the biggest undertaking, and having others do some of the tasks that I’ve always done. In having less time for writing I’d be spending less time with my imaginary friends, meaning my characters of course (If I were writing this to anyone other than fellow authors I’d worry they would question my sanity) along with a number of activities and groups I belong to. I suppose it’s all about prioritizing.

I did a little research about authors who didn’t give up their day jobs, or at least not right away after they were published. Some of these might surprise you.

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News You Can Use – Oct. 25, 2011

What Authors Learned from their Editors – This a flat out brilliant piece. Come back here and tell us in the comments what you learned from your editor. How to Find Free Photos for Your Blog – In case you wondered, we use iStockPhoto.com for the majority of our images. …

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What Caught My Eye


Last week we talked about the hook, the sound bite, or the ability to “say it in a sentence.” One reader asked for examples so I thought I’d give you a few.

Below are the short pitches of proposals that have caught my eye over the years from debut authors. Please realize that the sound bite is only one of many factors that goes into a great proposal. Ultimately it is the execution of the concept that makes for a great book. For example, The Help by Kathryn Stockett would not have succeeded as a word-of-mouth bestseller if the writing did not support the story. (No, we did not represent that title, I’m only trying to make a point. :-))

Your challenge will be to see if you can identify which books these sound bites are pitching. Each one has been published. One is obviously non-fiction, the other two are novels. The answers to each of these will be provided later this week in the comments section. along with a link to the title so you can see it in its final form.

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Study the Market


What is the best way to find out what is successful in the current market?

This is a good question because while as an author, you don’t want to chase the market, you also don’t want to write books that are so far off from the current market that they have no chance of selling. First and foremost, marketing advice from any source assumes that authors submit their best, most polished, highest quality work. Just because vampire novels enjoy popularity now, doesn’t mean publishers will acquire just any novel with a vampire. The novel must sparkle to sell to a publisher and then to readers. I don’t recommend chasing nonfiction trends either, because one or two popular authors can quickly saturate the market on any given topic. Or as Steve Laube says, “If you are asking what’s hot…you are too late.” Although some topics are evergreen, as a rule the market can only absorb so many books on a topic. Writing about a tangent of a popular topic won’t help because then the book is in danger of being too narrow to sell to a large audience. It’s then a niche of a niche.

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News You Can Use – Oct. 18, 2011

Ten Ways to Irritate an Editor or Agent – I have to admit, this made me laugh and then cry because some of these have happened to me too!

What is it Like to be James Patterson’s Co-Author? – Perspective by Ned Rust.

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Shiny: The Firefly Guide to Creative Content – If you know what “Firefly” is, you are in unique company. If you don’t? Don’t worry about it. You probably didn’t like “Tron” either.

Is it B.C./A.D or C.E? – The debate rages over dating continues. Make sure you know your publisher’s “house style” ahead of time. Do you agree with this writer or disagree? I personally do not like using C.E. or “Common Era.”

10 Google Chrome Apps (Extensions) that Can Make You a Better Writer – Good reviews by Easily Mused.

Digital Reading: At the Intersection of Reading and Retail – Great insight from Anne Kostick.

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