The Industry Changes but Seems Unchanged

I recently came across an article I had saved from 2004 predicting “Book Trends 2005” by Sally E. Stuart in an issue of Advanced Christian Writer newsletter. Reading through the article makes one realize how different things are but also how much they are still the same! Isn’t that a paradox?

To rattle your brain a little, when that article was published, Google was only six years old and had just become a publicly held corporation. (If you had bought 12 shares that day at $85 a share, the value of that investment today would be approximately $33,000.) Google at that time had only a 34% market share of all online searches. Yahoo was second with 32%. The others were MSN (16%), AOL (9%), Excite (4%), and Ask (2%).

So while one and a half decades have passed, it still feels a little like yesterday for many of us. Let me quote a few things from that article to illustrate the point. Remember, these predictions were before the Amazon Kindle hit the market and when self-publishing was still a difficult adventure.

One clarification first. The article wasn’t by Sally Stuart, she was the compiler. It was a collection of comments from many people in the industry. Thus I won’t cite any individual, merely quote their observation.

November/December 2004 – “Book Trends 2005”

“Shorter chapters and sentences, which apparently hold the reader’s attention better.”

“In the youth/children’s market there is a trend toward series books, media tie-ins, and electronic ‘toy’ books.”

“More crossover titles, less reliance on the CBA market due to weakening of independent booksellers.”

“Many subgrenres are flourishing. There is a demand for Christian chick lit/mom lit.”

“More electronic publishing.”

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for small, niche publishers to compete in the book market.”

“Too many worthless, trite, ugly books that promise well beyond what they deliver.”

“Christian poetry market is expanding.”

“I see more emphasis on traditions, devotions, and historical things and less interest in contemporary issues.”

“More novels in different genres.”

“The major Christian publishers are cutting back on the number of titles they publish each year.”

“An author is much more likely to be published if he or she can bring to the publisher significant resources that will help sell the book, such as frequent speaking engagements, close connections with a ministry organization, well-known people that author knows who could endorse the book, etc.”

Isn’t that fascinating?

Of course you can see a few that were wrong. Chick lit died a rapid and painful demise as a genre in both the general and Christian markets within a couple years. Poetry has never become a strong commercial genre for publication.

But a couple things were absolutely right, like “more electronic publishing.” And the last comment, which would be described today as platform.

No Predictions

This is one reason I try to avoid making predictions. Goodness, three months ago we could still go to church as a community.

However, we should note that things do change, albeit incrementally. A silly example, but it illustrates the point: If you gained 0.5 ounces a day in your body weight, you probably wouldn’t notice. But after 12 months, you’d find you are carrying 11 more pounds than before!

Incremental changes can be good; they can be bad. The point is that they may not be noticed during the changes themselves.

For example, while one genre may be “hot” today in nonfiction, it is unlikely to be the same in 24 months. Or that novel you are writing may be in what is described as a “dead category” today might be the “hot” one in 24 months. Thankfully, the publishing industry is not as immediate as most forms of social media.

So What?

I wondered if you might ask, “So what?” Good question. The point here is to stay within the framework of the gifts and opportunities God has given you. If you try to chase the market, you’ll never catch it.

Change is always in the air. Over the decades, I’ve seen watershed changes in our industry. But books are still being written. They are still being read. And there still isn’t a substitute for books.

The words you write today may not be read for quite some time. But they were written today for a reason. For example, author Phil Callaway’s newsletter last week had this little nugget, “Just before I spoke in December, a lady in her 20s came over to me and lifted her sleeve. Her wrist was criss-crossed by scars. Some of them fresh. ‘I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for the message God has given you,’ she said.”

Never forget the power of your words. No matter how the industry changes or how the industry stays the same. Words mean things.



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