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.



Leave a Comment

Saving the World, One Romance at a Time

Often I will receive submissions of novels tying in an element of mystery and suspense with romance. Writers targeting the romantic suspense market will find difficulty in placing this type of story. Why? Because romantic suspense readers have certain expectations that won’t be met with a mere element of mystery and intrigue.

In my experience trying to sell and market romantic suspense, I have found that the readers of this genre want all-out adventure and crime solving along with compelling romance. The suspense is foremost, with the romance being tied in so deeply that the story won’t survive without it.

Read More

A Year in Review: A Look at 2019

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 Industry The publishing industry seems to survive the bad press that loves to find the negative in everything. …

Read More

How Do You Measure Success?

by Steve Laube

A few years ago while talking to some editors they described an author who was never satisfied (not revealing the name of course). It this author’s latest book had sold 50,000 copies the author wondered why the publisher didn’t sell 60,000. And if it sold 60,000 why didn’t it sell 75,000? The author was constantly pushing for “more” and was incapable of celebrating any measure of success.

Recently there has been much ink spilled on whether Indie authors are better of than authors published by traditional publishers. Pundits have laid claim to their own definition of a successful book using number, charts, and revealed earnings. Following this dialogue can be rather exhausting.

I understand the desire to measure whether or not my efforts are successful. It is a natural instinct. If it is any indication, one of our most popular blog posts has been “What are Average Book Sales?” with thousands of readers.

In one way this is a wise question so that expectations can be realistic.

In another way it is unwise in that the cliff called “Comparison” is a precipitous one. I’ve talked to depressed authors who are wounded by numbers. I’ve talked to angry authors who are incensed by a perceived lack of effort by their publisher. I’ve talked to highly frustrated authors who wonder if it is all worth it.

Ultimately I can’t help but think this is all an exercise in determining a definition of success for the individual author. If you can measure it you can define it. That is as long as we know what “it” is.

Read More

What Were They Reading?

In attempting to declutter, I am culling my book collection. Parting with beloved tomes is one of the hardest parts of decluttering for me since I enjoy books so much! I’m keeping copies of all the books I’ve written and the many I have had the honor of representing. Because …

Read More

To Romance or Not to Romance

According to St. Teresa of Avila’s biography, the battle over romance novels has been going on at least since the 1500s:

Teresa’s father was rigidly honest and pious, but he may have carried his strictness to extremes. Teresa’s mother loved romance novels but because her husband objected to these fanciful books, she hid the books from him. This put Teresa in the middle — especially since she liked the romances too. Her father told her never to lie but her mother told her not to tell her father. Later she said she was always afraid that no matter what she did she was going to do everything wrong.

Those of us who write, represent, and publish Christian romance novels can be made to feel the same way when our brothers and sisters in Christ object to our efforts to provide readers with God-honoring entertainment.  I have spoken with authors whose pastors have derided their writing, read negative blogs, and heard conference speakers criticize Christian romance novels.

Read More

Popular Story Tropes in Current Fiction

When we think of fiction, we put books in genres based on the story line. Then within each genre, they are separated by subgenres. The Book Industry Study Group has defined over 100 different classifications of fiction. These BISAC codes are what you find on the back of the book. …

Read More

We Live in Amazing Times

I shared a table recently with six or seven others at a writers conference. The writer to my right (right?) leaned in my direction and directed a comment to me. “Please tell me something encouraging about publishing now.” Wow. Put me on the spot, why don’t you? But I thought …

Read More

The Automatic Writer

My coffee maker is on a timer. My thermostat is programmed to different temperatures at night and by day. My computer screen even dims to a softer hue as the day progresses. I try to automate everything I can, believing that the fewer tasks I have to remember every day, …

Read More