ICRS 2013 – Observations

by Steve Laube


This year was my 32nd consecutive annual bookseller’s convention now known as ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) held this year in St. Louis. As always it is a time of conversations, meetings, and business opportunities.

I arrived on Saturday afternoon, despite every attempt by the transportation industry to delay me…with 15 minutes to spare before giving an hour long “state of the industry” speech to AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association).

Sunday was filled with meetings, both casual and scheduled and two formal dinners. One was the Golden Scroll awards banquet and the other was the Baker Publishing Group dinner. Early Monday morning was a delightful SpeakUp breakfast with many inspirational stories shared by amazing speakers and writers.

Then came the convention itself. Back to back meetings for both Tamela and I as we flitted from one publisher’s booth to another, back across the street for meetings at the hotel and back again to the convention sales floor for other meetings. This ping-pong movement lasted for three straight days. But we had a lot of highly valuable conversations and presentations. Tamela was amazing as few knew she was not feeling well but she never complained (not once). It is a privilege to think of all the incredible people we talked to during those days. The creativity and the vision of each publisher and editor is quite inspiring. If you had heard what we did you’d feel a lot better about where this industry is headed.


Lee Hough – Lifetime Achievement Award

A highlight for me was Monday night and the Christy Awards where I had the privilege to emcee. It was so meaningful to have Lee Hough attend with his wife Paula as he received a lifetime achievement award and said goodbye to his beloved industry and long time friends (he has terminal cancer). It was touching to have him make the trip. To let us say our words of love to him as well as to see us all one more time. The few minutes alone I had with him will be treasured forever. We love you Lee.

But as the emcee I was tasked to keep the event moving and it did with breathtaking speed. It is to Donna Kehoe’s credit (the head of the Christy Awards) for designing an evening that included all awards, all special recognition, speeches, and dinner and ended on time only 2 ½ hours after it began. Amazing.

Congratulations to all the winners, but am particularly proud of my client Susan May Warren for winning her first Christy Award! She said beforehand that she knew she wouldn’t win because she had been nominated five times before without a trophy.

Karen Hancock Hall of Fame award 2013

Karen Hancock (L) receiving Christy Hall of Fame Award from Donna Kehoe (R)

And to both Karen Hancock and Lynn Austin for being inducted into the Christy Hall of Fame. I remember “discovering” Karen at a writers conference in 1998 but not taking her book idea to committee for another year, waiting for the right time. That book, Arena, became her first of four Christy Awards.

The convention itself was interesting on a number of levels. The announced statistics said registrations were down. But those that came were there. Not like Orlando where someone might register but leave during the event to go to Disney World. It was the first year in many where the convention floor fit the room it was held in. In the past the exhibit hall was too large for the event and made it seem small. Not this year. It was also the first time in years where there was only one entrance into the convention which added to the feel of movement and attendance since there were people milling around all the time.

For the first time in 32 years I did not walk every aisle of the convention exhibits. Simply ran out of time with our appointments. Even on the last day we had half a dozen meetings which kept us engaged right up to the closing announcement. So I was unable to see first-hand any of the “duck call” items that I heard were on display (thank you Duck Dynasty).

There is no other time where so many in the industry gather at the same time. In one moment you can be talking to a retailer and the next to a famous author and the next to a key acquisitions editor. As a bonus you get to see the newest wares of the industry (book, music, and gifts). I describe it as the world’s largest Christian bookstore….but you can’t buy anything….you can only look. I collected nearly 40 catalogs and spent an evening going through them looking at cover designs, titles, concepts, and author names. Nowhere else could I have that type of immersive experience. I can’t wait to go to ICRS next year in Atlanta!

21 Responses to ICRS 2013 – Observations

  1. Pamela S. Meyers July 1, 2013 at 5:48 am #

    Hi Steve,
    I left my blog addy because my website is undergoing a makeover.

    I liked your observations of this year’s ICRS after 32 consecutive years of attendance. Wow! That must be some kind of record. By comparison, this was my first ICRS and my initial thought when I walked into the exhibit hall was that it was like a Christian store on steroids!
    Aside from my aching feet (I think I did walk the entire floor at least three times) I enjoyed every minute of it. From networking, signing my book at the Guideposts/Summerside Press booth, manning the ACFW kiosk, to doing interviews for a blog site I write for and making new friends, I felt a very positive vibe. As a relatively new published author, this was reassuring and I came home very encouraged.
    It was great seeing yoo there. This is the first I knew Tamela wasn’t feeling up to snuff. She masked it very well as the professional she is.


    • Steve Laube July 1, 2013 at 5:16 pm #

      Tamela was a real trooper. She even made me forget she wasn’t feeling well! Glad you got to experience your first ICRS. Us veterans forget that it is still quite a sizeable event. We tend to talk about the “good ‘ol days when 12,000 attended” instead of the present excitement of over 4,000 attending from all over the world.

    • Steve Laube July 1, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

      By the way I know of one publisher who had a team member in the ER having his gall bladder removed. And another editor had an allergic reaction to the tree nuts sliced into the rice during the Christy banquet. She is fine but spent most of the night and early morning in the ER.

      Me? I complained of creaky knees and a brain cramp or two. !!!

  2. Rick Barry July 1, 2013 at 6:16 am #

    Steve, any chance that your State of the Industry address has been recorded and posted somewhere for viewing? All in all, the event sounds like an exciting time.

    I enjoyed your statement, “If you had heard what we did you’d feel a lot better about where this industry is headed.” Perhaps future posts will give you opportunities to elaborate a little?

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Steve Laube July 1, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

      The “State of the Industry” talk was not recorded. I asked before I began then declared, “Oh good. That means I can say whatever I want and deny it later!”

      I mostly talked about mergers and economics. Plus a long section about ebooks and the value of new book in today’s marketplace (meaning selling price). And last a bit of a discussion about the Hybrid author who does some independent publishing and some traditional publishing.

  3. Andrea Cox July 1, 2013 at 6:24 am #

    Steve, thanks for sharing your experience at ICRS. I’ve never been to one, but it sounds like crazy busy fun!

    My heart and prayers go out to your friend Lee and his family.


    • Steve Laube July 1, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

      Make it a goal to attend some time. Next year is Atlanta.

      • Andrea Cox July 2, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

        My funds and schedule don’t allow it currently, but I’m keeping all these events in mind when either of those things change. I’d love to attend and see what goes on there in person.

  4. Jeanne Takenaka July 1, 2013 at 6:42 am #

    Wow, it sounds like a busy, productive time! I love reading about ICRS from a professional’s perspective. It sounds like a high energy few days for you and your fellow agents. I was thrilled to hear Susie won a Christie! Thanks for sharing your observations! I’d love to hear what you see as the trends based on your conversations.

    • Steve Laube July 1, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

      Trends? That is the problem. The show is a snapshot of right now and the next few months of releases. Little to help guess what the next big thing will be. Angels? Demons? Heaven? Prophecy? Vampires in some new form? or is it Ducks?

      Truly a bewildering array of ideas all on display.

      I’d rather hear what is passionate within the writer. If it is well conceived and wonderfully written it may be the trend setter.

      • Jeanne Takenaka July 1, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

        Steve, thank you for the reminder that the heart of the writer, conveyed through a well-written story may be the next trend. I sometimes forget that. 🙂

  5. Rebecca Barlow Jordan July 1, 2013 at 8:06 am #

    Steve, I’m so glad this was a good ICRS year for you and especially proud for Susie Warren finally getting the Christy award. Love her books! Missed seeing everyone there!

    • Steve Laube July 1, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

      The screams of delight from Susie’s table were fun to hear. Do I correctly recall you attending a convention in the mid-90s when I was with Bethany House Publishers? Were we ever that young?

  6. Steve Myers July 1, 2013 at 9:12 am #


    As with Rick (above comment) I too picked up on the first read of your blog entry on the following statement:

    “The creativity and the vision of each publisher and editor is quite inspiring. If you had heard what we did you’d feel a lot better about where this industry is headed.”

    Frankly, I need to be inspired and feel better about where this industry is headed. I hope you will write a specific post and/or multiple posts of what you learned and why you came away so encouraged.

    Seems like we writers through e-mail loops or others blogs hear only the negative, complaining and predictions of demise. Personally, I’ve unsubscribed to many and even opted out of some loops to stay focused and encouraged.(Philippians 4:8 wisdom). Your blog is one of the few I continue to read and find that encouragement.

    I value your opinion so highly it reminds me of the 1970s advertising campaign for E.F. Hutton, only its ‘when Steve Laube, Tamela Hancock Murray and/or Karen Ball speak, people (writers) listen.” Hope you will post soon what you are so encouraged about.

    • Steve Laube July 1, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

      It is a golden era for the writer. Never have their been more opportunities for the writer to have their book available to the public. At the same time it is a challenging time for the traditional publisher as economic pressures make their publishing decisions very carefully since an expensive mis-step could be devastating to a company.

  7. Carolyn Curtis July 1, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    Steve, your wisdom, energy and dedication to excellence are among the reasons you’re a top industry leader. Thanks for having a smile on your face every time I saw you at ICRS, despite what must have been the weight of your incredibly busy schedule. By the way, you did a brilliant job of emceeing the Christy Awards! Thanks for your hard work and many accomplishments.


    • Steve Laube July 1, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

      Thanks Carolyn. It was a time of high energy. Still feeling the vestiges of exhaustion.

  8. Pat Jaeger July 2, 2013 at 6:40 am #

    Sounds like a wonderful experience to look forward to, Steve. Your friend Lee and the family are in our prayers Tamela’s always so upbeat in her posts and novels, her positive attitude comes through.

    I, too, am looking forward to future posts on your insights into all the changes coming about in publishing. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Amy Boucher Pye July 3, 2013 at 3:12 am #

    Missed this on Monday; must have been distracted by Wimbledon. So good to hear of your impressions from the (hyper) busy convention. Two formal dinners in a night – a balancing act – did you eat two desserts?

    We have some amazing people working in the industry; a great reminder to celebrate the creativity and passion that abounds.

  10. Jim Crosby July 3, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    Hi Steve,
    Thanks for the convention update. Would love to hear your thoughts on the “Hybrid Author who does some independent and some traditional publishing. Will you be blogging about that in the future or could you include that part of your speech somewhere.
    Once again, yours is the most informative web site in the business and I check it frequently.

    Thanks again,
    Jim Crosby

  11. Cindy Starr Stewart July 10, 2013 at 11:25 pm #

    Steve, I am really enjoying reading your Blog! I had the joy of attending the ICRS in St. Louis. It was a fantastic experience. I met so many great people, had the privilege of signing books on both Monday and Tuesday, prayed with several people, met some great new authors and met peoe who I have known, but had never met face to face. It was well worth the investment! I enjoyed every moment!!

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