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.

 

 

20 Responses to The Industry Changes but Seems Unchanged

  1. Avatar
    Terry Whalin June 15, 2020 at 4:01 am #

    Steve,

    Thank you for this blast from the past and seeing how much things stay the same. Our words as writers are important and have meaning. It’s how we craft those words to help others.

    Terry
    author of 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed

  2. Avatar
    Jeannie Delahunt June 15, 2020 at 5:40 am #

    There are the enduring classics. My favorite is, A Christmas Carol, Dickens.
    There are reasons this story still charms people though written over a century ago.

    Also, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the works of J. R.R. Tolkein to name a few. No publishing industry can predict what will touch a note within the human heart, even though the methods of delivery may change.

    Thank you for the post!!!

  3. Avatar
    Damon J. Gray June 15, 2020 at 5:55 am #

    Steve. While all of that was fascinating, the one thing I really want to know is, where do I find and sign up for The Advanced Christian Writer newsletter mentioned in the opening of this blog posting?

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube June 15, 2020 at 12:35 pm #

      Damon,

      That newsletter is no longer being published. It was a great product produced by the American Christian Writers. But sadly subscriptions were not able to sustain it.

  4. Avatar
    Megan June 15, 2020 at 6:01 am #

    That is very interesting! It’s neat how so many of them came true.

  5. Avatar
    Wendy June 15, 2020 at 7:30 am #

    This is such an interesting article. I especially appreciate your comments about the importance of our words.

    I’m reminded of a quote by Corrie ten Boom, “Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.” Corrie’s words are a great reminder to trust God’s plan and timing. He’s already got it all worked out, and He’s given each of us our own unique voice for His good purpose. That makes it all worthwhile.

    • Avatar
      Ingmar Albizu June 15, 2020 at 8:48 am #

      What an interesting time capsule!
      It is fun looking back and seeing which predictions still hold and which did not.
      Time always bring perspective.

  6. Avatar
    Colleen Snyder June 15, 2020 at 7:44 am #

    Thank you for your words of encouragement. The words God gives me to write today may be used after I’m gone… in ways I will never have dreamed. Or not. God alone knows. My job isn’t to figure out all the wherefores and whats. My job is to write what I am given; use every resource available to make it as “clean” and professional as possible, and leave the distribution to the Lord.

  7. Avatar
    J. Lynn Thomas June 15, 2020 at 8:10 am #

    Fascinating. All the more reason to live in the moment. You might be correctly “discerning the times.”

  8. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan June 15, 2020 at 9:18 am #

    “chick lit”

    haha… I was surprised at that since I’ve seen that nosedive, too.

    But, truth. I remember in the late ’80s Harlequin was in a bidding war over a novel (and a first-time novelist, too, at that), and purchased the rights at a MILLION bucks. Now they pay around 12c on the dollar. I feel for those who are in that position. We write for the love so that we can share, yet, as Thomas Umstattd said, “we don’t write for money…”

    I do see the major houses turning manuscripts away, almost every time, but I do see the smaller publishers jumping at the chance to look at new novelists. Like you guys!

    blessings…

    • Avatar
      Paula Geister June 15, 2020 at 11:06 am #

      Claire,

      “If I did it for the money, I wouldn’t do it.”
      *smile*

  9. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. June 15, 2020 at 10:56 am #

    If you live long enough, manufacturers even change the underwear you like…. They stop making it.

  10. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 15, 2020 at 11:02 am #

    “Change is in the air!”;
    at least that’s what they said,
    but I cannot really care
    for I can’t wrap my head
    around all the newest trends,
    around all that what’s now tres chic,
    around what impresses friends
    that were strangers just last week.
    I think perhaps I shall return
    to the literary yore,
    consign the new stuff to the burn
    pit, and then just shut the door,
    have a beer in my backyard,
    and get to know, again, the Bard.

    Steve, i the poem’s absolute rubbish, please feel free to delete it. I’m trying to recover from a pretty bad head injury, and used this ‘prompt’, your post, as an opportunity to force myself to focus.

    Bet you never thought your blog would be TBI therapy.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube June 15, 2020 at 12:36 pm #

      Andrew,

      Never worry about your contributions. I think we all enjoy them!

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 15, 2020 at 5:11 pm #

        Steve, that means more than I can say. Something in my eye, or the head injury, but the screen’s gone blurry on me.

  11. Avatar
    Michael Richard June 15, 2020 at 12:32 pm #

    Insightful reflections

  12. Avatar
    Della Curtis June 15, 2020 at 11:58 pm #

    I did ask, “so what?” and boom, you answered with a resounding comeback. Insightful reflection indeed.

  13. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks June 16, 2020 at 7:08 am #

    Wow, 2004. I had just finished my first novel-length manuscript and my first son (one of 3 eventually) was learning to walk. That was a crazy year, learning to revise during nap times and learning to keep a very fast toddler alive in our mountain home, ha!

  14. Avatar
    OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU June 19, 2020 at 2:58 am #

    God bless you Steve for this article. What I took away that blessed me were:
    ‘Never forget the power of your words.’ and ‘ They were written today for a reason.”Books are still being read.’ The encouragement that ‘we remain in the
    framework of opportunities and gifts God gives us ‘ Amen!
    God bless you, Sir! Amen.

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