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To help the author develop and create the best book possible. Material that has both commercial appeal and long-term value.

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To help the author determine the next best step in their writing career. Giving counsel regarding the subtleties of the marketplace as well as the realities of the publishing community.

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Recent Posts

The Wave of Digital Creativity in Books

wave1I went to high school in Hawaii (I know.. a rough life) where I learned the joys and perils of body surfing. That experience is a great metaphor for the new “waves” of digital revolution we are seeing in the publishing world.

The key to great body surfing is waiting for the right wave and then time your push just right. The ride is exhilarating (I still remember riding inside the tube of a perfect wave off the beaches of Kauai). BUT if you catch the wrong wave or mistime the push, there is no ride. Or worse, catch a wave that throws you wildly into a bunch of rocks…

But unless you are in the water and making attempt after attempt you will never achieve the perfect ride.

I see this metaphor applied to the new world of digital publishing. It is really fun to play a small part, but even more fun to watch others be extremely creative in their experiments. There are some very bright and exciting people trying new things in merging the traditional book with all things “interactive.”

One well publicized idea is the Vook (video book). This concept blends text and video into one package. Priced very low ($6.99 direct or less via iTunes) Simon & Schuster is starting with two novelists and two non-fiction projects. The 90-Second Fitness Solution, for example, features 13 short videos and 11 text chapters to present a simple fitness program. You can either read/watch it on your computer or download on your iPhone or iTouch.

The idea is creative but sales will determine its long term viability, especially at the prices they are charging. I downloaded the above title and found it fascinating to be able to see exercises demonstrated in video instead of still pictures.

Of course my purchase will be added to their “sales numbers” which makes me wonder how many “test drive” sales are going to happen.

Note that the fiction titles are using recognizable authors. The stories are novellas, not full length novels. Text for the Jude Deveraux title is declared to be 130 pages long but also has 17 videos to accompany the story.

If you are a Simon & Schuster author, don’t expect them to convert your book just yet. Their Vooks are a division of the Atria Books imprint and will be highly selective on where and with whom they put their investment.

In late October 2009 Harper Collins put Gary Vaynerchuk’s new book Crush It into an $11.99 Vook (complete with 17 videos.) This article pulls back a bit of the curtain regarding the costs associated with the Vook.

The next idea is also fascinating. Level 26 by Anthony Zuicker (creator of CSI) with Duane Swierczynski. This serial-killer terror novel has the premise that murderers can be classified according to 25 levels of evil according to the FBI. But now there is one that tops all the others…a “Level 26” killer…the ultimate evil. Not a book I would recommend you read unless you love bloody horror novels or watch very disturbing movies.

What makes this novel different is that it is the first “Digi Novel.” You ask, “What is a Digi Novel?” Let me quote from the author’s description on Amazon.com:

“…where the traditional story ends, a deeper level of immersion is available at www.level26.com, exclusively to readers of the book. About every twenty pages, you will have the option of logging in to experience a digital cyber-bridge—a three-minute motion picture scene with A-list actors you might’ve seen in blockbuster films and award winning TV shows. Before your eyes, the characters will spring to life, crime scene details will explode off the screen, and the Web site might even ask for a phone number—where the killer can reach you directly. You might call it CSI with an edge.”

I can’t even imagine the amount of money this cost to produce. But again, a very creative way to merge visual/digital interaction with a book.

Another is ScrollMotion’s Iceberg Reader. This is an iPhone app that began with traditional text (and was competing with the dozen other e-book reader software packages) but has recently expanded to include full color kids books. They have both a Curious George alphabet book and a James Patterson Daniel X graphic novel (plus others, of course).  There are lots of rumors about this expanding considerably if/when Apple’s tablet computer is launched. They are working with Hachette, HarperCollins, Random House, and Simon & Schuster, according to Publisher’s Weekly (August 24, 2009). From what I can tell this is one of the first e-book readers to fully incorporate color into the experience. But I have likely missed someone else’s software.

Last is a very creative use of the QR code (Quick Read Code). The square label looks a little like a Rorschach image. What makes these unusual is that with the right app on a phone you can take a picture of the image and it will then take your phone immediately to the web site embedded in the barcode. The QR technology is very big in Japan.qrcode - stevelaube

I used the QR-Code Generator to create this actual QR code…embedded in this image is the URL to my web site!  If you look closely you can see me waving back at you. Just kidding, but this is a real QR code. Create one of your own.

According to Publishers Weekly (September 21, 2009), what HarperCollins has done is to incorporate this technology into books for Teens like Lauren Conrad’s L.A. Candy. According to Carolyn Pittis, HarperColliins senior v-p, global marketing strategy and operations, “In addition to the codes on the Candy jacket, QR codes were featured on posters used at the book launch party, and HC did a cross-promotion with Mark Cosmetics on the Mark site that drove consumers to the harperteen.com site.”

HarperCollins is breaking ground with the use of this technology by putting the code into ads in the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal. Imagine clicking a photo of the code while reading the newspaper and being taken to a site that has a complete video of the information you are looking for…along with an ad to buy something.

By starting with the Teen market they are truly capturing the “cool factor.” The problem of course is explaining what it is and how to use it. We visually block out bar codes because they are so prevalent. My concern as a parent would be “Where is this publisher taking my child?” But that is a topic for another writer to tackle.

Look on the back cover of the new Super Freakonomics book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (published by William Morrow – a division of HarperCollins). You will see an OR Code and instructions on how to use it on your smartphone.

This must be what the music publishers felt like when the industry shifted from record albums to 8-Track to Cassette to Compact Disk to MP3 (and from record players to Walkman to Diskman to iPod) in less than 20 years. I hope to address some of the text based digital issues (Kindle vs. Sony vs. the world) in another blog, but for now, revel in the creative energy that is being expended to keep people reading and interacting with their books!

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The Singular “They”

Yesterday I opened a can of worms. There were many worms in the can; some male and some female. I discovered that a few of the worms were married to each other. One couple was having a marital disagreement. They were arguing about grammar, of all things. The fight was about the proper use of gender pronouns. Here is the sentence under dispute:

“When a spouse greets a partner with derision because of an opinion, what should be ___ reaction?”

Fill in the blank. Should you use his, his or her, or their? This is a grammatical conundrum. Your choice will determine whether you will be categorized as “sexist,” “tiresome,” or “ungrammatical.”

Our vernacular has changed over the past years due to our sensitivity over the generic “he.” For some it is a matter of being politically correct. For others it is merely a way of being inclusive of both genders in their writing. In addition it can be simply a matter of using the common language of everyday speech.

So what is correct?

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Book Manufacturing

If you ever get the chance to visit a printing press, do it. I’ve had the privilege to visit two of them. The first was Standard Publishing’s printing press in Cincinnati. Their plant is quite large and they do a wide variety of printing, everything from books to curriculum to Star Wars coloring books.

The other plant was Bethany Press International in Bloomington, MN. During my years with Bethany House Publishers I visited this plant many times since their building is about 100 yards from the back door of the publishing house! I watched them move from the old “film” method of processing to a completely digital technology.

The beauty of watching the books being printed is partly the fascination of cool machines, but also an insight into all of the incredible details that go into the manufacturing process.

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2009 ICRS Observations

Like many going into the 2009 ICRS convention (aka CBA or the Christian Booksellers Association convention) I was wondering what would be found. It was great to see that instead of the projected doom and gloom there was light and hope. (Yes, that is Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber in the photo to the left – courtesy of Christian Retailing Magazine.) A few observations:

1) The total convention exhibit floor was about 30% smaller than in past years and the middle section, housing CBA’s events and displays was HUGE. In fact you could walk through the entire book section very rapidly for the first time in years. Everything seemed condensed.

2) The net effect of the smaller sales floor was that you felt the crowds. There was noise, energy, and excitement in the air. This was a major change over previous years where it always felt so quiet.

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ICRS / CBA Bookseller’s Convention

Today is the official opening of the convention in Denver. This year will be my 28th consecutive ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) or CBA as we veterans still call it (Christian Booksellers Association Convention). I absolutely love the experience. I’ve attended as a retailer, as an exhibitor, and now as an “industry professional.” I find it amusing that each name badge is color-coded to help exhibitors know whether the person in their booth is a bookseller (and thereby a potential customer) or a browser, like me. What makes it particularly fun is that the “agent” color is black….the color of an agent’s soul.

PRO: There is nothing like the experience of walking the floor of the world’s largest Christian bookstore. Everything is there, the good, the bad, and the outrageous (like the balloon art crucifix or the painting of a junkie shooting heroin into the arm of Jesus). The spirit is electric. It can be overwhelming, but ultimately it is a picture of God at work. As a writer you can meet key people, network with fellow writers, collect catalogs (those that aren’t digital), and simply increase knowledge of what the industry is all about.

CON: Unrealized expectations. Too many writers think the convention should be all about them. It isn’t. Disappointment is palatable with some folks at the end of the experience. Their publisher didn’t pay enough attention to them; not enough people came to their signing; no editor was available for an appointment…etc. Go to the convention with modest expectations and the chance of disappointment with be minimized.

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