by Steve Laube
“Another one bites the dust.” This past week Guideposts announced they were discontinuing all new acquisitions of titles for both their Summerside Press (fiction) and Guideposts Books (non-fiction) trade lines. To have a complete picture of what this means we first have to understand that there are FIVE different book publishing programs under Guideposts. Two of them are being discontinued. So make sure your story is clear if you pass along this information.
- Summerside Press (to be discontinued) – this is the CBA fiction line acquired by Guideposts in 2010. It includes the wildly successful “Love Finds You” line of titles (over 40 of them in the backlist).
- Guideposts non-fiction trade (to be discontinued) – this would be represented by titles like Halfway to Each Other by Susan Pohlman and I Dare You to Change! By Bill Cornelius.
- Guideposts Books (unchanged) – Their perennial bestselling books like Daily Guideposts and Mornings with Jesus will continue.
- Ideals Publications (unchanged) – This, along with their children’s books, will continue unchanged.
- Direct-to-Consumer (unchanged) – These books are created and sold via subscription direct to consumers. Occasionally these titles made their way to the trade, but not often. We have a number of clients who write for these lines and many of the books don’t even have a bar code because they are not intended for sale in the public marketplace.
They also have their famous magazines (Guideposts and Angels on Earth) which are still healthy and widely circulated.
A Short History
A little bit of history will help understand how we came to this place. In Summer 2007 I had dinner during the Atlanta ICRS with Jason Rovenstine who was part of a small group exploring the idea of starting a publishing company with fiction at its core. (They also formed a non-fiction gift book company called Ellie Claire which was actually the parent company for Summerside.) He asked a number of questions regarding the possible reception of their company and whether our authors might be interested in writing for them. In 2008 they launched in a big way with great writers and dynamic covers and a fantastic series idea (Love Finds You). Our own Tamela Hancock Murray wrote one of their early titles Love Finds You in Maiden, North Carolina.
Despite the economic travails of our country, Summerside flourished. They specialized in selling big quantities to the “big box” retailers like Wal-mart, Borders, Costco, etc. Their growth was astounding. While every other publisher was hunkering down Summerside was off to the races. Authors and agents were excited and the public was buying tens of thousands of copies of every release.
But meteoric growth is hard to sustain. Cash flow, infrastructure, and other issues plagued them. Each person on staff was stretched mighty thin. So apparently they began looking to sell to a larger firm to support their efforts.
They found that partner in Guideposts and sold both Ellie Claire and Summerside in November 2010. We were all caught a little by surprise by the development, but it made sense. Guideposts had been putting their toe in the water in trade fiction and were actively seeking new proposals for consideration. But while Guideposts was a much larger company as a whole, Summerside was actually the larger trade book entity. From what I’ve pieced together over time it appeared that the NY headquarters tasked the existing off-site staff of Summerside to continue what they were doing, but to also incorporate the Guideposts trade projects as well. Within a year two key people at the NY Guideposts office were gone, one in editorial management and one in marketing.
Meanwhile the market shifted. In July 2011, a mere eight months after the acquisition, Borders closed their doors. Remember that in 1992 Borders had only 21 stores when they sold to K-mart and began expanding. At their height they had 1,200 locations including Walden Books which they had purchased. At the same time Wal-mart began to change their in-store merchandising and reduced the number of books they carried. Remember the tall shelves that housed their books in a long aisle? Today their books are back in the entertainment section of the store with chest high shelving units next to the DVDs and CDs.
The combination was devastating to a publishing division like Summerside and Ellie Claire whose entire sales model was built around high volume sales to big box retailers. We can only imagine what the impact was on the bottom line of Guideposts.
There were some tough decisions that had to be made. They began to back out of selected book contracts as being too expensive in advances by canceling them. Other deals were renegotiated much to our consternation and frustration. But from a business standpoint they were doing what they needed to do to survive.
In December of last year (2012) Guideposts sold the Ellie Claire gift book division to Worthy Publishing. This likely provided some needed cash flow. Jason Rovenstine followed the Ellie Claire line and is now overseeing it for Worthy Publishing.
Remember that Guideposts is a non-profit company founded in 1945 by Norman Vincent Peale. (Read about their mission statement by clicking here.) So when an aspect of a non-profit organization is bleeding cash something must be done.
Therefore we come to today’s news. Summerside and Guideposts non-fiction scheduled for release in this calendar year will continue as planned. Books slated for release in 2014 will be dealt with on a case by case basis. Many will likely be cancelled and rights returned to the author. All backlist will remain in print and available as before. They have at least 200 backlist titles; I wasn’t able to get an accurate count.
Unfortunately Rachel Meisel, their amazing acquisitions editor, will transition out of her job at the end of the month. We truly hope she lands somewhere soon. The other well-known editors, Jessica Barnes and Susan Downs, will stay because they work for the direct-to-consumer division (see #5 above).
Coming on the heels of the changes at B&H fiction in early May it feels like a harbinger of even worse things for Christian fiction. And yet I remain optimistic.
In reality Summerside had been slowing down their acquisitions and publication schedule for quite some time. A quick look online shows they had only 12 novels published or scheduled in 2013. This is down from 24 in 2011. Therefore the impact on the industry was already being absorbed.
Unfortunately there might be some publishing boardrooms where someone will say “See! I told you we were doomed.” This is despite strong signs of growth from many other houses. Our agency has the vantage point to see the entire industry and hear both the good news as well as the bad. It is important to take the long view in these situations rather than panic when things change. It is too easy to become morose and moan about the state of the publishing industry. But I maintain that if you are a great (and I mean great) storyteller and writer there will always be room for you.
When you follow the history of Summerside Press you see an example of a great idea that grew too fast. This happens time and again in the business world. In a short five year period they went from zero to millions of dollars in sales and back. Launching any business in 2008-2009 was risky and yet they survived horrific economic conditions. Unfortunately were not able to create a sustainable model.
We are sad to see a great imprint go away and sad for the people who are personally affected. The marketplace is now ripe for a new player or two to fill the void.
I am very sad to hear this news. Summerside was a great line for Christian fiction. Teens in my own rural town devour their novels and will be saddened to herar there is going to be an end to them.
Thank you for documenting their story and the place it held within the market as a whole, during these years of drastic change and flux. We never know what changes are going to be around the corner, but know who holds the future in His hand, so we would be best to press tighter within His grasp. I’ll certainly be praying for those affected by this change.
Are you sure the rights are going back to the authors? Because Harlequin.com has a huge list of the Love Finds You books for sale on their site as Love Inspired Special Releases. I noticed them there a few weeks ago. Here’s the link: http://www.harlequin.com/catalogsearch.html?keyword=love+finds+you&tab=items&vcname=Catalog_Search
All cancelled contracts will have rights reverted. All published titles and titles released through the end of the year will remain under Guidepost’s management as frontlist and backlist.
The Harlequin program is a special licensing arrangement they made with Guideposts and selected backlist. I suspect that if it works well they will roll out the rest of the “Love Finds You” titles. From what I can tell these are sold on-line and direct to consumers through book-club mailings.
Tiffany Amber Stockton
Sandra, I believe Steve was referring to the canceled contracts of books that haven’t yet released when he mentioned the rights reverting back to the authors. Others will remain in print and available as before. The books Guideposts licensed to Harlequin are only ones that had previously released through the LFY and Summerside imprint.
It seems to me that the face of publishing is changing faster than I can keep up with it. Like you, I’m sad for the readers and the authors affected by this latest removal of a fiction line. And, selfish though it may be, I’m concerned for authors such as myself who will now find themselves competing for contracts with some of the excellent writers previously writing for B&H or Summerside. Don’t know where or when it will end. Meanwhile, thanks for keeping us posted.
Thanks for sharing the history of Summerside. As others have stated, I’m sad for the readers and the authors who are most personally affected. The state of publishing is continually changing. I appreciate your perspective, Steve, in that you can see the big picture because of all the houses you work with. Thanks for giving us a balanced perspective.
Thank you for sharing the detailed history here, Steve. It does seem discouraging, and I feel awful for the authors, agents, and editors this will affect. But I appreciate your optimism that publishing is still healthy.
Sandra D. Bricker
This is particularly sad news for me. Andrea Boeshaar and I were hand-picked by Summerside to launch their Love Finds You line. I wrote three books for them, and worked closely with Jason and Carlton to develop a popular three-book devotional series. This feels like heartbreaking news about a family member to me.
Tiffany Amber Stockton
Oh, my heart is saddened at this news. I’d love to see the LFY line continue…and the rest of the Summerside books as well. The new ideas and series concepts they had planned sounded wonderful for a collection of unique fiction that no one else has done. It’s unfortunate that Summerside can’t exist as its own entity again and be acquired by another publisher or publish on its own. Such a tremendous loss to the Christian fiction industry. And I have to admit, a loss to my goals as well. (sigh)
Definitely praying for Rachel as she transitions out and finds new work. Love that gal and hope she lands somewhere else real soon! Praising God that Susan and Jessica aren’t afloat as well. Thanks, Steve, for sharing the news and giving the “big picture” perspective.
Thank you for the thorough explanation, Steve. I’m saddened for all directly concerned, and as Richard Mabry said, wondering about the future, too.
Define “great” storyteller. 🙂
Rachel? Look in the dictionary. Next the the entry for “great storyteller” you will find your picture.
Roseanna M. White
So sad to hear this. I haven’t worked with them as much as Sandra, but I did really enjoy the project I did with them. Interesting about the Harlequin arrangement…I hadn’t realized they’d done that.
Keeping Rachel and the authors with unfulfilled contracts through this in my prayers!
Thanks, Steve, for keeping us up to date on industray news. I appreciate reading your perspective on this development. I am sad for the authors who are having their contracts canceled. I’m sure that’s discouraging. And I’m sad for the readers who have enjoyed the Love Finds You Series. There were so many great books in that line.
James Scott Bell
Wish I could share your optimism, Steve, vis-a-vis fiction writers looking for long term career chances under the terms of the “old” system. There seems to me to be too many warning signs, both past (e.g., Borders, Wal-Mart) and present (Barnes & Noble, Summerside, B & H) to be sanguine. I would counsel all writers to look at all options, weigh the risks, determine their own strengths, make a decision and write with courage.
Do you think that another publisher will pick up/purchase the Summerside Press imprint from Guideposts (like Harlequin purchased the Heartsong imprint from Barbour?).
Never say “never.” Since they sold the Ellie Claire division in December it is likely there has been conversations of the sort you mention.
Thanks for the thorough recap. It is indeed a sad day for me, as I was with Summerside since the very beginning (2007). I’ll miss working on the fiction lines I came to love – Love Finds You and American Tapestries – as well as an incredible group of authors, agents, and freelancers. As you say, I’m confident that great writers will always have a place in the industry (and that goes for freelancers too).
I appreciate your kind words about me, as well as the support voiced by many in their comments. My inbox is flooded with folks offering prayers and encouragement, and it’s been very comforting. I will say that this news, while perhaps a surprise to many, was not surprising to me. I have peace about this and will be just fine. My immediate plan is to take a break for a while, focus on on my two little boys, and figure out what’s next.
My biggest concern at the moment is for the amazing authors I’ve worked with, particularly those with whom we have contracts for forthcoming books. I’ll be with Summerside until July 31, and our fall books and outstanding contracts will be my biggest priority.
Thanks again to all!
Big hugs, Rachel!
Steve, thanks for updating us on Summerside. I had no idea and am sad to see the Love Finds You series of books discontinued. I thought they were still really popular. Do you think another house will purchase the rights to continue the series?
I’ve enjoyed the “Love Finds You” series by Summerside, and I’m sorry to see the publisher gone. I hope that some sort of acquisition and merger will resurrect it.
I don’t think it was too much of a good thing. Twelve books a year meant a book a month, and that was a good number. Sorry to hear they couldn’t keep that going.
I’ll still go back and reread some of the LFY novels. They had a good idea. Perhaps a bigger publisher will snap it up and continue the line.
Alternatively, they could have switched to just eBooks until their finances improve. As an avid reader, I think there is no reason to end the line. As a writer, I feel sorry for all the wonderful authors they dropped. It’s a loss for all.
The most telling line in this piece is the one that notes the “entire sales model was built around high volume sales to big box retailers.” Big box retailers have been consolidating for years.
It surprises me, given that Guideposts already has a strong direct-to-consumer line, they didn’t add a direct-to-consumer component to the Summerside line.
This is sad news, especially for those who are now out of work. I think it shows that publishers need to diversify their sales models, focusing more on Internet sales and direct-to-consumer streams.
I can’t believe you are not going to finish the Love Finds You series. There aren’t that many books left to go. I am extremely disappointed in this. Perhaps if you had published one book from each state first before you went back and did several books from the same state you could have gotten them all in. It’s about time publishers listened to what the readers actually want.
We are not the publisher of the series. We only reported the news. Better to direct your displeasure with Guideposts Books which is the parent company that made this decision.