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.