When the Market Is Too Tight

Previously I posted about sending rejections saying the market is too tight as a reason for the decline. Let’s take a closer look.


“The market is too tight,” sounds objective, doesn’t it? As in, “There isn’t enough room for your book because no one is buying this type of book.” However, this is one time we can get philosophical and admit this reason for a decline is actually the agent’s truth. It’s not necessarily the truth.

For example, some in publishing have declared Christian fiction dead. Dead, I tell you. As dead as Microsoft Office Assistant. (The animated paperclip, not to be confused with Cortana, who’s not nearly as lively or fun.) However, I can name an array of writers, editors, and agents who are flourishing in this category.

What’s the Agent Really Saying?

The answer is that in that agent’s opinion, the market is too tight. He doesn’t know of any editors, or not enough editors, or not enough editors at major houses offering healthy contracts, to take on your book. The agent has made the decision not to waste your time or his in offering representation. While receiving the rejection stings, the agent who believes the market is too tight for your book is doing you a favor not to send you an agency contract.

Another upside? The next agent you query may say, “I’m so excited about your work! I know four editors ready to buy a book on how Amish Extraterrestrials built the Egyptian Pyramids!”

If that’s you, then you’ve found the perfect fit!

Your turn:

Is the market really too tight? On what topics?

Where do you think the current market should expand?

53 Responses to When the Market Is Too Tight

  1. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson March 22, 2018 at 3:19 am #

    I sincerely hope that the market expands for Christian Fantasy. It’s one of the smallest niches in Christian publishing, though in secular publishing, it’s one of the larger, more consistent genres. Which is why I’m such a big fan of Enclave Publishing. You go, Steve! Woohoo!

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    Loretta Eidson March 22, 2018 at 5:59 am #

    You’ve got me on this one, Tamela. I’ll just read what others have to say.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2018 at 6:28 am #

      Sorry — I pressed the wrong “reply” button earlier — I’m STILL glad you’re here, Loretta! 😀

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    Sami A. Abrams March 22, 2018 at 6:09 am #

    I love Romantic Suspense and Suspense, so it makes me very happy these are alive and well in the market. There are a lot of Christian fiction and general fiction that fall into this category. What I would love to see is more “faith-based” fiction. Stories that hold to the Christian view, but show more of the real-world. In my opinion, these stories could reach those who are struggling with the thought that you have to be perfect if you’re a Christian.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2018 at 6:29 am #

      Sami, I think Christian fiction editors strive to keep stories from being preachy, so you should be comfortable here!

      • Avatar
        Sami A. Abrams March 22, 2018 at 6:49 am #

        It makes me happy to hear you say this. I’ve read a wide variety where some are preachy and some are more general fiction. It’s nice to know what the editors are striving for. Thanks!

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    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 22, 2018 at 6:43 am #

    It seems that the market’s too tight until the right product comes along; Stephen Ambrose pretty much defined and dominated the story of the European campaign in WW2…until Rick Atkinson came along with his Liberation Trilogy.

    I’d love to see an expansion in (or into) interfaith stories, that show Christians and members of other faiths working together in respect for one another, and respected by the author.

    It’s been done; Nevil Shute’s “Round The Bend” and “In The Wet” are good examples from years past, as is the recent film “Victoria And Abdul”.

    This is not to step back from evangelism, but evangelism is most effective when the message is carried in helpful hands, and amplified by a respectful heart.

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    Karen Sargent March 22, 2018 at 7:08 am #

    Tamela, I hope I’m not showing my ignorance here. 🙂 Please educate me if I am. What about contemporary women’s fiction? Not romance or thrillers or other genres that simply have female protagonists so some call it women’s fiction, but stories with a female protagonist working through an emotional obstacle/issue and who comes out stronger in some way as a result. No knight in shining armor saves her…but she and her faith are the reason she triumphs. I know the definition of women’s fiction can vary depending on who’s giving the defintion, but this may give you the idea of the kind of story I’m referring to. I was happy to see Beth Vogt’s upcoming release, Things I Never Told You, which is about a conflict among sisters. My WIP is about a manipulative mother who loves her adult daughter almost too much, the daughter who is fighting for her independence, and how their relationship is filled with both love and tension (those are the dynamics of the main characters, not the storyline). Is the market too tight for women’s fiction such as this? Sometimes I think I should write romance because readers seem to devour that genre, but my heart navigates more toward addressing issues–I think of Karen Kingsbury’s recent book In This Moment (although the protagonist is not female) about a principal’s bold attempt to decrease violence, drugs, etc. in his school. In mainstream, Jodi Picoult creates stories around issues. Your honest thoughts are much appreciated.

    • Avatar
      Jaime March 22, 2018 at 8:27 am #

      Karen, I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction, but the fiction I enjoy is similar to yours. I gravitate towards issues with depth and tension more than romance as well. Just by what you’ve said of your WIP, it sounds like something I would enjoy. (Not sure that I represent any significant portion of the population, though. Haha!)

      • Avatar
        Karen Sargent March 22, 2018 at 9:52 am #

        Jaime, thank you for that note of encouragement. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2018 at 8:57 am #

      Karen, that’s a good question. Women’s fiction has always posed more of a challenge, at least in my experience. I do consider women’s fiction proposals, however.

      You named authors you’re “up against” who have worked hard to establish their fan base. And there are other major authors in this category. So, all you can do is hone and hone and hone your craft so that your work can enter and compete in this tight market segment.

      Write what you love, but make your characters and story so fresh and compelling that the agent and editor say, “I’ve got to have this author on my list!”

      • Avatar
        Karen Sargent March 22, 2018 at 9:58 am #

        Thanks, Tamela. Yes, there’s a great divide between this debut author and authors such Karen Kingsbury and Jodi Picoult. 🙂 Thank you for confirming that the market is tight from an agent’s perspective. Your last statement is great advice. I’ll take it. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Ruth A. Douthitt March 22, 2018 at 2:44 pm #

      Karen- That’s what I am currently writing. In my WIP, there will be hints of Christianity (she’s angry at her father and at God) and some light romance (there won’t be a hero in the story…) but my female protagonist will be working through issues and makes the breakthrough on her own. I had one agent excited that my protagonist is a Iraq war correspondent because that hasn’t been done much lately, so that’s in my favor. So, we’ll see. I’m reading “One True Thing” by Anna Quindlen because I love her writing style. I also read Jodi Picoult. Those types of books/stories is what I tend to read. I don’t think women’s fiction is a tight market and that’s because it is a hard sell right now with Hallmark-style romances taking off.

  6. Avatar
    Amanda Wen March 22, 2018 at 7:12 am #

    I always kinda liked that little paperclip guy…

  7. Avatar
    David Winters March 22, 2018 at 7:50 am #

    Having a book proposal being shopped by an agent is like trying to sell your house. The agent claims that the market will tell you what the house is worth. If it sells fast, the homeowner wonders if the agent undervalued it. If it doesn’t sell, the homeowner wonders if another agent might have come up with a buyer.

    As a new author with book idea, I would just be happy to sell my first flip and reinvest for the future.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2018 at 9:07 am #

      David, that’s a good analogy.

      But as for an author’s work being undervalued, I suggest that publishing works a little differently from real estate. Unlike a real estate agent, a literary agent doesn’t place a dollar value on the work. The agent presents the work to editors and says, “I think people should read this.”

      The publishing house is the one who places the dollar value on the book. The market speaks there. I’ve seen projects rejected all around. I’ve seen projects receive one great offer. I’ve seen projects receive one not-so-great offer. And I’ve seen projects from debut authors trigger bidding wars from several publishers.

      Ultimately, the reader is your customer, and the readers have the final say about the market value of your book by demonstrating their willingness to buy it.

      The analogy of flipping your first book is intriguing. Hope you sell quickly and at a good price! 🙂

      • Avatar
        Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2018 at 9:27 am #

        David, after thinking more, I realized I probably need to make a slight modification to my answer. In my experience, generally speaking, a literary agent doesn’t approach editors with a dollar amount on the tip of their tongue, particularly for debut authors. However, there may be some instances where a dollar amount is immediately on the table, but to my knowledge, that would more often apply to well-established authors.

        To address a debut author, I would say that I have never called an editor and said, “I’ve got a debut author here and we are offering his project for such-and-such amount.”

        And even if I did, a publishing house will still decide how much to pay, and then the author decides whether or not to accept the offer.

        I hope this clarification helps.

  8. Avatar
    Anne Carol March 22, 2018 at 7:55 am #

    I’ll be interested to read the various responses to these questions. I personally love stories of redemption and hope there is plenty of room for those! I just write the stories God has put on my heart, and I trust He has a purpose for each one.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2018 at 9:08 am #

      There are often stories of redemption in genre romance! Thanks for being a part of my blog community, Anne!

  9. Avatar
    Mark Stevenson March 22, 2018 at 8:24 am #


    As I have stated many times, I’ve learned so much from from you, Steve, and Dan already. I come into writing as a sponge, soaking the knowledge. As a former pastor, current minister in my community, I have been burdened over the years for those in ministry. Especially pastors. In many cases it is a thankless vocation but a calling goes a long way in compensating for the downs.

    I’ve wondered if writing a fictional series about pastoral life was a good way of showing different sides to ministerial life. I figured, alone by itself might not be enough to sell well so I am working on a series that incorporates my parent’s backgrounds as US diplomats in the CIA and my dad getting saved and becoming a pastor, successfully for 25 years.

    Back to the original question, I hope there is a place in the market for where I am wanting to go. My heart is to write about pastors, adventure, church life, spies, espionage, thrillers, Christian marriage, end times.


    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2018 at 9:09 am #

      Mark, I’m so glad you can learn from us!

      Based on this, it doesn’t sound as though your work “fits” directly into a genre. However, there’s plenty of room for wonderful stories no matter where they fit!

  10. Avatar
    Amber Schamel March 22, 2018 at 9:18 am #

    Thank you for the thought-provoking post, Tamela. My favorite genre is Christian historical fiction, which has a good market right now. But most of it is also romance. I actually like non-romance historicals better, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for that. I’ve met quite a few other readers that feel the same way as I do, though, so I’m hoping the market will expand in that direction.

  11. Avatar
    Carol Ashby March 22, 2018 at 9:29 am #

    Most of us have probably heard the saying, “Make a friend. Be a friend. Bring a friend to Christ.” I write novels set in the Roman Empire where that is exactly what happens.

    I don’t know if the market for that is big enough to interest a traditional publisher, but the novels garner good reviews at a rate higher than the one in every hundred read that I’ve seen quoted as typical. That tells me they resonate with the folks who’ve read one since most people never post reviews, even if they love a book.

    I’m writing in a time period that isn’t so popular right now, but would my kind of stories set contemporary or in more popular historical times draw trad publisher interest? Or would a story arc that follows the spiritual transformation of a lost soul, where the arguments and conversations echo what real people say, not something formulaic and preachy, be outside what agents and publishers find appealing today?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2018 at 11:24 am #

      Carol, it really comes down to the writing. Your good reviews indicate that you are a talented author.

      Christian fiction editors are looking for a strong, non-preachy spiritual arc, regardless of the time period.

  12. Avatar
    Lois Keffer March 22, 2018 at 10:31 am #

    What a great post. It’s also one that puts me a bit on edge. We see a lot of American Historical Fiction/Romance on Kindle. Is it a too-tight genre for publishing in general?

    Thanks for your helpful blog posts. You’re a gem!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2018 at 11:29 am #

      Thanks for the encouragement, Lois!

      Publishing as a whole always has been and always will be tight. I believe the number of talented authors will always exceed availability in traditional publishing.

      But editors tend to find room for a “must-have” novel. The exception may be, for example, if a publisher has no experience in, say, Amish fiction. They may have the world’s greatest Amish novel on hand, but won’t feel they can contract for it because they don’t have a strong presence in that category. If they can’t come out long and strong in the category, the author is better off with a different publisher, anyway.

      As always, keep writing your best, keep learning, and keep submitting!

      • Avatar
        Lois March 22, 2018 at 2:34 pm #

        Thanks, Tamela. Actually, I’m a much published and awarded author in the fields of Christian Ed and Children’s Books. Fifty-ish books, many with a long shelf life and multiple translations into foreign languages. I’ve been a senior editor and Editorial Director at two major publishers. And I’ve read many a slush pile submission! So I have a reasonable knowledge of the business. But I fear that switching from those genres to historical fiction might be quite the jump. It makes me feel like a newbie all over again.
        Your group of agents at Steve Laube Agency write such insightful pieces in your blogs. I often forward them to friends who would like to break in to writing. Blessings to all of you!

        • Avatar
          Tamela Hancock Murray March 23, 2018 at 5:27 am #

          Lois, thank you so much for your encouragement, and for being a reader of our blog! Wow, you are amazing! Congratulations on a stellar career already!

          With your knowledge of the business and talent already identified and well-proven, albeit in a different genre, I believe you have an excellent chance. You probably feel like a newbie because in a sense, you are starting over, but that’s okay!

          I see the challenge for you (and any successful author switching genres) as working to bring as much of your current audience as you can to your new work, and to build your new audience. This will take some brand building, but based on what you wrote here, you should have he will and grit to succeed. Keep me posted!

        • Avatar
          Carol Ashby March 23, 2018 at 6:55 am #

          Louis, with your truly impressive track record in successful publishing, I hope you’ll keep us posted on how it goes breaking into an adult fiction genre. We love hearing each other’s success stories here. May it be quick and big!

          • Avatar
            Carol Ashby March 23, 2018 at 7:00 am #

            Lois, not Louis. The silly spellfix on my Kindle Fire got too busy, and I didn’t notice before tapping post!

            • Avatar
              Lois Keffer March 25, 2018 at 12:22 pm #

              Carol, I will keep you updated. The problem is, my WIP has turned into a trilogy. Yikes! And my most completed book is the middle one. Double yikes. I promise I did not mean this to happen. Thank you for your kind thoughts.

  13. Avatar
    Laura Yarborough March 22, 2018 at 12:30 pm #

    If Christian fiction is dead, why have I just finished two Christian fiction bestsellers published in the last month? Is it because both authors were established in general fiction before writing Christian fiction? Is it because they are published by publishers I, who am admittedly ignorant, consider non-traditional Christian publishers?
    I’m referring to Debbie Macomber’s, Any Dream Will Do and Terry Blackstocks final book in the If I Run Series. Plus Jan Karon released a new book in September.
    To quote Karon’s little boy character, Jack Tyler, “I want to know?”

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2018 at 1:15 pm #

      Thank you for making my point, Laura! And there are plenty of bestselling Christian authors who have always written specifically for the Christian market, too.

    • Avatar
      Sue B March 23, 2018 at 5:52 am #

      Laura, the two authors you mention have 1) been Publishing for a over twenty-five years, 2) been huge self-promoters. Another reason is that they write emotionally uplifting titles. Terri is huge on message and reliance on God. Debbie just writes happy and hopeful novels. Also, both have maintained an author brand. They’ve treated writing and marketing as a full time job.

  14. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D March 22, 2018 at 1:40 pm #

    I think that the market is tight for new authors who are trying to make a break into publishing.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 22, 2018 at 1:47 pm #

      Correct, Sheri. The market is tight for new authors, and it always has been. However, new authors break in quite often. And everyone starts out as a new author.

      New authors, keep writing! We need you!

  15. Bob Hostetler
    Bob Hostetler March 22, 2018 at 3:01 pm #

    To be clear, Amish extraterrestrials did not build the pyramids. Puhleeze. Way too flashy.

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby March 22, 2018 at 3:39 pm #

      Pyramids are too flashy, Bob? Ziggurats, maybe, but pyramids are just plain old pentahedrons.

    • Avatar
      Sharon Cowen March 23, 2018 at 6:58 am #

      Having read some Hostetler history, I’m thinking the plot of Amish extraterrestrials building the pyramids may be worth a second glance. Your ancestors were resourceful people.

  16. Avatar
    Claire O'Sullivan March 23, 2018 at 3:51 pm #


    Both insightful and some, hysterical. Especially about the Amish extraterrestrials building the pyramids. Oh, my.

    I agree with everyone on fiction– a message, a broken person, clean but no romance, romance and clean, edgy… you get the message…

    I write slightly edgy Christian/suspense and/or forensics/crime plus romance and I like at least one character to be snarky or suspicious. The main characters are either female or male (a lot of research into the male brainwaves required, such twists and turns…) atheists, agnostics, new Christians; broken, having gone through abortion, abuse, physical, emotional and war wounds, misogyny, boozers, thieves…

    Mine (thus far) include rural poor communities and in a series I include a MC medical examiner (true grump, misogynist, mostly ex-boozer) new Christian horribly tempted to do wrong. In his voice. Genre: Noir, romantic comedy/crime.

    First- snarky-atheist-thief. She ‘hates’ the homicide detective she is falling for… it’s a hairy journey for her.

    The message of salvation. And the reality of temptation and backsliding. Clean but we Christians are not perfect.

    I had a group of beta readers for my first, and one gal messaged me a year after I finished (hey, it’s still not published… I may well have accomplished the thing God intended) wanting to know if I’d published. She liked the story, and I was able to share with her what it meant (my thief was the picture of the fallen-away bride of Christ and my MC was the picture of Christ – trust me, neither perfect though). She said, gee I am a Muslim and I’d never heard that! She’s a playwright in London! As Steve said, ‘Bring the books’ — Paul. I didn’t know what I was writing, I just wrote, being myself angry at God, having backslidden a lot. So when I finished God used it to address my issues. I had no idea that I was sharing the Gospel.

    (no one is an Amish zombie in space, though)


  17. Avatar
    David VanAtter March 26, 2018 at 9:37 am #

    It seems that this issue would be overcome with a strong platform. Proving that the market exists and that you are connected to it would give a lot of security to potential publishing partners.

  18. Avatar
    Carol Moncado March 26, 2018 at 1:31 pm #

    I know it’s totally not the point, but I miss the paper clip…


  19. Avatar
    Wendy L Macdonald March 26, 2018 at 3:48 pm #

    Thank you, dear Tamela, for a perfect example of why perseverance is powerful in the publishing world. There are some amazing books we wouldn’t have been able to read if the authors had stopped querying their manuscripts.

    Easter Blessings ~ Wendy Mac

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