The State Of Publishing

When I was in school, I read about the Industrial Revolution, and all the changes it brought, some good but some pretty harsh. I realized the other day that we’re in another one of those revolutions. I don’t know what they’ll end up naming it — the Communications Revolution, maybe, or the Technology Revolution, perhaps. Whatever, books are right there in the middle of the fray, it would seem.

Interestingly, five years ago, on this blog, an acquisitions editor for a reputable Christian publisher said, “As for Amazon sales, those are NOT indicative of true sales.” I doubt if anyone is saying that today. There’s been a revolution. In fact, I just read in The Writer magazine that projections say Amazon will have 50% of book sales by the end of this year. Fifty percent!

Of course this revolution isn’t happening without those who want to fight back. Amazon’s being accused of turning into a monopoly with plans, not just to become THE book seller but THE publisher, what with their print-publishing venture.

How you feel about this revolution probably depends on how you’re connected to the book industry. One thing most people in the know seem to agree upon: Amazon is ignoring the way things have been and has created a new model based on what’s best for the consumer ( i. e, the reader).

In an industry where publishers, distributors, agents, and occasionally authors bicker with one another about issues great and small, Amazon has simply turned its back and addressed the issues from the perspective of the customer. (“Consider The Elephant” by David Malki, The Writer, Nov/Dec 2011.)

Hence, readers can buy books at a lower price, with greater ease, and perhaps with more knowledge about the product, than ever before.

Authors have mixed feelings about the encroachment of Amazon on the publishing scene. They are changing the landscape, without a doubt. As traditional publishers hunker down, they have fewer and fewer slots available, so only The Big Name authors seem likely to be happy with traditional publishing. Those being squeezed out, not so much. Are they happy with Amazon? Not necessarily because they are competing with an ever-growing field of writers who have discovered the ease with which they can get their work in print or on e-reader screens. Make that, Kindle screens.

Publishers, acquisition editors, even possibly agents are in the opposition to this revolutionary take-over threat. After all, they’re losing their gate-keeper role. If they don’t come down on the side of opposing the greater Communication Revolution — that is, if they approach the changes in the business with vision, embracing the technology and the opportunities afforded by social media — they have a chance to maintain a small piece of the pie they so recently hoarded.

For an unpublished writer like me, this is an interesting time for certain. There are many more options available than ever before, but will they be paying ones? In other words, can a writer ever again make a living as a writer? Not that many did before the start of the revolution. But an accompanying question is this: will writing suffer if it becomes littered with hobbyists rather than professionals?

I suppose newspaper people thought the same thing when blogs first came out with all kinds of divergent opinion, but in the case of news and politics, I think consumers care more about facts and opinions than they do the prose with which those are expressed. Blogging suddenly made it possible for the guy who used to chaffed because his letter to the editor had once again been ignored, to suddenly have his own column and his own loyal readers and the chance to write those letters to the editor in the form of comments on other blogs. Suddenly his opinion was getting out there and getting read.

Fiction is a different animal. There’s a bit of art to entertainment, and passionate people who haven’t learned the craft may be disappointed that their books won’t find a way out of the growing morass of similar stories.

The new question — but really, it’s old — is, how does a writer separate from the pack and become noticed? Writers who find an answer will most likely be the ones who navigate the newest crossover — from digital/self-publishing, to traditional. Or will that be, from traditional publishing to digital/self-pubbed?

One closing thought. Thank God He knows what’s going on! 😀

Published in: on February 8, 2012 at 6:52 pm  Comments (2)  
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More on Labels and Ratings

As some people have compared the LifeWay “Read with Discernment” stickers to movie, music, and video game ratings, the more I don’t like the idea of labels on books.

For one thing, when someone else tells me to be cautious of this thing or that thing, then I could be lulled into thinking that there are no other problems with the content. Some violence? That’s OK, I can handle some violence. Bad language? I’ve learned to tune bad language out, so I can see that movie, no problem.

But what about worldview? That’s the serious issue that all readers and movie goers and TV viewers need to pay attention to, with discernment.

Was The Golden Compass OK because it didn’t have cussing kids or nude-y romance?

Maybe the ratings systems have done this to us—given us this false sense of security, that we can put our brains away and just be entertained because there’s nothing bad or it wouldn’t be rated G. Or PG.

Horror, horrors, horrors! Who says movie studio execs are the right people to tell me what is safe to watch? Or music people what to listen to? Gamers, what to play?

Should I not be thinking this through myself, checking with Scripture as the authority, not relying on the label plastered to the cover of the book?

The fact is, that’s precisely what the LifeWay people say to do in their warning. But horrors if people start assuming that the books without the label can therefore be swallowed whole without discernment.

The other thing is, the LifeWay “briefings,” a more detailed explanation for the reason a “Read with Discernment” label is placed on a book or author, seems to deal exclusively with worldview. I didn’t once see any mention of language or violence or sex. It was all about theology and adherence to Scripture.

All those are good things, but once again, I wonder if this process won’t lull some readers into thinking everything without a warning is spot-on theologically. Is that the case?

I have a feeling there might be one or two books without labels floating around that seem to endorse greed, gossip, lust, all kinds of other sinful behavior. Sure, it isn’t paraded as sinful behavior endorsed by Christians, but isn’t that the net result when sinful behavior is at the core of a character and the author doesn’t even make it an area of concern?

It isn’t portrayed as a weakness, as an area that needs to be changed, as the root of possible future problem, nothing. It’s portrayed as part of who this person is, and in the end he comes to realize God can help him with his problems. Not the sins which are left unidentified as sin. Just the problem of not having a girlfriend or whatever.

But are these books receiving warning stickers?

Maybe, just maybe, we should can the whole label, sticker, rating thing and get back to doing our homework about what we read.

Published in: on March 4, 2009 at 5:22 pm  Comments (10)  

To Label or Not to Label

LifeWay Christian Stores, affiliated with the Southern Baptist denomination, has taken a few hits from some writers and agents because they initiated a policy of placing warning-like “Read with Discernment” stickers on certain books.

The criticism of this decision stretches from charges of greed—this is LifeWay’s method of by-passing complaints against top selling books or authors in conflict with their doctrine in order to make lots more money—to accusations of discrimination—they are “picking on” emergent church-ites, since the first names associated with the stickers apparently are affiliated with that movement (or non-movement, as they would probably avow).

When I first heard this news, I immediately thought, It’s about time someone started talking to Christians about discernment. What’s amazed me is how offended some commenters seem to be at the idea that someone should deign to tell them to be discerning. Or to be discerning about certain books and not others.

I could see that point if LifeWay carried other books people in the middle ground of evangelical Christianity consider false teaching, but a cursory look at their listings didn’t yield any of the health-and-wealth names, big sellers or not, that I looked for. Based on specific warning statements, I suspect we wouldn’t find books openly supporting universalism or unitarianism either.

In other words, it appears to me there are three things we can conclude: LifeWay is holding fast to core evangelical beliefs; they are not cautioning against works dealing with secondary doctrinal issues that are consistent with their denomination (and that other denominations might find objectionable); but they are putting out a caution if a work includes doctrinal issues that could be construed as challenging their doctrinal positions, major or minor.

Don’t they have that right? I mean, the books that come out of their stores reflect back on them. Don’t they?

Part of me thinks so. But another part of me thinks it’s too bad that Christian bookstores took on the position of gatekeeper, deciding what books Christians should or shouldn’t read.

This odd mixture of business and ministry sometimes confuses things. Christian bookstores originally put out a product intended for Christian ministries—Sunday school material, for instance, and commentaries, Bibles, study helps—things that ought to be consistent with the theology of the ministries. The bookstores themselves are businesses, but they were supplementing ministries. Would a Southern Baptist bookstore, then, sell rosaries? They wouldn’t, and no one would expect them to. The people whose ministry they were supplementing would not be buying rosaries, and the Catholics looking for rosaries wouldn’t think to shop in a Southern Baptist store.

As Christian publishers broadened their horizons, Christian bookstores had a tougher role. Now there were Christian self-help books (or God-help books) designed for individuals, not just small groups or churches. There were parenting books and counseling books and theology for laymen. And there was fiction.

What once was an easy job of supplying what the constituency needed to do their ministry, slowly morphed into a slippery job of trying to offer more product without losing that core constituency. As a result, gatekeepers were born.

So here’s the question: are the “Read with discernment” stickers an attempt to relinquish the gatekeeper role back to the reader where it ought to be, where it ought always to have been, or is it an effort to strengthen the gatekeeper grip?

I don’t know the answer, but I will say, I liked everything I read in the explanation of their policy and in the individual warnings. Here’s a sample:

Our prayer for you is that in whatever you read, you place the material under the magnifying glass of scripture and read with discernment, asking God to reveal His truth to you so that, as Paul wrote in Philippians 1:9-10, “…your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you can determine what really matters and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ…” (Holman CSB).

If you’d like to explore more, read their specific “warning” of The Shack by William P. Young, then let me know what your thoughts are about labels.

Published in: on March 3, 2009 at 4:11 pm  Comments (7)  
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A Writer’s Field Trip

archiveshpOff we went, a good friend and I, up the 605 Freeway, then east on the 210 until we reached Pasadena. Our destination? Two different independent bookstores of some note. The one, I discovered, was selected by Publisher’s Weekly as the Independent bookseller of the year for 2008. The other identifies itself as “an independent, theological bookseller that carries over 75,000 new and used theological books.”

Archives Bookshop north of the freeway. Vroman’s Bookstore south.

What an experience of contrasts.

Vroman’s has been in business since 1894 and is apparently going strong. In fact they have opened up another location for textbooks and one for cards and gifts. They’ve built a reputation as a happening place, daily offering speaking and booksigning opportunities to authors. In fact, they have a special location upstairs, with chairs set up, a table for sales, and a table and chair and mic for the author to use.

It’s a beautiful store, with a delightful patio, complete with colorful, artistically positioned tiles, places to sit outside, and well-cultivated plants. There are lots of books in lots of categories—fiction and non-fiction alike.

Speculative fiction was prominent, though the section was called Science Fiction, with a small shelf label of “Horror” displayed here and there. I didn’t see any section for fantasy, though there were some well-known fantasies on the shelves.

Off in a separate room away from most of the other books was a shelf identified as Religion. One shelf carried books obviously dealing with Christianity, though I didn’t recognize a single author. Not one. Most, if not all of these, were non-fiction. About half were books dealing with Catholicism. The next shelf had books labeled Eastern Orthodox. Beside that were selves containing works identified as dealing with Judaism, Islam, Eastern Mysticism. I wondered if perhaps the other side of the shelf held the fiction. No. There was a section for Astrology, the Occult, and Inspirational, though the books in the latter section didn’t seem to necessarily have anything to do with the spiritual.

Keep in mind, this is Vroman’s:

    Vroman’s Bookstore | Publishers Weekly Bookseller Of The Year 2008

Fortunately we had just come from Archives, the theological bookseller. What a contrast. It’s a store pastors in particular would love. Lots of books on the Bible, Old and New Testaments. Lots more commentaries. Whole encyclopedia-like series of commentaries. Biographies. A section on the Puritan writings. Books on preaching and on ministry. And a small, very small section on literature, where C. S. Lewis dominated.

The beauty of the store, however, is the discount section and the used-book section, just off the parking lot. In this storage-like shed, used books are a dollar a piece. In these sections, there’s quite a variety. There was a Richard Russo novel, hardback, I almost bought, but then I thought how I didn’t really want to own that book and how I could get it from the library for free, so I put it back. There were several others like that, but I did end up getting one volume on the history of protestantism that looks quite thorough. A good resource, I hope. For a dollar. 😉

I also bought Lewis’s The Great Divorce. I should have added a copy of Mere Christianity, but I thought I already owned it. Turns out I don’t.

Anyway, the experiences in the two bookstores were quite different because the books were quite different. One virtually godless. The other God-centric. And we wonder why there seems to be a cultural rift in society.

Published in: on January 28, 2009 at 1:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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From the Rag Bag

Having parents who lived through the depression, I grew up with the idea that nothing should be wasted. Not even rags. Hence, we had a “rag bag” in the laundry room. It was a collection of out-worn or out-grown clothes that had “seen better days.” In other words, even Goodwill had no use for them.

No problem, because there was always room in the Rag Bag. That stained or holey tee shirt became a dust rag (notice the name of that cleaning item? 😉 ) or a cloth with which to wash the car or one to put down in the cat’s box when she had her litter of kittens.

The Rag Bag is useful stuff, though no longer new and fresh. The colors might be faded, the cuffs frayed, but that doesn’t diminish their ancillary value.

All that being said, from time to time, I will pull out bits and pieces from the Rag Bag to share here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. It might be industry gossip scuttlebutt or something I’ve observed or an opinion I want to rant about share.

I’ve done this already on occasion, calling the posts things like Hodge-podge or Bits and Pieces or This and That—just different names for Items from the Rag Bag. 😀

So, what’s in the Rag Bag today? A little praise for my local Borders Bookstore.

So many people complain about Christian fiction ending up in some dark corner of the store. Not Borders in La Habra, CA. The Religion section is in the middle of the store, right behind fiction, between numerous non-fiction subjects of interest, and before the extensive YA/children’s section. Not only that, the shelves are labeled, and the first one you see as you approach the aisle with the Religion sign hanging over it is “Christian fiction.”

It gets better. Face out were George Bryan Polivka’s The Hand that Bears the Sword and Donita Paul’s DragonKnight, with all four of her books on the shelf. There were other books face out, too, notably Brandilyn Collins’s Crimson Eve. Good, I thought. They are calling attention to the Right Books. 🙂

But there’s more. In that section of Christian fiction, I am confident more authors were represented than in the fiction section of my local CBA store. The difference was, not so much shelf space was committed to past titles of the Big Name authors. Yes, their latest were there, and the whole series of the Jenkins/LaHaye books might have been there, just not in triplicate. Which meant, more shelf space for authors who are just beginning to build a name.

And I’m still not done. When it came to YA, it seems there is no religious section, or if it exists, it was not labeled as such. Consequently, among the significant number of YA titles, I found a several Christian authors. Without a label, there was a fantasy section, and sure enough, Wayne Thomas Batson’s The Isle of Swords was there, face out, next to the mass paperback version of The Door Within.

And get this. The Isle of Swords was also one of the featured books in a display, like an endcap, only it was prominently located near the Christmas books display—sort of like the displays at the front of the store where adults can find “recommended” books or best-sellers or new releases. I don’t know if the YA books end up in these displays or not because the publishers buy the position, as they do the books in the front, but even if the kudos belong to Thomas Nelson instead of Borders of La Habra, it was very cool to see Wayne’s book featured like that.

So I left encouraged and happy and determined to turn in the name of that particular store to Latest In Spec for inclusion in the Favorite Bookstore section!

Published in: on December 26, 2007 at 2:35 pm  Comments (3)  
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Latest In Spec Classifieds

It works! 😀

I mentioned recently I made a stop at my local Christian bookstore. One thing I didn’t tell you was that I went in armed. My weapon of choice was a copy of Latest In Spec which I’d printed out. This wasn’t any old copy, mind you. This was the copy in which this particular bookstore was named.

For those of you who are scratching your heads, wondering what in the world Latest In Spec Classifieds is, you can read the earlier short posts describing it here and here.

One section in this newsletter/classifieds (the latter term is really more accurate)—a relatively new section—is “Favorite Bookstores.” I turned in three or so in my area that I frequent from time to time.

On this latest visit to the nearest store, before I even bought anything, I went to the counter and asked for the manager. “Moi,” the woman said (though I put it in French just to make the story sound more interesting—hey, I’m a fiction writer! 😉 )

I told her what LIS is and turned to page two, pointing to her store name under Favorite Bookstores. Her eyes lit up at once and she picked up the paper to look more closely. That’s when I told her she could keep that copy.

And in that copy? New speculative book releases, lists of reviews, author appearances, AND how to subscribe to LIS. Lots more, too. Now she has that paper in her hands, to look over, to pass along, to subscribe. Has she? I don’t know.

What I DO know is, because that manager saw her store listed in the publication, she took a copy of LIS Classifieds. And because it is in her hands, the likelihood of her reading the other content is greater.

I mention this because next week I’ll be introducing Fantasy Challenge II, and one of the easiest ways of connecting with a store manager is to give them something, especially if it includes a listing of their store.

Definitely Fantasy Challenge II will include things like turning in favorite bookstores to LIS and taking a copy of the issue to the manager of said store. I know first hand now, not just in theory, that this little marketing ploy works!

We Gotta Ask

I mentioned in my news tidbit that I made a bookstore run the other day. To be honest, I was a little shocked at how FEW books I saw on the shelves.

I already mentioned, I specifically went to pick up DragonFire by Donita Paul (WaterBrook). While copies of DragonSpell, DragonQuest, and DragonKnight were there, they had no copies of the most recent release. We are not talking about some obscure title by an unknown author, here. This is a well-know author and series, and the books sell like hot cakes.

Yesterday as I was writing my post, I visited a number of blogs and Web sites, among them Jeffrey Overstreet’s Auralia’s Journal. There in one of his posts was a picture of Auralia’s Colors in a Barnes and Noble, shelved with other fantasy titles, and even face out. So my question is, Why didn’t I see it at my local Christian book store?

Happily I did find a copy of Robin Parrish’s Fearless, and even more copies of Relentless (Bethany). There were also copies of Gregory Spencer’s Guardian of the Veil (Howard), and one remaining copy of Sharon Hinck’s The Restorer (NavPress), but none of her women’s fiction from Bethany.

There was also no Austin Boyd, the Mars Hill Classified series (NavPress); Chris Wally’s The Shadow and Night (Tyndale); Kathryn Mackel’s Vanished (Realms); Wayne Thomas Batson’s Isle of the Sword; Jonathan Rogers’ The Wilderking Series (B&H); or Bryan Davis’s Oracles of Fire (AMG).

To be honest, the missing titles and authors extend beyond fantasy. For example, there was only one title of Brandilyn Collins on the shelf, and it wasn’t the latest release, Crimson Eve.

What books did they have? The shelves were dominated by a few authors—Ted Dekker, Beverly Lewis, Jerry Jenkins, Karen Kingsbury. Yes, there were smatterings of others, but is it any wonder the same few authors continually make the CBA best-seller lists?

I know some people are decrying the book-selling changes taking place—the availability of Christian fiction in ABA stores and in discount outlets, not to mention the on-line avenues. One of the fears I heard repeated regarding this trend was the possibility that fewer and fewer titles would actually make it to the shelves because the ABA and the discount stores would only be interested in the biggest sellers.

Uh, am I missing something? Isn’t that exactly what this particular CBA store (part of a national chain) is doing?

I don’t pretend to know all that goes into getting books on real shelves. I’ve read some interesting accounts, to be sure, and they usually describe a process that has little to do with content or quality. But one thing I do know: When a customer ASKS about a book, and especially if they order a book, the store managers respond.

All that to say, I’m thinking it is time to have another fantasy challenge. You up for it?

Published in: on September 14, 2007 at 11:58 am  Comments (14)  
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