Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gone or Dawn? The Golden Age of Publishing


Steve Laube, a literary agent and president of The Steve Laube Agency, has been in the book industry for over 31 years, first as a bookstore manager where he was awarded the National Store of the Year by CBA. He then spent over a decade with Bethany House Publishers and was named the Editor of the Year in 2002. He later became an agent and has represented over 700 new books and was named Agent of the Year by ACFW. His office is in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Recently Philip Yancey, a revered and bestselling author, wrote an article mourning the declineof the golden age of Christian Publishing. His words got me thinking…

Are the Golden Days Gone?

I have heard a lot of negative statements about the book industry, and the Christian publishing industry in particular, these past few years. Statements like “the system is broken,” “publishers are abusing authors,” “No one can get traditionally published unless they are famous,” etc.

As I wrote last week, I too went to the Christian booksellers convention in Atlanta. It was smaller than its “glory days” but it was still vibrant.

Ultimately the real answer to the question is based on one’s perspective. You can look at it one way and say things are terrible, horrible, and no good. There are fewer CBA stores. There are struggling CBA publishers. There are fewer slots available to debut and even established authors. That is one way to view it.

Another way to view it is to declare the view different. Not poor, but different. And that is where I land. If things were so dire then why are publishers still selling any books at all? Heaven is for Real wouldn’t have sold a single copy. Harbinger would not have been on the New York Times bestseller list for over 100 weeks.

So far this calendar year our agency has contracted over 60 new deals covering more than 100 new titles. Has it been easy? Of course not. It takes hard work. Hard working authors, and hard working editors, hard working agents, and hard working publishers.

Have there been disappointments? Yes. But there have also been some tremendous victories.

At the same time we should not compare this year’s circumstances with past circumstances. Circumstances are different. As Yancey’s article pointed out, there have been massive changes in the industry. Everything from superstore bankruptcy to the Amazon Kindle. All sorts of disruption.

This is normal. Stay around long enough and something else will change again. This may be where we should focus our attention.

Is This the Dawn of a New Golden Era?

If things are merely different and not catastrophically dire, then maybe something else is afoot.

The rise of indie publishing has made the creation of new voices possible. It has also created a viable option for those whose ideas may not have had the larger commercial value that major publishers are seeking. It also nurtures a cottage industry of freelance editors and book packagers (some of which are better than others).

Many veteran authors have smartly put their older titles into e-book form and made them available forever. (I do see that slowing down as fewer titles are available for this conversion.)

Traditional publishers are still finding great new books and finding new places to sell them. And with the showdown between Amazon.com and Hachette still unresolved as of this writing, publishers are definitely making sure all their eggs are not in one shopping cart on Amazon (if you know what I mean).

Meanwhile the disruptions, the negotiations, the technology inventions; all of keep books in the news. Let me name a few that have people talking. The Fault in Our Stars , Unbroken, Lean In, Not a Fan, The Book Thief, Gone Girl, One Thousand Gifts, and Killing Jesus.  People are talking about books.

It is different, and yet still the same. Is it possible that we are enjoying a new golden era but we are so close to it we cannot see it for what it is?

Maybe I’m hopelessly optimistic…even a romantic at heart, but I believe in the power of words. I believe that words fitly spoken and brilliantly written can change the world around us. So yes, the light you see is a dawn, a golden dawn…. not the light of a train inside a tunnel.

Note: This post first appeared on the Steve Laube Agency Blog.

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