He was a young man, slightly older than me. (Since I was in my twenties, all my clients were older than me.) He walked into my architectural drafting studio seeking help with a small remodel to a restaurant he recently purchased. My first “art” was architecture and I worked in the field for over a decade. I drew plans for tiny houses (as small as 800 square feet) to multistory mid-size office buildings. I did room additions and custom homes, apartments and condos. I took whatever came my way. Architecture then, as now, can be as financially mercurial as writing.
He had brought a set of blue line plans and we opened the roll on my drafting table. I immediately recognized the building he had purchased. Anyone would. It was the Leaning Tower of Pizza. Well, not THE Leaning Tower of Pizza, in Italy, but a much smaller replica build as a pizza joint. It was situated on the busiest road in community. I was thrilled. The place was an icon in the city and it would be my first restaurant project.
That faded quickly. He wasn’t looking to make major renovations, just a couple of small things. He thought he needed a new set of working drawings. I—in a fit of honesty—told him he didn’t. All he wanted to do was put an opening in an interior bearing wall. No problem. I asked a few questions, sized the beam for him and gave him the name of a structural engineer who would do the few necessary calculations the Building Department would demand.
Then I got curious and asked a few more questions. It went something like this:
Me: So are you going to continue to sell pizza?
Him: No. In fact, I’m removing all the kitchen appliances.
Me: Um, no stove? No oven?
Him: Nah, I don’t need those things. I just need some space along one wall and a few electrical outlets.
I pause this dialogue to remind you gentle readers that this was almost four decades ago. That’s important to know for context.
Me: I don’t get it. What are you planning on selling?
Him (proudly): I’m opening a frozen yogurt shop.
Me (blinking): A what?
Him: Frozen yogurt. It’s like ice cream. People will choose one of three flavors then add toppings.
Me: Frozen yogurt. Isn’t yogurt spoiled milk?
Him: No. Well, sorta. But it’s good.
Me: So . . . you bought this building, gutted it, and now want to sell spoiled, er, yogurt?
Me: No soft drinks?
Him: No just yogurt.
Me (since I had concluded that I wasn’t going to make a commission on this thing I felt free to offer an unrequested opinion): It’s none of my business, but I don’t see this working. No one is going to want to spend money on frozen yogurt.
Fast forward a few months. I decided to drive by the replica of the Leaning Tower of Pizza. I heard the place had opened. I wanted to see how things were going for the poor sap. Well, he had customers. Customers inside the building, customers in the doorway and a line of customers snaking its way along the parking lot to the sidewalk and halfway around the block. It was then I determined I had no future investing in the stock market.
Writers are artists that work in a world of business. Most of us write as a creative outlet, as a ministry, and to buy bread and pay for cable television. That makes us businesspeople and as such, we do our best to predict the future of publishing in general and our genre specifically. Many of us have been caught off guard. These are things I didn’t see coming:
- Bookstores, general and CBA, finding themselves on the endangered species list.
- The disappearance of men as writers and readers of CBA material. (I have list of reasons why this happened.)
- Christian publishers would be gobbled up by massive secular publishing entities.
- The economic crash of 2008 would last so long and have a devastating impact on publishing.
- That books are judged by the money they earn and not the lives they touch.
- E-books would be the powerful force it is today.
- Self-publishing would take off like a rocket.
There are many good things that surprised me too:
- The loyalty some publishers have demonstrated with a writer in whom they saw value in.
- The willingness on the part of some publishers to issue book, not because it would bring great returns but because the world needed the book.
- The commitment to excellence. In many ways, the quality of books put out by some CBA publishers rivals and even surpasses the general market.
We writers must anticipate the future the best we can. At times the guesses will be wrong. Other times, we will get ahead of the curve. Either way, we need to be observant. The future will be different than it is today. That’s one prediction I am confident about.
What has surprised you about publishing?
Oh, and the conclusion of the frozen yogurt story: The client came back and let me design his 4000 square foot custom home. I still don’t know if did that out of gratitude that I had helped him for free, or if he just wanted to rub my nose it. The house turned out great.
Alton Gansky is the author of 43 books, novels and nonfiction. www.altongansky.com