Tuesday, January 10, 2006

BC: Straight Talk from a Christian Editor


Special Charis Connection Encore . . .

In our Christian writing world, there is quite a bit of negative talk from published and aspiring authors alike about publishing houses in the Christian market. How they’re focused only on the bottom dollar—to the detriment of higher art and their Christian calling to publish books for the glory of God. These opinions are expressed from author to author, through e-mail loops, and in blogs. Are these accusations true? I’ve wondered if we authors suffer from a lack of knowledge. How much do we really know about what goes on in the publishing houses as they make their decisions?

In all fairness, it’s time to give the publishers their say on this topic. Here’s an honest and no-holds-barred response from an editor with many years of experience at numerous major Christian publishing houses:

“Anyone who thinks Christian publishers only care about the bottom line, or that they don't care about art, is flat wrong. People who work at Christian publishers care about a great more than just making money. They care about truth and art and changing peoples' lives--all the same kinds of things YOU care about. They take risks every day on projects in which the numbers don't support the dollars because they believe in the writing, the message, or the author.

“They care. Deeply.

“Please keep in mind what people in the publishing houses face every day. I am responsible for a set amount of revenue for the company. At the end of the fiscal year, I'll be sitting there while leadership evaluates if I was a good employee/steward or not based on meeting that goal. Stressful? You'd better believe it. How do I do it? By balancing the number of best-sellers we publish with midlist and newbies. I have a limited number of slots each year, and each slot MUST meet its financial benchmarks if my lines--and, ultimately, the company--are to survive.

“Like it or not, publishing is a business. It's wrong thinking to be upset or disdainful when publishers take the bottom line into account. The bottom line is not the be all and end all, but it does play into our publishing decisions. It HAS to, unless you don't care if we—that is, publishers or authors--stay in business.

“The irony is that publishers struggle with this very same perception, but about authors: ‘All they care about is money.’ I hear these kinds of statements over and over from publishers:
'Authors blame us for everything. We're always the bad guy, no matter how much we do for them. They don't care about the (financial-time-fill in the blank) constraints we're under, they just want us to treat their books like they're the only thing we publish.'

“Truth is, authors are pretty interested in the bottom line, too. They’re often pushing for higher advances than the sales of their books can support. It’s true that higher advances mean the publisher is invested in the book. Translation—the publisher's neck is square on the line. The authors have their money. Publishers are the ones who eat it when the books don't earn out. And trust me: A LOT of books DO NOT earn out. Yet authors push for higher and higher advances, and/or they get upset when publishers are hesitant to continue publishing their books when they haven't been successful.

“If a book doesn't earn out, it's not always the publisher's fault. We work in an unpredictable industry that’s partially based upon the whims of retailers and consumers, and on national economics that make people less inclined to buy any but proven best-sellers.

“Friends, publishing is a PARTNERSHIP. We ALL do our best. We ALL fight for quality books, for beautiful writing, for art as well as commerce. And I'm not just talking about the editors. I've seen marketing, sales people, and management—even the CEO—go to the wall for a book or author. In fact, I just saw the VP of sales do that very thing a few days ago for a book that hasn't sold in well. He's asking his sales reps to go back to the stores and make another push for this novel. Why? Because, he told me, ‘The writing is so great! Readers need to know about this author.’

“We who work for publishers fight for your books. For what we believe are strong covers. For promotion and marketing dollars. And if dollars aren't available--not because the publisher doesn't care, but because marketing budgets are BASED on revenue--we spend hours brainstorming ways to stir awareness and interest in both retailers and consumers.“Do we blow it at times? Sure, we're human. I'm not saying publishers are perfect. I'm just saying we care.

“So please don't be so quick to paint publishers as the bad guy, or to believe that all publishers care about is the bottom line. We're in this business for the same reasons you are: God called us to it. We care about the message, the authors, the quality of writing. We believe in the power of the word. And we want to make a difference.”

Brandilyn Collins is the author of Dead of Night and other "Seatbelt Suspense."
http://www.brandilyncollins.com/
http://www.forensicsandfaith.blogspot.com/

18 Comments:

At 8:24 AM, Blogger Cara Putman said...

What a great post. Thanks for bringing this perspective to us, Brandilyn.

 
At 8:26 AM, Blogger ValMarie said...

Wow, thanks for posting an eye-opening article, Brandilyn.

 
At 9:10 AM, Blogger Patty said...

Thank you, Brandilynn for having the courage to ask and then publish this editor's response. If it were not for the editors and publishers who do care about a deeper work of literature, there are many of us who would be out flipping burgers.
PH

 
At 9:55 AM, Blogger lisa said...

And would you like fries with that?

 
At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Nick said...

Nice words...and so true!

 
At 1:32 PM, Blogger Robin Cynclair said...

Insightful and factual.....thanks for posting it!

 
At 1:34 PM, Blogger C.J. Darlington said...

It's great to hear this side of the story, Brandilyn. Thanks for sharing. And to Editor X, thank you for your candidness.

 
At 2:23 PM, Blogger Rachel Hauck said...

At my first writer's conference, Ken Peterson from Tyndale described life from the editors POV.

I went home full of compassion for them and thought, "No wonder they turned me down."

It's not an easy life and if any of us could spend a day on their side of the wall, we'd understand.

Thanks for posting this, Brandilyn.

 
At 3:06 PM, Blogger sally apokedak said...

Great comments. I don't think there is any doubt that this is completely true. My question is how can we generate money for children's books? If they aren't selling, how can we keep publishing them?

Because we are losing a generation. And the kids who aren't buying the books today are the adults who won't be buying them tomorrow. So good long-term business sense seems to demand that we find a way to woo the kids and good ministry goals also demand that we woo the kids.

I'm excited to see Barbour stepping out with some high-quality, timely, offerings. I hope they make money and can offer us more.

I think laying blame is fruitless. Of course the editors and marketers want to serve the body of Christ regardless of what the parent companies want. If they didn't care they'd probably not work in Christian publishing. But how can the editors have enough funds to publish the books they want?

Is the answer to solicit funds ala Focus on the Family? Or to leave the big houses and go with smaller companies that don't have the shareholders and the bottom line demands that the larger secular houses have (even though they still have to show a profit to stay viable).

Because as much as we like the editors and sympathize with them, I think there is no doubt that we aren't offering children the quality and variety of books that the world is offering them.

And that's too bad.

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe the church doesn't have to offer variety. Maybe Christianity is strong when it's weak and we aren't supposed to compete with the world's goodies. I'm not saying I have the answers. Just kicking this one around.

Thanks for posting this. It's surely worth thinking about.

sally apokedak
http://paraklesis.com/childrens_publishing_news/

 
At 3:20 PM, Blogger Ron Estrada said...

Thanks for that bit of insight. In my "real life" I'm an engineer and businessman, so I understand the pressures. I always try to look at this as a partnership. It's tough sometimes, because I've put so much into my writing, but the nice thing about being a Christian writer is knowing that we're answering a calling, not just trying to make a sale.

 
At 3:52 PM, Anonymous Ane Mulligan said...

I appreciate the candid remarks, and I would not want to be in the publisher's shoes. I have enough stress trying to break into the market. :)

 
At 4:08 PM, Blogger Dineen A. Miller said...

Great post, Brandilyn. Whoever the editor was, please convey my thanks. This confirms my dertimination to be a dedicated author, not only for my own benefit, but for whatever future publishing house picks me up. If they're willing to take a risk on me, then I certainly don't want to let them down. My respect for editors grows daily. What a balance they have to keep. Dave Long's blog, Faith in Fiction touches on this too.

 
At 5:31 PM, Blogger Camy Tang said...

Thanks for posting this, Brandilyn. I especially liked what was said about authors wanting higher advances, but that means the publisher's neck is on the chopping block. Insightful analogy.

Camy

 
At 6:21 PM, Blogger Paula said...

Thanks Brandilyn. As usual you are a voice of reason and unity in this world of publishing and I love you for it (and for a lot of other things as well!)

 
At 7:19 PM, Blogger Stuart said...

words of truth! thanks for tracking down a brave editor to share them with us.

Always eye opening to step into the other side's shoes for a few minutes.

 
At 9:15 PM, Blogger Bonnie Calhoun said...

Thank, Brandilyn, that was a great post and it really brings into perspective the whole picture.

We, as suffer authors need to remember that there are also suffering editors and agents out there!

 
At 9:20 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Thanks, Brandilyn. I remember reading this post earlier. I enjoyed it then and I enjoyed it now.

 
At 1:16 AM, Blogger Bonnie Calhoun said...

Good post, Brandilyn!

 

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