The Next Chapter for Christian Publishing
Earlier this month, renowned Christian author Philip Yancey said Farewell to the Golden Age of Christian publishing, leaving authors and readers concerned over the future of the industry. One author shared, "This is why I'm re-evaluating whether I want to be a writer anymore." Another said, "This is just depressing."
Working with my family's Christian literary agency and law firm, Yates & Yates, I've witnessed some of the obstacles and opportunities in today's ever-changing book market. While the industry looks different in the 21st century, many authors who have adapted to the new era find Christian publishing remains alive and well.
The Good Ol' Days?
Sealy Yates, senior partner at Yates and Yates (and my father-in-law), remembers the literary landscape decades ago: "When I started working with authors and publishers in the 1970s, the only thing authors had to do was write a good book. The publisher did all the rest."
Today, however, authors are expected to not only write a good book, but build an engaged audience, market the book on social media, give interviews, and travel and speak. These additional tasks often leave writers with less time to hone their craft and actually write. "The flip side is that back then, publishers would present authors, who were usually pastors, with a contract for a trade book and they would sign it. There was no advance," Sealy said. "There was no negotiating of rights or royalties or any other terms of the contract. Publishers were in control, had all the information, and authors had none."
Trying to find the next big book, major Christian publishers published anywhere from 150 to 300 titles a year in the '90s, hoping one would break out into wild success. One such bestseller, Tyndale's Left Behind series, went on to sell 65 million copies. Publishers have since shifted their strategy to publish fewer titles with less risk and broader appeal.
Still, with a boom in independent publishing, more titles fill the retail book market than ever before. Self-publishing companies like CreateSpace, Lulu, and Smashwords have made room for authors who cannot or do not want to publish with a traditional publisher. It's a bit of a gamble with self-publishing. Some writers finance and publish their title and never gain the readership and attention they'd hoped. Some end up with great success. William Paul Young's book The Shack was rejected by 23 publishers and went on to sell 18 million copies through Windblown Media, a self-publishing venture started with a $15,000 investment.
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