Our April 22 cover story talked about changes in Christian publishing and focused on literary agents—especially heavy-hitter Rick Christian of Alive Communications. One Christian publisher joked to me about the "Rick Christian suck-up issue."
Some readers raised questions about whether the article's author had enough distance from his subject. Just before the magazine went to press, the writer told us he had recently signed with Alive Communications as his exclusive representative. Did the author's shiny new business arrangement blind him to some important questions about Christian publishing?
The article was factually accurate (except for its description of one particular book contract), but its scope was limited. I asked several publishers if they thought the article missed something. Every one emphasized that there are fine agents, but that the long-term effects of the more aggressive agents are still unknown. I heard about business concerns, relational concerns, and spiritual concerns from these publishers.
Business: The article noted that agents have won authors larger advances—the up-front money paid to writers that publishers hope will be paid back from a book's royalties. Higher advances spell increased risk: One publisher told me that since the rise of agents, his company's unrecouped advances have soared. Of the agented manuscripts they have published, he says, on only 10 percent have royalties covered advances.
Agenting, however, seems to have little correlation with a book's quality. One publisher observed that few of the books honored in this year's Christianity Today Book Awards were agented. And none of the top-ten selling books from his own company's ...1
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