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.

* * *

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.