ACW

ACW

Monday, 13 July 2015

Warning: Change Ahead by Amy Boucher Pye

Photo: R/DV/RS, Flickr
The only constant is change.

That’s how I started off a recent blog, in which I announced the demise of my freelance editorial commissioning job with Authentic Media, which also happens to be the publisher of my first book. So this will most likely be my first and last book with them, which is a shame, for they have invested much into launching my book – and me as an author. I’ve loved the journey thus far.

I wasn’t too surprised when I heard the news that Authentic was focusing in on the products that produced the greatest revenue – Bibles, children’s books, and DVDs – for I know that adult Christian books are expensive to develop, and that the market continues to shrink. Great Christian books that used to sell into bookshops in the thousands now may only sell in the hundreds. It’s just not financially feasible.

Traditional Christian publishing keeps shrinking in the UK, and Stateside they are fighting their own battles. Family Christian Bookstores are in administration, fighting to put forward a plan that would keep them open. Currently it looks like they might be sold off to a company that would dismantle them – which would be bad news for publishers, authors, and readers. (You can read more about this on US literary agent’s Chip MacGregor’s blog.)

We in the UK went through a similar upheaval with our major Christian book chains in years gone by – the SPCK debacle when the stores were sold to the Stateside Brewer brothers, who pretty much ran them into the ground, and the IBS-STL upheaval that sold off many of the big Wesley-Owen stores to Koorong about 5 years ago (who also bought Authentic Media at that time); many of the rest were picked up by the Nationwide Christian Trust, who turned them into Living Oasis stores, which didn’t last very long.

All of this change has seemingly been in one direction, which can prove to be depressing reading for authors, retailers, publishers, and distributors. But here are some points of encouragement for writers in the midst of the challenges of the market.
 
My cover! My cover! I have to show you my cover!
Great writing connects. Let’s go back to what really matters – our writing. The way people read is changing, with so much more of it done online rather than via a traditional book, but reading isn’t going away anytime soon. Online magazines, blogs, devotional sites – they all need content. Okay, so much of it we might have to write for free. I guess the equation we need to weigh up in our mind is how much will this article or post help my profile? Will I enjoy writing it? Will I be writing on one of my core subjects? For instance, I’m contributing four times this year to The Kingdom Life Now magazine for women, and not getting paid, but I get to write on my favorite subjects – those about prayer and spirituality – so I consider it a win.

Self-publishing is gaining in credibility. I address this subject as a to-be traditionally published author and as an editor in the business for over 25 years, so admittedly my bent is toward traditional publishing. I also write as a book reviewer who runs the Woman Alive book club and writes book reviews for Christianity magazine. Especially in my years with the book club, I’ve seen some shockingly produced self-published books. Bad cover design, typos, purple prose – you name it. But times are changing and authors are investing in editors, designers, and proofreaders – and none too soon.

For instance, books like Luke Wordley’s The Fight have been a rousing success – a big American publisher picked up his well-produced self-published book and introduced it to a global market. (Here is my review that was originally published in the Woman Alive book club.) Or I think of our own Fiona Veitch Smith, whose wonderful children’s books (published formerly by Fiona’s Crafty Publishing) have been bought by SPCK. Sorry, I see I’m still measuring success by a traditional publisher taking over the self-published books! Another example without a whiff of traditional publishing is Wendy Jones, who has been doing a stellar job with her crime series featuring DI Shona McKenzie. Tell me in the comments your self-publishing successes.

Self-publishing no longer carries a stigma, and today many established authors approach publishing through a hybrid approach – they place some projects with traditional publishers; some they produce on their own. If you’re an author with a reach as big as Seth Godin, for instance, who needs to sign away the majority of the book’s income to a publisher?

We have more means of reaching our readers than ever before. It takes time to build a tribe via social media and speaking, but technology connects us in amazing ways. Think about life before the internet and social media. I’ve heard of authors trawling through phone books, calling up churches and bookstores as they sought speaking engagements. Or they would post flyers to churches, book clubs, community organizations about their books. Yes, we have to spend time building our audience on social media and through blogging, but times are much easier for connecting than in pre-Internet days.

In summary, change may be the only constant in publishing, but we can view change as an opportunity: For us to become more focused, professional, and committed to our craft. To engage in authentic connection with our readers. To know that in the end, the Lord is our Publisher, and he will lead us and guide us.

How have you been affected by change in your writing? How has it been hard? Good? How have you coped? What has surprised you? 

Amy Boucher Pye is a writer, speaker, and editor. Her first book hits the deck in October: FindingMyself in Britain: Our Search for Faith, Home & True Identity (Authentic Media). She blogs at amyboucherpye.com and is addicted to group exercise, especially body combat classes.

11 comments:

  1. I was glad to see you are allowing that self-publishing is no longer stigmatised! It is not the same as vanity publishing (which might be called 'selfish publishing?): anyone who want to know more should go to the Alliance of Independent Authors site (http://allianceindependentauthors.org/ ) and have a look around. Sad you didn't mention my 2 novels in your list of ACW self-pub authors, duly edited etc and with no purple prose :-) Amazon have classified these as 'Christian' but they are directed rather at the secular market as traditional Christian would not suit them neither would they suit its traditional style, though they feature a Christian family.

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    1. Mari I only mentioned a couple, and those books that I've come across - haven't seen yours so didn't. Didn't mention Mel Menzies either. Glad to hear there's no purple prose! :)

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  2. Great post Amy. Well balanced. Thank you for the honourable mention. I am honoured that you thought my books worthy of inclusion :-)

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  3. I suppose one of the problems with self-publishing (we had a long discussion about it in our local ACW West Midlands group on Saturday) is that a writer can no longer be just a writer, but has to have skills in other areas such as promotion, social media, and the simple 'guts' to go up to complete strangers and say, 'You need to read/buy/promote my book!' Arrggh. This is what could separate the successful from the unsuccessful in the end.

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    1. That's a good point Fran, however, the same can be said of traditional publishing. Marketing budgets are shrinking, and it is now, in many cases, up to the author to promote and market their book.

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    2. Yes, that's a huge change, and it does take the focus off of writing (when one is dealing with editing, proofing, design, distribution, etc), and not all authors want to do it. Agree with Wendy too that so much of marketing/publicity is down to the author and their connections these days.

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  4. Interested by the paragraph about writers who become 'hybrid'. I hope they check their contracts carefully - I'm pretty sure I'm contracted to pitch every idea I have to my publisher! On the other hand, I know that they don't punlish, for example, children's novels, so it would be a safe bet that having done the obligatory pitch, I'd be able to produce one myself - if I could ever find time to finish writing it...

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    1. Yep, authors can come a cropper with that 'next book' clause in contracts. When I've been a commissioning editor I've always done away with that clause, as if an author is happy with the publisher, then they will want to pitch their next book at them anyway.

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  5. A wonderfully refreshing approach to the challenges in the current market, Amy. Indeed the Lord is our Publisher (and agent!). Some great advice that doesn't ignore the difficulties writers face but encourages us to face them with a positive, God-directed mindset. Thank you. (and thanks for the mention too :) )

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    1. It's a spiritual discipline to remember that God is our publisher/agent/audience/editor... :) Writing to myself!

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  6. This is really encouraging - when I keep seeing the demise of books and shops alike I do start to wonder if it is worth it! By the time my books is done will they even exist? You are so right - if God wants it out there it will get out there no matter what the market does. Love the teapot and cup :)

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