What are some trends you noticed in 2014?
The continuing consolidation of publishing with mergers and company purchases. It is definitely something that continues every year, so it will probably be more of the same in 2015. It results in operational efficiencies but less competition and opportunity for authors.
What else are you anticipating for 2015?
The Christian market where I work has had its share of consolidating, and the result is that about a dozen companies comprise about 90 percent of the Christian book-publishing market. Those companies and imprints owned by general trade Big Five publishers make up the lion’s share of that. As an agent, it makes for very limited opportunity. Many are reducing their title output. It requires that we be very selective with authors.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
Mostly nonfiction for a Christian audience. Fiction is a very small piece of the Christian market, in my opinion significantly underpublished. I am interested in seeing Christian fiction similar to works by authors like Francine Rivers, Jerry B. Jenkins, Joel Rosenberg or Randy Singer. Strong plots, suspense, drama, not formula romance. There are agents who do a great job with the romance genre (three in our agency alone), but that is not my strength. Christian fiction is a difficult category for crossover writers. The editorial standards for Christian publishers exclude all profanity and most sexual tension, which makes it difficult for a number of writers.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
Poetry and children’s books are always difficult for me. To be honest, since my background is in the business side of publishing, I look at commercial value more than literary value. A beautifully written book still needs to reach a market if we want a good publisher to invest in it. But poetry and children’s books are not my strength at all.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
It has more nuances and is much more complicated than most people think. Under the banner of “Christian” can be everything from Catholic to Protestant or even Mormon and everything in between. They do not agree with each other on a lot of issues, and for the most part, publishers reflect those theological lines in the sand. There are fine points that need to be understood for each publisher, and agents need to honor those. Some publishers have very narrow theological approaches.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Like all of publishing, but maybe even more so in the Christian market, which tends to be more risk-averse than the general trade, authors are required to carry the primary marketing responsibility for their books. A successful author platform, normally through extensive social media involvement, is an absolute must-have for any author. It could be said that it doesn’t matter if you are a good writer or not—you need a big social media following. Some publishers won’t even consider an author with fewer than 100,000 social media followers. It creates frustration for aspiring authors, who see the platform following the publication of the book. Here again, it is what it is.
Dan Balow is a 30-year veteran of the Christian publishing industry. He was former director of marketing for Tyndale House Publishers. Beginning in 1995, he led the publisher’s marketing team for the successful Left Behind series by Tim La Haye and Jerry B. Jenkins, becoming director of business development for the series, which has sold more than 60 million copies to date. In 2002, he added the role of director of international publishing until leaving Tyndale in 2006. He joined the Steve Laube Agency in 2013. Follow him on Twitter at @danbalow or through the agency blog, where he posts every Tuesday.