Becky Germany is a Senior Editor at Barbour Publishing, and a familiar face at writing conferences. I recently asked her a couple questions about the industry...
In many ways, Barbour has become a leader in Christian fiction -- doing novellas, establishing a book club, focusing on mass market. Where does all the creative thinking come from?
Becky: We're the leading CBA publisher of fiction categorized as romance. We rank fourth in the number of units produced in fiction in CBA. We started publishing fiction as romance flip books way back in 1983 with authors like Colleen Reece, Irene Brand, and Elaine Schultze. I wasn't at Barbour then, so I"m not sure how it was decided to settle upon romance, but it's been our strength ever since. The Heartsong Presents book club began in 1992, the year before I joined the company, and out of that has come a number of stars -- Tracie Peterson, Wanda Brunstetter, Lauraine Snelling, Colleen Coble, Cathy Marie Hake, and more (forgive me for not trying to name them all, Chip). Our fiction series have helped us remain open to working with unpublished authors and developing them into strong writers.
Another Barbour strength has been doing series and repackaging previously published material (including Grace Livingston Hill) to extend the breadth and life of the product. Our novella collections were born when we decided we could create new short stories specifically for collections under topics of our choice. So the creative thinking seems to extend from Barbour's roots, and builds on what we do best. Our team members are, for the most part, people who have been with Barbour many years and who know the company's success model. We've learned to work within our strengths and to keep our product subjects broad, in order to appeal to the widest audience.
What are some of the things that have worked (and not worked) in fiction for you?
When we decided to start doing full-length fiction for the trade, we looked at an area which, at the time, didn't seem to be well tapped -- suspense with broad appeal to include male readers. We left our core readership of women hooked on romance and tried to reach a niche market -- and failed. Even with strong authors like Alton Gansky, Nancy Moser, Hannah Alexander, etc., the market didn't respond to this fiction approach from Barbour. When we swung back to romance, the sales placements and numbers went up significantly. We learned our lesson: For Barbour, having the plot focus on romance is key. Wanda Brunstetter's Amish settings blended with romance have struck a chord with our readers and generated great sales. We also find that traditional American history settings appeal to our readers. Romance has many sub-categories, and we've found that things like chick-lit and suspense really aren't working for us.
What does the future hold? Are there some new things brewing at Barbour you can tell me about?
Well, we just launched our newest book club, containing cozy romantic mysteries. We sort of created a genre combining our romance strength with cozy mysteries. Light, humorous mysteries fit well with our readership, and the added romance is icing on the cake.
We've also increased our focus on building author names. In the early days of Barbour, the majority of our authors were either dead or writing for a set series where the author's name wasn't key to sales. Now Barbour recognizes the need to focus on author names when selling full-length fiction. We've recently signed six authors to multi-book, exclusive contracts, and we're putting a lot of effort into marketing them.
It sounds like there's a lot of interesting stuff happening with your company. So...now that you've got all these readers excited about working with you, what advice would you like to offer them? When they see you at a conference, what should they be thinking?
Just today I was reminded of my frustration involving acquisitions at conferences. I received a book proposal that claims I requested it at a writers' conference 6 months ago. It's been so long that I have no idea what sparked my interest in it to begin with. I would really encourage authors who attend conferences to have, at the very least, the full summary and three chapters polished and ready to hand over at the conference. If the editor requests your proposal, send that as soon as you get home. Then have your full manuscript ready for the editor's review no farther out than one month from the conference. Editors work with a heap of authors, and you have to do all in your power to keep yourself at the top of the review pile if you're going to get noticed.
Thanks for coming and joining us, Becky. I appreciate you taking the time. And now that you have your guard down... what's the dumbest thing you've ever seen at a conference?
My most embarrassing moment came at a writers' conference. I went to this small gathering up in Pennsylvania. I got there just as it was starting, and we were all gathered for dinner. I got sick. I guess I'd been under a lot of stress, and a migraine hit me hard. I left the table, but only got as far as the cafeteria waste can before losing my dinner. What a way to introduce myself to the group! (An agent, Joyce Hart, took care of me like a mom all weekend. I'll always be grateful to her for that.) I've never been back to that conference.
I'd like everyone to notice that it was an AGENT taking care of Becky. Another helpful, selfless literary agent, putting herself in harm's way, thinking only of the needs of others, as usual. What an inspiration.