ICRS 2015 – Observations

Last week the industry gathered in Orlando for the annual booksellers convention (I.C.R.S. – International Christian Retail Show). This was my 34th consecutive event and this year had some new benefits.

I’ll run through some of the highlights and then make some observations.

1) Like last year, Tamela Hancock Murray and Dan Balow attended as well. We tried to do our meetings with publishers as a group so editors would not have to make separate appointments. This meant the three of us spent about 30 hours together, walking, talking, and working. (I think we still like each other…!?) We work well as a team chipping in with salient questions and making every minute count. The only disappointment was that Karen Ball was unable to attend.

2) Saturday I had the privilege of addressing the AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) with a presentation on the “State of the Industry.” The room was packed with nearly 100 very engaged authors. One attendee has already posted her notes of the talk. Feel free to visit Deb Haggerty’s post for the highlights.

3) Sunday began with the AWSA Awards luncheon and I enjoyed accepting an award on behalf of Deborah Raney and watching Lynette Eason personally receive her award. We heard a keynote by Chonda Pierce who both brought down the house, but also made us think about our life and faith and the intersection of the two.

4)  Early Monday morning (for those of us still adjusting from Pacific Time a 6:30 breakfast is “painful.”) was an encouraging SpeakUp breakfast, hosted by Gene and Carol Kent. I was asked to give a few thoughts on the Industry and reprised my lengthy Saturday presentation with one of only about 10 minutes. We got to hear Don Piper, author of 90 Minutes in Heaven, talk about the movie premier of his book which was being unveiled that Tuesday. Then we heard many inspirational stories shared by speakers and writers who were in attendance.

4) Meanwhile we had already begun the multi-day race from one appointment to the next (26 scheduled appointments). More about those below.

5) Monday evening was the annual Christy Awards for the best fiction in our industry. There were some poignant acceptance speeches like Mindy Starns Clark remembering being a young girl and her mom giving her an “adult” novel to read which inspired Mindy in many ways to be a writer. That novel was Christy by Catherine Marshall. So that night Mindy dedicated her award to her mom who gave her the first “Christy.”

Also poignant was the Book of the Year award given to Sigmund Brouwer. His winning novel Thief of Glory is based on the experiences of his father during WWII. Tragically Sigmund could not be there because his father had passed away two days earlier. (Here is a video of Sigmund’s father talking about the book last year.)

6) Despite the intense schedule with publishers Tamela, Dan, and I were able to meet with a few clients during the week. Some were scheduled, some “space available”, and others were a brief “good to see you!” It was wonderful to make connections face-to-face.


There was much talk about the reduced number of attendees at the convention. Down double digit percentages points against last year. Fewer international guests and fewer exhibitor staff contributed to the reduction. One report had the total attendance at a little over 3,200.

A number of publishers did not send editorial or executive staff. The surprise benefit was that the meetings we had were longer and a bit more relaxed Than in past years.

In fact I found myself declaring that the meetings we had were some of the best we have had in a long time! I am continually impressed by the sheer brilliance of those involved in the publishing and acquisitions process. They are informed, well-read, and excited to be working in this industry. It is a privilege to be among them and exchange ideas that matter. One meeting generated a contract offer via email a few hours later. Another meeting may have saved a project that had bogged down in contractual negotiations when an exec offered to step in and help smooth the legal pathways. Another surprised us with some new openings in the type of books they are seeking, creating a paradigm shift for how we will be working with them in the future.

We were able to meet with five publishers that we had not met with before. Ironically four of them were with people we already knew, they were simply in new or expanded roles.

This convention is still the only place where the entire industry gathers. And thus there are numerous unscheduled conversations that would not happen any other way.

The general feel among publishers is that they are all still looking for the next big project. Yes, it can be a struggle. But it has always been that way.

Fiction sales are still under a cloud and yet I suspect that cloud has settled and there is a “what now?” attitude beginning to surface. The fear of a collapse is past and the foundations are strong. We just have to find the next “big” thing that can carry the industry along in its wake.

The Family Christian Stores bankruptcy was a part of numerous discussions. You’ve seen my four blogs on the topic and currently we are left with speculation with how it will shake out. I heard some frustration as the trickle down of the bankruptcy has begun to affect other parts of the industry (like in advertising revenue). As with all things like this, good business people will adjust. Meanwhile other retail opportunities abound!

Next year’s event will be in Cincinnati. One publishing exec said his first ever convention was in Cincinnati in 1972…and it has not been there since. He wondered if this meant he should retire with Cincinnati being his career bookends!

One humorous note. On the exhibition sales floor there was a big red bus. It was there to promote a charitable opportunity for children. A neat idea. And quite visual. Well, Robin Caroll (aka Robin Miller) one of my clients “posed” under the wheels of that large vehicle. Declaring that she, being the director of the ACFW conference, had been thrown under the busOf course her agent was not there to rescue her… Hilarity ensued.


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