Interview with Steve Laube, literary agent

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[I met Steve this year at Mt. Hermon. For those who haven’t had the pleasure, you need know just one thing: he’s nobody’s fool. Respect that. It’s characteristic of any long-time professional in this business. I’ve yet to really respect that.]

[But I figure, if you do get a chance to chat with him, ask him really loaded questions.]

Entrepreneurial Steve Laube, is literary agent and president of The Steve Laube Agency, has been in the book industry for over 24 years, first as a bookstore manager and book buyer for a major national chain. While manager, his store was named National Store of the Year by the Christian Bookstore Association (CBA) in 1989, out of 4,000 eligible stores. He spent 11 years with Bethany House Publishers rising to the position of Editorial Director/Adult Nonfiction. In 2002 he was named the Editor of the Year by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. He has edited over 150 books, written one, and produced numerous articles. He has taught at writer’s conferences in more than 50 cities. His office is in Phoenix, Arizona.

Mick: Mr. Laube, most readers here hope to impact CBA with more "edgy," off-the-beaten-path fiction. What’s your advice to them?

Steve: Depends on what the definition of "edgy" is for the writer. I’ve met some who chafe at CBA and think that gratuitous sex and vulgar language are appropriate in a novel and can’t understand why CBA doesn’t go there. Others wonder if divorce, abuse, or a glass of wine would be considered "edgy."

The bottom line is that highly difficult topics and dysfunctional characters can be dealt with in a CBA novel if you are a fantastic writer. No one wants to see sloppy writing in an edgy novel, ABA or CBA.

The other part of the question is the word "impact." What do your readers mean by "impact"? Shake up CBA? For what purpose? It is the subjective nature of fiction that arises in this question. Some think that "sweet CBA" fiction is frivolous and unnecessary. Pish-posh. It is a wonderful alternative to the nasty stuff put out by ABA. Just because it is "Pollyanna" and simplistic doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its place.

Instead of criticizing the market, become an amazing writer and show the CBA that highly literate novels have a place.

The challenge in some cases is the publishers. Imagine that a publisher publishes books of a certain kind that fit in a defined circle. Your idea, however, is way outside this circle. Instead of resisting the boundaries, instead write a story that intersects the boundaries. When that happens the publisher’s boundaries expand to include your type of story and is thereby "edgy". But don’t expect Steeple Hill Love Inspired to publish your gritty novel on the street people of NY and their addictions. It is too far out of range for that publisher. Doesn’t mean they are bad or silly or inconsequential. Instead, that publisher has determined their niche and their success is found in those definitions.

Mick: When we met, you offered your opinion on the changing face of CBA. There is much to be hopeful for as CBA begins to come into its own. But why do you believe there’s so much talk in this industry about standards and safety, and not more discussion of how better to feed the hungry, help the poor, and preach into the dark places?

Steve: CBA fiction is growing and maturing, just like their readers. Remember that it was only 26 years ago when Jeanette Oke’s LOVE COMES SOFTLY was published and only 20 years since THIS PRESENT DARKNESS came out. It was nine years ago in April that LEFT BEHIND was first released! We are a young industry still growing and developing our authors AND our editors.

CBA stores will likely continue to remain static in both numbers and sales. Publishers are finding that their materials are desired in the general market. You will see more and more titles show up in Borders, B&N, and Wal-Mart. This is a good thing. The other day I was in Wal-Mart in another city. I watched as a young lady made a purchasing decision for a Bible standing in the Wal-Mart aisle. I wonder if she even knew of the "Christian bookstore" down the street.

But your question is about ministry, indicating that the industry cares about standards and not the disenfranchised. This is a very unfair question and becomes more of a statement. I dealt with this for over a decade as a Christian store manager.

Would you rather that the Christian store be run unprofessionally, with sloppy standards and sloppy systems and unsafe environments? Should the Christian store be at the same level of professionalism as the general market competitor? Of course they should.

The question also implies that CBA doesn’t care about the poor. This shows an ignorance of what is done behind the scenes. Cook Communications sends millions of dollars of materials to third world countries to help the people there. Harvest House is a vigorous supporter of overseas publishing and missions, with a large part of their funds donated to various ministries. Tyndale is likewise amazing. Every dollar earned by the Living Bible has gone to the Living Bible Foundation which supplies Bibles all over the world in endless number of languages. ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association has a separate organization to help other countries publish books. See the Global Publishers Alliance web site.

The question also implies that CBA publishers and bookstores are "only in it for the money." I know for a fact that is not true in most cases. Of course there is much money involved and excess and mistakes are made. But overall? Untrue. The majority stockholder of Thomas Nelson Publishers has placed all of his stock into a foundation that cannot sell those shares.
This keeps the control of the company in Christian hands…to keep a secular company from coming in and doing a hostile takeover of the largest Christian publisher in the world.

I suspect that every reader has a secret dream of writing the next great American novel and retiring on the Riviera with the royalties. Be honest. Who hasn’t, for one moment, dreamed of wild success? It is a natural human response and I don’t condemn it. But I know Christian millionaires who have learned the balance between ministry and money-making. They are a wonder to behold and to emulate, even those among us who are Christian hundred-aires…. :-)

[As you can see, Steve really took me to school so far. A smart person would have figured as much. But he’s asked for more, so if anyone has a great question for Steve, now’s the time for it. The next bit is here: http://mywritersgroup.typepad.com/yourwritersgroup/2005/04/interview_with__2.html]

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6 thoughts on “Interview with Steve Laube, literary agent”

  1. Mick, if you’re looking for questions for Steve, why don’t you ask him to talk about the possibility of literary fiction in the CBA? Is there currently a market? Is there an interest among editors in seeing literary fiction? Aside from Paraclete, are there any publishers really pursuing it?
    Typically, I hear that CBA publishers can’t make money printing literary fiction, so it’s refreshing to hear Steve say that the bottom line isn’t what drives decision-making. Perhaps he can shed some light on why literary fiction is mostly absent now and when (and whether) it might emerge….

  2. Tee, hee…Brenda, I wouldn’t have mentioned it myself, since I’m starting to look for an agent and wouldn’t want to jeopardize my chances with Mr. Laube over a technicality, but I couldn’t HELP but think of Randy’s scam! It’s a truly hilarious story. :)
    As far as we know, though, Steve has only been scammed that once. So the same saying that works for “fools” should apply here: “Scammed once, shame on you; scammed twice, shame on me.”

  3. Great interview, good answers. I also met him at Mt. Hermon last month (although he probably doesn’t remember me) and one of my friends just signed with him. From listening to his stories, he has a lot of experience and a good feel for the market. I’m looking forward to hearing more tomorrow.
    Camy

  4. I’d be interested in Steve’s opinion on current genre trends in CBA fiction. I’ve heard that chick lit is past its peak, and historical seems to be dominated by veteran authors. What about SF/fantasy (especially with Steve’s pioneering work with Kathy Tyers and others at Bethany)? Are any genres particularly easy or difficult to break into?

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