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This week, the Writer’s Bloc visits with a “player” in the publishing business, long-time Christian Bookseller’s Association veteran, Michael Hyatt. Currently, Hyatt is CEO of Thomas Nelson.
Writer’s Bloc: You’ve been at the helm of Thomas Nelson for a number of years now. What did you do prior?
Hyatt: I began my publishing career at Word Publishing while a student at Baylor University. I worked at Word for six years. In addition to serving as vice president of marketing at Thomas Nelson in the mid-80s, I also started my own publishing company, Wolgemuth & Hyatt, with Robert Wolgemuth in 1986. Word eventually acquired our company in 1992.
I was a literary agent from 1992 until early 1998. I have also written four books, one of which landed on the New York Times bestseller list where it stayed for seven months.
WB: Directing a Christian publishing juggernaut almost requires you to be innovative in your thinking. Do you enjoy exploring new publishing technologies, or are you more of a traditionalist, curled up with a dusty old book?
Hyatt: The world of publishing is changing. Today, publishers must be innovative to stay relevant. I have come to a few tentative conclusions about the future of book publishing.
If you prefer business-as-usual, these are scary times. The media landscape is changing dramatically. It’s happened to music, then newspapers and magazines, and now even television and film.
To quote Jeff Bezos, “The book publishing industry is perhaps the last bastion of analog technology.”
But it’s even happening here.
I have honestly never been more excited about the future of publishing than I am right now. There will be winners and losers, but these are exciting times. We have unprecedented opportunities as publishers to deliver content that connects with more readers in more powerful ways than ever before. I can’t wait to see what 2010 brings.
WB: Long-time CBA veterans quite obviously realize that there are not only changes in the air, but the past few years have been challenging. Where do you see CBA in, say, five years?
Hyatt: CBA will prosper as long as it does a good job meeting the needs of its constituents. Frankly, I think we will see a revival of specialty stores, provided they offer an experience that people can’t get online or somewhere else.
WB: Were you surprised by CBA President Bill Anderson’s exit?
Hyatt: Yes, I was surprised by the news of Bill’s resignation. However, I saw him recently, and he seems to be doing great.
WB: Do you see Thomas Nelson more as a CBA company now, or has it become part of the fabric of the mainstream publishing world?
Hyatt: At Thomas Nelson, our purpose as an organization is to inspire the world. We sell these inspirational messages in a wide variety of distribution channels: Christian bookstores, general bookstores, ministries, specialty stores and mass marketers, to name a few. We try to focus on the product more than where it is sold. I will say that we are more focused on our Christian mission than ever before.
WB: What personally excites you about a developing book project?
Hyatt: I love seeing ideas unfold. The whole ideation process excites me. I also savor the thought that these books are ending up in the hands of real people and having an impact on their lives.
WB: The new technologies have caused an explosion of book publishing possibilities, but do you see the market being able to bear even more books? Are the readers out there?
Hyatt: I think the readers are there. New technologies, particularly search engines, give people a way to find highly specialized information that would have been lost before. The limitation is no longer shelf-space. It is attention. Everyone is competing for consumer attention. To be competitive, books must be more tightly focused and better written than ever before.
WB: What is on your personal book table at the moment?
Hyatt: I am currently reading “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.
WB: You’ve been on both sides of the desk, as an author and publisher. Do you enjoy one more than the other? Any writing projects in your future?
Hyatt: I enjoy both. I would hate to be forced to choose. I actually have three books mapped out for the near future: one on leadership, one on building a platform and one on work/life balance.
WB: If an aspiring author could have five minutes of your time to ask your best piece of advice, what would you say?
Hyatt: Focus on what you can control. Educate yourself about writer’s guidelines and submission procedures for different publishing houses. Write a killer book proposal. Have someone review your proposal. Find a literary agent to represent you. Build your platform. And most importantly, don’t lose heart.
WB: Without getting into specifics, obviously, can you give us some sense of what’s coming from Thomas Nelson in the next 18 months?
Hyatt: Now that the economy is beginning to improve, we are very focused on signing new authors who have compelling messages. We are in the midst of a “changing of the guard.” We are very excited about the next generation of authors who are coming up.
In addition, we are very aggressive about digital publishing and social marketing. We are trying all kinds of new things. Many of them don’t pan out, but here and there we are seeing success. I think you will continue to see us “lean into” whatever change is coming.