Novel Matters has been celebrating 2013 as Carpe Annum: Seize the Year! Here to help us do that today is Don Pape, publisher of trade books at David C. Cook, one of the most innovative and exciting fiction publishers in the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association).
He has served in a variety of roles in publishing – graphic design, sales, marketing, literary agent - and for the past six years has been publisher of the trade books group at David C Cook. He has seen a half dozen titles attain New York Times bestselling status and enjoys interacting with his authors. An avid reader, he enjoys swimming, hiking and listening to smooth jazz – or attending concerts at Red Rocks! He is the proud father of three sons – Jeremy, a freelance videographer; Matthew, a communications major; and Timothy, a recent graduate of the nursing program. While an American citizen, he still loves his home country of Canada – for its hockey, Tim Horton’s coffee and best of all, Swiss Chalet chicken.Don Pape was born in Brazil of missionary parents. He got his high school education in Canada’s capital where he attended his father’s bilingual church – French in the morning and English at night. After graduating with a degree in political science, Don went on InterVarsity staff in Toronto and that is where he met his best friend and wife of 28 years, Ruthie.
Novels that I’m reading: Lisa Samson’s The Sky Behind My Feet, Kent Haruf’s Benediction and Jenny Milchman’s Cover of Snow. Talking to the Dead by your own Bonnie Grove truly is a personal favorite of most recent novels I have published – including Nancy Rue, Elizabeth Musser and Julie Cantrell.
I love reading novels and personal favorites are John Grisham, Ann Patchett and classics from Madeleine L’Engle. I am a varied reader, can you tell?
Novel Matters: Don, the theme this year on Novel Matters is Carpe Annum: Seize the Year! Tell us about a turning-point time in your journey in publishing when you took hold of your career. What did that look like?
Don Pape: Ugh, this is a hard one. Well, I’ve been in this for almost thirty years. I had a stint of over a year where I had a role as a literary agent; while I loved my colleagues and the Agency where I worked I truly missed “the team.” It was a significant job to hold but I recognized then that I really am gifted to encourage and lead, and the role of publisher allows me to engage with Agents, Authors, editors, designers, copy editors, marketers, sales folks – a whole mix of people that together brings a book to market. I love that. I love being a part of that and engaging in the different aspects of getting a book to market – from start to finish.
NM: It couldn't have been easy to move away from the role of literary agent, knowing how much you cherish and care about writers. How did that moment change you as a publishing professional?
DP: It affirmed the role that I have today. I believe it has helped me broker on behalf of various departments but ultimately I think we also have a very strong team, of which I’m a part of right now.
NM: And it's the best of both worlds--of both your gifts--to work with the team and still remain actively involved with writers, yes?
DP: I’m working with some excellent authors but I’m also working alongside some very talented editors, copy editors, designers who all have an end-goal to serve the Author and his message well.
NM: Publishing is changing on every front. What is the biggest change you've noticed in the last few years?
DP: Well when I first started the only market channel truly was the Christian retail. Now that is truly waning and we have a very bifurcated market – online, brick and mortar and that can mean book shops, drugstores, grocery stores… We don’t have a loyal customer either – the buyer wants a deal!
NM: I recently got an iPhone, and I realized after only a few days that my attitude toward all of the content available on my phone had shifted from, "This is so cool," to "I want free apps!" E-books are wonderful, but they also feed into the shift in thinking that books are just like apps, download and enjoy--and apps should be free or, at least, very inexpensive.
DP: We have seen through digital a real devaluing of intellectual property. Once we would buy a project with a reasonable advance and sell it for $15 in the hopes of recouping your investment. Now that consumer is wanting that same property – nah they demand – at $2.99 or heavens, free!
NM: Are books doomed, then?
DP: Lots of change but truly plenty of opportunity because people still want to read a good story, right? A great story –whether in physical or digital , the important thing is getting it into people's hands and that is our challenge – discoverability. Can a great story be found in the cacophony called world wide web?
NM: Tell us about those opportunities you've been excited about in terms of publishing for 2013 and into the future?
DP: This year we are launching a number of new authors with us at Cook – Gary Thomas, Jim Wallace, Stasi Eldredge, Tim Chaddick, Matt Chandler….I'm so delighted to be working with each of them and the uniqueness of their message. I just really get excited about being a really good steward of people's message…what God has entrusted to them and they in turn entrust to us. It's an honor. And these projects I cited are just really fresh voices, new material, but ancient truths. I love it!!! We are doing some digital first projects – Mark Steel and Glenn Packiam come to mind. That’s exciting to be a part of that foray.
NM: As a publisher, what are you looking our for when it comes to fiction you want to publish?
DP: Nothing changes – a Really Great story!! Whether it is historical, contemporary – a really great story well told, amazing fully developed characters. And please, not another “in the tradition of Left Behind” or “Gresham-like” – let’s be original please!!
NM: We're all making notes on that last answer, Don. Here's what comes through for me in this interview, and knowing you personally: you're a people person. You love writers, artists, musicians, editors, everyone involved in the arts. (I just had to sneak in this picture of you and me chatting at a conference awhile back. Good times!) How does being a people person this make your job easier, and how does it make it harder?
DP: A people person wants everyone happy – can’t always have it that way. Discernment, tact, grace, aplomb, diplomacy….all come into play. Sometimes you have to tell the Author they can’t have what they want. Some hard decisions need to be made. So it’s great when all is moving along smoothly but when conflicts come along the people person can wreak havoc. Ugh. But age and maturity helps… I think!
NM: Nothing trumps experience and after nearly 30 years in this industry, you have so much and we're honored you've shared some of it with us today. One last question, in addition to being a people person, you're a Carpe Annum man—I know you jump into every year full of enthusiasm and drive. What are you doing this year to seize the year, professionally, personally, or both.
DP: My sons bought me an artist's kit for Christmas and I’m planning to get back into doing some watercolors. I’m always reading too and that keeps me sharp. I am challenged by business books and writers like Brene Brown, Daniel Pink, the Heath Brothers and Jonah Berger – they are making me think outside the box as well as to dream. Sometimes publishing is quite corporate and not in any way creative so it is nice to occasionally read an inspiring book that keeps you going.
Thank you so much, Don, for taking time from your insanely busy schedule to spend time with us on Novel Matters today. As always, it's a pleasure to talk to you.