By Lance Benzel, Out There Reporter, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO)
Colorado Springs, CO–When Rick Christian decided to gamble on a future as a literary agent in the world of spiritual and inspirational literature, he tapped into home equity to pay the bills while he pursued his vision.
That earned him a year.
At the end of it, he sold his car, buying a 13th month.
And when that money ran out, Christian gathered up the books in his personal library – collected during a lifetime of reading – and held a fire sale on his front lawn.
“I lined my driveway with them.”
Now, more than a quarter century later, Christian is still lining up books as fast as he can, only now on a far grander and more profitable scale. His Colorado Springs-based company – Alive Literary Agency, formerly Alive Communications – has built a 25-year legacy of publishing deals comprising 4,000 printed titles, which have collectively sold 250 million copies worldwide. Among them are the best-selling “Left Behind” series and the 2010 blockbuster “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo, which dominated the New York Times’ Best Sellers list for three years.
At a monthly bell-ringing ceremony in Alive’s offices on Goddard Street in north Colorado Springs on Friday, Christian announced $3 million in new contracts flowing from a more recent side venture: film and TV projects, many with big-name stars and Hollywood pedigree. One recent example involved “Heaven is for Real,” which was turned into a 2014 film starring Greg Kinnear and Thomas Hayden Church and directed by Randall Wallace, a screenwriter who worked on “Braveheart,” “Secretariat” and “We Were Soldiers.” The book and movie tell the story of a young Nebraska boy who said he visited heaven during an appendectomy, surprising his pastor father with his insights into the afterlife. Filmed for $12 million, the movie took in $150 million in ticket receipts worldwide.
It’s been a strange evolution for Alive Literary Agency, and Christian credits the company’s 1991 move from Los Angeles to Colorado Springs for blazing the way. “At the point we hit Colorado, it’s just been ‘Katie bar the door,'” Christian said. “It’s been nothing but a rocketship ever since.”
During the lean years in Los Angeles, Christian worked from a spare bedroom, thumbing through manuscripts behind an Ethan Allen desk that took up most of room. After relocating to Colorado Springs, he set up shop in the basement of his Rockrimmon home. During winters, prospective authors had to slip and slide their way down a small hill to his office door.
About 12 years ago, the company bought two buildings in north Colorado Springs, where it remains, now with nine employees, including four literary agents. Working from Colorado Springs allows for unique interactions with the authors, publishers, filmmakers and television producers who fuel the operation, Christian said. “In New York, they go out to lunch, and that’s all they do,” he said. “We take publishers horseback riding. We say, ‘Let’s go up to Grand Lake. We’ll host for three days. We’ll fish. We’ll hike. We’ll do some deals.’ We try to do business differently.”
The company’s role is to find talent, develop creative work and then negotiate deals between authors and publishers or film and television producers – taking the standard 15 percent cut of each deal. Part of the company’s success revolves around its longstanding push to retain rights for film and television adaptations. There was a time that Alive’s books didn’t generate much interest from Hollywood, but that changed with the exploding popularity of inspiring, big-screen adaptations of good vs. evil stories such as “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” he said. “All of the sudden we had top-tier producers flying out saying we need more stuff like this,” Christian said. “That really picked up about three, four years ago.” There hasn’t been much time for rest since. “We’re back and forth to L.A., and different producers come out here on a regular basis. It’s just continued to be a very nice expansion for us.”
Though book deals are still the company’s bread and butter, film and television account for roughly 25 percent of the company’s revenues, Christian said. Among numerous recent successes is a deal for a film version of another agency best-seller, “Same Kind of Different As Me” by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent, now in production by Paramount Pictures. Another project involves a three-movie contract with Hallmark, with the first film slated to begin filming in Vancouver in August. It’s based on Karen Kingsbury’s “The Bridge,” also a New York Times best-seller.
In 2012, Alive launched Bondfire Books, a sister e-book publisher that pays 50 percent royalties, double the normal fee, and negotiates five-year renewable licenses from authors, rather than the usual grant for a lifetime copyright.
The rebranding at Alive Literary Agency came last year, in the midst of its 25th year, and included a new logo and new website at aliveliterary.com. “It’s just like when you look into the mirror and decide you need a new haircut,” Christian said. “We just needed something that was fresher, more vibrant.” The new look “really communicated the breadth of what we were doing – with the growth in TV and film, which is something that we were not doing 10 years ago,” he said.
While much has changed, Christian said the company’s fundamentals are solid, with “the best staff we’ve ever had. We’ll continue double-digit growth over the next five years plus, and have the privilege of doing it here in the Springs in the shadow of Pikes Peak.”