Connecting with Churches in Your Community

church center aisle

Part of the challenge of staying connected with the broader Christian community where you live is the challenge of being physically present in a variety of worship settings when most of your Sundays involve being present in your home church.

Many people who own Christian bookstores also have distinct roles in their home church: Teaching a class, singing on a worship team, serving with a tech crew, etc. But I don’t feel you can best connect with people from churches in your community unless you spend a Sunday with them. Fortunately, alternative service times make it possible to visit — especially with Saturday night options — and not miss your own church’s service.

In our community — which consists of two side-by-side towns — I identified 37 “worshiping bodies,” including some home fellowships and alternative groups. I’ve been at regular Sunday morning services (or equivalent) at 33 of these. With my core churches, I make a point to pay a return visit every time there is a change in lead pastors.

Don’t see this as public relations or promotional exercise, rather see it as education. You’re there to experience. Before you leave, pick up some of the denominational literature from that table in the lobby and when you get home delve deeper into the church’s culture.


Categories: Uncategorized

Calgary Author’s Great Carp Escape Reminds Kids All Creatures are God-Created

The Great Carp EscapeAlberta author Irish Beth Maddock‘s The Great Carp Escape (Word Alive Press) has already attracted considerable attention, having been featured on CBC-Radio, 100 Huntley Street, and having illustrator Lucent Ouano receive a Readers Favorite award.

In just 24 short pages, there’s a lot of action, as the publisher blurb indicates:

Tadpoles, clams, and minnows wow! For siblings Beth and Paul, growing up on a lake is fun… until they’re startled by a fishy find along the shoreline. When they discover the scaly, moustached carp, they become afraid. Seasons pass, and Beth and Paul avoid the swampy reeds at all costs until a flood brings about a life-or-death situation for the creepy looking carp, right in their own backyard! With guidance from their father, will Beth and Paul be able to overcome their apprehensions about the carp and help save them before it’s too late?

Blogger Annie Kate writes,

…This beautifully written story carries deeper meanings, subtly reminding the reader that worth depends on being God’s creature, not on beauty or popularity.  On that basis it points out that humans are to care for the world and the creatures in it.  This allegory also quietly presents the gospel, in both words and pictures, to those able to see it…

…I recommend The Great Carp Escape for preschool and early elementary children.  This cheerful picture book has all the elements of a good story: water, nature, fear, a problem, a solution, community, overcoming fear, and many layers of meaning.  I hope Irish Beth Maddock will continue to write for children.

The Great Carp Escape (9781486605088) is available in paperback to booksellers in Canada from Word Alive at $12.99 CDN and elsewhere through Ingram at $12.99 US.

Eleventh Hour Plan Gives Red Deer’s Parable Store New Life

As reported in the October, 2015 issue of Calgary’s City Light News*

by Doris Fleck

Scott’s Parable Christian Store will continue its legacy in Red Deer with new owners and a new name in time for Christmas shopping.

Previously Canada’s largest Christian retail outlet, an eleventh hour plan to open a scaled-down version of the store was engineered in late August.

Manager Jim Pearson explained the new owners of the 15,000-square-foot building in Gasoline Alley didn’t require the entire facility for their Tae Kwan Do studio. The front 6,000 square feet remained available.

New Parable Red Deer manager Vanessa Anderson Photo: Peter Fleck, City Light News

New Parable Red Deer manager Vanessa Anderson
Photo: Peter Fleck, City Light News

So Pearson contacted the Kennedy family who bought the Parable store in Saskatoon and encouraged them to team up with Assistant Manager Vanessa Anderson.

Within 24 hours, the Kennedys agreed to form a partnership with Anderson. As soon as Scott’s closes on October 3, renovations will begin with the goal of launching the new Kennedy’s Parable Christian Store in early November.

“I am ecstatic. I’ve always wanted to do something like this,” Anderson explained. “I’ve been working here for 13 years, and I’ve been Jim’s assistant manager for the last two.’’

As the announcement was made during a special “service of gratitude” at Scott’s on August 29, Anderson said, “Literally in the last three days everything has come together.”

…Although the store will be able to keep the front entrance, cash register area and storage space immediately upstairs, new washrooms and a shipping/ receiving room will have to be added. Anderson will have her office above the checkout counter and is already ordering inventory.

…“All the staff that are still here, about 10 of them, will be coming on board with me… God is so good. Everything is going so smoothly.” Anderson said that as store manager she will continue many of the things Pearson implemented, including daily devotions with the staff. “My goal is to carry on with what has worked,” Anderson explained. “I give a lot of credit to Jim too because he has been coaching me for 13 years.”

Former store owners Gerry & Jan Scott gave Anderson their blessing and she said, “That meant a lot. Learning under Jim and working with the Scott’s, that’s priceless to me.”

…Located along the main traffic corridor between Calgary and Edmonton, the majority of customers have come from the provinces two largest cities. “It will continue to be Alberta’s Christian bookstore,” Pearson said. “People have been coming through these doors for 15 years and finding Christian product and it’s exciting that they will still be able to do so. God will honour it.”

* Scroll down to page 2 of City Light News for the full, unedited transcript of this story

Burlington Christian Bookstore Adds 2nd Location Devoted to General Market Remainders

September 28, 2015 2 comments

Just when it seems that all we hear are stories of people either giving up on bookselling or feeling forced to throw in the towel, today we have a story of a store that’s actually expanding its bookselling presence in its home city.

Last month Jack Huisman and the team at Family Christian Bookstore — one of the largest Christian bookstores in Ontario — located in Burlington (a city of 176,000 in the Greater Toronto Area) opened the doors on a new project called Froogal Books and More just one building, six retail stores, and a few short steps south of its present location on one of the city’s busiest streets.

Froogal Books and More

I need to pause here and say: That’s a great logo. I see franchise possibilities written all over this!

The website itself is powered by Book Manager and offers full online shopping possibilities which on the weekend boasted 4,022 titles of which 3,728 are described as “Bargain Books” and — this I found very interesting — 116 are listed as “Regular Stock,” which includes everything from Goodnight Moon to Stephen King to the To Kill a Mockingbird sequel. (Not all items in this category were book items.) Surprisingly, only 71 books were listed as “Religion” and these were mostly titles with great general market crossover potential. The new store is clearly meant to have a very distinct identity.

The website currently contains a photo archive which chronicles the journey from taking possession of the store at the end of June to completion and grand opening at the end of August. We haven’t yet seen the store in person, but hope to visit late October.

Froogal - Bargain Books - Burlington Ontario

The store’s Facebook page maintains an unusually clean and uniform layout presenting the latest titles on offer.

Would your store consider something like this?

Those of us who deal with remainder product already have some expertise in this part of the larger book market. (Besides trade books and remainder books, other branches of our industry include the premium or specialty market, the textbook market, used books, antiquarian books, the self-publishing or vanity press market, and books like the Harlequin titles which are part of the periodical or magazine paradigm. Then there are trade market specialties like sci-fi stores, cookbook stores, children’s bookstores, etc.) Some of us already have a breadth of supplier relationships that would make this possible. We already know our local market well and the possibilities for partnerships and media with the best advertising reach.

On the other hand, for our family it would mean investing in products we’ve never committed dollars to before, which might include things that would raise the eyebrows of clientele in the other store. I’m sure that the team at Froogal bring their family values to the new store, but you would still want to keep the business units and customers separate.

The other challenge is running an off-price, general-market, liquidation type of store but staying closed on Sundays, as Froogal currently is. (Salvation Army and Bibles for Missions stores are closed Sundays, but they’re in the Thrift Store category selling used goods.)

On the other hand, diversifying within the same industry creates a number of synergies, not to mention in this case having a second store that’s less than a minute walk from the first. The “and More” in their name also leaves open the possibilities of adding any other liquidation commodity that makes a good fit, though trial and error may define what that fit looks like.

We’ll be watching this with great interest.

Family Christian Books in Burlington is in no way related to the Family Christian chain in the United States. Depending on who you are dealing with, the remainder book market may includes discontinued titles, publisher overstock and (sometimes) hurt (slightly damaged) books.


A Book You Can Recommend to a Non-Reader

Chuck Colson - My Final WordSome people consider themselves deep thinkers, but struggle with staying focused when they hold a book in their hands. They like to be challenged and engaged, but their ADD kicks in every time they look over there, I think that cat is chasing a squirrel– so they have probably already seen the advantage in reading story collections and anthologies.

It’s ironic then that in presenting this assembly of transcripts from the Breakpoint radio program with Charles Colson to you I should be proposing the writing of a man who was such a voracious reader to people who struggle with that very same discipline.

Because of who Colson was, it should come as no surprise that many of the short articles in the book are related in some way to politics and political systems. That was his passion, and that is where he truly speaks with authority.

Other themes in My Final Word: Holding Tight to the Issues That Matter Most include Christian apologetics, biomedical ethics, public life, culture, crimal justice, contentment, homosexuality, and several other topics. Within each theme there are at least a dozen transcripts, some longer, and some that were edited, though at times the subject ends up being political- or economic-related. This of course creates a bit of a liability when you are an international reader because so much of this concerns the American political system and key figures in the U.S. government. Even so, in those articles there are principles to be extracted and some of the stories have ended up on the front pages of newspapers in Sydney, London or Toronto despite their origin.

Then there is the richness in terms of the quality and quantity of the writers Colson quotes. He was a huge fan of C. S. Lewis and G. K Chesterton, and to continue the list here would be to leave out others. If you want to know what makes people great, look at who they read and whose quotations they have memorized.

My Final Word clocks in at 240 pages total, released in August from Zondervan. In the foreword, longtime Colson associate Eric Metaxas suggests that there is sufficient material here to make the book suitable for small group discussions, and if all your group members are not always in touch with such issues, these radio transcripts will certainly raise awareness.

Full disclosure: Because of the nature of this anthology, I have not yet read every section, though I do prefer not to review a book before I’ve read every last word. I do intend to finish it however — it’s perfect nighttime reading for me — and I would encourage readers to keep a pen, pencil or highlighter handy to underline key sections and mark page numbers of passages to which you wish to return. I’m also reading the sections out-of-sequence, starting with ones which resonate more, and then, as I get more into the rhythm of the book, finding the others to be of equally interesting. In that sense, it’s a great reference resource on the topics listed above.

Chuck Colson was a very, very wise man.

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Canada for a copy of My Final Word as well as the other three titles that formed part of our all-review weekend here at Christian Book Shop Talk. Reviews featured here were published earlier at Thinking Out Loud.

Lucado Looks at the Life of Joshua

September 26, 2015 1 comment

Our HarperCollins Christian Publications Review Weekend continues…

Glory Days - Max LucadoWhether it’s a specific time-frame in music history, the winning-est season for a favorite team, or maybe even a season in the life of your church; everyone knows what it means when you say “it was a golden era in the life of…” music, the team, the church.

For author Max Lucado, Israel’s golden era, or as he would say, Israel’s Glory Days were the time of entering the Promised Land as described in the first 14 chapters of the book of Joshua. This then, is the theme of his new book. Glory Days: Living Your Promised Land Life Now (Thomas Nelson).

Lucado books are often thought of as lite (sic) reading by those who prefer more scholarly and academic authors, but I found this one to be more substantive than some other books by him. Really, this is a commentary on the first part of Joshua, but it is a devotional commentary, in the same way the NIV Life Application Bible is a study Bible, just not the type of study Bible chosen by those who prefer the NIV Study Bible. I would contend however that without practical application, Joshua’s life — or the life of any other Bible figure — is simply facts on a page, which is fine for those of you who study history, but not enough for people who face real-life challenges and want assurance of God’s care and provision.

That is the appeal of his writing, and that shines through so clearly in Glory Days. Also apparent is that for a Old Testament study, there are numerous New Testament references which includes but is distinct from a Christocentric focus which also comes through in his writing.

The Lucado formula is evident in each chapter and has been copied by dozens of writers since. A contemporary story introduces a principle that is then discussed in the text. The difference that has earned Max the right to be heard over the years is the number of these stories that flow out of real-life experience and real-world contacts he has made.

The life of Joshua has inspired writers for generations. I can heartily recommend this to both veteran readers of Christian Living titles and those for whom this might be their first Christian book.

Note: A companion 6-week DVD-based small group study is also available for Glory Days.


Lewis and Tolkien: From Word-Geek English Academics to the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Gold Standard

A book about books

by guest book reviewer: Ruth Wilkinson

A common piece of advice given to young writers is, “Write what you know.”

So how did a couple of turn of the century, word-geek, English academics become the preeminent fantasy and science fiction writers of the modern era?

Joseph Laconte - A Hobbit A Wardrobe and a Great War - Thomas Nelson In A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and A Great War (Thomas Nelson) History professor Joseph Loconte traces the parallel stories of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien through the cataclysm that was World War 1 and beyond to their shared discovery and exploration of epic fiction and alternate history. Drawing from many sources – including historians, biographers and original writings – he connects the two young men’s experiences in the trenches, mud, fire and disease of The Great War with themes, characters and landscapes found in the Narnia series, Lord of the Rings and their other writings.

We come to understand what the fierce friendships, values and personal strength of the characters they created have to teach us about being human and at war. Quoting Lewis, “For let us make no mistake. All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service. Like sickness, it threatens pain and death. Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst and hunger. Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice and arbitrary rule. Like exile, it separates you from all you love.” And when Tolkien writes,”I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they protect,” is he writing about England or Middle Earth?

And we see the world through the eyes of Lewis, a teenager who had written off Christianity as “ugly architecture, ugly music and bad poetry”, and Tolkien, a young man of faith whose Catholicism survived the war intact, when his peers and culture had found God to be uninterested and absent, and therefore nonexistent.

Loconte examines the spirit of an age that worshiped science, eugenics, industrialization, technology and related forms of ‘progress’. He lays out how those forces were put to use in a war that was more destructive and devastating than any in the past, and the profound disillusionment and cynicism that were born out of it. And, yet, Lewis is able, through his friendship with Tolkien, to rediscover “…the myth that has really happened” – the story of Jesus Christ – to turn from his skepticism and to write stories that “offer the only possible escape from a world divided between wolves who do not understand, and sheep who cannot defend, the things which make life desirable.” Loconte writes, “Against the temper of their times, these authors dared to reclaim some of the older beliefs and virtues. Their common Christian faith had much to do with this…”

This book challenges: both to look back at the horror that humanity is capable of, and to look forward to the hope that Christ brings – when “everything sad will come untrue.”

Lisa Harper’s Newest is Really Two Books in One

I’m not a huge fan of plot contrivances in fiction, or some types of literary devices in non-fiction, so when it became apparent that Lisa Harper’s commentary on the Book of Acts was using the story of the adoption of her daughter as a motif, I was a little skeptical.

But in fact, author Lisa Harper really had won me over by the second chapter.

Believing Jesus - Lisa HarperBelieving Jesus: A Journey Through the Book of Acts is for certain a book about the fifth book in the New Testament, but it’s a different kind of approach, and if you can buy in to its premise, you will enjoy this immensely. So Peter, Phillip and Paul share the spotlight with Missy, a little HIV-positive girl from Haiti who has rocked the author’s world.

Granted, I’m not a frequent reader of women’s interest titles, but this is a story that offers surprises at every chapter. Not knowing much of the Women of Faith speakers, apparently this several-years-long adoption process resulted in Harper, who has reached the half-century mark in life, becoming a single mom. She’s very candid about the challenges that brings.

So how exactly does Ms. Harper bridge the 2,000 year gap between the early church and an orphanage in Haiti? The answer is: Very well. I don’t want to be the spoiler king, but this is a book like nothing else I’ve read before. What’s really happening here is that upfront you’re tracking the story of Lisa and Missy, meanwhile a solid theological lesson is sneaking in the back door. This is an author that knows her way around Bible reference materials, word-study books in particular. (Or conversely, you’re following along with the chapters in Acts and seeing touch-points of relate-ability you never considered.)

All of which to say that with Believing Jesus we have something that you could give to that woman in your church or small group that perhaps has never read a Christian book before. Maybe even one who hasn’t yet crossed the line of faith. With its Facebook and Instagram pictures of the journey from Haitian orphanage to America, it’s also a great gift to a woman who has become a new parent through adoption, a single parent, or someone who has had a child later in life.

Independent Christian Authors Can’t Rely on Spring Arbor

Product needs to be placed with Anchor, Send the Light and International Distributors

In light of yesterday’s column about changes at Ingram Content Group, Spring Arbor is no longer a reliable choice for indie authors who want their product available to bookstores at a reasonable trade discount. If we’re talking several titles, or your self-publisher represents several artists, this make things a little easier, especially if physical books exist already and are not just sold print-on-demand.

Since not everybody gets picked up by Baker, Cook or Zondervan, Advocate Distribution is a strong alternative.

Since not every author gets picked up by Baker, Cook or Zondervan, Advocate Distribution is a strong alternative.

Most American stores have an account with Anchor Distributors or Send the Light Distribution. If you have several books to offer, Send the Light’s Advocate Distribution Solutions can provide fulfillment on a contract basis.

If a writer wants to ensure Canadian trade distribution from a domestic supplier the situation complicates. Historically, even if you have a great product, David C. Cook Canada, Foundation Distributing, and Augsburg-Fortress Canada are more interested in acquiring major U.S. publishing brands than they are in going to the bother of adding independent titles. If you’re a Canadian author, Foundation and Word Alive support homegrown authors but only to the extent your book is published with either Castle Quay or Word Alive Press. (Essence Publishing, in Belleville, Ontario has no distribution at all; stores often sources the Canadian-made product through Spring Arbor.)  In those cases, the words I was taught to repeat while working for the company that later became CMC Distribution (now part of Cook) continue to echo in my mind: “The market for Christian books is the U.S. market. Secure your U.S. deal and the book will fall into Canadian distributors’ hands automatically.”

But what if your U.S. distributor has no Canadian counterpart? Then it’s back to Send the Light and Anchor.

In the interest of efficiency, Canadian stores are reluctant to deal with too many suppliers. In the 21st Century, a new generation of bookstore owners have streamlined their bookkeeping and database processes. If the title is really hot and the indie publisher or author takes credit cards, they’ll place an order, but there is always the predisposition that independent product is somehow inferior to what the major publisher have on offer and sometimes, when it comes to packaging, marketing and editorial quality control, they are right. American store owners tend to be more entrepreneurial, but the rules of efficiency still apply.

The point for authors — many of whom follow articles at this site — is that if your custom publisher tells you that your product is automatically listed in the database at Spring Arbor, that’s no longer good enough. Personally, I would go the Advocate Distribution route*; your book (or CD) may even end up in a Spring or Summer flyer distributed to stores across the U.S., a possibility that Ingram Content Group does not offer.

*In a random survey of some of Advocate’s top titles, all were available at Amazon. I don’t mention the A-zon factor here because of long-running concerns as to whether or not this avenue of book distribution is sustainable over the longer term.



Ingram Content Group is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

The recent decision by Ingram to cut off stores (including mine) that didn’t meet a $5K minimum in 2014 that they didn’t know existed (in our case by less than 10% of the quota) is really a nail in the coffin for small stores. When you operate with a 6% ROI (Return on Investment) and a supplier offers you an extra 6% on a major purchase, that is contributing to increasing that ROI. But when a supplier takes away 10% that really plunges your profitability.

Here’s another way of looking at it: You buy a $10 book for $6. Your gross profit is $4. A supplier changes your discount by 10% and that book now costs $7. Your gross profit is now $3. In other words, you’ve been cheated out of 25% of your former profit margin.

So why does Ingram want to purge small stores from their roster when they already had a mechanism in place requiring minimum orders? It’s a question really requiring deeper investigation, and we’re working on it. Clearly, Ingram was the friend of the independent bookstore as well as gift stores which dabbled in books as a sideline. For our part, our purchases with them would have been much, much stronger in 2014 were it not for the service offered by Send the Light Distribution. We gave STL a “first pass” on our import titles and then used Ingram only for titles unique to them, and rush orders that STL did not have in stock at the time.

But it wasn’t enough. Neither was 30 years of goodwill and a perfect credit history.

There was no appealing their decision.

There’s a rule in pet ownership that you don’t scold a pet for something they did a day ago. You deal with it at the time. If any stores impacted by the new decision had been told ahead of time that, “In June of next year we’re going to change your terms if you don’t meet the $5K minimum, you need purchase only $421 more by the end of the year;” I know we would have put an order together in minutes. But to be punished in June for something we did the year prior… well, as stated, I wouldn’t do this to a dog.

The decision was arbitrary.

The decision was heartless.

We can no longer handle special-orders profitably, and so we are gearing up to tell customers to seek out another store in our community which is not a Christian bookstore, to purchase their esoteric Christian titles through them.

Something we’ve never had to do in 30 years.

Categories: Uncategorized

From the Photo File

InterVarsity Press posted this today on their Twitter account with the caption: “New and interested employees learning about IVP history and the publishing industry today in IVP 101.” How I would have loved to have been sitting at one of those tables.

IVP 101

Categories: Uncategorized

For Christian Bookstores, The Paradigm Shift Started with Music, Not Books

This appeared at the blog of the Steve Laube Agency, a must read for stores, distributors, publishers and especially authors. The author is Dan Balow:

treble clefIf you think Amazon has been damaging to Christian retail stores, you might be right, but it was the loss of music sales that delivered one of the first body shots to the Christian retail segment about 15 years ago.  Music accounted for a major piece of Christian retail sales. A second crippling hit was the movement of video from physical to digital media.  Then, along came massive online sales of books and bookstores needed to rethink their entire business model. Some did not have the resources to do so and are now gone.

Nothing seems to be the same as before.

The article then goes on to discuss ways authors can find their equivalent to concerts, the one part of the music business that is growing.


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