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Of the Writing of Book Review Requests, There is No End

To be fair, that’s out of 30,535 emails, and some of them were read on another device.

The number of emails in my in-box is increasing.

I’m not sure if it’s because of Christian Book Shop Talk, or because of Thinking Out Loud, but the volume of mail asking me to promote books is noticeably increasing.

Most if not all are self-published titles. I think it’s ironic that these authors are begging me to mention them, while on the other side of my email app, I’m begging major publishers to let me review their books, with a promise of a trifecta consisting of a trade mention here, a review at Thinking Out Loud, and a chapter excerpt at Christianity 201.

They aren’t interested.

In the meantime, I’m left with a collection of indie authors who, while they may be sincere and doctrinally orthodox, haven’t been vetted by a process that includes acquisition editors, proposal meetings, first draft editing, final editing and more. And decent graphic art. So much I could say about the last one. Yes you can judge a book by its cover.

Much of this mail includes a link to the book’s page on Amazon. I don’t know about you, but I think that sending an Amazon link to a trade bookstore is insulting and triggering. There. I said it.

If I have the time and inclination to pursue that, I always look very carefully to see if there is an ISBN embedded in the URL of the page. Often, there is a just a B-number and that means the book doesn’t have an ISBN and any other searching is going to prove futile. It can also mean the book isn’t in print at all, but they’re asking me to promote an e-book. To an audience of trade bookstore owners. Go figure.

Then I apply the ISBN to Ingram or BookManager to see if there is any trade distribution. Often the books have no availability to the trade bookstores. At that point, it’s game over as far as I’m concerned.

If the book is part of Ingram Publisher Services or Baker and Taylor’s equivalent (which often are listed at Parasource) I then check three things.

First, Is there a decent trade discount? Books which are 10% or NET are never going to get stocked in inventory in our stores. Shelf space is too precious. Orders, maybe. On a NET price item, maybe not. 20% or 30%, possibly.

A 25% discount at Ingram is an interesting case. It often means that the book has been published by an Amazon subsidiary. For some reason, a lot of their titles land at 25%. Do I want to support them indirectly? I take these on a case-by-case basis.

Second, I check the BISAC cateorgy or Ingram category or Dewey category. Is this even a Christian book? You’d be surprised at the requests I get — and now we’re including customer special-order requests — for books listed as new age or parapsychology with no reference to Christianity at all. Unless it’s for a pastor or seminary student doing research, this item isn’t going to find its way to my shelves.

Third, assuming discounts and categories work, I check the page count. It’s amazing how many books are doing well up to this point and then fail the content test. Generally I’m not legalistic about this, but I consider 10-cents US per page to be reasonable. $19.99 US for 106 pages means the book is overpriced. Or $14.99 US for 72 pages. It’s too high, and we haven’t even done the conversion to Canadian dollars. This particular check is often the reason why the discount is generous. Conversely, some books with shorter discounts offer a good volume of reading and assuming the US list price is not printed on the back, will sustain a higher-than-normal markup for a special order.

In terms of my email however, there is often a sixth sense that comes into play. Call it discernment. The book checks all the boxes, but I still have red flags in my head. A look into the online life and other works by the author often supplies clues that this isn’t a book I want our store to be associated with.

Having said all that, for some of you it’s a different process that involves customer reviews. For something you’re considering in inventory, that’s a good thing to research if you have time.

Another good question to ask is, What other Christian retailers are carrying this product? I have some go-to websites for this including Parable or ChristianBook in the US and Koorong and Eden Books overseas, especially if it’s a writer from outside North America whose books have impacted in far away places. North American Christianity can get really myopic.

Finally, I know there are some people who are thinking, ‘Don’t open the emails.’ Yes, the cream rises to the top, but only in a fair distribution system. Finding a hidden gem or two that will really work in your market gives you a competitive edge against anyone else your customer buys books from, but you need to follow up your decision to inventory the book with mentions on your store Facebook page, your store newsletter, and your store blog. Differentiating a genuine ‘find’ such as these titles is harder to do on BookManager where every book gets the same treatment, and that’s why I recommend having a store blog and using a newsletter and social media to especially create some buzz for a unique title.

 


Today’s title with apologies to Solomon in Eccl. 12:12

Christian Publishing News Updates

■ Ever wondered how Warner Press got its name? Christianity Today invites you to meet Warner Sallman: The guy whose picture of Jesus was once found in more churches and hospitals than any other image. “What changed in the 20th century with Sallman, was that Jesus images met American advertising and mass production. Prayer met plastic… Despite his beard, the “Head of Christ” is anything but hipster irony…Apparently, Sallman was attempting to create a more masculine Jesus than earlier portrayals. Ironically, many now find his Jesus effeminate — demonstrating the extent to which definitions of “masculine” are cultural and fluid rather than biological. In Jesus’ own day, and as a Jew in the Roman Empire, masculinity was as contested then as it is now.” 

■ Knowing what we sell: Apologia Studios posted this 50-minute video podcast “explosive and compelling story of Lindsay Davis who defected from Bethel” and addresses some concerns that I think booksellers should be aware of, even as we sell Bill Johnson’s books and Bethel Worship’s music.

♫ Gloria Gaynor, who had a hit song I Will Survive, has signed with Gaither Music Group for an album releasing early summer. Make sure your staff know what customers are asking for. Not to be confused with Gloria Gaither. This one is Gaynor.  

■ Wanda Brunstetter has officially passed the 11-million mark in book sales. Rush-To-Press reports on the Barbour Publishing author: “Brunstetter is undeniably one of the most prolific authors in both the Christian and mainstream markets with a published book list that exceeds 100 titles. A number of her works have frequented the nation’s most prestigious bestseller lists including the NY Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, ECPA, and more. Most recently, The Hope Jar, book 1 in her Prayer Jars series, has remained on the ECPA fiction bestsellers list 8 months straight since its August 2018 release.” Two more titles will release simultaneously in June.

■ Literary agent Steve Laube sits down with Publisher’s Weekly to discuss the changing landscape of Christian book marketing. “Publishers continue to brace themselves for the loss of even more Christian retail outlets this year, but the strongest impact of store closings could be leveled at authors in the category. The shrinking footprint of Christian retailers is already leading to a new normal where writers are also expected to have a marketing team behind them…”

■ Are you selling as many funeral bulletins as before? Just when a bunch of boomers are getting ready to die, the funeral industry is being shaken. “…Somber, embalmed-body funerals, with their $9,000 industry average price tag, are, for many families, a relic. Instead, end-of-life ceremonies are being personalized: golf-course cocktail send-offs, backyard potluck memorials, more Sinatra and Clapton, less “Ave Maria,” more Hawaiian shirts, fewer dark suits. Families want to put the “fun” in funerals…The movement will only accelerate as the nation approaches a historic spike in deaths. Baby boomers, despite strenuous efforts to stall the aging process, are not getting any younger…” The Washington Post reports on “thinking outside the box. (With fewer weddings and funerals, what will provide extra cash for pastors a decade from now?)

Tribute: In one of his best articles yet, Carey Nieuwhof asks who will replace Eugene Peterson and others like him when that generation passes from the scene. Seven important things that people of Peterson’s ilk have in common.

■ New Music from 🇬🇧 – Iron Lung by Martin Smith (of Delirious) But why that title? “Smith called on early memories of struggling for breath and how he needed oxygen to keep him alive. The vital importance of breath came into focus for him as a young child when he was diagnosed with a severe case of bronchial pneumonia. He was placed into an oxygen tent, similar to an early 19th-century iron lung device, which kept him alive while his parents fervently prayed for God to save his life. This harrowing experience set a course for Smith, giving him an acute perspective of the fragility of life and how God’s presence, His very breath, can restore what’s been broken.” Read more at NewReleaseToday.

■ Clean presentation: If you want to see what a webpage should look like which is promoting a series of books, you can’t do better than this one at Christian Book Discounters in South Africa.

■ Another one going off the rails? Highly respected for his work in founding anti-pornography ministry XXXChurch.com, author and pastor Craig Gross has launched Christian Canabis and recommends weed as an aid to worship. No it’s not a month-late April Fool’s story; it appeared Monday in The Christian Post. The quote: “I’ve never lifted my hands in a worship service ever, ‘cause I was raised Baptist. … I’ve done that in my bathroom worshiping with marijuana by myself.”

■ Who the cool kids are reading: You won’t get an actual schedule of speakers for the 2019 Wild Goose Festival until a few weeks before the event, but there are clues here and here and here. (Why promote when you can tease?)

Veggie Tales is back in the hands of the original creative team. “Brand-new episodes of VeggieTales are on the way, courtesy of a partnership between Trinity Broadcasting Network and Big Idea Content Group. Each episode will remain true to the classic VeggieTales brand to deliver clever storytelling, Biblically-based lessons, and memorable songs.” 

First there were Christian T-shirts and now… leggings? Would you sell these in your store? That’s Psalm 23 in case you missed it. We found this one at Zazzle.com.


■ I hope you find this update useful. Here’s a few graphics we created in a hurry to meet specific needs on our Facebook page this week. Feel free to steal them or adapt them. If you really, really need something and can’t create these yourselves, feel free to email me and ask for a favour!

 

 

James MacDonald to Shutter Walk in the Word

Today at our parent blog Thinking Out Loud we have an unusually high number of publishing related stories on our weekly roundup feature, Wednesday Connect. You need to click through to the highlighted links provided in order to read the stories in full.

📻 After months of personal controversy, James MacDonald surprises his staff with the decision to shutter the broadcasting component (radio and television) of the popular Walk in the Word program. Julie Roys was anonymously sent a recording of the staff meeting.

In a surprise announcement to staff on Wednesday, MacDonald said he had decided to remove Walk in the Word from all “traditional” broadcast mediums and exclusively focus on digital delivery, like podcasts. MacDonald said the reason for the change was primarily pragmatic. “Traditional broadcast is a dying thing,” MacDonald said in a live announcement to staff

📻 …Dee Parsons believes the ‘radio is a dying medium’ argument by MacDonald takes the focus away from the controversial lawsuit and the issues which sparked it. 

BreakingIs James MacDonald prepared to drop the lawsuit?

♦ Also from Julie Roys: Is it just about terminology? Or is there more? Beth Moore’s assertion that “reading the Bible isn’t the same as spending time with God‘ has sparked a firestorm, not dissimilar from Andy Stanley’s late last year.

♦ Changing standards? Are we allowed to use term ‘badass’ in a Christian book title? Eerdman’s did. Burying White Privilege: Resurrecting a Badass Christianity.

♫ The title song from the new Passion album, Follow You Anywhere. There is however a one month gap between the release of the album online (available to consumers now) and the physical CD (early February).

♦ The subject of the book The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, Alex Malarkey has refiled charges against the publisher, Tyndale House, for “for appropriation, publicity given to private life, and financial exploitation of a person with a disability.”

♦ In the Twitterverse: January is a time for “best books” lists, but this short Twitter thread gives a very short “best Bibles” list with reasons for each of the three choice. (Maybe not the three you’re expecting, but if you’re open to change in a new year, this might help.)

♀ Women’s Workshop: Laurie Pawlik, author of Going Forward When You Can’t Go Back, releasing next week from Bethany House; this article about six female Bible characters who, in different ways, said ‘yes’ to God. Sample: “… I noticed that these 6 female heroes of the Bible—our Biblical sisters—didn’t waste time wrestling with ‘Why me?’ Instead, they threw themselves into ‘Yes, Lord.'”

The Books Francine Rivers Regrets Writing

Earlier today, an article on the Premier Christianity website in the UK an article caught my attention: 5 Christian authors who regret books they’ve written. I’m going to guess the trigger for the article was the one covered first, I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. (As we reported earlier, Harris has asked for it, all its related products, and two titles which followed in its wake to be pulled from the market.)

The others were William Powell, author of The Anarchist Cookbook; Lewis Carrol, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; Francine Rivers; and Frank Peretti, co-author of House.

The latter author’s writeup notes:

By the time the R-Rated US film was released, Frank says he had ‘totally separated’ himself from both the book and movie.

“I didn’t want anything to do with either one. I’d rather go for a deeper topic, and for me more meaningful rather than all the excessive violence and darkness. It gave me the creeps!”

With Francine Rivers however, the article conveniently linked to an interview with her also published this week at Premier Christianity — she’s in Wimbledon for a large Christian publishing trade show — Francine Rivers: The author of Redeeming Love reveals what drives her work.

The first article noted:

Francine refers to her pre-conversion works as being “BC” (before Christ) and has taken proactive steps to ensure they can’t be reprinted.

while the second provides some backstory:

After graduating with a degree in English and journalism she began her writing career as a reporter. It wasn’t until her in-laws lent her some romance novels that she realised her true calling was to write fiction. In the decade that followed the publication of her first novel in 1976, Francine found success in the general market through her steamy historical novels.

On a more positive note, Redeeming Love is still her favourite of all her titles, but the hardest book to write was Atonement Child. Why? You’ll need to read the article.


♦ Related: We posted this in August 2011, when Redeeming Love was celebrating its 20th anniversary:

7 (or 8) Reasons to Host a VBS Night

On Wednesday, a reader at Canadian Christian Retail Insights from Western Canada asked,

We’ve never had a VBS night… What do you guys do when you have them? Do you get samples from different companies? Are they worth the effort?

We thought this answer was worth sharing here. Jaret Voce owns and manages Agape Christian Marketplace in North Toronto.

Guest post by Jaret Voce

We host a VBS night every year. We used to have it in early February but moved it to late January. It’s always well attended. Last couple of years we’ve been averaging about 25-30 attendees.

We’ll send out an invitation (email and physical) to the event in early December that highlights the new programs and our event details.

We always have a Group Rep come out and do the presentation, we’ve even invited Cook/Parasource to come once or twice.

Hosting a VBS event has a few benefits:

1. You’ll sell more kits than you did without an event.

2. You’ll sell more VBS supplies that don’t come with the kits (crafts, etc)

3. It’s a relationship builder with churches. It reminds them that you’re able and willing to serve their needs.

4. You’re price-competitive because many publishers set limits on how low their items can be discounted by websites and others.

5. It gets people into the store, and they always buy other things.

6. It gets people into the store, including new people that haven’t been in your store.

7. It gets people into the store and allows you to show off your selection and atmosphere.

8. It also gets people into the store (Did I say this already?)

We wouldn’t go without the event and it really helps boost sales in the dead of winter.

used by permission

Plagiarism: Zondervan Authors Ann Voskamp and Christine Caine

Plagiarism: The challenge is deciding when it’s deliberate copying, and when it’s a case of ‘great minds think alike.’ (left: Ann Voskamp; right: Christine Caine)

I noted the situation involving Christine Caine at the end of another story a few days ago, but because of Warren Throckmorton, I discovered the case involving Canadian writer Ann Voskamp. Both write for Zondervan.

Here’s how we covered both yesterday at Wednesday Connect:

♦ Another plagiarism case: Zondervan has reached a settlement with Carey Scott, the author of Untangled: Let God Loosen the Knots of Insecurity in Your Life (Revell, 2015) whose work was borrowed by popular author Christine Caine in Unashamed: Drop the Baggage, Pick up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny (Zondervan, May 2016), which has sold over 150,000 copies to date. 

“About two weeks before Caine’s book Unashamed was set to launch, I received a promotional email that contained a two-minute book trailer video. Some of the wording at the beginning of the video sounded very familiar, and after some digging I discovered that the first 30 seconds of her personal narration on the promo video came directly from a paragraph on page 55 of my book,” Scott told Publisher’s Weekly. “There are several examples of direct copying and substantial similarities.”   …

♦ … But sadly, not the only plagiarism case involving Zondervan: A quotation in Ann Voskamp’s book The Broken Way was attributed to her father but, “matched almost word for word the writing of author Cynthia Occelli on her social media pages.” In another case, she apologized for when she “lyrically paraphrased” a nine-point list by another writer. But that post was later deleted. Why? In this Occelli case, World Magazine notes:

The problem: Some readers probably missed Voskamp’s apology, submerged as it was in a long scroll of a post concerning a family trip to Israel, a Tim Keller talk, a Mister Rogers quote, Instagram photos from fans raving about her books, and more. The item’s burial was too bad, because this was a teachable moment about likely dangers at a time when internet files can be copied and mislabeled so readily, with unclear attribution.

For his part, Throckmorton — a college professor — noted”

In academia, we will continue to enforce high standards of plagiarism. However, it is jarring to realize that our students will enter a world where plagiarism matters less when they work in media organizations which promote Christianity than in places which do not identify as Christian. [Italics added]

Of course, sometimes a similar idea, concept, metaphor or simile will occur to two people at the same time or at a different time. In a more recent article, Throckmorton looked at a particular Christine Caine quotation that she may have borrowed from Joel Osteen,  Decide for yourself:

Caine:

Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried when you’ve actually been planted. You will bring forth life!! (Twitter account, 2015 and 2016)

Osteen:

It’s easy to feel like we’ve been buried, but what’s interesting is the only difference between being buried and being planted is the expectancy of what’s going to happen next.

When you put a seed in the ground you don’t say, “I’m burying this seed,” you say, “I am planting this seed,” because you know it’s coming back.

We all face difficulties but you have the seed of almighty God on the inside. He breathed His life into you. When you go through disappointments, you’re in tough times… you might feel like you’d been buried, but the fact is, you’ve simply been planted.  (2009 sermon)

When you go through disappointments and you’re in tough times, you may feel like you’ve been buried, but the fact is, you’ve simply been planted. That means you’re coming back! (2011 book)

Being gracious and giving her the benefit of the doubt, if Caine heard or read Osteen say that, I can see where she might remember the imagery, but not the source. (Personally, I like the concept and can see myself using it 2-3 years from now and not remembering the where I heard it either.)

On the other hand, she might well remember where she got it, and should give proper attribution.

With Voskamp, what’s most disturbing is that the apology has been deleted. Maybe it would crush her followers too much to be reminded that like all of us, she’s not perfect.


We’ve covered plagiarism here before:

  • Last September, Abgindon Press removed and destroyed copies of a book advertised as containing the devotions used by Hillary Clinton after the author was found to have copied significant paragraphs from another writer.
  • In November, 2013, radio host Janet Mefford brought charges of plagiarism against Mark Driscoll…
  • A few weeks later, Mefford suggested that major publishing houses try to protect their authors from the negative publicity associated with such charges. (In the wake of this, Driscoll’s multi-site church empire came crashing down; he is now, 5 years later, mounting a comeback with the publication of a new book.)

Is Word Alive in Breach of Contract With Distributed Lines?

October 17, 2018 2 comments

Note: In keeping with principles outlined in Matthew 18, the concerns noted in this article have been expressed to the company in question many times.

I’ve only held a Canadian distribution contract in my hands once. I was working for Mainroads Music Group and there was a question about the royalties payable to the band DeGarmo & Key. So you can see that (a) it wasn’t a publishing contract, and (b) it’s been awhile.

But I’m fairly certain that the rights owned by Canadian distributors such as Parasource, Foundation and Word Alive are stated on a piece of paper which says more than just ‘we agree to buy the books at a certain discount and then sell them to Canadian stores.’ I’m fairly certain that there is a sense in which these companies are also publisher representatives. They agree to do some actual advertising and marketing to both the consumer market and trade market; and publicity to everyone from book reviewers to influential pastors to college professors. They are quite literally representing the publisher in what is for them part of their international sales.

As a retailer, I really need them to be able to perform this function. I need to know (a) what backlist is still performing well and (b) what new titles have entered the warehouse this month, or are about to. On the latter, I’m looking for (a) basic title, author and pricing information, and (b) reasons why I should get excited about this title, including everything from subject matter to a jazzy cover design; as well as (c) factors which might drive customers to look for it such as television appearances and tours, or reviews in major media.

When I think of Word Alive Distribution (now a division of Anchor Distributors) my major focus in on four key lines:

  • Faithwords (a division of Hachette Book Group)
  • Group Publishing
  • Charisma House Publishing
  • Lighthouse Christian Products (giftware)

and while there are many more companies carried in the warehouse, these are four for which I’d like to know ahead of time what is being released. (If the company has acquired any key product lines since, honestly, how would I know? As you’ll see below, I wouldn’t.) They are also four for which I believe the contract would specify some marketing expectations.

I get absolutely nothing in the way of information about these companies, or any others they distribute.

In fact, since the takeover, I have never received anything even remotely resembling a marketing email.

Furthermore, the “new releases” section of the company website is still — this after at least half a dozen emails to inform them — stuck in the period from September, 2017 to February 2018. (We’ve noted elsewhere on the blog how to ‘trick’ the URL into yielding more recent information.)

So what would make the difference?

We’re a small store in a small market. So this is subjective. But here’s what I’m seeing from my other suppliers.

Foundation

  • Marketing email for new products and specials average every 3-4 days from our much-appreciated telemarketing representative Debbie Tindale.
  • A monthly email highlighting “don’t miss” key titles and promotions
  • Link to a monthly online “book” featuring key publishing releases the following month
  • Print catalogues available on request
  • Flyers available on sign-up commitment

Parasource

  • Marketing emails for specials and forthcoming products average every 2-3 days from the sales manager, Martin Smith and his staff.
  • “Margin builder” clearance specials several times each month
  • Print catalogues available on request
  • Flyers available on sign-up commitment
  • Review books on request where possible

HarperCollins Christian Products

  • Meeting three times a year with Mark Hildebrand with visual presentation to go over upcoming releases in the following cycle
  • Marketing email at least once a week highlighting “news” items such as author appearances and drop-in titles or bestseller performance
  • Frequent phone calls to respond to any concerns or questions
  • Print catalogues delivered in person
  • Review books on request as well as a few additional titles to examine

Word Alive / Anchor

  • no email contact at all
  • no phone contact at all
  • no marketing enclosures in shipments
  • no catalogues sent
  • no review books

I should add that the situation is also an insult to the various authors — many of them Canadian — who may have signed with Word Alive Publishing (expecting access to bookstore sales) who I’ll also highlight here with a bullet:

  • Word Alive Publishing authors

noting that the only time we’ve run with a Word Alive title in the past 12 months was because of contact with the author’s mother in law. (The title, Not Alone by Andrea Calvert was here mentioned in this article and continues to perform well in my store.)

The same could also be said for

  • Whittaker House

which is rather pathetic considering this is their own publishing imprint. Generally speaking, if I find out about a Whitaker product it’s in spite of not because of their efforts.

I would expect that this situation is a blatant disregard for expectations set out in the distribution contract.

…This blog is seen by industry people on both side of the border. If you’re considering distribution of a product line, take a look at the four Canadian distributors listed above (three really, since HarperCollins doesn’t distribute beyond its own imprints) and decide which works best for you.

If you are one of the publishers mentioned at the top of the article, pull out that contract and see what expectations were placed on both parties at the time the contract was signed, and then call about ten Canadian retailers to review the distributor’s performance.

Publishers Join Forces with USA Today to Promote Fiction

A number of publishers from across the broader world of historical, contemporary and romantic fiction are now releasing chapter excerpts to a site called “Happily Ever After” which is a division of USA Today.  Among them is the Revell division of Baker Book Group which offers a very short excerpt from Everything She Didn’t Say by Jane Kirkpatrick and a much more generous excerpt from Christmas by the Sea by Melody Carlson.

As someone who has pushed for chapter excerpts over and over and over and over again, you would think I might be happy with this arrangement, but I resent that I have to send my customers to this particular platform — USA Today — for them to read these.

Again, to repeat; you go to COSTCO and you get FREE SAMPLES and that spurs you to BUY THE PRODUCT.

Publishers: This isn’t rocket science. Or are you books so terrible you don’t think the chapter excerpts can entice?

Why can’t the Christian market have a platform like Happily Ever After where we can refer customers to try the books on for size?

 

Customers in Constant Search for Out-of-Print Resources

It was a slow week last week and that’s always discouraging, but customers requesting long-gone out-of-print resources is equally discouraging. So let’s just say it was doubly discouraging.

I never know what to say.

Part of me sympathizes. I get how that particular resource or song was especially beneficial to them in a particular season. I get that they have been in the habit over the years of purchasing it for others who are going through a similar situation.

“Sorry, but it’s out-of-print.” Nobody likes to say this to a customer — it also means a lost sale — but some customers need to wake up and look at the calendar. It’s 2018.

But it’s 2018 now.

God’s ability to speak through and to use gifted writers and musicians didn’t cease after that book was published. He continues to write new songs in the hearts of musicians and new stories in the hearts of fiction writers and fresh ways of understand scriptural truth in the hearts of pastors and Bible scholars.

This is what I want to say to my customers: If your search is for Hinds Feet on High Places or My Utmost for His Highest, you’re in luck. Demand has kept products like this in print for decades. But many books are on the overstock list after only 12 months, and some are fully discontinued after only two years.

Print-on-demand would solve many problems. As we’ve said countless times here, the publishing industry was totally seduced by eBook publishing and walked away from so many possibilities for print-on-demand that would have benefited and helped so many people. Furthermore, the print-on-demand publishing houses only seem interested in items in the public domain. It’s less messy that way. It’s not enough for the writer to be dead, they need to be dead about 75 years, just to be safe.

But you can’t talk an older customer into trying a new resource. Not if you’re a salesperson working in a store. They figure you’re just trying to move product. Most of our customers are older. Of all the various forms of retail — except perhaps for those who sell hearing aids — we have the oldest demographic mix possible.

Furthermore, as you get older, you tend to revert back to earlier stages of life. Memories of older songs and older books recur like it was just yesterday. How can that title be out of print? It seems like only yesterday.

Again, it’s 2018.

It’s time to move on.


We’re celebrating Christian Book Shop Talk’s tenth anniversary this week. If this blog has been beneficial to you or your staff over the years, we’d love to hear from you. If we can include your comment in Friday’s anniversary post, please make that clear as well.

An Author’s Second Title May Come with Publisher Restrictions

Most items on the Steve Laube Agency blog are written for aspiring writers, but bookstores can gain great insight into the publishing process by studying the topics covered.

Ever had that feeling that a new author’s second book just wasn’t up to the first one? Or that it contained a lot of repeated material.

Or have you ever asked yourself why Max Lucado, who a generation ago was know for his Chronicles of the Cross series of books on the life of Christ, seems to turn up on the themes of fear and anxiety so often of late?

Has the cynic in you ever questioned how a successful book becomes a brand and wondered out loud if perhaps the author might like to have written something else entirely for their sophomore project?

Today on Steve Laube’s blog, Dan Balow explores this in a piece titled, “Same Message, Different Readers.”

…Applying a generally similar message with more targeted material has been a successful publishing strategy for many publishers.

But if you are an author who wants to go an entirely different direction with your next book, it can be somewhat dissatisfying, creatively speaking.

A successful book can be a blessing or even a curse, as excellent sales “brand” you a certain way. You will be expected to repeat the success, and more than likely, you will be required to do something “same, but different.” Frequently, this means to write a similar book to a more focused audience.

A very small number of authors can write whatever they want, and their readership follows them to whatever they write. The bulk of successful authors are known for something relatively narrow.

If this makes you feel uncomfortable, you need to take a deep breath and get over it.

Authors are in the business of creating a consumer product and it makes no business sense ignoring the consumer when deciding what to write. They are the eventual buyer and consumer, making the entire publishing process work.

In fact, once the needs of the reader begin to mean little to you, consider finding another way to express your creativity and message. Publishing without a reader-focus is destined to fail…

…Read the whole piece by clicking here.

North American Christian “Catch All” Book Category Not Seen in Europe

Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing some observations from visiting various bookstores in Holland, Germany and Switzerland; combing these with things we learned last year in Austria and the Czech Republic.

If our visits this time around to European bookstores taught us anything, it was that the category we know and love as “Christian Living” is relatively absent on The Continent. I’ve read — and you’ve have read — statements like, “Max Lucado’s books have been translated into 70 languages” (a number made up here for convenience) but the favourite author of many wasn’t to be found on the shelves there.

Furthermore, what about the international rights market we’re always hearing about; the one where English language Christian titles are supposedly being bought at a quick pace for translation?

Last year, I noted the recurring visibility of C. S. Lewis titles, but again, in the cities we visited this time around, Jack was almost invisible, save for one store which had these two — which I’ve never stocked — along with Mere Christianity. Even last year’s recurring item, The Shack was only present in a single store this time around.

Instead, there were sections of classic writing, liturgy, church history, and oddly enough, the inclusion of memoirs from people we would consider on the fringes: Jamie Wright and Nadia Bolz Webber. Anything related to Martin Luther was apparently guaranteed some shelf space, while the Pope earned only a modest number of titles.

My general impression is that they take their Christianity seriously and aren’t interested in stocking what they might consider the “fluff” of a Christian Living section in the U.S. or Canada.

Anne Lamott was in one store under “Christendom” while the more mainstream Christian author Joyce Meyer was filed under “Spirituality” with various New Age writers.

The latest Timothy Keller was in several stores, and I began to notice that overall, Penguin Random House was doing a great job of getting its writers into stores, while Hachette (notwithstanding the aforementioned Meyer titles) and HarperCollins weren’t as visible. (You would think the Zondervan name would have some market value in The Netherlands.) Random House also was responsible for this DK book which is apparently part of a series. Not knowing the authorship of The Bible Book means I would sell it with a cautionary sticker on the back, but I was quite impressed with this resource.

…In future articles I want to talk about the general secularization of Europe that’s taking place and what it means for us; and also share one booksellers rather candid and profound insights on the impossibility of maintaining a Christian section in his store in the wake of the closing of a Christian bookstore.

For today, the takeaway is that the section representing the solid core of our non-fiction sections is visibly absent in Europe and it has given me much pause for thought. 


Update: Many of the Christian Living titles we’re familiar with are available at some Christian bookstores in Holland, such as De Fakkel (The Torch). We’ll have a separate article about them, coming soon.

Supporting What God is Using in Someone’s Life

I’m not going to tell you I’ve had a change of heart about the book Jesus Calling, because I’ve never really read the book in the first place. I’ve written about it here and have simply noted the concerns that some had over the use of the first-person narrative to speak as though it is God speaking, but also noted this is far from the first book to use that format. 

The book’s place in our store has gone from “under the counter” to “prominently displayed” and everything in between.

At Thinking Out Loud, I wrote,

I realize some of you haven’t been in touch with where the doctrinal issues in this book arise. Much of the discussion online has to do with the fact that this book is part of a very small subset of devotional literature where the words on the page appear as a direct message to the reader from God. In other words, the (human) author purports to be writing this as God, speaking in the first person; “I” instead of “He.” Consider Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess series, Paul Pastor’s The Listening Day and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and Jesus Always as examples of this; you’ll also find this type of writing on some blogs.

That’s not the entirety of some people’s objections, but it’s a large part.

Over a week ago, unable to get back to sleep at 3:30, I read what I consider a generally excellent article on how to spot false teachers. I should say right here that the term “false teacher” leaves no middle ground, no room for nuance, no possibility of the person getting 90% of doctrine right, but 10% wrong. When people use that particular term, it’s all-or-nothing.

You can read the article at this link. (I don’t know the writer and have no idea why the URL is so complex, but it wouldn’t shorten.)

Toward the end he says,

When someone comes forward in the Christian community with a new fresh way of understanding certain doctrines or teachings, the general Christian community tends to eat it up. Think of William P. Young’s The Shack, or Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, or Rob Bell’s Love Wins. All of these books abandoned Christian doctrine, and yet were immensely popular.

The false teacher uses their wit, uses their intelligence and uses their ‘godliness’ from a place of arrogance and pride for the express purpose of their own personal gain.

I think there’s a danger here that someone will conflate “fresh way of understanding certain doctrines…” with “arrogance…pride…personal gain.” I’m betting the writer has one or two more recent commentaries on his shelf that also provide us with fresh insights into the scriptures. But I’ll leave that aside.

My single purpose in writing this is simply to say that I think the article loses its overall value when it starts mentioning names.

That, and to return to my first paragraph, I have been noting lately the number of people who I know and respect who have benefited from Jesus Calling and have given away copies to friends. These are people who I consider discerning in their reading, and in a very Peter-and-Cornelius way, has caused me to avoid the rush to judgement that I previously associated with people who gravitated toward this particular product. (And it’s appeal to a wider readership means there are people far from Christianity who enjoy this resource, but that in itself doesn’t give cause to write it off. After all, it was the tax collectors and sex trade workers who gravitated to Jesus.)

Out of all the Christian literature out there, these acquaintances see Jesus Calling as their best bet in connecting with those in their own sphere of influence. At that point, I don’t argue or try to dissuade them from their purchase.

I would say two things:

♦ First, we shouldn’t be too quick to condemn a particular pastor, speaker, author whom God is using in the lives of someone else.

♦ Second, we shouldn’t be too quick to recommend a particular pastor, speaker, author about whom others have real concerns.

In other words, definitely write articles on how to spot false teachers. At least two of Paul’s letters have this as a primary focus.

But be slow to name names. Let the discerning process be cultivated in the individual as they mature in Christ and gently guide them to a place where their eyes are wide open.