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Posts Tagged ‘Christian book marketing’

Ontario Author’s Third Title Touches Felt Needs in Leadership

Western Ontario author Lisa Elliott is back with a third title for Word Alive Press, and as you can see from the above graphic image, this one ticks a number of boxes for women in Christian leadership.

I found out rather randomly yesterday that the speaker and author of The Ben Ripple, and Dancing in the Rain, had completed a third book (all are with Word Alive Press) titled Ministry Survival Guide: Straight from the Heart.

The blurb for the book covers a number of areas that impact people in different levels of involvement in their local church.

A Ministry Survival Guide: Straight from the Heart explores the joys and challenges of life in the spotlight of ministry. Relatable stories, survival tips, biblical mentors, and a Bible study guide provide a valuable resource for pastors’ wives, women in ministry, and anyone who desires to thrive, not just survive in the Christian life. This book will help you, live a public-private life, fortify your marriage, balance family and ministry, prevent burnout, navigate transitions, manage painful relationships, grow through personal challenges, build a godly support system, discover blessings beneath burdens, nurture your soul.

Retailers may order from Word Alive in Canada or Anchor Distributors in the U.S.


9781486621767 | paperback | April 30, 2022 release | $19.99 CDN & US

Canadian Author Pushing the Envelope on Language

It was somewhere in the 1970s. It wasn’t either musician Steve Camp or popular speaker Tony Campolo. It was both of them. “Every day thousands of people are dying and going to hell and most you don’t give a s**t. And sadly, more of you are upset about the fact I said s**t than you are about the thousands of people dying and going to hell.”

The quotation may not be word-for-word, but it’s about 90% intact.

Fast forward a few years and a young Lutheran pastor from Colorado takes the stage at a national youth rally and becomes an overnight sensation and is given a book contract. Nadia Bolz-Weber wasn’t trying to use an expletive to make a higher point. It’s just the way she talks. Google her name and you see phrases like, “I love Jesus but I DO swear a little.” Or, “Nadia Bolz-Weber is famous for swearing like a sailor.” Or “Nadia will keep swearing because she is not going to pretend to be someone she is not.” (And those were on page one, without even clicking on the results.) One of her four books starts with “F**k” right on page one.

Part of me admires what Nadia does. Sort of. My wife and I got caught up in the excitement and tuned in weekly to watch her preach at House for All Sinners & Saints, aka HFASS, aka “half-ass.” And that’s the name of her church. We watched because we wanted to know what she was preaching; what her doctrine was all about. Honestly, we were wondering if we could find some heretical content, but each week — despite the fact that her church was full of people she herself described as “queer” — it remained sound doctrine.

But nothing prepared me for Jamie Wright’s book The Very Worst Missionary. It was also the name of her blog and I had followed her for years. I knew she would insert a four-letter word here and there, but with her book, she went all out, even flaunting it on her blog — I redacted the words themselves — as seen in the chart below.

Nadia’s books now resides on a shelf in a back office in our store. I decided I couldn’t risk the books ending up with the wrong customer accidentally. Or worse, having them then tell twenty people they got this horrible book at my store.

With Jamie Wright, the book never made it in the first place. Not even remainder or overstock copies. And I declined a review copy, I think.

Which brings us to Danielle Strickland. Yes, our Danielle Strickland, as in, a Canadian author and until recently a teaching pastor at The Meeting House. Her book The Other Side of Hope is releasing for early August under the W Publishing imprint, which is part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Our sales rep thought we should have a heads up, and many of you received the same email.

We’re warned that the book,

…has a few instances of profanity. This is because many of the stories are between Danielle and people who are down and out (such as homeless people, drug addicts, and even Danielle before she came to Christ). We did scrub the material where we could, but the decision was made to not sanitize the true conversation where it was necessary to convey the real brokenness. There are four occurrences of sh*t, one d*mn, and one h*ll. This book is beautifully gritty and one of the most grounded books on hope. Even in the midst of despair, she compels the reader toward a beautiful hope.

The announcement then goes on to inform us that there is a second book by another author with similar language occurrences and some mentions of abuse which “may be triggering.”

Welcome to Christian bookselling in 2022.

I’m sure there are people who work in the broader publishing industry who are reading this and thinking, “Seriously? That’s all? Four instances of sh*t, and a single damn and a hell each?” (Look at us! I didn’t even redact those last two myself.) But give our little sub-industry a break. For some stores, this is still new territory.

Each of us need to decide for ourselves where we land the plane with these titles.

One of my English professors at U. of T. would use the phrase substandard language when discussing material that one wouldn’t read aloud in polite company. (We won’t even get into the KJV’s use of “him that pisseth against the wall” in 1 Kings 21:21.) It’s become more common to hear people using “OMG” at church (sometimes without the abbreviation) and we’ve seen one or two Christian people use “WTF” on Facebook. (I wrote about this back in 2014.)

This is not a good thing. Much of what God intended for his people was “the maintenance of a distinct identity.” We’re supposed to be … different. (I wrote about our identity in a 2017 devotional.)

I realize that Danielle Strickland has a story to tell, and I’m not going to be too hard on her. I also know that the language probably sets the stage for all that she both experienced herself, and later witnessed doing ministry in some tough, dark places. I have yet to make up my mind whether to stock the book, and if so, whether to display it or have on a shelf in the back next to Nadia.

What I do know that is that for all its shock value, the Steve Camp/Tony Campolo line had a major impact on a lot of people.

 

Christian Booksellers Market Books and Promote Doctrines

“With the purchase of as few as twelve copies, you get an extra 8% discount, a poster for your store window, an in-store shelf-header and an extra copy for you or your staff or for a giveaway. Plus, all copies are returnable after nine months.”

Sounds like a great deal doesn’t it?

You can just hear bookstore owners, or maybe yourself, saying, “Okay, I’ll take twelve copies.”

But I haven’t told you what the book is, have I?

If it’s an end-times book, which eschatological model does the author follow? If it’s a book on marriage, where do the authors stand on the role of women in the church and home? If it’s about engaging the culture, does the author envision Christians being active in the public square, or distancing ourselves because we are citizens of another kingdom? If it’s about the first handful of chapters in Genesis, does the writer take it literally or see it as allegorical?

Meanwhile, the books arrive and the copies, with their in-store shelf header and window cling are given store space front and centre. Face it, retailer, you are now endorsing this book and in so doing, you are promoting its viewpoint or core doctrine.

And in giving it that front-of-store end-cap, it means that other books aren’t appearing as prominently. The marketing materials and extra discount assured that the title received prime real estate.

I had to find an image for this article that didn’t reflect any particular titles we carry, hence this one, found on Reddit.

So who do you want to promote?

We have enough reasons right now to curtail visibility of certain authors, so I don’t need to give you more. We also don’t want to completely censor every viewpoint on marriage, the book of Revelation, immigration, and gun control which disagrees with our own. We want there to be room for pacifists and just-war theorists alike. As booksellers, we should want to create room for discussion.

We also don’t want to automatically be suspicious of extra discounts. Honestly, my store survives on extra margin points and/or free shipping.

But we don’t want to be investing our money in things with which we passionately disagree. We might have a few authors we don’t like, but we would rather place them on a lower shelf past the store’s halfway mark than to give them the coveted end-cap when customers walk in the door.

We also don’t have the time spend on hours of research. Ultimately, we have to trust the doorkeepers of major Christian brands — Baker, Tyndale, D.C. Cook, Harvest, etc. — to do what’s right.

However, I think we need to know what we’re promoting, and we need to know that by giving certain titles and authors prime space, we are in fact promoting viewpoints which will affect the spiritual formation of our customers.

We also need to recognize that the vibe our store gives off is noted by customers in ways we can’t imagine, and that each product choice reflects the spiritual atmosphere which shoppers perceive.

We’re advocating for theological positions whether we like it or not, and while we’re not all theologians, scholars or academics; we need to endeavour to make the best choices we can.


This article was written in a relative vacuum, and does not reflect any particular current promotions on offer of which I’m not aware.

HarperCollins Christian Publishing: Is Logistical Chaos God’s Judgement?

OPINION

This is an opinion piece and should not be treated as a news item.

 

It’s easy to fall into the dichotomy that church is church and business is business, and that, while the content of the books Christians publish is definitely related to understanding and applying the ways of God, the business practices should not be over-spiritualized.

But lately, I’ve listened to a couple of podcasts from journalist Julie Roys and wondered if I can connect some dots. First, let’s look at the problems that we, as Canadian stores are facing getting resources from HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

  • A single order can result in four different types of shipments with each one having a separate invoice generated and mailed separately, resulting in
    • an onslaught of mail, each invoice bearing a $1.30 US cost, plus printing; creating another statement line item
    • individual shipping costs and packaging costs; this in an age where “green” consciousness is constantly rising
  • long delays getting books back on press, sometimes six months
  • useless, one-time corrugated shipping cartons, which need to be recycled immediately after opening and thereby can’t be used to re-ship/deliver larger product orders to customers; again, strange in a world where “green” awareness is so important
  • insistence that “monitored” or “golden” bestseller product be released manually, sometimes resulting in a delay of an extra week; incongruous considering that these are bestsellers
  • insistence that orders as small as one or two copies of “monitored” stock not be released with small orders
  • invoices bearing what are sometimes retail prices, and sometimes are net prices
  • a website option which promises “invoices and statements” but is incapable of showing account statements
  • statements which cut off early in the month, only to re-classify invoices from the 27th to 31st of the month as overdue in subsequent statements
  • website product listings which do not immediately indicate the difference between a key product and its study guide, or a key product and its Spanish equivalent
  • invoices and packing slips sent with shipments which are for other stores in Canada and the U.S.; or there is simply no paperwork

So is all this simply, as they would have you believe, a result of staff-shortages, bad weather and a worldwide pandemic?

This is where it gets spiritual. Is God withholding his hand of blessing from Zondervan and Thomas Nelson? I’m sure they would disagree and would have us know that everything is moving up and to the right. Which of course, with the recent tidal wave of price increases, it would be.

This morning I looked again at the Tower of Babel narrative in Genesis 11:

NIV.Gen.11.5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” 8a So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth…

Maybe that’s an unusual case in terms of God’s dealings with us. Perhaps a better analogy is God simply allowing Israel to wander for 40 years for what, as Deuteronomy 1:2 tells us, could have been an eleven-day journey.

What might call God to withhold his blessing, or, as above, do more? This is where the Julie Roys podcast fits in. I want to suggest you listen two specifically,

These are but two of many examples of situations where HCCP stands “weighed in the balances and found wanting.” In the case of Carey Scott whose content was plagiarized by Christine Caine, there was a settlement of a lawsuit in 2018, but there has never been a formal apology from Caine or the publisher. Dennis Swanson’s print acknowledgement of writing/editing material for John MacArthur was removed and for over a year, the publisher simply keeps saying “we’re still looking into it.”

Consider also the HCCP authors whose brand was damaged in 2020. We listed many of them in this article. Ravi Zacharias, Eric Metaxas, Dave Ramsay, John Ortberg, Franklin Graham, MacArthur, etc. were all high-profile authors with Nelson or Zondervan.

It’s important that we not think that because bookstore staff are “in the ministry” that our publishing partners, as with every human endeavour, are not free from corruption. If you’ve been associated with Christian publishing for any length of time, you probably have stories, too; some of which perhaps even I am not aware of.

But when problems are systemic over a prolonged period of time, you have to wonder if God is “confusing the movement” as he did at Babel; or simply withholding blessings which we normally experience everyday without realizing the degree to which God is orchestrating events to make “things work together for good;” and the times God “makes your paths straight.”

 

American Faith and Politics Relationship is of Interest to Canadians

When the 2016 U.S. election results were more or less finalized, many Canadians shook their heads in bewilderment. For booksellers in Canada, it’s easy to bypass U.S.-interest titles, and for some the minutiae in the details in this book may be a bridge too far, but living so close to the border, we find ourselves frequently immersed in the story, even as five years later, the former President is still making the headlines.

With its conversion to paperback last year, many Canadian stores are carrying this title, and the spirit of patriarchal Christianity is alive and well here, too. This book also demonstrates an awareness of the role that Christian bookstores have played in the advancement of certain key voices in that movement, and you might personally recognize more people in the story than the average Canadian reader.

With that in mind, here is my review, written for Thinking Out Loud.


Review of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes DuMez (Liveright Publishing, 2020)

This is a very American story. As I type this, I’m reminded that over three-quarters of my Thinking Out Loud readers are in the U.S., and almost from the beginning, I’ve written to an American audience using American spellings and vocabulary. But I also write this sitting one country removed, north of the 49th, where Evangelicalism wears a different face.

Nonetheless, to say “Evangelical” is similar to saying “Hollywood.” Both are two significant U.S. exports. While Americans didn’t invent The Great Commission, they certainly defined it in unique terms.

While visiting Nuremberg in Germany a few years back, my wife and I had an impromptu meeting with some Evangelical leaders there who, while they used the adjective themselves, mostly rolled their eyes as U.S.-style evangelists and ministries were rolling over Europe staking their identity on social issues, rather than theological constructs.

I would argue that after reading Jesus and John Wayne, it’s necessary to pick up a copy of something like Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century by Brian Stiller, Todd M. Johnson, et al to remember that the shape and form of those who take the name Evangelical in other parts of the world is quite different, and far less politically-affiliated than what the term has come to mean in the 50 states.

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation is the work of a historian. Kristin Kobes DuMez teaches History and Gender Studies at Calvin University and since the book’s release both it and she have gained significant attention. If you wanted to catch up on the last 20 years of American Christian blogs, tweets, podcasts and magazine articles, this is the place to do so, with some previous decades thrown in for good measure. It’s a “who’s who” and “what’s what” of the major writers, influential pastors, and high profile organizations, and high profile politicians who have shaped U.S. Christianity or been shaped by it.

This is not a theological book.

While DeMez knows the value of a well-placed adjective, time and space do not allow for much beyond the rapid unraveling of the basic timeline, and while I haven’t counted, the stage version would involve a cast of hundreds and hundreds, often with a great many occupying the stage at the same time. So it is also that time and space do not allow for her to inject commentary or opinion or theological reflection on the events in Christian America. This treatment might be seen by some as rather sterile, but a glimmer of the writer’s personal perspective does get through in the way the material, much of which is direct quotations, is arranged and presented.

Christianity in America, so it seems, is unable to operate without either intentional or unintentional political ramifications. Yes, the body of frequently-attending Evangelical churchgoers influences the course of elections, but it would appear that just as often, the U.S. church is influenced by the political process itself which hangs over the U.S. church like a low-hanging thundercloud touching the church steeple. American Christians — Evangelical ones at least — have lost the plot on having an apolitical Christianity. (It might have been worth mentioning that Jesus never once directly addressed the Roman occupation, though ‘if someone asks you to go one mile…’ and the coin illustration certainly hinted at it.)

I am often reminded of 2 Timothy 2:4 “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” If Christ is our commander, our desire ought to be to build his Kingdom, right? But I’m also aware of vivid personal memories of Pat Robertson encouraging television viewers on the importance of having Christians “in the public square” and being willing to engage in that context. For Americans, a House of Representatives or Senate Chambers (or Supreme Court or even White House) devoid of a Christian presence is seemingly unimaginable, but if the expression of Christianity is light years removed from the everyday application of the teachings of Jesus, is it worth calling it a Christian presence at all?

So where does John Wayne fit in to all this? Surprisingly, he’s more than just a motif, but turns up all through the book as an example of the rugged masculinity of the wild, wild west, from California actor-turned-President Ronald Regan, even to the point of President Trump standing next to a wax figure of the celebrated actor. (The book is peppered with relevant news file photos.) Given the choice between someone who shares Evangelicalism’s values and someone who is simply a strong leader, American churchgoers seem to prefer leadership qualities over faith pedigree. If anything, that was my top takeaway from reading the book in full.

Those things, in a nutshell, are my two primary takeaways from reading Jesus and John Wayne. American Evangelicals have conflated Christianity with various types of hyper-masculine imagery and role models; and that sadly, given the choice, American Evangelicals have often chosen power over principles.

Professor DuMez, much like the anchors on the network newscasts, does not inject much in the way of commentary or personal opinion. Toward the end, she does allow one bias to emerge, a longing for a significant course correction. It seems overly idealistic however, and perhaps she and the rest of us may have to wait for a day when churches in other parts of the world take the lead roles in Evangelicalism.


Thanks to Martin Smith at Parasource Distribution in Canada for an opportunity to finally get my hands on a copy of J&JW. Much appreciated.

Addendum for Christian Book Shop Talk readers: The publisher’s own website describes the book, “Jesus and John Wayne is a sweeping, revisionist history of the last seventy-five years of white evangelicalism…” I disagree with two assumptions here. First, while the perspective is unique, I find revisionist history to be a pejorative term for works which change the facts to suit the biased conclusion. J&JW isn’t revisionist at all. Second, while white evangelicalism is in plain view, there is ample space given to black evangelicalism where appropriate. There is racial intersection throughout the story. I’m not sure why the publisher website would appear to sabotage their own book, but at least the sentence didn’t make it into the paperback’s back cover blurb.

 

 

 

Review: Where the Light Fell by Philip Yancey

This was not the book I was expecting. It was also the book I almost set aside without finishing. Where the Light Fell: A Memoir (Convergent Books, 2021) is the sometimes gut-wrenching story of the early life of one of today’s most popular Christian authors. It is not a pretty story.

Raised in an ultra-conservative Bible Belt family by a single mother, it’s a story of hardship on every level. Having read nearly half of Yancey’s two dozen books, I thought I knew some of the backstory, but nothing prepared for me for these revelations.

After reading the first forty pages just before turning out the lights for the evening, I set the book down and that night, sleep just didn’t come. It would be a week before I would pick up my copy and continue, and with some of the worst of the timeline behind me, I more eagerly continued to the end.

But the end was not what I expected. I knew of Yancey’s work with Campus Life magazine and co-editing The Student Bible, and co-authoring three books with leprosy doctor Paul Brand. But only two of those three surface for a fleeting mention toward the end. The focus here is on earlier times; younger days.

I’m sure he would agree with me that the memoir is a story of family dynamics, and from the outset it appears that the mother-son relationship will dominate. However, in later chapters — and this isn’t really a spoiler — it becomes more about the relationship with his brother Marshall Yancey, and the contrast between two boys who share so many things in common at the beginning, and then arriving at entirely opposite places. In a different world, it might be Marshall’s autobiography people were reading.

Over the years I’ve introduced dozens of people to the writing of Philip Yancey. If pressed, I often say that the draw for me is that as journalist and not a pastor, I am struck by the way he wrestles with scripture and theology.

Now I understand why. I understand why it’s necessary, why it’s imperative for him to fully work out anything he’s going espouse in print. He places a high value on raw honesty and transparency. He’s not always interested in providing the right answers as he is in the process it takes to arrive there. Only then will the answers suffice.

Living one country removed from the U.S., there’s so much of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s America that never touched my own experience. Still, our family’s yearly car trips to Florida meant driving through the southern states, and particularly in the years before the interstate highway system was completed, there were snapshots in the book — especially those portraying extreme poverty — that brought flashbacks to things I’d seen from the backseat of my parents’ car.

The guest speakers at Yancey’s summer camp were not entirely unfamiliar names, and the names of the Christian magazines his mother subscribed to also resonated. But my contact was fleeting whereas he was immersed in that milieu, and it had repercussions on every choice with which he was confronted and how he and his brother saw the world.

For those for whom this is a foreign experience, the book is a necessary tool for processing Evangelical history in the post-war, mid-20th century. No wonder that on book tours, he had said, “I truly believe this is the one book I was put on earth to write.”

It was on such a book tour years ago that I got to meet my favorite writer. I shook his hand and thanked him for all that his books have meant. He had just released What Good Is God? and the publicist had handed me a complimentary copy and I waited until all the purchasers of the book had left and then asked him if he would autograph mine. Being last in line, if I had known things about him that I now know, I might have extended our conversation by a few extra minutes discussing the Christian world which I got to see from a bit of a distance, and that he lived in every waking moment.

I also find now, I’m longing for a part two. How that upbringing shaped those experiences working for a mainstream Evangelical magazine like Campus Life or a publisher like Zondervan, with whom his books were released. Perhaps part two consists of re-reading some of those classics — What’s So Amazing About Grace, or The Jesus I Never Knew or even Soul Survivor — through the lens of what’s been revealed here in Where the Light Fell.

For those familiar with Philip Yancey’s previous works, this is a must-read. For those who have completed other recent books which deal with the history of Evangelical Protestantism in the United States in the past century, again a must-read.

Just be prepared to recognize this as the story not just of one person, but of a mother and two sons, because that’s the essence of what you’ll find.


Thanks to Martin Smith of Parasource, for arranging for a review copy. Retailers: This title is hardcover only from Parasource or Penguin-Random House Canada at $37.00 Canadian list.

Books of the Year

December is the month when Christian media confers awards of all types on Christian books. The choices are made by reviewers who inhabit an entirely different reading universe than both pastors and Christian retailers, tending to choose esoteric titles, and it’s probable that many of their selections are not available for sale in your store.

For example, check out the Fiction winners in the Christianity Today list, and the tied winner and the named finalist are both from publishers with which I am personally unfamiliar. Ingram lists 699 titles for She Writes Press, but Bookmanager confirms no designated Canadian distributor. One Bird Books has only two listed titles and they are short-discount.

CT has no such issues with the titles it recommends, simply providing Amazon links for all winning books.

At Englewood Review of Books, there’s no year-end list, but you see that same gathering of eclectic titles so popular with online reviewers. The write-ups are always engaging and believe me, if a store could toss economic considerations to the wind, some of these books deserve to be must-carry titles. It’s a question of finding the right audience.

The list at the Evangelical Christian Publisher’s Association (ECPA) is a reminder to look before you leap when consulting these lists, as their 2021 awards are actually for books published in 2020 or, as in a surprising number of cases, 2019. The list you want is the 2022 list, and CT designates its lists the same way. It’s list takes longer to materialize and doesn’t appear until May, and considers “titles published between October 2020 and October 2021.” Last year’s winner was Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation, (WaterBrook) by Latasha Morrison. Again, not a title you may have carried, and probably more U.S. interest than Canadian.

Oddly, it was at ECPA’s news page, Rush to Press, that I learned that Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren was CTs Book of the Year.  So I went back to the CT winners list and sure enough, at the very bottom there is something that says, “Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year,” so I suppose there’s more to that header that one needs to know. The author is certainly deserving, especially after having her previous title hijacked by book pirates at Amazon, but hopefully IVP will eventually bring out a paperback for Prayers in the Night, at the very least for the international market, as some stewardship-minded consumers are still holding out.

Whether you’re a fan or not, you have to credit The Gospel Coalition for at least naming their awards in the correct year. Unless you’re in a strong Reformed market, you still may not have many of these, and the considered titles are going to be theologically narrower, but if there is a customer request, they are at least from publishers and distributors with whom you work closely.

Finally, for fiction lovers, The Christy Awards winners were announced at the end of October with a contemporary title, The Edge of Belonging by Amanda Cox (Revell) taking top honours. Click the list for yourself and you’ll see an absence of Amish titles, and the fiction that I call “futuristic” (which we classify as subset of “suspense” and “mystery”) they call “speculative.” Isn’t all fiction somewhat speculative?

Redeemer University Bookstore Hopes to Serve All of Hamilton

With enrollment at an all time high, Ancaster’s Redeemer University (formerly Redeemer University College) has re-branded their campus bookstore and hopes to be able offer services to the broader Christian community of greater Hamilton.

The store is named 21Five, which is “a reference to Revelation 21:5: “He who is seated at the throne said, ‘I am making all things new.’””

In a story in Resound, the university’s quarterly magazine, store manager Kristel Forcier said,

As a university store, we’re the place to find textbooks but also items such as apparel, diploma frames and giftware. At the same time, we’re also a Christian bookstore where our customers can purchase Bibles, Bible studies, devotionals, books on Christian living and Christian storybooks for children. This will help us build relationships with local churches and schools by giving them a place to buy books and other products for their students and congregants.

That would be an ideal worth pursuing, especially after Hamilton’s only remaining Christian bookstore, a Gospel Lighthouse store, closed a few years ago, and the much larger Family Christian store in Burlington closed more recently.

However, having visited many times before the renovation, space is limited and school supplies, campus branded merchandise and course textbooks will always dominate.

Would remaining space intended to appeal to the broader Christian market resonate with all of them? The interim president, Dr. David Zietsma, is quite clear on this: “At a university anchored in the Reformed Christian tradition, 21Five will reflect the depth and riches of Reformed Christian theology and philosophy as well as scholarship from a Reformed Christian perspective across many disciplines…”

To this end, in a separate story, it was also announced the store would feature a shelving section dedicated to past and current faculty.

A look at the store website points to a selection with a bent toward scholarly and academic titles.

Over time, the store will need to evolve policies and procedures determining its willingness to serve the broader Christian populace, especially when special order requests are born out of a desire to support the school, or avoid purchasing from large corporations.

With over 1,000 students current registered, and factoring in friends and family, the store’s long-term success is assured at a time when other Christian retailers are struggling.


based on articles originally reported by

Literature Professor’s Critique of Christian Publishing

Karen Swallow Prior is a professor of English literature, but she’s not an outsider to our industry, in fact, you may have some of her books on your shelves.

In a recent episode of The Phil Vischer Podcast, she is interviewed by Skye Jethani and covers material from a recent address she gave to the Evangelical Press Association about “Christian publishing’s addiction to celebrity and lack of integrity. But who’s really to blame—Christian book publishers, or Christian book consumers?”

To respect your time, and save you from a lot of silliness, skip (fast-forward) past the banter to 46:00 or use this YouTube link. Audio-only of the podcast is available from the usual podcast sources. (Total time from that point is 36 minutes.) 

This will also be of interest to the aspiring writers who sometimes drop by Book Shop Talk.

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

HarperCollins to Re-issue Thompson Chain Reference Bible

HarperCollins Christian Publishing seems to think there is some life yet still for the Thompson Chain Reference Bible. That surprises me. I never did get into the concept of having to flip pages back and forth to follow the word study chain of references. I had very rare requests for them at our store and I felt it was the study system of a passing generation of readers.

Study Bibles, with their notes on the bottom of the page, had already spoiled me for how I got thematic information. Not to mention the online world of hyperlinks and drop-down menus; You Version, Blue Letter Bible, Bible Gateway, etc.

Then there’s the tension in some churches over whether teaching and study should be thematic in nature, drawing from a variety of selected texts, or expository (verse-by-verse) examination of a single text. Expository preaching has its advantages, but in the extreme, it can draw away from word study.

Harper bought the product line from Kirkbride and plan to release new versions in 2021, adding their Comfort Print® editions in 2022. The official announcement is here. There are currently editions available in five popular translations.

How Things Shaped Up at My Store

Usually when I publish a top 40 chart, I have to fudge the last 4 or 5 entries because the data doesn’t support a strong list of titles. But this time around, some things which did well (Dream Big by Bob Goff, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer, Anxious for Nothing by Max Lucado, Chasing Vines by Beth Moore) actually got cut from the list for lack of space.

Also, it was interesting that we did our Spring 2020 list before the lockdown, and only 12 books that were there appeared here. Combined, it’s a healthy collection of about 70 great titles.

You’ll probably see titles that didn’t do as well where you work, but also have some that didn’t make our list at all. Feel free to compare notes in a comment here or in the dealer Facebook group. (By the way #1 was a complete surprise when I added up the numbers; it was really a tie with David Jeremiah, but I figured David gets enough encouragement; why not put a Canadian author at the top spot?)

Correction: Our #34 book was actually various editions of The Book of Enoch, though The Book of Jasher did well, too.