Market Your Christian Novel Like a Pro

According to Publishers Weekly, sales of Christian fiction books is healthy. The number of indie authors publishing fiction books appears to be growing. In 2016, 17% of overall books purchased were indie published—but 30% of fiction books purchased were indie published. That number has since grown. This year, one-third of the books nominated for the 2018 Christian Indie Awards were fiction books.

One of the trends in fiction books is that a higher percentage of these books are being purchased as ebooks rather than print books. According to Author Earnings, fiction books make up the lion’s share of ebook purchases with 70% of all fiction sales occurring as ebooks and 90% of all romance book purchased as ebooks.

If you write and publish Christian fiction, you know that marketing a fiction book is difficult. If your fiction book sales are slow, then you might want to take a lesson from traditional Christian book publishers and imitate their marketing strategies for novels by new authors. Following are a number of marketing strategies traditional Christian publishing houses use to promote novels by authors who do not already have a built-in fan base.

  1. Mailings to bookstore managers about the new novel.
  2. Mailings to libraries.
  3. Mailings to book clubs.
  4. Placement in distributor’s catalogs (Ingram/Spring Arbor and Anchor catalogs).
  5. Strategic ad placement for print and online media.
  6. Eblasts to readers, retailers, and media.
  7. Advance copies to publications that review books.
  8. Advance copies to influencers.
  9. Placement of ARC on NetGalley for reviews.
  10. Securing media interviews.
  11. Host author events and book signings.
  12. Cross-promotion with other authors with similar titles.
  13. Special promotions with coupons and discounts to drive sales.
  14. Free novella ebook prequel that includes the first few chapters to the full-length novel.

I believe all these strategies are valuable. They work together to create synergy and exposure that drive the most sales. However, I am also aware that many indie authors do not have the resources to engage in all 14 of these activities. Therefore, if you have to choose just one of these activities, I suggest that you practice number 14. Provide a free novella ebook prequel to your novel.

Offer your novella for free on all the ebook platforms (Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Apple Book Store, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.) and on your website (in exchange for an email to help build your email list). Traditional publishers report that this strategy has led to stronger ebook sales for their authors who do this over authors who do not use this technique. Smashwords, the largest self-publishing ebook platform, reports that authors that offer the first ebook free for a fiction series earn 55% more on average than series that don’t offer the first ebook free.

Maybe you are a fiction author who wants to do a number of the above strategies but are unsure of how to go about these marketing activities. Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) can help you with that. We offer our members access to eblasts for Christian readers, retailers, and media, we provide information each month on podcasts and radio shows seeking guests in our newsletter, we offer cooperative print and digital advertising, and many other resources for spreading the word on your books.

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Censorship: It Could Happen to You

Censorship isn’t always government led. Sometimes it comes from society and businesses. It’s happening today on the Internet from large companies and it affects you Christian authors and publishers.

I recently returned from attending the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) annual convention. It was the organization’s 75th convention. The organization began in 1944 with 150 Evangelical Christian broadcasters and church leaders forming in response to a set of regulations that banned the purchase of radio airtime for religious broadcasting. Due to the regulations, Evangelical Christian broadcasters were taken off of national radio networks and only allowed access to small independent stations with limited audiences. The ban was finally overturned in 1949. NRB has long been known for their stance on freedom of speech.

We are in a new era, yet we face the same challenge today. Giant Internet companies are demonetizing, blocking, shutting down and censoring accounts held by outspoken Christian conservatives. A few examples over the past few years include:

  1. In 2015, GoFundMe shut down a fundraising account for the owners of the Sweet Cakes bakery in Oregon who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding. The owners were facing a hefty legal fine and the GoFundMe account was set up to help them pay this fine. After shutting the account, GoFundMe added “discriminatory” campaigns to the list of causes that cannot use their service.
  2. In August 2017, YouTube demonetized hundreds of videos produced by Dr. Michael Brown host of Line of Fire radio show. Dr. Brown is an author, professor, proponent of Messianic Judaism and is a leader in the Charismatic Movement.
  3. In March 2017, Vimeo removed 850 videos by Pure Passion TV and closed its account. The company reported that they disagreed with the views expressed in four videos on sexuality posted by Pure Passion TV.
  4. In October 2014, Twitter blocked users from linking to a petition supporting the Houston pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed by the city because the pastors supported a referendum against a gender-neutral restrooms ordinance.

Christian authors and publishers, this issue affects you. I have spoken with outspoken Christian indie authors whose Facebook accounts have disappeared. A member of CSPA had his Amazon ads denied because they contained religious content (see Amazon: Christian Authors Beware). We, as Christian authors and publishers, must take this issue seriously and get behind those who are actively protecting our freedom of speech in the digital realm.

The National Religious Broadcasters has launched an initiative to do just this very thing. The Internet Freedom Watch aims to bring greater attention to the threats against free speech and to challenge Silicon Valley to uniformly practice its professed commitment to free speech.

You can support NRB’s efforts by doing the following:

Only working together can we raise awareness of this issue, fight back, and maintain freedom of speech. Let’s not let others silence our voices speaking God’s truth.

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Overcoming Roadblocks to Marketing

The numbers vary, but they are usually small. The average nonfiction book sells around 250 copies per year and around 2,000 copies over its lifetime. The vast majority of indie published books sell far fewer than 200 copies over their lifetime with one large self-publishing house sales averaging 41 copies per title published.

Why the poor sales? I believe there are three main reasons:

1. A glut of books.
No other industry introduces as many new products every year as the book industry. Each year in the United States alone over 750,000 new titles are introduced.

2. Poor quality.
Sadly, many indie published books are inferior in quality—either in writing or design. This hurts sales.

3. Lack of marketing.
Many indie and self-published authors are focused on getting their book to print. Marketing is an afterthought and an activity that many authors despise and don’t understand.

For those indie authors serious about marketing, a number of roadblocks make success difficult. Following are the two biggest obstacles that indie authors face in marketing a book.

1. Scarcity of funds.

Few indie authors have deep pockets. Many sink most of their available money into creating their book through paying for editing and cover design. Few funds then remain to put into marketing.

Enter creative marketing. It is possible to substitute time for dollars in creating a good marketing campaign. There are many no- to low-cost strategies for marketing a book. I outline many in my book Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace. Following are two strategies to get you started:

  • Get influencers to talk about your book. Find bloggers to review your book, interview you or host a guest post by you. Seek out interview opportunities on podcasts and internet radio shows that speak to your target audience.
  • Build an email list by offering quality material in exchange for people’s email addresses. An email list is a great marketing tool. It offers a great way to garner sales by offering coupons, discounts, and specials to your subscribers.

2. Stretched too thin.

While you can substitute time for money in creating an effective marketing plan, most indie and self-published authors simply don’t have much time because they are already stretched too thin. Most already have full-time jobs and families, not to mention church responsibilities. In addition, as an indie author, all the tasks involved in bringing a book to production and marketing fall on you. Most authors simply don’t have much time to invest in marketing.

Enter time management. Just as you must decide to dedicate time to writing to be able to actually pen a book, you must also dedicate time to marketing to effectively promote your book. Either set aside a specified amount of time each day that you are going to dedicate to marketing tasks or determine to do a certain number of marketing tasks each day. Unless you make it a priority, it won’t happen.

Every author faces roadblocks. Your challenge is not to let these obstacles detour you, but to rise above and persevere. Then you will continually move toward your goal of selling your books.

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What Do Books and Music Have in Common?

When was the last time you purchased a music CD in a physical store?

Over the past decade, the music industry has undergone a huge shift. Consider the following:

  • Sales of CDs have declined while sales of MP3 music downloads purchased via the Internet have increased. Digital music sales overtook physical format sales in 2015.
  • Music streaming has become big business. Music subscription services allowing individuals to listen to their choice of music for a low monthly fee saw a 60 percent growth in 2017.
  • Indie music talent is growing. Artists are ditching the big label name records and attempting to break through to fame via streaming platforms.

When was the last time you purchased a print book in a brick-and-mortar store?

The book publishing industry is following the same movement as the music industry. Think about these trends:

  • Sales of print books in physical bookstores has greatly declined. The vast majority of books are now purchased on the Internet.
  • Sales of ebooks have stalled out to around 25 percent of book purchases, yet book subscription services continue to thrive—think Kindle Unlimited, Scribd, and Bookmate.
  • Indie authors are growing. Many authors are ditching the big publishing companies and publishing their works independently, taking them directly to consumers.

The big announcement in the news that recently caught my attention was:

With the popularity of digital music surging, Best Buy is officially pulling the plug on music CDs, and another retail giant (Target) may soon join them. Although CDs remain a relatively popular format worldwide, sales in the U.S. dropped more than 18% last year, prompting Best Buy to drop the format entirely. The retailer will stop selling CDs and pull them from shelves on July 1. Although Best Buy used to be the top music seller in the U.S., nowadays its CD sales generate a relatively low $40 million per year.

Most mass merchandise stores have already shrunk their book and music sections. Now some big box stores are dropping their CD sales. Since book industry trends appear to be following music industry trends, how long until these stores also drop their book sales?

Yes, print book sales are still strong, but don’t let that fool you. We are now in a digital era. Moving forward, the trend for the book industry is that a higher percentage of revenue from books will come via audiobooks, ebooks and subscription services.

Subscription services are on the rise. Audiobook streaming services are beginning to pop up—think Audible and StoryTel. Serialized books via apps will also grow—think Radish and Tapas. As publishers and authors, embracing digital in the coming years will be required to stay relevant.

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Are You In a Rush?

I remember being 37 weeks pregnant and eager to give birth. Tired and big as a whale, I just wanted the baby out of my body. Yet, my baby just refused to be rushed.

One of the fun things I do at writers conferences is provide consultations to attendees. At a recent conference, I was consulting with a pair of authors who were bent on having their indie published book available for sale within four short weeks.

The pair had just finished a final run-through of the manuscript. The interior of the book was not yet laid out, nor did they have a final cover copy.

“What’s the rush?” I asked them. The response was that they had already sent out press releases announcing that the book would be coming out.


I then asked the authors if they had had any responses from their press release. The response was “No.”

I told them that if they did not have any responses from the press release, they could just move forward as if they had never sent it out. This way, they could have more time to make sure their manuscript and cover were in top shape, and they could develop a book launch plan—which they had not yet done (other than send out press releases).

One of the authors remained adamant. “We can’t change the on-sale date (also known as the book release date), the press releases have gone out.”

I tried to gently explain to this author that if they had received no response from their initial press release blast, that it was highly unlikely that anyone would notice that they changed their on-sale date. I educated these authors that, due to the number of press releases that media personnel are inundated with, it often takes more than one contact for them to notice a press release. I attempted to educate the pair on the Rule of Seven (which I have previously written about on this blog).

Rarely is there a reason to “rush” a book to press. Take your time. The following elements should be firmly in place before you choose the date your book will release.

  • Your manuscript has been edited, proofread, and professionally laid out.
  • A beautiful cover design has been selected.
  • Beta readers have reviewed the book.
  • You have a website and a social media presence for the author/book.
  • Endorsements for the book have been secured.
  • You have a comprehensive marketing plan in place.
  • You have built and are continuing to build anticipation for the release of the book.

I know that your book is your baby. As you near the end, your desire to have the finished product increases. However, just like a baby in the womb, your book needs to complete its gestation period so that the final product is ready to thrive outside the incubation vessel.

Don’t let your eagerness to see your book in print or your excitement about your book’s impending publication run ahead of your preparedness.

Remember: “If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.” Don’t rush, take your time. Your book will be better for it.

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How Effective Are Your Press Releases?

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Photo courtesy of Jean Wimmerlin.