How to Get a Book into a Christian Bookstore

Hello. I published a series of books through Createspace. I just returned from a Christian retail trade show and discovered that if I want my books in Christian stores, publishing through Createspace is not the way to go. I have your book and I wanted you to know this information. I think you should include it in your next edition.

This message was recently left on my voicemail. The gentleman on the message did not leave a return phone number or an email, so I could not get back in touch with him. So, instead, I will respond to this statement in a blog post and educate everyone.

bookstore-shelf-quote

 

Of course, my immediate reaction to this voicemail message was, “Did you read my book?”

In Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace, I devote a whole chapter to “Secure Distribution” where I talk about how Christian bookstores order products from distributors. Rarely do bookstores order books directly from authors or small publishers. In the chapter, I list the distributors from whom Christian bookstores order products.

Maybe, I did not make the message clear enough in the book. So, I will attempt to clarify. Here are three important things to know about getting your books into Christian bookstores.

1. It is extremely difficult to get Christian bookstores to stock titles from independently published authors and small publishers.

Note that I said “extremely difficult”, not “impossible”. In fact, a number of authors and publishers who are members of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) have had success in getting Christian bookstores to carry their titles, especially independent Christian bookstores.

In fact, in my book Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace, in the chapter titled “Reach Christian Retailers” I talk about how difficult it is to get a book in a bookstore. I state, “For every available bookstore shelf space, there are 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space. In essence, any given book has less than a 1% chance of being placed on a bookstore shelf”.” The competition is stiff.

2. How the book is published is irrelevant; who is listed as the publisher is important.

With limited shelf space, Christian bookstores have to be careful about which books they choose to showcase. First, they must be assured that the book is the right theological bent for their customer base. Second, they must have some confidence that the book will sell.

Christian bookstores by and large purchase books published by the large well-known Christian publishing houses and written by established Christian authors. These are entities that Christian booksellers trust. Most Christian retail stores won’t touch a book that is obviously self-published—in other words, one that lists Createspace as the publisher. Even Barnes and Noble will not stock a book produced by Createspace in their physical bookstores. The company views Amazon as its competitor.

If an independent author is serious about getting his books into Christian bookstores, then, that author should use a business entity (publishing house or ministry) as the publisher name on his books.

You can produce a book through CreateSpace and do this. Instead of having CreateSpace assign an ISBN number to your book, you must purchase your own ISBN number through Bowker. This number is assigned to your business name. When your book is published, it will show up as published by your business name, not Createspace, both on Amazon and in distribution.

3. Having your book in the right distribution channels is required for a Christian bookstore to stock it.

There are always exceptions, but, by-and-large, most Christian bookstores won’t order books directly from an independent publisher or a small publisher. These stores simply don’t want to mess with multiple accounts. Instead, they order in batches from a distributor, making their accounting and return process much easier.

Additionally, Christian bookstores, for the most part, don’t order books from Ingram or Baker & Taylor (and definitely not from Amazon, which is a retailer). These distributors cater to the general market. Instead, Christian bookstores order from Christian distributors of which there are two main ones: Spring Arbor and Anchor Distribution.

Even if your book is selling like hotcakes, Christian bookstores won’t stock it unless they can order it from a Christian distributor. Createspace’s expanded distribution will place your book in Ingram, but not in Spring Arbor (unless you work hard to get them to do so).

I believe the gentleman on my voicemail was a little put out because he had spent a large amount of money to attend the Christian retail show and had little success. This is one reason that Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) offers our members trade show representation. Member authors and publishers of CSPA can present books to Christian retailers at a fraction of the cost of hosting their own booth at a show, reducing both costs and risk.

Publishing through Createspace is not the issue. The issue is knowing how to present your book to Christian bookstores so that the bookstores are confident your book is unique, what their consumers want, and will sell. Then, having the book available through Christian distribution will clinch the deal.

Related Posts:
More Than a Shelf
An Industry Shakeup
Staying Relevant

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13 thoughts on “How to Get a Book into a Christian Bookstore

  1. Great article! So, with the influence of Amazon in the Christian marketplace, along with the difficulty and hassle of distributing through Anchor Distributors and Spring Arbor, should a small publisher market exclusively online? It seems that is the way people are buying books these days. Also, the discounts with the major distributors are comparable with Amazon. Also with print-on-demand, there is no warehousing with Createspace/Amazon. It seems as though the old brick-and-mortar target is going the way of the carrier pigeon. With a solid online direct-to-customer plan, it doesn’t seem to make sense to target bookstores. Your thoughts?

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  2. Niral: I think that a good marketing plan is multifaceted. That means that you don’t just focus on one area of marketing. I don’t think that all your marketing should be online. Stay tuned: Next Monday’s blog post is about this very topic. As for bookstores, it is difficult to get a book into a store, so whether an independent author puts their efforts in this arena really depends on their book and their marketing efforts, as well as how well-known they are. There is still a loyal contingent that shops in bookstores. So, at the very least, your book should be made available via the distributors that Christian bookstores purchase from. That way, if a consumer hears about your book and goes into their local bookstore to purchase the book, the store can look your book up, tell the consumer they don’t stock it, but can order it for them. If your book is not in distribution, then the store will simply tell the person the book is not available, and you have lost a sale.

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  3. Pingback: Different Dynamics Between Christian & Secular Bookstores | Inside the Inkwell

  4. Ingram now owns Spring Arbor. Am I correct to assume that putting your book into distribution with Ingram means that it is also made available to stores that order from Spring Arbor?

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  5. Ingram has always owned Spring Arbor. It is their Christian division. If you book is in Ingram, it will not automatically show up in Spring Arbor. There is a special process for getting books in Spring Arbor.

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  6. Excellent article, your points are well taken. In my opinion, it applies to all book stores: christian and independent. In CreateSpace,not all of the books in my Bible word search book series are in the extended distribution system. I wish the christian book stores and distributors were more accessible to my Bible word search book series because It would benefit everyone, If only Christian book stores and their distributors could come to a mutual agreement with CreateSpace.

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  7. This is where belonging to an association can benefit authors. Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) has a benefit for our members where IngramSpark (when using their POD service) will review their books for inclusion in Christian distribution.

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  8. If you are using Ingram Spark, it is easy to get into Spring Arbor. I actually did this for two of my titles. The person I spoke to on the phone at IngramSpark told me to submit the request in writing (an email will do) for each book. Also, your BISAC code should be specifically a Christian code.

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  9. If you use your own ISBN# and use CreateSpace, they will not put your book in their expanded marketing. It will not go to libraries and such.

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  10. Kristie: CreateSpace does not have expanded marketing. They have expanded distribution. This makes your book available via Ingram to libraries and bookstores, but libraries and bookstores do not order these books unless the author does the marketing to them.

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  11. I have self-published two books with Createspace. Am going to begin Appearing on TV to promote my books in a couple of months. Exactly what steps do I need to take to get my book to Spring Arbor so they can be purchased in Christian bookstores?

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  12. This is about a year since you posted, but it’s well received today as the first day you wrote it! I have learned so much about the essential work-arounds to have my indie-published books, that are endorsed by best-selling authors, distributed the way I want. I finally feel like I have an understanding of the “multiple monsters” and I will reach my goals. Thanks! From one Christian Small Publisher Association member! Go CSPA!

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