The Demise of the Christian Bookstore

The news broke last week that Family Christian stores are closing. The decline of the Christian bookstore continues.

Family Christian declared bankruptcy two years ago, in 2015. Not wanting to see this valuable resource for selling Christian products fail, Christian publishers and other suppliers forgave Family Christian $127 million in debt and approved the reorganization that allowed a number of Family Christian stores to remain operational.

working

Now, Family Christian has made the announcement that despite the changes they made to improve product selection and make their stores more appealing to their clientele, sales have continued to decline. Now the chain is forced to close its stores.

The closing of Family Christian stores is sad news for the Christian book industry and for communities around the country. The impact of this big.

  • Christian publishers will now have 240 less stores to sell their books through.
  • 240 communities across 36 states will now lack a physical resource where people can discover Christian products, where the gospel can be proclaimed, and where people can receive encouragement.

While book sales are migrating largely to the Internet, there is still something to be said about physical stores. Across the country, physical stores are not on the decline. In Charlotte, where I live, there are numerous strip malls and shopping centers being built.
In fact, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) has been reporting an increase in their number of bookstore members of the past few years. The number of independent secular bookstores around the country is growing, while the number of Christian bookstores is declining.

You may want to attribute the decline of the Christian bookstore to the weakening of Christianity in the United States. I don’t think that this is the largest contributing factor to what is undermining Christian bookstores.

Why are Indie general market bookstores succeeding while Christian bookstores aren’t? I think the answer can be summed up in one sentence:

General market indie bookstores have embraced the indie author, Christian bookstores have not.

Here is why this is so important. Indie authors are excited about their books. They may not have the clout that national bestselling authors have in terms of drawing large crowds, but they still draw people to a bookstore. Indie authors are enthusiastic. They host events and invite the community to these events. Bookstores that embrace indie authors and their events find that these authors bring the community to the bookstore. These community members come for the indie author event, but they also buy other books. Increased foot traffic equals increased sales.

Sadly, for fear of the “unknown”, Christian bookstores have refused to embrace the indie author to their own demise. I just hope that the remaining Christian bookstores wake up and do what they need to succeed.

Related Posts:
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How to Make Your Social Media Interactions More Fruitful

My favorite soda is Dr. Pepper. Joining the almost 16,000,000 other Dr. Pepper fans on Facebook allows me to express my likes on social media and support something I derive pleasure from.

Most people follow businesses and brands on social media because doing so allows them to express what they like as well as stay in touch with the producers of the things they engage with on a regular basis. But, fans want more.

social-media-fruitfulStudies show that individuals who decide to follow businesses on social media do so for three main reasons.

  1. To find out more about the products or services these entities provide.
  2. To receive exclusive offers and coupons for these products and services.
  3. To give feedback through rating or reviewing the products and services they receive.

Readers follow authors on social media for similar reasons. Fans want ongoing information that enriches their lives. They want to know when you are releasing new books. They want exclusive offers for discounts on your books, and they want to give feedback on your books.

If you want your social media efforts to produce more results, keep these three reasons in mind when posting material on your social media accounts. Give your readers:

  1. Sneak peaks into upcoming projects.
  2. Additional information on your book’s topics to enrich your readers’ lives.
  3. Special offers—discounts on current books and on new releases.
  4. The chance to interact with you by answering questions or giving feedback on ideas.

Social media is a place for people to stay on top of news and express their opinions. Give your fans what they are looking for and they will remain loyal and recommend you to others as well.

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Photo courtesy of Gilles Lambert

What Your Readers Want

Every author wants to attract readers for their books. After all, readers equal sales.

But, what do readers want? How do you attract readers to your books?

Enter content marketing. Content marketing is about providing your potential readers with information that inspires, delights, entertains, or meets a need. Providing readers with regular content via your blog, social media accounts, and email newsletters helps you establish an ongoing relationship with readers. This relationship and useful, quality content nudges these readers toward your books.

what-do-readers-want

Content is everywhere on the Internet. So, how do you as an author get your content to stand out from the crowd to attract readers? Following are four tips to help you develop and curate content that is attractive.

1. Meets a Need
Your content must meet a need. Whether that need is to inspire people into a closer relationship with God, better financial or time management, or learning to understand their inherent self-worth, your information must resonate with your audience.

2. Is Niche Focused
Your content must be niche focused. In other words, instead of inspiring everyone to have a closer relationship with God, focus on inspiring a group of people such as students or mothers or teachers in this regard. The more you focus your content for a specific group of people, the more attractive your message will be.

3. Has a Unique Voice
You must develop your own voice. Don’t mimic others. Be yourself. Be unique. You have a special message for your audience. Use your voice and experience to present your information in a way that only you can.

4. Includes a Clear Point of View
Don’t muddy the waters by trying to be all things to all people. Your point of view should be clear and focused on your niche audience. Stay on topic. Don’t get sidetracked. If your message is about prayer, keep to prayer. If it is about relationships, don’t stray into financial issues.

You can attract more readers through top quality content. However, that content must also meet a need for a niche group and be presented with a unique voice and clear point of view.

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Photo courtesy of Freddie Marriage

Is Christian Fiction Growing or Dying?

It is surprising to me how many people assume that “clean fiction” is the same as “Christian fiction.” It’s not.

To be considered “Christian fiction” a book must promote Christian teachings or exemplify a Christian way of life.

Over the years, Christian fiction has waxed and waned. A few decades ago, there was a great push for Christian bookstores to carry more fiction books. Now it appears that Christian fiction may be on the waning phase for traditional publishing houses.

christian-fiction

Chip MacGregor, a Christian literary agent, recently wrote a few publishing predictions for 2017 on his blog. Here is what he had to say about Christian fiction:

“Christian fiction as we know it is going to almost completely go away. The days of people buying 100,000 copies of a new Amish romance are dead. The readership has aged, the readers have discovered there are quality issues with CBA mystery, suspense and thriller genres, so CBA fiction is going to morph into “clean romance” and “values fiction” and “apocalyptic biblical thrillers” aimed specifically at a shrinking group of hard-core conservative evangelical readers in their 50’s. There are only a handful of houses still acquiring Christian fiction these days.”

Sales of religious novels began to decline in 2014, after many years of robust growth. As a result, a number of publishers began pulling back from that market. However, statistics showed that traditional publishing houses were only releasing around 250 new fiction titles a year (not counting the various Harlequin Love Inspired and Heartsong lines which publish over 200 per year) compared to thousands of nonfiction titles released each year.

While the traditional Christian publishing houses may be reducing the number of clearly “Christian fiction” books they produce, the number of “Christian fiction” books produced by independent authors and small publishers is growing. Subscribe to any one of the many Christian discount ebook newsletters (i.e. Vessel Project, Faithful Reads, Inspired Reads, Christian Book Readers, etc.) and you will find plenty of Christian fiction books by independent authors.

In fact, I believe that “Christian fiction” is growing with independent authors and small publishers. Over the past few years, the number of Christian fiction titles that have been nominated for the Christian Small Publisher Book of the Year Award has grown each year. And, this year, for the first time, more General Fiction books were nominated than books in the Christian Living category (historically the largest category in the award).

If, indeed, the traditional Christian publishing houses are switching to more “clean fiction” to reach a crossover market and increase their sales, this leaves a gap that independent authors can fill. I believe there is still a strong market for good redemptive Christian fiction books, but the majority of sales for these will be digital. After all, one recent statistic showed that 70% of fiction book purchases are ebooks.

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Photo courtesy of Sarah Dorweiler

Bigger is Not Necessarily Better

The bigger the better. That’s our mindset.

Go to a fast food restaurant and you are frequently asked if you want to “supersize” your meal. We are usually looking to acquire bigger cars, bigger houses, and bigger paychecks.

slow-and-steady

Authors can easily fall into this mindset. We want to sell our books to the crowds. The bigger the audience the better. We can get so caught up in gathering a large audience, that we end up neglecting to convert the people in our audience to buyers.

Most people assume that larger audiences equate to more sales. This is the mindset of most traditional publishing houses today. The questions editors ask most aspiring authors are “How big is your audience?” and “What is your platform?”

A friend of mine blogs on virtues and skills of manliness. He has done a fantastic job of growing his audience through networking and cross-promotion with other bloggers speaking to men. As a result, a publishing house approached him about writing a book on ways to use pocket knives. The book was not his idea, it was the brainchild of the publishing house. They were simply looking for someone with an audience to write the book. That way, the publisher would be assured of sales because the author already had an audience to promote the book to.

Many people independently publish a book because—rather than having a large audience to sell the book to—they have a message or story they believe in. Yet, after the book is published, these same authors can get so caught up in seeking a large audience that they fail to really connect with their audience. As a result, their sales remain dismal.

Recently, thought leader Seth Godin did a short article on “How to be heard” on his blog. One of the statements he made was “Convert six people before you try to convert sixty.” This is excellent advice.

If you are struggling to be heard, if you are struggling to sell your books, follow this great advice. Focus on a few. Work on convincing the few people you already have in your circle to believe your message and buy your book before you try to persuade the masses.

In our immediate gratification culture, the concept of building your audience a little at a time seems counter intuitive. Yet, slow and steady usually gets that job done. Go for better, rather than bigger.

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Photo Courtesy of Providence Doucet