About marketingchristianbooks

Sarah Bolme is the Director of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA), the owner of CREST Publications, and the author of 7 books including Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace and numerous articles. She is also the editor of the CSPA Circular, the monthly newsletter of Christian Small Publishers Association. A clinical social worker by education and experience, Sarah stumbled into the world of publishing after her two self-help books were published by a small publisher. Sarah and her husband, a fiction author, then collaborated on a set of board books for infants and toddlers after the birth of their children. After much thought and research, they decided to publish the project themselves. This decision led to the creation of CREST Publications and Sarah’s journey into marketing. Navigating the Christian marketplace began as a rather solitary learning experience for Sarah as no guide books or associations were available for marketing in this unique marketplace. After meeting and dialoging with other small and self-publishers marketing books in the Christian marketplace, it became clear that an organization was needed to provide assistance and information to new and emerging publishers. Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) was founded in January 2004 with Sarah Bolme as Director. Sarah’s passion is educating others to help them improve their situation whether that is helping them get unstuck in their lives through counseling or marketing their books into the Christian marketplace.

Poetry Sales On the Rise

Have you ever attended a Poetry Slam?

In case you don’t know what a Poetry Slam is, it is a competition where poets read or recite their original works. The concept began in the early 1980s when American poet Marc Smith began experimenting with turning existing open microphone poetry readings into a competition.

In 1997, Poetry Slam, Inc. was founded to promote the creation and performance of poetry that engages communities and provides a platform for voices to be heard beyond social, cultural, political, and economic barriers. This nonprofit organization hosts a YouTube channel as well as live and online poetry events.

Poetry Slam, Inc., is a secular organization. However, some Christian poets and churches around the country host Christian Spoken Word Contests. One Facebook Page highlights Christian Spoken Word poetry and encourages anyone with a video performance to post on the Page to share with others.

Poetry sales are booming. Last year marked the best sales on record for poetry. There appears to be a new appetite for the works of living poets. Many poets are acquiring large audiences of online followers. In addition, poetry is becoming more popular through poetry slams and at live festivals. In fact, according to Nielson BookScan, poetry book sales have seen a 66% increase in the past five years.

With this rise in Poetry sales and interest in poetry, Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) has added a Poetry category to the Christian Indie Awards. Over the years, we have had a number of authors and publishers ask us about adding a Poetry category and we believe the time is ripe to do so.

For the 2019 Christian Indie Awards, four new categories have been added. These are:

  • Mystery and Suspense
  • Business / Finance
  • Self-Help
  • Poetry

In addition, the Bible Study / Theology category has been split into two separate categories, bringing the total categories for the Christian Indie Awards to 18 categories. You can view all 18 categories and their descriptions on the Christian Indie Awards website at https://www.christianaward.com/eligibility-guidelines/categories.

Nominations for the 2019 Christian Indie Awards are now open. If you are an Indie author or small publisher with a Christian book with a copyright of 2017 or 2018, you can nominate your book at https://www.christianaward.com/nominate-your-book.

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Photo courtesy of Katzenfee50.

How Readers Choose Books

If we could figure out the formula for how readers choose what book to read next, then almost any author could write and publish a bestseller. Sadly, no formula exists. After all, we are humans and formulas rarely describe human behavior.

So, how do readers choose books? —and if we have an answer to this question—how can it inform us to better market our books so that they are the ones readers choose?

A book reviewer recently conducted an informal poll on fiction reader behavior. She asked a group of Christian fiction readers how they decide what book to purchase next. Here is what the survey found were the top five criteria driving what book readers choose to read:

  • The book was written by a favorite author.
  • The book was classified in a favorite genre.
  • The book sported an attractive cover.
  • The back-cover copy was appealing.
  • The book was recommended by reviewers and bloggers.

Remember, this is not a formula, rather it is a loose guide of what draws readers in to choose a certain book. I believe there are a few marketing takeaways from the answers to this survey. None of these takeaways are new, but reminders are useful and help us keep our minds focused on what is important.

1. Fans are important.

Every author needs fans. Especially with fiction books, fans are necessary to sell more books. Many readers read authors they have read in the past and know they will deliver a good story. For fiction authors, cultivating a group of fans who love and promote your books is crucial. Find ways to reward your fans and keep them engaged between books.

2. A professional, engaging cover design is a must.

Your book cover is your number one marketing tool. Don’t skimp on your book’s cover. Use a professional designer to develop an engaging, eye-popping cover that fits your book’s genre. Test your cover design. Offer your friends and fans two designs of your upcoming book’s cover and have them vote on which one appeals the most to them. You can use a quiz generating service like Interact to run your poll.

3. Crafting a great description for your book is crucial.

People read fiction books for entertainment. They want to read a compelling, memorable story. Good fiction always has tension that comes from the challenges that the main characters face. These characters desire something deeply, but an obstacle stands in the way of allowing them to achieve their desire. In crafting a book description for fiction, show the readers these elements and promise them an intriguing story that they can relate to. Then, make a promise to readers about what they will find in the book. This promise should be intriguing so that the reader wants to read the book to find out more.

4. Reviews are essential.

Word-of-mouth remains the number one driver of book sales. Positive reviews by readers and bloggers are a form of word-of-mouth. They are social proof to readers that your book is worth their investment of time and money. Make obtaining reviews one of your top priorities in your book marketing plan.

Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) understands the important of reviews. This is why we offer our members the BookCrash program. This books for bloggers review program helps CSPA members get more reviews for their books. In addition, CSPA offers an on-demand seminar, Book Reviews: Tips for Getting More Reviews, free for our members. This seminar teaches easy to implement steps for obtaining more book reviews.

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Are You In Compliance?

The Internet is all abuzz with news about the EU’s updated GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) that goes into effect this month (May 2018). The concern for most Indie authors and small business owners is that they know and follow the regulations so they don’t get fined.


GDPR is a European regulation, not a regulation for the United States. However, if you do business with people in Europe such as selling books directly to Europeans or sending marketing emails to people residing in Europe, then you must abide by the GDPR in your practices.

In a nutshell, the GDPR requires that you engage in “permission marketing”. This means that in order for you to send marketing communications to individuals in Europe, they must give you permission to register them in your database. In plain English this means that people must sign up for and agree to receive your email notifications. So, if you are already receiving permission from people to send them emails, basically you are in compliance with GDPR. To learn more about how GDPR effects authors with email lists, you can listen to a great podcast on the topic at: https://selfpublishingformula.com/episode-117.


In the United States, the CAN-SPAM Act regulates email marketing. Currently, the regulation does not require that you get recipients’ consent before sending them commercial emails. However, the CAN-SPAM Act does require that you provide an “opt out” to the recipient in the email and that you list your physical address in each email you send.

While the CAN-SPAM Act does not require that you receive people’s express permission to be added to your mailing list, it is best practice and strongly recommended.

The Issue with Customer Data

The GDPR is all about keeping customer data safe. After multiple data breaches (think about the recent Facebook data scandal), the governments around the world appear to be taking a strong stand on helping ensure that people’s personal data remains safe and that individuals remain in control of when and how their data is used.

Another big item in the news recently had to do with Google denying Concordia Publishing House the ability to enter a religious ad in the Google Ads program. At first, the issue looks like another censorship of religious freedom. However, upon closer inspection, the matter has to do with retargeting ads and this topic of customer data and how it is used.

Here is how retargeting works. Google tracks which sites you visit and then use this information to allow companies to show ads to people who have visited their website. In other words, if I view a certain book on Amazon, Google tracks that. Amazon can then pay Google to place an ad for the book I viewed in front of me when I am browsing the Internet. The idea is that the more exposure I receive to a product I have showed interest in, the more likely I am to purchase that product.

It turns out, Google does not allow expressly religious ads to be included in their retargeting program. They know that people’s data is sensitive, so their retargeting ad policy states:

“Advertisers can’t use identity and belief categories to target ads to users or to promote advertisers’ products or services.”

For a great in-depth explanation on why Google believes that identify and belief data is sensitive, you can read the article by Levi Nunnick at: https://medium.com/@levinunnink/no-google-is-not-attacking-cph-a20350e12453.

With GDPR, ad retargeting programs will need to get customers’ permission to show them retargeting ads since this involves their personal data.

Personal data and how it is used will continue to be an evolving area for anyone involved in collecting people’s data (including email addresses) for marketing purposes. I do not believe there is any reason for angst over this issue. Using best practices will help keep you in compliance with all laws.

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5 Common Indie Publishing Errors

Indie publishing is growing. Indie published titles now account for about 17% of all books sold. This is great news. Sadly, many indie authors don’t take the time to fully educate themselves on important aspects of publishing a book. Then these authors wonder why people don’t stand up and take notice of their books.

Following are five common errors that indie published authors make. I encourage you to read this list and educate yourself. Don’t make these mistakes.

1. Thinking that being self-published is a badge of honor.

Congratulations. You have self-published. Yes, it was a lot of work. It took time and dedication. However, being self-published is not a badge of honor. For years, self-published books were highly stigmatized. Most people viewed them as subpar. While self-published books have lost much of their stigma, it has not fully gone away.

If you are only marketing your book to readers, then loudly asserting that your book is self-published may not be that detrimental to your marketing efforts. But, if you are trying to obtain media coverage or reviews for your book in trade publications, then announcing that your book is self-published will ensure you do not receive coverage. Your press release or book will be thrown away. Most industry professionals still view self-published books as second-tier books. In other words, don’t announce in your press releases that your book is self-published.

2. Not purchasing your own ISBN.

Many indie authors are so happy to get their book published, that they accept the free ISBN from the publishing service they are using. This is another way to signal to the industry that you are self-published. ISBN stands for Industry Standard Book Number. Every book published receives an ISBN. This number is linked to the “publisher” of the book. If you purchase or use an ISBN from a service provider like CreateSpace, then your book is forever linked to that service.

Look professional. Get your own ISBN for your books. ISBN numbers are affordable. They can be purchased through Bowker.

Once you have an ISBN number, be sure to give the 13-digit number, not the 10-digit number when asked for your book’s ISBN number. The 13-digit is the industry standard.

3. Listing the publisher of your book as CreateSpace or Kindle Direct Publishing.

CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing are not publishers. Let me state that again in case you missed it. CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing are not publishers. They are publishing services that allow you to take a book and get it listed in Amazon’s online bookstore. Both services also allow you to purchase print copies of your book.

These services are not publishers because they do not do the tasks publishers do of editing, proofing, layout and design, and marketing. They simply allow you to sell books that you have uploaded to their service.

Books that have CreateSpace or Kindle Direct Publishing listed as the publisher on Amazon shout self-published. As I stated earlier, while much of the stigma over self-publishing has gone away, it has not been erased. You will have greater success hooking more readers if you look traditionally published.

If you did use a CreateSpace ISBN, at least pay the small $10 fee that CreateSpace charges to list yourself or your company or ministry as the publisher on your Amazon listing and in expanded distribution.

4. Thinking that bookstores order books from Amazon.

I previously wrote a blog post on “Amazon is Not a Distributor.” I will reiterate that here. Amazon is a bookstore. Bookstores do not order books from other bookstores. Bookstores order books from distributors at a minimum of a 40 percent discount from retail price so that they can earn money off the sale of the book. If Amazon is the only place your book is for sale, bookstores will not order your book.

5. Listing the book cover designer as the illustrator.

An illustrator is someone who has provided illustrations for the interior of a book. Most adult fiction and nonfiction books do not have illustrators, while most children’s books do. However, it is standard to have an illustrator field for metadata because those books that do have illustrators need them listed. It is okay to leave this field blank if your book does not have an illustrator. Don’t list the book cover designer. I am amazed at how many authors who nominate books for the Christian Indie Awards list their cover designer as the illustrator.

I know there are more than five common mistakes that indie authors make. I have just chosen these five to list. If you have a mistake that you have seen indie authors make and want to share it, please do in the comments section.

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Will Someone Catch You Reading This Month?

Will you get caught reading this month? I hope so. As authors and publishers, I believe we need to set an example by reading! After all, if people don’t read, our books will be worthless.

May is “Get Caught Reading” month! So, go out and get caught reading this month. Encourage reading. Share with your family, friends, and fans what you are reading.

Each year, Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) puts together a cooperative catalog featuring products from our member publishers. This year’s catalog features 46 titles from 28 of our members.

I invite you to click on the catalog cover pictured below to check out the great Christian titles CSPA member authors and publishers produce! I am sure you will find within the pages of the catalog a new book to read this month.

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Join the Movement

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