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.

Counting Blessings

We live in a world filled with suffering and struggles. As residents in this world, we often lose sight of the fact that our stay here is temporary and that, as Christians, we have an afterlife that is free of suffering and struggle to look forward to. This Thanksgiving I am especially thankful that I can look forward to a better life once this one has passed.

Thanksgiving is a day for us to count our blessings. Counting our blessings keeps us mindful of how good God is. I have always been fond of the words in this hymn.

Count Your Blessing

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Five Christian Book Publishing Trends for 2019

With a new year around the corner, I thought that I would share five trends I see for those involved in writing and publishing Christian books.

These are not predictions. They are trends that I have been a witness to. Trends tell us where we need to adjust our behaviors to stay effective.

Christian book publishing trends 2019

1. Christian brick-and-mortar bookstores will continue to shrink in number and size.

In 2017, after declaring bankruptcy, Family Christian Stores closed all 240 of their brick-and-mortar locations. This closure affected the whole book publishing industry. Publishers and distributors lost thousands and thousands of dollars, causing a few to shutter their doors and others to consolidate.

Fifteen of these Family Christian locations were purchased by the CEO of Harrison House. The stores were renamed Empowered Life Christian Books & Gifts. After one year of business, all 15 of these stores were closed this year (2018). Unable to make enough profit to sustain operation, millions of invested dollars were lost.

The decline of Christian bookstores continues. CBA, the Association for Christian Retail, has also been struggling. In an effort to keep their international retail show open, CBA partnered with investor Ed Roush, who poured one million dollars into the summer trade show. After the show, Roush cleaned house at CBA to save money, leaving only a skeletal crew. Since summer, CBA has been very quiet and has not released any new issues of their monthly Christian MARKET magazine of their Christian MARKET Weekly e-newsletter.

In response to these upsets in the Christian book-selling industry, Munce, a marketing service group for independent Christian retailers, recently formed a new trade association, Christian Retail Association. In addition, they are restructuring their Christian Product Expo (CPE) into a national and international show.

Brick-and-mortar retail across America is struggling. Business Insider reports that retailers are filing for bankruptcy at record-high rates this year. These retailer stores include Toys R Us, Claire’s, and Sears. No winds of revitalization appear to be blowing for Christian bookstores. Thus, the trend for shrinking numbers of Christian bookstores will continue.

2. Independent publishing of Christian books will continue to grow.

According to Bowker, the ISBN agency, the number of self-published titles has grown by 156% over the past five years to just over one million books self-published in 2017. There are no signs of this trend slowing. Amazon is publishing the lion’s share of these books, having published over 750,000 titles through CreateSpace in 2017. And if you are not already aware, CreateSpace is being folded into Amazon Direct Kindle Publishing.

For authors and publishers, the increasing numbers of books published each year means increased competition for readers’ time and money. As the competition continues to grow, the effort it will take to convince readers that your book is the one to spend their money on will continue to become more difficult.

After all, research shows that having too many choices has a negative effect on customer satisfaction. People become stressed out when presented with too many choices. They can also become paralyzed and simply not be able to make a decision. In her book, The Art of Choosing, Sheena Iyengar recounts a study that discovered that when offered a small assortment of jams (6) to choose from, 30% of customers who tasted a sample made a purchase. However, when presented with a large assortment of jams (24), only 3% of customers who sampled the purchased a jar. While choice is appealing, too many choices can be debilitating, which means that more persuasion will be needed to sell your books.

Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA)

As the competition for readers’ attention increases, the importance of belonging to a publishing association like Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) grows. Associations provide cutting-edge information and resources to help you be successful. Those authors and publishers who stay abreast of trends and changes in both publishing and marketing will be the most effective and successful.

3. There will continue to be a glut of poorly written, edited, and designed books.

For years, self-publishing has had a bad rap. Readers have complained about the poor writing, grammar, and spelling errors in self-published books. While the quality of self-published books has improved overall, there are still those authors who just want to publish, that they don’t take the time to have their books properly edited and designed. These bad apples threaten to ruin the whole batch.

The number of self-publishing services that have cropped up to take advantage of authors wanting to be published has not helped this issue. Many of these self-publishing services are just after the money they can earn for publishing the book. They get their money up front from the author to produce the book. As a result, they don’t care about the quality of the book or how many copies the book sells.

As it has now become affordable for just about anyone to publish a book, I can guarantee that there will continue to be a glut of poorly written, edited, and designed self-published books. One of the best ways that you can help your book stand out above the competition is to ensure that your writing is compelling, your book has been professionally edited, and the cover and interior are professionally designed. Doing these three things will greatly improve your ability to sell your book.

reading trends4. The external competition for readers’ time and money will continue to increase.

The reading rates in American have not increased since 2012. One recent study by the National Endowment for Arts found that reading for pleasure actually fell slightly between 2012 and 2017.  With so much competing for people’s time and attention, reading seems to fall by the wayside.

In addition to all the things that compete for our attention in our time-strapped lives—television, moves, YouTube videos, social media, and numerous other activities—concentrating on long form reading is becoming a problem. Professor Gloria Mark of the Department of Informatics at the University of California says email, social media, notifications and countless other digital distractions are eroding our ability to concentrate on individual tasks in the 21st Century. I have heard personally had numerous individuals tell me that they have lost their ability to concentrate to read books.

Due to this increased competition, authors will be forced to spend more time building a platform and cultivating readers for their books. Today, with so many reading choices, there is no guarantee that people will read a book just because it exists. Instead, authors must now develop trust with a reading audience so that they can sell their books.

5. The sales of audiobooks will continue to grow.

Audiobook sales have grown steadily over the past couple years. This trend will continue to grow. With Smartphones, the growth of digitally downloaded audiobooks is booming. Downloadable audiobook sales grew about 30% from 2016 to 2017. That was the fifth straight year of double-digit growth for downloadable audiobooks.

This trend shows no signs of slowing. As more competes for our attention, people are turning to audiobooks for entertainment and self-improvement. With audiobooks, individuals can multi-task—workout and listen, drive and listen, clean house and listen, etc.

While a couple services help independent authors produce audiobooks at a reasonable price—ACX and Findaway Voices—it is important to note that currently, audiobooks only make up 4% of all book sales (including print and ebooks). Audiobooks are going to continue to grow. However, simply producing an audiobook will not guarantee more sales. Unless your book is already selling well in print or ebook format, I suggest you not take the plunge.

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Have You Identified Your Target Audience?

If you aim at nothingyou will hit it every time.” ~Zig Ziglar

Are you aiming at a target audience? Or are you aiming at nothing?

When I consult for indie authors, I ask them to send me a list of their questions prior to the consultation so I can structure the time to best meet the author’s needs.

I have yet to have an author ask that I help her identify or refine her target audience. Most simply jump into questions about marketing. And yet, many have not spent any time distilling who the audience for their book is.

Here is the problem. You cannot develop an effective marketing plan without FIRST identifying your target audience. And, many indie authors fail to do just that.

Many marketing plans often fail for the following reasons:

  • Failure to identify target audience.
  • Failure to plan and execute marketing activities for multiple targets.
  • Failure to balance marketing activities to primary, secondary, and tertiary targets.

Think of your target audience as a target with a bull’s eye and expanding rings. The bull’s eye and each ring of the target represents a segment of your target audience.

A target audience is made up of a primary audience, a secondary audience and a tertiary audience. How does this look in practice?

With the recent growth in religious children’s book sales, let’s take a children’s picture book as an example. Let’s use a Christmas story picture book.

The primary target audience for this book would be children ages four to eight years of age who celebrate Christmas. However, children don’t buy books, so we need to include the parents in the primary target. Here is the breakdown of target audiences for a children’s Christmas picture book.

  • Primary Audience: Parents of children aged four to eight years who celebrate Christmas.
  • Secondary Audience: Grandparents and aunts and uncles of children aged four to eight years who celebrate Christmas who give Christmas-themed gifts.
  • Tertiary Audience: Churches, Christian preschools and elementary schools, and libraries.
  • Quaternary Audience: Collectors of all things Christmas.

Looking at this breakdown of audiences for the sample book, you can see that there are at least four distinct audiences for this book. Each audience requires a different marketing approach and strategy.

Identifying your target audience in this manner lets you prioritize your marketing efforts and expenditures. Of course, you will spend the most time and money on your primary audience. But you do not want to neglect your secondary and tertiary audiences.

Remember, the first step in creating a marketing plan is identifying your target audience. Only after you identify your target audience can you develop specific action steps to reach your audience.

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How to Stand Out from the Crowd

Do you remember these puzzles from your childhood (or maybe your kids’ childhood)? Which one is different?

Standing out from the crowd is important. With over one million self-published books produced every year, how do you stand out from the crowd?

The answer lies is not in drawing attention to yourself by standing out in an odd or strange way as in the above puzzle. Instead, you want to stand out in ways that are attractive and draw people to you and your book.

It’s not just your book that must stand out. Your marketing efforts also need to stand out in the crowd to attract attention.

After you have written a compelling book that is professionally edited and designed, your next step is to ensure that your marketing activities don’t just mimic what others are doing, but stand out from the crowd.

standing out from crowd

You can stand out from the crowd with the following three strategies:

1. Informative and Unique Content

Give away free content that ties into the theme of your book. This free content must also be unique and answer important questions or solve important problems your target audience faces. Share this content on your blog and in your social media posts. Offer some content in downloadable format for interested readers to receive in exchange for their email address. This helps build your email marketing database.

 2. Connect with Your Audience

Connection is about caring. We connect with others when we care about them. Care for your audience. Show up where these people hang out—be that on social media or in person. Talk to them. Rejoice when they rejoice, mourn when they mourn. Support their efforts and cheer them on. Most people crave authentic connection. Your audience will begin to trust you when they see that you are authentic.

3. Be Consistent

Many Indie authors start strong, but soon fizzle out. When results don’t roll in the way these authors expect, they turn their attention elsewhere. It takes at least a year to build a strong, loyal following. To stand out, you must show up consistently and add value to people’s lives.

In marketing and selling books, you want to be noticed in a good way, not because of appearing odd or strange. Show up, connect with your audience, and offer them great content. Stand out for the value you bring to people’s lives.

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Photo courtesy of Anton Belitskiy.

Does Your Passion Need a New Spark?

Most Christians don’t start writing and publishing to get rich. Many Christian authors and publishers start publishing because they feel a calling or nudge from God.

Following God’s calling or nudging is a rewarding venture. However, sometimes are emotions get in the way. Discouragement, disappointment, and just sheer lack of energy can weigh us down and cause us to flounder and consider quitting.

passion needing spark

Often, when God calls us to do something, we burn with passion at the start the journey. Yet, over time, we can slowly lose this passion in the midst of roadblocks and the overwhelming number of tasks required. If you find that your candle is burning less brightly, that your passion has dimmed, you are not alone.

Consider the prophet Elijah. He was a man full of passion. He confronted the wicked King Ahab and told him that it would not rain on the land for three and a half years. Elijah prayed passionately and his prayers were answered. Yet, after those long grueling years, Elijah lost his passion. From Elijah’s story in I Kings 19, I see three activities he engaged in when his passion was spent.

1. Take Time to Rest

The first thing Elijah does is rest. He is tired. He is worn out. He gets alone and lies down under a broom tree. Here he sleeps for quite a while.

If you are weary, worn out, or burned out from the spiritual battle you have been engaging in, then I encourage you to rest. Build rest into your regular routine. We can’t burn the candle at both ends and expect to have passion for our calling. We have physical bodies with physical limitations. We must take proper care of our bodies so we can continue fighting the good fight.

2. Get Regular Nourishment

Elijah received regular nourishment from God. First at the Brook Cherith, and then at the Widow’s home. But, when he has lost his passion and is worn out, God sends an angel to prepare food for him to eat. God knows that Elijah requires nourishment to continue.

We too, need regular nourishment, not just physical food for our bodies, but spiritual nourishment and intellectual nourishment. If you are writing and publishing books for God, you should be feasting regularly on God’s word and other teachings that help you improve your craft. You can never run dry if you take in more nourishment than you put out.

3. Seek God

When Elijah has lost his passion. When he is worn out and discouraged, he seeks God by traveling to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God. Mount Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai is where God spoke to Moses and gave the children of Israel the 10 commandments. It is a Holy Place.

When we seek God, he rewards us. God meets Elijah at Mount Horeb and speaks with him. God both adjusts Elijah’s expectations and gives him new marching orders. If you are flagging in passion, seek God. He will either adjust your expectations and renew your calling, or he may give you new marching orders.

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Photo courtesy of JefferyTurner.