Are You Staying True to Your Calling?

I have often heard it said that the church is one of the most segregated institutions in the United States. I sometimes wonder if the Christian publishing industry is helping or hurting this issue.

I recently met an author who wrote a Christian novel set in Africa. When she tried to pitch the idea to editors and literary agents for a traditional Christian publishing contract, they told her they did not think they could sell a novel set in Africa—that setting was not a popular read.

So, feeling called of God to produce the novel, the author independently published her story. Her cover art contained a picture of an African-American man and woman. This author then began showing the published book to other Christian publishing industry experts to talk about marketing the book. She got the same message from almost every expert.

She was told to not expect to sell many copies of her book due to the cover art including African-American people. The experts advised that she take off the images of the people on the cover to help the book sell better.

As this author relayed this story to me, it made me think that, for the most part, the traditional Christian publishing industry is not concerned about racial integration in the body of Christ. Rather, publishing houses are a business. As a business, their top priority is profit. The one question they ask when considering a book is, “How many copies can we sell?” If they don’t think it will sell enough copies to meet their financial requirements, they pass it up.

Traditional publishing’s mission is not about challenging the status quo and daring people to confront difficult issues within the body of Christ. After all, some of the largest Christian publishing houses are now owned by secular publishing conglomerates. Rather, traditional publishing houses are businesses. As such, they focus on the bottom line.

I am thankful for Indie publishing. While indie authors and publishers need to be wise in their publishing and marketing efforts, how many copies a book will sell does not need to be the foremost priority. Rather, indie authors and publishers can be led by their mission and what God is calling them to do.

Interestingly, a new study by the American Bible Society showed that African-Americans are more engaged with the Bible than any other group. Among this racial group, 71 percent are friendly toward or engaged with the Bible compared to just 58 percent of all Americans. If Christians of non-African heritage will be turned away by this author’s book’s cover, she may still have a vibrant audience in among African-American Christians.

What about you. Have you gotten off track? Has your attitude become one that mainly focuses on the number of books you can sell rather than on staying true to your mission and the calling that God has placed in your heart?

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Photo courtesy of John-Mark Smith.

Are You Too Busy?

Americans are busy. We wear our busyness as a badge of honor. One study found that we Americans associate “busyness” with high social status.

So, busyness looks good. But is busyness really good for us?

I recently took a personal prayer retreat. I had been meaning to do this for over a year, but alas, I was too busy. I finally made it a priority, cleared room in my schedule, and went. I am glad I did. It was refreshing and too awesome to put into words. I definitely communed with God.

At the retreat center, I spoke with the directors. Their desire is for people to come to their center and hear from God. They talked about how many people who came to their retreat reported that they never heard from God. We had a wonderful conversation about how we often don’t hear from God because we simply are too busy.

We don’t make room to allow him to grab our attention and speak to us. Because spending time with God is not our priority, we fumble about our lives without his direction and blessing and wonder why things don’t work out.

Sadly, I have seen a similar busyness trend among members of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA). I have been told this year by a few members that they are just too busy to read the information that CSPA provides.

The purpose of CSPA’s information is threefold:

  1. To keep our members up-to-date on industry standards.
  2. To provide ideas for marketing Christian books to increase exposure and sales.
  3. To offer services that save our members money.

At Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA), we understand that our members are busy. That is one reason for joining the organization. You can trust CSPA to provide you the information you need to stay up-to-date on industry standards. On your own, you would have to spend more time reading numerous industry blogs and journals to stay on top of this ever-changing industry.

If you are too busy to stay up-to-date on industry trends and standards, are you really able to produce the best quality books? Are you able to market them effectively?

If you are producing Christian materials, you want your books to reflect God’s glory.
One way to do this is to not be too busy to receive the information you need to stay relevant to produce quality books. After all, we are to work as though working for the Lord, and God wants your best.

Don’t get so busy that you neglect your soul or your calling.

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First Impressions Matter

The door opens and out walk two men. One is wearing a disheveled t-shirt, jeans, and well-worn sneakers. The other is dressed in nice slacks, a dress shirt, and loafers. Both are lawyers. Which one would you choose to represent you?

Most of us would pick the attorney with the professional appearance. Because, regardless of how much people like to say the opposite, appearance is important. Appearance signals care and attention, which sends the message to our brain that the person is competent.

Don’t underestimate a first impression. According to a 2011 study by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, people assess a person’s competence and trustworthiness in a quarter of a second (250 milliseconds) based solely on how the person looks.

The same is true for your book. People judge your book based on its appearance. Often, they will decide, on appearance alone, whether your book is trustworthy and worth their time and money.

I recently received a handful of books from a well-known Christian vanity press (which shall remain unnamed). I was shocked to see that the books varied in quality and appearance with some having a distinctly unprofessional look based on industry standards. None of the books sported a back cover that met industry standards. These books did not carry a printed retail price or a BISAC code. The interior of one of the books looked like it was designed in the 1970s. Another’s interior sported poor margins with words running into the gutter.

I was saddened to see that a supposedly Christian self-publishing house was charging authors good money for books that were sub par in terms of meeting industry standards for interior layout and cover design. Producing shoddy books in the name of Christ sheds a poor light on Christianity.

Your book’s appearance is your foremost marketing tool. People who read books know what a book is supposed to look like based on all the industry-standard books they have consumed. If your book does not fit this standard, it will be judged and found lacking. In addition, as a Christian book, you want your book to reflect the glory of God. Having a professional-quality design is important in this pursuit.

Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) feels that this issue is so important that we have developed an on-demand seminar, How to Create a Professional-Looking Book, as well as a Checklist for Publishing a Professional-Looking Book to help our members publish books that meet industry standards and create a good first impression. With CSPA’s summer membership special of $120 for membership through December 2018, you can join now and get access to this great information to help you make sure your books send the message that they are competent and trustworthy.

People will make a quick judgment about your book based on its appearance. Make sure that your book’s appearance reflects favorably on its content. If you want to sell more books, readers must view your book as competent and trustworthy.

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Photo courtesy of Alice Achterhof

Should You Publish an Audiobook?

It’s hard to walk and read a book. Fortunately, audiobooks allow anyone to multitask while “reading” a book. In fact, the main reason people listen to audiobooks is so that they can multitask. Exercising, driving to or from work, and cleaning the house rank top among the activities people do while listening to an audiobook.

Multitasking combined with the ease of listening via smartphones, which are highly portable, are driving factors in the increase of audiobook consumption. The Audio Publishers Association reports that audiobooks are growing at a tremendous rate. Their most recent report shows that following numbers:

  • Audiobook sales rose 18.2% from 2015 to 2016 to an estimated $2.1 billion.
  • Unit sales rose 33.9% to 89.5 million over the same period.
  • Production of audiobooks rose 43.1% to 50,937 units in 2016 over 2015.
  • Digital downloads of audiobooks accounts for 82.4% of audiobooks.
  • 24% of Americans listened to at least one audiobook in 2016, an increase of 22% over 2015.
  • Just about half of all audiobook listeners are under the age of 35.
  • Audiobook listeners either read or listened to an average of 15 books in the last year.
  • 29% of audiobook listeners listen to the audiobook on their smartphone.
  • Audiobooks borrowed from libraries increased 34% in 2016 over 2015.

These numbers are promising and may stimulate you to get your book produced as an audiobook. Before you run out and take this leap, consider the following:

  1. Audiobook production is not cheap. On average, it costs $3,000 to $5,000 to produce a quality audiobook.
  2. Fiction drives audiobook sales. The most popular categories for audiobooks in 2016 were mysteries/thrillers/suspense, science fiction/fantasy, and romance. So, if your book is nonfiction, give careful consideration to whether your target audience consumes audiobooks.
  3. The competition is stiff. Just because you produce an audiobook does not mean that people will buy it. You will need to market your audiobook heavily to keep it from getting lost in the mass of audiobooks available to consumers.
  4. If your print book is not already selling well, producing an audiobook will, as a rule, not help you sell more books.

The bottom line is that if you create an audiobook version of your book, it will still require promotion to sell. Marketing is key to selling products, including print, digital, and audiobooks. If you don’t have a robust marketing plan, don’t take the audiobook plunge until you do.

Many in the publishing industry are proclaiming the audiobook as the new ebook. What do you think?

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Photo courtesy of Alice Moore

Children’s Book Sales Hold Strong

Those of us who are older than Millennials often feel a small amount of distress when we see children playing on phones and tablets and not reading. We wonder if reading is becoming a thing of the past. We fret over how to keep literacy alive and thriving when the competition of video games and electronic entertainment on screens is so prevalent.

Surprisingly, the news on children’s reading is not as bad as we fear. Families today invest a lot in their children. Many young parents are placing parenthood above career and financial success. With such a high value on good parenting, it is no surprise that children’s books are selling well and will most likely continue to sell well in the future.

Nielsen, a company that tracks book purchases and uses the data to help publishers stay abreast of industry trends, reports that following in regards to sales of children’s books:

  • The U.S. book market is stable, with little change year over year.
  • The children’s book market shows more growth than the overall U.S. book market. While the overall book market has grown 33 percent since 2004, the children’s book market has grown 52 percent growth since 2004, with a four percent compound annual growth rate.
  • Children’s book formats have seen growth since 2013–2014, with the most rapidly growing formats board books and boxed sets.
  • Religion is a category that is growing in both children’s fiction and nonfiction year over year.
  • The age group five to eight years accounts for almost 40 percent of children’s book purchases.

This last point—that books for 5- to 8-year-olds account for almost half of all book purchases—is good news for those who produce picture books. Picture books are generally designed for four- to eight-year-olds. So, if you are or have published a picture book, be encouraged by these statistics.

In fact, even though children are spending so much time on screens, it appears that they still prefer to read print books. Nielsen’s studies have found that only four percent of children’s fiction is sold in digital format. This means 96 percent of children’s fiction books are sold as print books.

Children need engaging books that point them to their creator. The news that children’s religious book sales are growing is heartening. The fact that the vast majority of children’s books are still purchased in print format means that the demand for print picture books is strong.

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