Christian Retail is Struggling

This past year has been a tough year for Christian bookstores. Family Christian Stores closed all 240 of its stores earlier this year. Only about 20 of those stores have been purchased by other entities and will continue to operate under new names.

According to CBA’s recent State of the Industry report, 45 independent Christian bookstores closed in 2016, while only 20 new stores opened. This represents a net loss of 25 independent retail stores (not including the 220 store closures from Family Christian Stores). Within the same period, there has been a 6 percent decline in sales of Christian retail, according to the same CBA report.

I have been attending CBA’s International Christian Retail Show now CBA Unite, with Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) for the past fourteen years. Each year I have watched the show grow smaller. This year’s show was by far the smallest with the fewest attendees that I have experienced, reflecting the industry’s struggle.

At CBA Unite 2017, I noticed:

  • Fewer vendors
  • Fewer book buying attendees
  • Fewer international attendees
  • Fewer author appearances
  • Fewer exhibitor sponsored evening events (there was one this year)
  • Fewer educational opportunities
  • Only a couple big-name personalities appearances including best-selling authors, music artists, or actors (as compared to multiple in previous years)
  • Lack of a show smart phone app (as offered in previous years)

CBA is not releasing official attendee or exhibitor numbers this year—indicating that the numbers were poor. Publishers Weekly reports that attendance at the CBA Unite show dropped 43 percent from 2014 to 2016, and observations from the floor this year indicate that 2017’s turnout continued to fall. While BookExpo, the industry book trade show for the general market, reported that their trade attendance was significantly up this year from last year’s show in Chicago, that show’s attendance is still significantly down from 20,895 attendees in 2015 to 7,425 in 2017.

Authors attending CBA Unite with Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) this year still received exposure for their books. Additionally, most were able to score quite a few media interviews since they were not competing with big name authors for these spots. You can watch the video featuring pictures of CSPA’s booth and author book signings at the show below:

Related Posts:
The Demise of the Christian Bookstore
How to Get a Book into a Christian Bookstore
ICRS 2016 Recap

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It’s Never Too Late

Last week, I presented a six-hour training session on “You Can Indie Publish and Market Your Book” at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference (I will be presenting it again at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference this summer). One of the keynote speakers at the conference was Louise Looney.

I had the opportunity to meet and get to know this lovely lady. Louise embodies the statement “It’s never too late.”

You see, Louise began writing at age 79. In the past six years, she has written three books. Not only has she penned three books, she has independently published her Christian books through Createspace.

Louise sells most of her books through her speaking engagements. However, she wanted to expand her audience and her reach. Her goal is to reach nonChristians with her message to draw them to Christ. To attain this goal, this octogenarian began a YouTube channel. Now, she posts weekly videos on her Looney Tidbits channel.

Louise is inspiring. As an almost 80-year-old, she did not let the “It’s too late” mindset win. You don’t have to be old to have this mindset. I’ve seen much younger authors with this mindset. Sometimes discouragement creates this attitude. I have seen authors who have done very little or no marketing get discouraged when their books do not sell, and they develop this mindset. They think: “It’s too late now. I should have started earlier.”

It’s never too late. It’s never too late to start eating healthier. It’s never too late to start exercising more. It’s never too late to take the time to build better connections with family members. It’s never too late to get right with God—and, it’s never too late to start a new marketing endeavor.

You can start new marketing endeavors at any point, even years after your book has been published if the material is still relevant. So, if you are struggling with marketing and selling your book, take heart. Like Louise, you too can learn a new marketing technique and implement it. Maybe now is the time to:

1. Start a blog.
2. Start a YouTube channel.
3. Get active on social media.
4. Start a podcast.
5. Request to be a guest on podcasts and radio shows speaking to your audience.
6. Volunteer to speak at local churches and other venues.
7. Seek out more book reviews.
8. Go on a blog tour.

The ideas are endless. Take a risk. Start something new to either jump start your books’ sales or to enlarge your audience to increase your reach and your sales.

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Are You Developing an Audience?
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A Powerful Way to Reach Readers

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Photo courtesy of Wil Stewart.

Award to the Wise

As the Director of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA), the author of the award-winning Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace, and the author of this blog on marketing Christian books, I try to follow my own marketing advice.

Now admittedly, I don’t follow my advice as well as I should. (Aren’t we all guilty of this? It is so much easier to give advice then to follow it.) I really should put more effort into marketing than I do. Sadly, it is primarily time constraints that keep me from doing more.

One area that I have taken my own advice seriously is in pursuing book awards. I am pleased to announce that my book, Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace, has won another book award! It is the recipient of the Book Excellence Awards in the writing/publishing category.

book-excellence-award-for-blog

Now in its third edition, Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace has now garnered five book awards. This book is truly a useful guide for authors and publishers producing Christian books.

I was surprised to discover that this most recent award program, Book Excellence Awards, charges a license fee of $149.99 to winners who want to use their award seal. This means that if I want to put the award seal on any marketing material or on the cover of my book, I must pay the licensing fee.

Now, licensing fees are not unheard of in book award programs. However, most book award programs geared toward small publishers and independently published authors do not charge a license fee to use their award seal. In fact, none of the other awards my book has won have charged a license fee.

What makes this more surprising to me is that the Book Excellence Award is brand-new. This means that this award is not yet well-known or well-recognized in the industry. Even widely known and prestigious awards like IBPA’s Benjamin Franklin Award or the IPPY Awards (Independent Publisher Awards) do not charge a licensing fee to use their award seal.

Additionally, Christian Small Publisher Association’s book award program, Christian Small Publisher Book of the Year Award, does not charge winners a fee to use the award seal in their marketing materials or on their book covers. That’s one more reason for you to nominate your Christian book for this award. Nominations are open through November 15, 2016, at www.bookoftheyear.net.

The Christian Small Publisher Book of the Year Award does charge for book stickers, but this is because book stickers are a physical commodity that cost money to produce.

If you have not yet pursued book awards for your book, I suggest that you do. Book awards are a great tool for additional exposure for your book and a boon to your marketing efforts when you win!

Update:  In 2017, the Book Excellence Awards decided to provide their book award seal free to the winners of the award.

Related Posts:
10 Reasons to Enter a Book Award
Do You Need an Excuse?
The Value of Book Awards

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What Are You Promising?

The November issue of the CSPA Circular, Christian Small Publisher Association’s monthly e-newsletter, contains an article on “Four Steps to Effective Book Marketing.” In this article, I set forth the proposition that every book is a business. Therefore, launching a new book is like opening a startup business.

Redbox

Every business needs a brand, a promise they make to their customers. So too, your book must make a promise to your readers.

Consider some of these brand promises that you already are familiar with:

  • 7up: The uncola.
  • American Express: Don’t leave home without it.
  • eBay: The world’s online marketplace.
  • KFC: Nobody does chicken like KFC.
  • Jaguar: Don’t dream it. Drive it.
  • Lucky Charms: Magically delicious.

Each of these brands or products is promising you something, something different from their competition. Your book must also promise something different from the competition.

All services or products offer a benefit. That benefit fits into one of the following categories:

  • Economic
  • Emotional
  • Experiential
  • Functional

Think about this. Walmart, with its promise “always low prices,” offers an economic benefit. One of the US Forest Service slogans’ offers an emotional experience. That slogan is “give a hoot, don’t pollute.” Nike offers an experiential benefit with their “just do it.” You can experience the difference Nike makes in helping you get active. FedEx offers a functional benefit with “the world on time.” You know your packages will get delivered on time.

Your book must offer a benefit, or people won’t buy it. What is your book’s benefit? Is it functional or it is emotional? Most fiction books will have an emotional or experiential benefit, while most nonfiction books will tote an economic or functional benefit.

What promise are you making with your book? It needs to be something that your audience cares about that they can’t get anywhere else. Don Miller, the bestselling author of Blue Like Jazz and the founder of StoryBrand Workshops, says, “If you confuse, you lose.” So, too, your book’s promise not only needs to be unique, it also needs to be clear and simple, much like the examples from the businesses listed above.

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Are Your Book Sales Discouraging?

Are your book sales figures discouraging? Do you feel like you have spent much time, effort, and money on promoting your book for little result? Maybe you need a tribe.

tribes

I recently listened to a speech by master salesman Zig Ziglar given back in the 20th Century. In this speech, Zig says the following needs to happen for sales people to be successful. He states:

“Unless you can get your customers to:

  1. Help you sell,
  2. Give you references,
  3. Be part of your sales team,

you will not survive.” In other words, if you have to do all the selling on your own you will burn out.

In book marketing speak, this means that unless you can get your readers and fans to:

  1. Write great reviews of your book, and
  2. Tell others how good your book is and that it is a must-read,

you will not make much headway with book sales. Eventually, you will become discouraged and give up.

Seth Godin popularized this concept in the 21st Century with his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. Seth says that a tribe is necessary to successfully sell products (including books). He defines tribes as any group of people large or small who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea. In other words, the people in the tribe believe in the idea and promote it.

Do you have a tribe? Every author needs one. Don’t confuse an audience with a tribe. You can have an audience and not have a tribe. A tribe is a group of people who believe in what you have to say and tell others about it.

Are your book sales lack-luster? Maybe you need a tribe. You can’t do it all on your own. But, remember, to have a tribe, you have to have a quality product (book) with a message that resonates with people. A message they believe in and want to share.

If your book is only generating mediocre reviews, it may need some work to improve its quality. Don’t attempt to turn your audience into a tribe until you have a quality product. It won’t work. A quality product is required to acquire a tribe.

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Do You Know Your Audience?
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