“Hello. I published a series of books through Createspace. I just returned from a Christian retail trade show and discovered that if I want my books in Christian stores, publishing through Createspace is not the way to go. I have your book and I wanted you to know this information. I think you should include it in your next edition.”
This message was recently left on my voicemail. The gentleman on the message did not leave a return phone number or an email, so I could not get back in touch with him. So, instead, I will respond to this statement in a blog post and educate everyone.
Of course, my immediate reaction to this voicemail message was, “Did you read my book?”
In Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace, I devote a whole chapter to “Secure Distribution” where I talk about how Christian bookstores order products from distributors. Rarely do bookstores order books directly from authors or small publishers. In the chapter, I list the distributors from whom Christian bookstores order products.
Maybe, I did not make the message clear enough in the book. So, I will attempt to clarify. Here are three important things to know about getting your books into Christian bookstores.
1. It is extremely difficult to get Christian bookstores to stock titles from independently published authors and small publishers.
Note that I said “extremely difficult”, not “impossible”. In fact, a number of authors and publishers who are members of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) have had success in getting Christian bookstores to carry their titles, especially independent Christian bookstores.
In fact, in my book Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace, in the chapter titled “Reach Christian Retailers” I talk about how difficult it is to get a book in a bookstore. I state, “For every available bookstore shelf space, there are 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space. In essence, any given book has less than a 1% chance of being placed on a bookstore shelf”.” The competition is stiff.
2. How the book is published is irrelevant; who is listed as the publisher is important.
With limited shelf space, Christian bookstores have to be careful about which books they choose to showcase. First, they must be assured that the book is the right theological bent for their customer base. Second, they must have some confidence that the book will sell.
Christian bookstores by and large purchase books published by the large well-known Christian publishing houses and written by established Christian authors. These are entities that Christian booksellers trust. Most Christian retail stores won’t touch a book that is obviously self-published—in other words, one that lists Createspace as the publisher. Even Barnes and Noble will not stock a book produced by Createspace in their physical bookstores. The company views Amazon as its competitor.
If an independent author is serious about getting his books into Christian bookstores, then, that author should use a business entity (publishing house or ministry) as the publisher name on his books.
You can produce a book through CreateSpace and do this. Instead of having CreateSpace assign an ISBN number to your book, you must purchase your own ISBN number through Bowker. This number is assigned to your business name. When your book is published, it will show up as published by your business name, not Createspace, both on Amazon and in distribution.
3. Having your book in the right distribution channels is required for a Christian bookstore to stock it.
There are always exceptions, but, by-and-large, most Christian bookstores won’t order books directly from an independent publisher or a small publisher. These stores simply don’t want to mess with multiple accounts. Instead, they order in batches from a distributor, making their accounting and return process much easier.
Additionally, Christian bookstores, for the most part, don’t order books from Ingram or Baker & Taylor (and definitely not from Amazon, which is a retailer). These distributors cater to the general market. Instead, Christian bookstores order from Christian distributors of which there are two main ones: Spring Arbor and Anchor Distribution.
Even if your book is selling like hotcakes, Christian bookstores won’t stock it unless they can order it from a Christian distributor. Createspace’s expanded distribution will place your book in Ingram, but not in Spring Arbor (unless you work hard to get them to do so).
I believe the gentleman on my voicemail was a little put out because he had spent a large amount of money to attend the Christian retail show and had little success. This is one reason that Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) offers our members trade show representation. Member authors and publishers of CSPA can present books to Christian retailers at a fraction of the cost of hosting their own booth at a show, reducing both costs and risk.
Publishing through Createspace is not the issue. The issue is knowing how to present your book to Christian bookstores so that the bookstores are confident your book is unique, what their consumers want, and will sell. Then, having the book available through Christian distribution will clinch the deal.
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