Marketing Christian Books | A Personal Guide to this Unique Market
Hello. Welcome to my blog. I am Sarah Bolme. I am both an independently published author and a traditionally published author. I am also the Director of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) an organization that exists to help small publishers and independently published authors market their books in the Christian marketplace.
The big news this month is that Baker & Taylor announced that they will no longer sell books to retailers as of July 15, 2019. This is industry-changing news.
For years, there have been two wholesale companies that sell books to retailers and librarians—Ingram Content Group and Baker & Taylor. Of the two, Baker & Taylor was a small publisher’s friend.
Historically it has been very difficult for a small publisher to get their books stocked in Ingram (and in Spring Arbor, the Christian book division of Ingram). Publishers must have at least 10 titles and meet a set annual sales figure in order to place their books directly with Ingram for sales to retailers and librarians. If a small publisher does not meet these requirements, then they have to use a distributor who stocks their books in Ingram. Some of these book distributors include Anchor (Christian books), Independent Publishers Group (IPG), Consortium Book Sales, and Baker & Taylor Publisher Services (formerly BookMasters).
Using a distributor has benefits as well as pitfalls. A distributor is a middleman, so a distributor takes an additional 15% or more of each book sale—over and above the 55–60% discount that the wholesaler (Ingram) requires. Additionally, distributor’s vet the books they represent. So, a publisher has to pass the additional requirements of a distributor in order to be represented by said distributor.
Baker & Taylor, on the other hand, was small-publisher friendly. Small publishers could open an account with Baker & Taylor and have their books stocked directly so that retailers and librarians could place orders for these books.
With the cessation of Baker & Taylor’s sales to retail stores, only one wholesale book company is now selling books to retailers—Ingram. Some in the industry are concerned about what this will mean long-term for retailers and publishers.
If you are an independently published author, Baker & Taylor’s decision to cease distribution to retailers will most likely not affect you. Sadly, it will affect a number of small publishers.
Independent authors have been able to make their books available for sale to retailers and librarians through Ingram using one of Ingram’s print-on-demand (POD) services (IngramSpark or Lightning Source) or Kindle Direct Publishing’s expanded distribution service. You may wonder why the loss of Baker & Taylor is such a big deal since small publishers can also use the POD sales route.
Here is what most independent authors do not understand: Retailers rarely order print-on-demand books to stock the shelves of their stores. Print-on-demand titles have a special code in the wholesale system that retailers can spot. As a result, if you are actively trying to get bookstores to stock your title and your book is only available print-on-demand, you have an uphill battle. If your title is listed as a Kindle Direct Published book, you have an even harder climb to get a retailer to stock your book, since retailers consider Amazon their direct competition.
Small publishers understand that they need to have print copies stocked (not POD copies) with wholesalers to increase their chances of book sales to retail stores. This is why the loss of a small- publisher friendly wholesale option for small publishers is a big deal.
While over 50% of books are purchased online, a good percentage of books are still purchased in stores, including bookstores. Savvy publishers know that they must have their books available in multiple locations to garner the most sales. Therefore, access to a wholesale sales option is important for these publishers.
If you are an independently published author, you can take a lesson from small publishers. Having your book available in Amazon alone is not enough. Not everyone shops on Amazon, and, for certain, libraries and retailers don’t order books from Amazon.
Did you know that curiosity is one of the strongest human incentives? Humans are curious by nature. Snag a person’s curiosity and you have their attention.
Good marketers use curiosity to grab people’s attention so that they can sell them a product. These marketers use sales text that draws the reader.
Take headlines. Often marketers will use one of four tactics to grab people’s attention by eliciting curiosity. Curiosity is why these types of headlines get the most clicks:
1. Makes an outrageous claim.
Headlines like “Elvis Is Not Dead” or “Why Marriage Is Not for You” are outrageous. The sheer ludicrousness of their message raises curiosity, making people want to know what the author has to say.
2. Goes against conventional wisdom.
Headlines like “Why Breakfast Is Not the Most Important Meal of the Day” and “Failure Is an Option” go against what most people have been taught. Since the claim is in conflict with what society believes, it raises our curiosity.
3. Opens up a debate.
Headlines that make statements like “Five Ways Women are Better Bosses Than Men” and “Ten Reasons Prom Night is Overrated” are opinions that touch nerves. When people’s opinions are challenged, their curiosity to listen to or read what is being asserted is raised.
4. Claims about the best or worst of something.
Headline like “The 10 Best Movies of 2018” and “The 10 Worst Places to Vacation” make people curious about whether they have seen the 10 movies, whether they have vacationed in a “worst” place, and whether they agree with the list or not.
In a world with so much competing for people’s attention, curiosity is a powerful marketing tool. You can learn to use curiosity to increase reader’s engagement with their books. Crafting your book descriptions and sales text in a manner that raises curiosity can help increase sales. Don’t give everything away in your book’s description. The description is meant to lure the reader in to want to know more.
While not a Christian book, the book description for Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life embodies what raising curiosity in sales text looks like. The book’s description states:
What does the nervous system of the lowly lobster have to tell us about standing up straight (with our shoulders back) and about success in life? Why did ancient Egyptians worship the capacity to pay careful attention as the highest of gods? What dreadful paths do people tread when they become resentful, arrogant and vengeful? Dr. Peterson journeys broadly, discussing discipline, freedom, adventure and responsibility, distilling the world’s wisdom into 12 practical and profound rules for life.
Are you writing to hook people’s curiosity? Do your titles, headlines, and sales text draw people in and catch their interest? How might you re-word your current book description to improve the “curiosity” factor and snag more sales?
Scrolling through the apps on my smart phone the other day, I noticed an app called Turo. I did not remember what the app was for, so I opened it to see. Then I remembered. I had seen an ad for Turo on television and wanted to remember the service, so I downloaded the app as a way to help myself remember. My strategy worked.
Turo is the latest installment in the new sharing or access marketplace—the move away from organized businesses and toward people providing services to one another. Services like Airbnb, Uber, and Takl all are revolutionizing the way business is done. Turo allows individuals to rent their vehicles to one another, bypassing car rental companies.
One exposure is not enough for us to remember something new. I knew that I would forget the name of the service that allowed people to rent their personal vehicles, but I wanted to remember it. So, I downloaded the app to remind myself. It worked.
The same is true for any new product or service. Reading or hearing about a new product once rarely leads to a purchase of that product. Instead, we need to see and hear about a new product multiple times before we remember it, and before we are convinced that it might be worth an investment of our money.
Most people hear about a new product or service from an ad, radio or television show, or a friend. Often, in our busy lives, we forget about the new product or service, until we stumble upon it again—often a few times. Just like I did with Turo.
Sadly, too many authors fall for the one-trick pony method of book marketing. Instead of realizing that people need to see and hear about their book multiple times and from different sources before they remember and make a decision to purchase, these authors hop onto the hot new marketing idea and think that it is the trick.
Over the years, I have seen numerous hot book marketing trends that are pushed on authors as the “new” way to sell books. These have included:
A Social Media Presence
Each of these are good marketing techniques. However, any one used exclusively will not be effective in selling large quantities of your book.
Marketing experts know that a good marketing plan involves a well-rounded strategy. In other words, marketing is not a one-trick pony. You have to perform numerous different marketing activities to have the best results.
Don’t fall for the latest one-trick pony. Develop a marketing strategy for your book that includes numerous channels where people can see and hear about you and your book. If you need guidance in developing a good marketing plan, here are two options:
Read my book Your Guide to Marketing Christian Books. A bonus to the book includes a link to download a free Book Launch Marketing Checklist that provides marketing activities from six-months prior to launch to on-going marketing activities to engage in.
Roughly 21,000 new brands are introduced worldwide per year, yet history tell us that all but a few of them have vanished from the shelf a year later. In consumer products alone, 52 percent of all new brands, and 75 percent of individual products fail.
That’s a whole lot of products that don’t stand the test of time. In other words, they don’t sell enough for their makers to keep producing them.
Authors, you have the same uphill battle for your books. The average traditionally-published book sells less than 500 copies and the vast majority of indie published books sell less than 200 copies.
There are many factors that help books sell. However, just as a cake won’t rise without baking soda, your book won’t sell without some marketing.
I love this Marketing Bingo board that John Kremer developed. Check it out. Have you done enough marketing to win a bingo on the board?
If you want to start a new habit or change an old habit, what is the one ingredient that makes the difference between failure and success?
According to Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit, that key ingredient is belief. Charles reports that all habits follow a similar pattern:
He asserts that no matter what habit you are trying to change—drinking too much, quitting smoking, eating healthier, or exercising more—that you must change the routine. Changing the routine writes a new habit over the old habit. The cue and the reward stay that same, but now a new behavior is accessed for the old cue.
Someone who wants to eat less may note that they eat when they are bored. The cue is boredom. The routine is eating something. The reward is not feeling bored. To change the habit, the person needs a new routine. It might be that they decide to go for a walk when they feel bored instead of eating. If they change the routine to a walk, they have written a new, healthier habit over the old habit.
However, for the new routine to actually stick and work, the person has to believe that they can change. Without belief, we have trouble changing a habit. Instead, we fall back into the old routine when things get tough. So, for someone to kick an addiction, lose weight, or get in shape, she has to believe that she is capable of doing it.
What about you? Do you believe:
That your book makes a difference?
That some people need what you provide in your book?
That your marketing efforts will have some success?
That the time you spend marketing is meaningfully spent?
If you want to get into the habit of spending time each day marketing your book, then first and foremost, you must believe that your time will be well spent, that it will introduce people to your book, and that your sales will increase as a result. Belief is required for you to develop a daily marketing habit.
Once you believe that your marketing efforts can actually make a difference for your book sales, then the next thing you must do is develop a cue to help you remember to engage in marketing activities. Maybe you decided you will do one or two marketing activities on your lunch break. Then lunch will be your cue to engage in marketing.
I invite you to click on the catalog cover pictured below to check out the great Christian titles CIPA Member produce! I am sure you will find within the pages of this catalog a new book you can “get caught reading” this month!
Studies show that 80% of people feel that they have a book inside of them.
Surprisingly, the biggest motivating factor to write a book is not fame or money. Most authors are driven to write for one of the following reasons:
To share expertise or pass on knowledge.
To motivate or inspire others.
To tell a story.
To market a business.
My main objective in writing Your Guide to Marketing Christian Books was to pass on knowledge. As someone who has been immersed in the world of indie publishing and marketing for the past 15+ years, I want to give authors and new publishers the resources they need to be successful in promoting their Christian books. I also hope that the book motivates and inspires readers to do the hard work of marketing.
It is always satisfying when one receives confirmation that the purpose of their book is being fulfilled. A few recent reviews of Your Guide to Marketing Christian Books inspires me to keep going. After all, most authors—myself included—want our books to make a difference.
“Your book is amazing! You saved me hours (maybe years) of research.” ~Crystal Bowman
“This is a book that will become a dog-eared reference for authors to use during every phase of their book’s publication. I highly recommend this book as a practical and valuable reference!” ~Ava Pennington
“The competition for readers has never been greater than it is today. Sarah Bolme shows you how to get your book the visibility it needs to sell.” ~Jacquelyn Lynn
“This exceptionally well organized and presented guide walks authors and publishers step-by-step through the various aspects of book promotion. It is an ideal and thoroughly ‘user friendly’ resource for authors and publishers.” ~James Cox, Midwest Book Review
What about you? Do you feel that your books are fulfilling the purpose for which you wrote them? Do you long to publish a book that is inside of you?
If you feel that your book has not reached its potential, or if you desire to publish the book that is inside you or in manuscript form, then you can get the information you need to do just that.
1. Attend one of my upcoming intensive workshops on “You Can Indie Publish and Market Your Book”. I will be teaching this extended workshop at the following two upcoming Christian Writers Conferences:
2. Get a copy of my book Your Guide to Marketing Christian Books and read it. Learn the important steps in marketing your book so that it leaves your hands and goes into the world to fulfill the purpose for which it was published.
24 hours. That is the length of a day. It’s also the time-frame in which people expect a response.
Whether it is:
a phone call
a direct message on social media
comments on social media
most people expect a response within a day. Slower responses equate with poor customer service in consumers’ minds.
A recent study by Clutch that surveyed U.S. adults found that 83% of the respondents said that if they interact with a brand on social media, they expect a response within a day. Over one-third actually expect a response sooner—38% expect a response within an hour.
Not surprisingly, younger consumers are more likely than older consumers to expect brands to respond quickly. Some 90% of consumers ages 18 to 29 expect brands to respond to their comments on social media within a day or less.
Responsiveness can mean the difference between acquiring and losing a customer.
The phrase “Strike while the iron’s hot” can be applied to inquiries you receive. Whether you are contacted by a potential reader, a journalist, a media host, a reviewer, an influencer, or an event planner, the timeliness of your response will have a direct impact on your sales and exposure.
Recently, I was contacted by a gentleman who produces a magazine for readers that features Christian books. He was looking to open a dialog about how to feature more Indie published books in his magazine.
I sent a timely response. Then I waited. I did not hear back from this gentleman for a couple of weeks. In his follow-up email, he told me that publishing the magazine was his side business, which is why he had not gotten back to me sooner.
I responded to his second email in a timely fashion. That was about a month ago. I still have not heard back from him.
Due to the lengthy time-frame in which this gentleman communicates, I have become reluctant to pursue further discussion with him. His lack of timely response makes me question whether he will follow through on any agreement that we come to. It also makes me question whether he will have success with his venture moving forward.
Writing, publishing, and marketing books is a side-venture or “second” job for most Indie authors. Don’t treat it as such. Give the same timely attention to inquiries as you would if it was your primary job. Otherwise, you will lose out.
Christian book lovers and retailers voted on 189 nominated titles in 18 categories. The winners in each of the 18 categories are:
Wisdom Speaks, Dr. Tim Riordan, GreenTree Publishers
Biography & Memoir Hogan’s Hope, Connie Bombaci Business & Finance Through the Eyes of a Fisherman, Dennis Blue Children’s 4-8 Daddy, I Want to Know God, Vanessa Fortenberry, author; Sharon Grey, illustrator Children’s 8-12 A Little Goat in Africa, Deborah Smith Ford, author; Susi Galloway, illustrator Christian Education The Praying Church Made Simple, P. Douglas Small, Alive Publications Christian Living My Heart, My Love, My Life, My Lord; Valecia Carter Devotional Treasures in Secret Places, Jerrie Brooks General Fiction The Problem With Miracles, S.K. Jansky, Electio Publishing
Gift Finding Hope in the Words of John, Randall M Mooney, Crossover Publications Historical Fiction A Heart for Freedom, Janet Grunst Mystery & Suspense The Last Three Tickets to Heaven, Sandra Thompson Williams Poetry It Comes From the Soul, Phyllis Stowe-Jackson Relationships & Family A Short Season, G David Bohner & Jake Gronsky, Sunbury Press, Inc. Romance After His Heart, Samantha Adkins, CKN Christian Publishing Self-Help Live Pure and Free, Dave Howe, TRISTAN Publishing Theology Transforming Your Church into a House of Prayer, P. Douglas Small, Alive Publications,
Young Adult Speak Truth in Your Heart, Sarah Mally
NRB saw a growing problems of viewpoint censorship on the Internet, especially suppression of Christian and conservative views. The organization has been documenting incidences of social media profiles that are being censored or shut down due to conservative or religious content.
The major social media players—YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—have all participated in some type of censorship. These social sites have suspended, shut down, or demonetized accounts due to their religious or political beliefs. As this trend has grown, citizens have become concerned.
In addition, each of these companies now use algorithms that determine who sees the content that is posted. No longer are users assured that their followers and fans will see what they post. Rather, each social media site determines who sees what. Some people feel that this is another form of censorship—control over the flow of information.
As the concerns grow, new options are being offered. There are two new sites offering an alternative choice for social media users.
AllSocial.com is a brand new social media platform that aims to be the way social media was meant to be. This site does not use an algorithm. All posts made are shown to all a user’s followers. In addition, all points of view are allowed and users will not be banned for religious or conservative content.
2. Blessings Through Action
Blessings Through Action‘s goal is to provide a virtual community for Christians on a social media platform that allows people to engage and encourage each other to more action.
I applaud the efforts of both of these services. However, I know that they have a huge uphill battle. I have seen many social media sites come and go over the years. A few have risen to the top—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and Pinterest—and dominate most social media users attention. A few other sites that are geared toward a specific topic— like Goodreads for book lovers—have also survived and thrived.
While I think your best course of action is to continue to develop and grow an audience on the social media platforms that you are already established on, I would also encourage you to check out and support these new social media platforms.
Let’s not take our freedom for granted. Lend your support to those who are helping ensure that we will be able to maintain our freedom of speech. If we fail to do this, one day, we may not have the freedom to publish Christian books.