By Sarah Bolme
Today we have an interview with Sarah Bolme, the Director of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) and owner of Crest Publications. Sarah is also a regular participant in our Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies and in this interview she explains what Christian authors need to know about marketing their books and the unique challenges they might face.
Joel: How did you come to write Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace?
Sarah: The First Edition of Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace was published in 2006. This was just a few short years after my husband and I—both traditionally published authors—decided to self-publish a set of Christian-themed board books for infants and toddlers. When we made the decision to self-publish, I read every book I could get my hands on that dealt with self-publishing or marketing a book.
It wasn’t until we began to try to sell the books that we discovered that the Christian book market was actually a subset of the general book market. When we approached Christian bookstore buyers about buying our books, they would ask us whether we were attending RBTE, CBA, and whether our books were available through Spring Arbor. None of these entities had been mentioned in the books I had read. I then embarked on a whole new journey, learning about the Christian marketplace.
After a couple years of selling our books, my husband encouraged me to write a book about marketing in the Christian marketplace. He reasoned that no other book with this information existed, and since I had done all the research and learned about what it takes to market a book in this unique landscape, I should let others know how to do it. That was back in 2006 when self-publishing was just beginning to pick up steam. I took my husband’s advice, and the First Edition of Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace was born. It won an IPPY award.
Joel: Define what you mean by the Christian marketplace.
Sarah: The Christian marketplace are those consumers—individuals, bookstores, churches, schools, libraries, media, and distributors—that ascribe to a Catholic or Protestant set of beliefs.
Joel: How does marketing a book to the Christian market differ from the general market?
Sarah: The Christian marketplace differs from the general market for books in two ways: retail and reader.
First and foremost, it is important to note that Christian readers don’t just read Christian literature. They read all sorts of books. However, they do tend to read books that are not offensive to their deeply held religious convictions (e.g., most Christians would not read books on transcendental meditation). Since Christian readers want to be confident that books they purchase that claim to be “Christian” are truly Christian in nature and follow their established set of spiritual beliefs, they often rely on Christian media and Christian book review sites to inform them of new, worthwhile books to read.
The Christian retail market relies on a select set of Christian distributors for ordering their stores’ material. They also have their own set of industry trade shows separate from Book Expo America where retailers attend to make connections, continue to learn to innovate to be successful, and find new products. It is the retailer’s way of ensuring the products they stock fall in line with the theological tenets of their clients.
Joel: Is there one key that opens the door to the Christian marketplace for new authors?
Sarah: One important key is having a known Christian personality endorse your book. Many Christians rely on name recognition when making purchasing decisions. If they see that a familiar Christian name says that your book is good, they will buy it. In essence, having a known Christian personality endorse your book signals to the consumers that your book falls in line with the generally accepted tenets of their faith.
If you don’t know any famous Christian people to endorse your book, the next best thing is to have a pastor or a known Christian author endorse your book. This sends potential readers the message that a Christian pastor or author approves of the book, therefore, the book most likely fits within their belief structure.
Joel: What is the most common mistake new Christian authors make?
Sarah: I think the biggest mistake new Christian authors who independently publish make is in not understanding the Christian marketplace. It is important to understand how Christians think when purchasing books and how the Christian industry differs from the general book market. I hear from many authors who have tried to arrange a book signing with a local Christian bookstore without much success. Usually, these authors are unsuccessful because they do not have their book available in Christian distribution channels, or have their book reviewed by a Christian source, or even have a Christian personality endorse their book.
Joel: What is a common misconception about marketing?
Sarah: Many authors think that marketing is about selling themselves. Not so. In a nutshell, marketing is any activity that connects consumers to your product. It is not self-promotion. I have seen promotional efforts where authors place a longer description in their “About the Author” section than in the “Book Description” section. The best marketing is showing consumers how the book you sell meets a need they have.
Joel: What are some good marketing strategies to reach Christians readers that differ from reaching general market readers?
Sarah: Reach the influencers and you reach the people they influence. This is especially important when marketing to Christian readers. Authors who can get Christian influencers to talk about their books will reach the most Christian consumers. Christian influencers include Christian radio shows, Christian TV shows, Christian magazines and newspapers, Christian book review websites, and Christian bloggers. Getting coverage for your book with these trusted Christian influencers is vitally important for securing Christian readers’ confidence that your book is worth their investment of time and money.
Joel: Do you have any encouraging words for authors venturing into the Christian market?
Sarah: Christians tend to read more than the general population. Studies show that Christian book buyers spend more on books than the average book buyer in America. Around 73 percent of people in the United States identify themselves as Christians. This means that there are over 225 million Christian consumers in America. That’s a lot of potential readers for your Christian book.
Historically, the Christian marketplace has lagged behind the general book market by about three to five years. This means that if you are an independently published author, now is a great time to be publishing a Christian book. The Christian book selling industry is just now beginning to recognize the fact that independent publishing is rapidly growing and becoming a large part of the book industry. Christian retailers, Christian media, Christian distributors, and Christian book trade shows have begun to broaden their horizons and become more accepting of partnering with independently published authors.
Sarah Bolme is the author of the award-winning book, Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace.The newly updated Third Edition just recently released in Spring 2014. Sarah is also the Director of Christian Small Publishers Association.
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