Book Marketing for the Christian Marketplace

by Joel Friedlander on May 2, 2014 · 16 comments

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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.

The book selling industry is in constant flux. As a result, the guide has been updated every few years. The Third Edition of the book just released in spring 2014.
Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace

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 BolmeSarah 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.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

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    { 15 comments… read them below or add one }

    Lela Markham September 5, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Michael – I’m a Christian who writes for what I hope is a larger audience that just evangelical Christians. In trying to find a traditional publisher for my fantasy novel, I found the Christian publishers wanted me to remove some material that they deemed secular and the secular publishers wanted me to remove what they deemed religious. There may be a publisher out there that would let my book stand largely as I wrote it (maybe, Enclave/Marcher Lord Press), but I don’t really want to go through another round of inquiries, so I’m self-publishing.

    Reply

    Bryan Stallings July 17, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Joel or Sarah,

    I run a non-profit organization have been tasked with writing an eBook for other churches and organizations that both tells our story and how ordinary people can do the same thing through their local church. Here is my dilemma, with my current workload I would never have either the time to write the book or market the book, so I am looking for direction: 1. do you recommend an AFFORDABLE Christian book ghost writer and 2. are there Christian book publishers that market specifically to churches?

    Reply

    Sarah Bolme July 17, 2014 at 9:55 am

    The “Christian Writers Market Guide” put out by Jerry B. Jenkins Writers Guild each year lists Ghost Writers. It is a good place to find Ghost Writers. Many Christian publishers market directly to churches, more specifically to Pastors in churches. There is a whole chapter in my book “Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace” that is devoted to marketing to churches.

    Reply

    Bryan Stallings July 17, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Thanks. Does it list specific Christian publishers that do that or ways that I market it? Again I just won’t have the time to market it myself.

    Reply

    Sarah Bolme July 17, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    “Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace” does not list publishers. You keep saying that you won’t have time to market a book yourself. In today’s book publishing industry, every author (whether self-published or traditionally published) is expected to market their book. If you don’t have any time to market as you state, then publishing a book at this time would not be a wise decision.

    Reply

    Kent Weber May 6, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Some great insights here Sarah. Thank you! Even though I do similar work (book marketing for small and medium Christian publishers), there is always lots to learn, and I’m sure there are some nuggets in your book that I could put to use. But when I went to Amazon, I could not find a Kindle version, only print. Did I miss it, or will it be coming out soon ?

    Reply

    Sarah Bolme May 8, 2014 at 9:23 am

    We have had some delays with the Kindle version. The goal is to have it up by the end of this month. We also offer a PDF version currently on the book’s website at http://www.marketingchristianbooks.com.

    Reply

    Sarah Bolme May 21, 2014 at 5:01 am

    Kent: Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace: Third Edition is now available in the Kindle Store on Amazon. You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KGOEA38.

    Reply

    Christina Tarabochia May 2, 2014 at 8:43 am

    Thanks for sharing, Sarah. I’ve found that is one of the hardest obstacles–how to reach the Christian audience when we don’t have a proven track record of “aligning with their beliefs.” We try to be pretty blatant about it at Ashberry Lane by using the tagline Heartfelt Tales of Faith.

    Michael, interesting info. I live near Portland, OR. In my area, there are a lot of Muslims, a few Jews, and tons more than each of those groups that identify as Christian. One of my Muslim friends HAS self-published while–other than those I’ve met through Christian writer organizations–none of my Christian or Jewish friends have. I would guess that the stats you bring up have to do with two things. 1) This country really did start with Christian roots and still caters to that crowd, ie. tons of Christian radio stations, bookstores, etc. 2) As Christians, we are charged to spread the Gospel/Good News of Christ’s resurrection and His offer of forgiveness to every corner of the world. Many Christian writers I know write for this very reason, yet also to entertain.

    Reply

    Sarah Bolme May 2, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    One of the issues that keeps cropping up in the International publishing world (of course I am in touch with the Christian International Publishing part – not secular), is that a large portion of the titles sold by International publishers are books originally published in America. Many publishers in other countries are looking to develop more writing talent within their own countries. Since most Americans – by and large – about 73% – align themselves with the Christian faith, that is a huge percentage of people who would publish a “Christian” book versus a “Jewish” or “Islamic” book – and the self-publishing movement in America is huge.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus May 2, 2014 at 2:33 am

    I’m a Jew, not a Christian, and I just don’t understand the apparent Christian compulsion to self-publish.

    There are about 150 Christians to every Jew on the planet, but the ratio of Google links for “Christian publishing” to “Jewish publishing” is only about 3.7 to one. Strangely, the ratio of “Christian self-publishing” to “Jewish self-publishing” is 4370 to one!

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_bKXlng-gpg0/S193-fXVRCI/AAAAAAAAFaQ/C56QkJCV-Lc/s400/relig-chart-3.jpg

    In http://www.bookmakingblog.com/2010/11/forgive-me-jesus-but-i-just-dont.html I provided statistics for the “top ten” religions and asked some questions, including:

    Why do the members of my tribe — who obviously do a huge amount of writing and publishing — have such a tiny need for religious self-publishing compared to Christians?

    Why do followers of Islam (“people of the book” like Christians and Jews) who make up over one-fifth of the world’s population, and are strongly involved in publishing, have such a tiny need for self-publishing that reflects Islam?

    Why do Hindus and Buddhists — who comprise one-fifth of the planet’s population and have substantial involvement in publishing, have no apparent need for self-publishing that reflects their faiths?

    Do Christian writers feel they are blocked by traditional secular publishing companies, or merely feel more comfortable dealing with Christian publishers? Why do Christians have a much stronger need or desire to self-publish than followers of other religions?

    I’d love to get some answers.

    Reply

    SJ May 2, 2014 at 9:08 am

    I plan to self publish for most of the same reasons held by most indie authors, no matter what they write: It’s an opportunity to cut out the middle man and do things my own way.

    Reply

    Karen Higgs-Faretta May 19, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    Hi, I was brought up in the Christian faith. My small book has been self published.. My message is based on spirituality not religion. I had tried to get it published earlier with no luck from any publisher. I did decide to just take the financial risk and self-publish because it seemed to be my only option. I wouldn’t say that I was blocked, I did also get an agent. I wasn’t well-know was the reason that I was given for the rejections. Live & learn.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 2, 2014 at 9:42 am

    I doubt there’s any real significance to the number of links based on keyword searches, but it may be that some authors see their books more in a “religious” context than others. Don’t think you’re going to get much from this line of inquiry, frankly.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus May 2, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Joel — actually Christina’s comment about spreading the gospel is an excellent answer.

    Reply

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