I remember back in 1994 when I worked with Joyce Hart. At that time she had a marketing company to Christian bookstores and helped us get set up with Spring Arbor Distributors. She is now a literary agent, and Spring Arbor has been bought out by secular conglomerate, Ingram Distribution.
Back in those days, taking authors and their books to the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) convention to autograph and give away free books was a wonderful, new venue for non-celebrity authors. It didn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to promote your book there, and authors actually made some great contacts. Back then CBA had about 13,000 attendees of which about 7,500 were buyers and business was booming. There were hardly any self-published authors in attendance, so it was a unique opportunity to connect with bookstore buyers and other people in the industry.
The trade show is now called the International Christian Retail Show and there are scores of self- publishers who promote this event as an integral marketing opportunity, even though it’s now swarming with independent authors who have paid enormous amounts of money to attend and promote their books. Industry voice, Christian Retailing reported the following:
The 2014 International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) convened in Atlanta, June 22-25, with the number of attendees essentially flat, but with significant discussions on the future of Christian retail.
The number of attendees at this year’s convention was essentially flat, with CBA reporting buyer attendance up 2.4%. In St. Louis last year, professional attendance for ICRS was down 15% to 1,485 buyers.
Christian Retailing, July 8, 2014
I’ve seen some Christian custom (self) publishers promise to give a Christian bookstore list to promote your book to…they say there’s 4,000 Christian bookstores on that list. Ummmm…there aren’t anywhere near 4,000 Christian bookstores left in the United States. With Amazon and Costco undercutting the small independent store struggling to survive, so many have gone out of business that the idea of spending thousands of dollars promoting to this market is ludicrous.
Companies like Xulon and others charge huge amounts of money for high-end advertising and endcap space at the ICRS convention…and for what? A chance to have your name and book on a huge banner or on the side of a bus…but really…is that going to sell any books? I hate to say this, but likely not. And even if a handful are sold (which is about the best you can expect if you are not a well-known author in a venue like this) you might net $20 or $30 in royalties because of the huge discounts that are given at trade shows like ICRS…and some authors spend tens of thousands of dollars to promote in that venue.
I’m sorry, but it’s a crime that authors are led to believe it’s worth the investment. I suppose if you have money to throw away, it’s worth the experience to rub shoulders with celebrity authors and hear the big named authors and speakers they have at the large meetings. But to be led to believe that the investment in that trade show is going to actually come close to being offset by sales…I’m sorry but that’s just wrong.
And then there’s the author book signings…publishers charge an author a pretty penny for this opportunity. At least ten years ago I noticed that more and more bookstores were starting to use the free books to stock their bookstores. These stores weren’t really interested in reviewing your book to see if they wanted to carry it…they either stocked their store or sold them on Amazon or other used book venues. They were profiting on the gullibility of Christian authors with a burning desire to share what God has given them to declare. I even heard about one store whose buyer brought 6 family members and had them split up and cover the entire floor, getting as many free books as possible, to stock their entire store for the year. Shame on them!
There are some other myths authors believe about bookstores that we’re going to cover in Part Two of this white paper series. We’ll talk about them next month. But in the meantime, this information is meant to encourage you to get creative about finding your audience, and go direct to them. It’s much more profitable, and it’s much more realistic. Not only that, it’s a much better ministry opportunity, to connect directly with those who need to read what God has given you to say.