Rick Warren could not have anticipated the success of The Purpose-Driven Life, his Christian life manual that is closing in on a record-breaking 25 million copies sold. So widespread is the phenomenon of the book that Warren, head of a massive empire of followers, is now well on his way to creating what he calls the first “Purpose-Driven nation” by reforming Rwanda from the top down.
Maybe you won’t get to be head of your own small African country, but by tapping into the same market as Rick Warren, you may be able to see a book with the right themes blossom. According to the American Association of Publishers, the religious book market grew at a rate of 8.5 percent per year between 1997 and 2004, and Christian titles are still breaking into the mainstream and flying off shelves.
Here are some steps that can take you and your book down the straight-and-narrow path to success:
Get a Christian Code. (This has nothing to do with Dan Brown, by the way.) Labeling your book with a Christian Product Category (CPC) code will make smaller Christian retailers more eager to stock your book. These codes used to consist of a super category, primary category, and sub-category printed just above and right-justified with the bar code (e.g., GENERAL INTEREST / OTHER RELIGIONS / CULTS). Recently, the Christian Retail Solutions Committee (CRSC) approved the new BISAC code list, which now integrates CPC codes into this industry-wide cataloging system. The industry hopes the new codes will both simplify inventory management for independent Christian retailers and facilitate integration of Christian titles into mainstream bookstores. Many found the old CPC listings confusing and redundant; accordingly, 20 percent have been altered in some way and 10 percent have been eliminated in the merge with BISAC codes. Changes take effect January 2007.
Fit in. There’s no rule that says your book has to cite a certain number of New Testament verses to be sold in Christian stores. CPC codes actually make room for quite a wide variety of topics (Romance, Action/Thrillers, Westerns, Personal Growth, Time Management, and my personal favorite, Whodunits). That said, emphasizing Christian elements that aren’t there is exploitative and strongly discouraged.
Spread the Word. Networking works wonders in the Christian community. Any chance to join relevant organizations or write for denominational publications can increase your name recognition among Christian consumers and get you closer to distribution through Christian channels. Attend the annual Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) conference and make contacts. Speak to church groups. The Christian community will be eager to evangelize about a good book that fits their worldview.
Join the Club. It’s a big draw to Christian bookstores, such as the 124-store LifeWay chain, if you happen to be with a distributor affiliated with the CBA. The CBA is pretty selective about who it works with, but you can have your trade distributor submit your book to Spring Arbor, a division of Ingram which carries Christian titles, to be CBA flagged. You may need to mark relevant passages to help them decide. Once you’re flagged, you will be part of a list from which most Christian bookstores order inventory. You can also try submitting your book to local Christian stores; LifeWay has a program through which you can give a title to a regional manager to be considered for local store placement. Make sure no child labor or breaches of Fair Labor Standards Act were involved in the manufacturing of your product before submitting it to LifeWay and other stores; this is one of the things they check out before accepting a title.
Getting your book into Christian outlets can be the catalyst that helps it succeed. Interested browsers come to topical stores like these for the wide selection and a confidence that all the merchandise has been preapproved by like-minded people. A Barna Research Group study identified Protestant senior pastors as one of the most active book-buying segments of the population, typically purchasing twenty books per year, or quadruple the amount purchased by the average book buyer—and the majority preferred to shop at exclusively Christian stores. Pastor recommendation can really help a book take off, and the practice of using books as church curriculum can create buzz of biblical proportions (a big player in the “Purpose-Driven” craze).
The Christian shopper is part of an active book-buying niche; demand for Christian books is steady and strong. Learning to position your book correctly can help open it up to a vast, involved, and interconnected audience. And that’s good news for everyone.