1. Nicola says:

    Thank you for your report. I especially appreciate “attending” vicariously through your experiences.
    Thank you for delineating the “clearly identifiable as Christian” requirement of the book stores. I also go to a Christian Book Store for that purpose.
    Thank you also for pointing out the danger of that label becoming too narrow to hold all the creativity that Christians produce. To me, that is a sign that the publishing industry is still wrestling with the changes the computer has brought to society, and while the wriggling and jiggling of positions occurs, there is hope for the best to fall into place!
    I pray for my book to find its place, and you have prompted me to pray more specifically for the industry.

  2. Years ago, the Christian book/gift shop in my area expanded, and I was disappointed to see that they didn’t expand the book section by much at all, but they made their selection of gifts and cards quite a bit larger, so what you said about Christian stores emphasizing gifts is true. The sad part for me is that I wanted to buy books from that store, rather than the secular book store that was in town at the time, but the Christian one didn’t really restock books often, if at all. Then again, I haven’t been there in a while, so maybe they changed that.

    In one podcast I listened to, it talked about Bookstagramers, who, I guess, want to buy the nice looking hard cover editions of books. They arrange the books into a nice photoshoot and then post it on their Instagram. A lot of people now want to buy physical copies as collectors items, show pieces, etc. So a lot of indie marketing around physical books seems to make use of that.

    There’s a lot of other upcoming trends that are coming to disrupt every corner of publishing, so in some ways I would personally be hesitant to start a physical bookstore until I have a better idea of how things will turn out(not saying I’ll ever start a physical book store, just giving my impression as someone from my age group) I think there’s going to be a market for print books for a long time, but it will change and I wouldn’t want to invest in something as expensive as a brick and mortar store unless I knew it was worthwhile and would be able to last for a long time.

    You might find this interesting, if you haven’t seen it already. It discusses a lot of publishing potentialities a lot of people don’t bring up, including some implications for book translations and audio:

    • I wish I could come up with the wherewithall to bookstagram our books. I’m thinking the 80+ illustrations in our book coupled with the fact that most young things read on their phones is why well over 80% of our sales are paperbacks. They want to see the pictures and have the arty cover available.

    • Travis Perry says:

      Ok, I listened to enough of the podcast to hear the nine points listed. I don’t think this use of AI will immediately impact Christian bookstores. They will be slow adopters of this kind of thing–non-fiction will have to be at least assigned to a human being with the claim it came from a human being before Christian book buyers will be interested.

      Of course as the publishing industry changes to produce books in “micro print on demand,” this will effect the books available to Christian bookstores. Some of them may choose to print books for people on demand themselves rather than order them from a distributor.

      But as long as people want print books and want to see their print books prior to buying them, there will be a place for brick and mortar stores. And as long as there are brick and mortar stores, people, at least some of them, will want to go to expos to physically see books (and other products) before buying them.

      • Eh, yeah, I don’t think these things are going to be a huge immediate impact. I think seeing these things on the horizon is important, though, in terms of either weathering the future storms of change or finding ways to use them to one’s advantage.

        The idea of book stores having book making machines in the back is pretty cool and interesting, though. It would basically make bookstores like a McDonalds for books. But then it would probably make it where it’s easy for people to actually pirate paperbacks, so rights management tools would have to change a bit probably.

  3. notleia says:

    Because you’re not from the Bible Belt, you may or may not realize that the real target audience for Christian stuff stores is middle-aged ladies. They probably have kids’ stuff and a few enterprising ones might have some Christian rock CD’s for the teenagers with occasional pocket money. But most of the real money spent in these stories is from middle-ages ladies, the Keepers of Civilization but also the Keepers of Tacky Kitsch (bless their hearts). It disseminates from there when all the moms of young children with no money buy their castoff Live Laugh Love signs at thrift shops.

    Maybe it’s because I have delusions of snobbery beyond my status as a common plebe, but I really do not understand paying 50 smacks at Hobby Lobby for cheapa** Chinese particle-board copy of “Live Laugh Love” in leopard-printed script font. Is our trade deficit really worth THAT?

    But they probably consider me uncivilized because my dinnerware doesn’t match.

    • With future Christian(and I guess even secular publishing) a lot of the answer probably lies in people writing/publishing the type of books they want to read. And I think eventually younger people will start opening little stores that they know will cater to younger people instead of just the middle aged ladies you mentioned.

    • Travis Perry says:

      I have heard it mentioned before (by Jeff Gerke) that the middle aged ladies just aren’t interested in speculative fiction and that’s why such stores will never carry much speculative fiction.

      But I have drawn a separate conclusion, one that I honestly cannot prove is true–that in fact the middle aged women WOULD possibly buy speculative fiction if they were 100% positive it were Christian or directly related to Christian issues. Because those women want to give gifts to their kids and family and might buy something speculative–but they’d have to be fully convinced the thing they buy is Christian in content. (They have zero tolerance for stealthy support of non-Christian ideas.)

      I think I can do that. I might be wrong, but I think I can. I think other Christians can do it too, but it would take time and patience to make it happen…

      (We shall see if I’m right.)

      • Lauren Beauchamp says:

        This is at least partly true — my mom will buy sci-fi for my young teen brother if it has the Focus on the Family branding (I’m thinking of Brock Eastman’s Quest for Truth series, and I think there was another series that had Mars in the title). She’ll also buy things from Christian Books online.

      • notleia says:

        Why would they buy edgy fiction they don’t understand nor approve of when they can buy their grandchildren bland devotionals with trendy graphic design?

        (I am SUPREMELY skeptical about this market’s capacity to change in any significant manner)

        • Well, it’s already gone through changes and will continue changing as time goes on. Christian fantasy was pretty much not a thing at all at one point, for instance, but people like Bryan Davis have already paved the way for more changes in the future. He sells at lots of homeschool conventions every year, and even has novels for adults that deal with heavier topics and content(like human trafficking).

          For your crocheting…do you sell/market based off of the crocheted items being sort of personalized/customized? People are more willing to pay for stuff if they see it as a more unique item.

          • notleia says:

            Certainly some people do custom or commissioned work, like my coworker who is funding his scarf/hat yarn habit that way. But it has its own pains in the butt. Do not want.

        • From my experience with the Realm Makers mobile bookstore, adults will buy SF for kids — especially teen boys — because they’ve learned that forcing kids to read stuff they hate produces kids who hate to read. The adults would rather foster the love of reading than avoid fiction they don’t personally enjoy. Those adults who don’t read SF themselves, they rely on the retailer to vet the Christian-ness of the content.

          That said, you’re not wrong to be skeptical. The RMMB has faced plenty of obstacles. But it is making inroads.

      • Andra M says:

        Middle-aged lady here! While there’s truth to the buying habits of middle-aged women, especially Christian women, there’re also many of us who grew up on sci-fi/fantasy. We found so little of it in the Christian market for so long, we gave up looking for it there. This is where the indie/small-press market is key, and where many, such as myself, have found the books we’ve been longing for. This is why Realm Makers was such a God-send for me, both as a Christian reader and writer of spec-fic.

        • Kathleen J Eavenson says:

          YES! As a middle-aged [truthfully? Older than that!] lady who grew up reading classic SF (Asimov, Heinlein, Pohl, Gordon Dickson, Poul Anderson, James Schmitz, Randal Garrett, etc), I LOVED discovering Christian spec fiction!

          In fact, for several years I produced a monthly Christian fiction page for the specialized webpage on our county library’s catalog. I also suggested Christian fiction titles for our book selection people to purchase for the system. I worked with all types of Christian fiction but did my best to feature spec fiction. I really miss doing that page now that I’m retired! [sigh]

        • Andra — right there with you! I stopped shopping for fiction at my local Christian bookstore because they either didn’t have SF or the few MLP/Enclave titles they had I had already read.

    • That’s what makes writing dark biblical fiction with a hefty dose of violence and no promise of happy endings or easy romance hard to sell (especially when you add in sci-fi/fantasy elements). It’s also why the books that sell consistently well in Christian fiction are thinly veiled, puritan versions of smutty romance (no explicit sex scenes). Someone quite close to me laughed when looking at one of the most popular Christian fiction writers and said, “Every book has a ‘hot’ young guy on it and a title like, ‘Rescue Me.’ This is marketed to horny old Evangelical ladies.” I have to say… I see her point. That’s no statement on the quality of the writing of those books. Only pointing out some of the market forces at work here. Middle-aged Evangelicals tend to want things that make them feel good/comfortable. That’s why they buy Live Laugh Love signs. If you don’t sell what they’re looking for, you won’t find success in the traditional channels for Christian fic. The only speculative fiction that finds success with them is speculative fiction they think will serve as “spiritual formation.” So, basically, I’m agreeing with both you and Travis.

      I’ve been fortunate to have some mild success writing in a tiny niche and pulling a good income from it. But I’ve had to make adjustments to fit the market a bit better.

      • notleia says:

        It’s mostly why I don’t have an etsy store for my crafting. 1) No one wants to pay what it costs for my materials, skill, and time when they can buy a 10 dollar version at Wally World. 2) I would get sick to death of constantly making duplicates of things that DO sell.

      • Travis Perry says:

        Could you talk more about your niche, Brennan? I’m curious.

        • You want an explanation of the content and focus of the books? Or who the readership is?

          • notleia says:

            Is it a technical niche?

            • Depends on how you define “technical niche.”

              • notleia says:

                Well, quit being sly and spill it, silly beans.

              • notleia says:

                It occurred to me after an embarrassing long time I can Google your stuff, but that alone doesn’t describe your target market

              • Sorry, I didn’t think you were legitimately curious. My bad!

                I started out writing fantasy inspired by biblical text. My target market was fans of dark Christian fantasy who liked dense symbolism and lyrical writing (good luck finding them). The people who bought it were fans of biblical fiction. Needless to say, that didn’t work out well. Got a decent chunk of “blasphemy – 1 star” reviews, which is ironic because I’m ridiculously “orthodox.” Shifted the focus in the next books to be more straightforward biblical fiction, but couldn’t stop injecting magic realism. The new ones went over well, though, so I settled on “Epic imaginative biblical fiction.” Dark, fast-paced, lyrical biblical fiction (big scope) with elements of magic realism and a dash of romance to please biblical fiction fans. Basically, I’m selling to fans of fantasy and biblical fiction, but don’t fit squarely in either niche. Lorehaven reviewed FLOOD, my second book, and called it a “tour-de-force of character drama.” Hope that’s helpful…

                I’m currently re-writing the first book, CAIN, to be the new style, rather than straight dark fantasy. Got the rights back from my publisher finally. That’ll be out in March, and will have a different title.

              • notleia says:

                I guess I don’t know what “lyrical” is supposed to mean if it isn’t a euphemism for purple prose. But IIRC, you had a free ebook available, if that’s one of the ones in your adjusted style. Except I would probably feel obligated to send you a multi page document of my nitpicks.

              • No, the free ebook is a short story from a long time ago, not new in style. Lyrical means there’s attention paid to saying things beautifully. Only an inexperienced writer thinks that lyrical always = purple. If you’re going to read any of the books, I’d suggest reading FLOOD. Nitpicks are pointless unless they’re sent before publication. I pay for plenty good editing. Way more than most indy authors. And really, if you published something yourself, it would cure you a bit of the need to nitpick everything (I’m assuming, here, that you haven’t received much in the way of consistent feedback from other authors/the general reading population). But by way of illustration, here’s part of the beginning of FLOOD, to give you a taste of the style. It’s of Noah’s mother before she met his father. The first scene is of her family being murdered and her being sold into slavery:

                Adah straightened to match her father’s stare. “Tell me why I cannot choose whom I might marry.” 

                Father ducked past the central beam that held their farmhouse aloft and stepped near. “Because I will not have you dishonor the family by marrying a fool.” His head tipped like a boulder on cliff shoulders, and Adah waited for what would surely come tumbling out of his mouth.

“Irad,” Mother warned as she stood against the wall kneading dough on the only table in their living room. Her shadow stretched double in the light of the candles that burned on the opposite side of the room, the flickering silhouette mirroring Adah’s father in size and shape. 

                “Lenah,” Father mocked, not looking from Adah. “Don’t say my name like an obscenity. Our daughter is throwing away our lives, the labor of our ancestors. The stress will be the death of me.” 

                Mother dusted her hands so the dough wouldn’t stick. “You are fine.” The table’s legs danced on the packed dirt floor as the weight shifted. 

              • Well, I’m good with the idea of dark fantasy and dark biblical fiction :p

    • The kids’ stuff at those stores is rarely being bought BY the kids so much as it is being bought FOR the kids by middle-aged ladies. Speaking from experience here. (Although I do not now and never will own a “live laugh love” sign, and my dinnerware doesn’t match, either.) 😀

      [LOL at “leopard-printed script font”. Nailed it.]

  4. Great article. Thanks for sharing your experience and impressions. On the expo repaying attendees their travel and stay expenses, I do not think this is normal in other places. I work for a small table top game and comic book store and my bosses will go to trade shows. They have never mentioned being reimbursed for attending and they will talk about the business side of things with me on occasion. In fact, they won’t always go every year because of the expense of travel and lodging. Just a little note from another specialty industry.

    I’ve noticed the decline in Christian stores. When I was young, there were 3 or more stores within driving distance from my house that I could visit. I loved going to them. But, over time, they have slowly disappeared to the point the only Christian store that I can drive to is the Catholic bookstore about 30 or more minutes away. They carry a lot of great stuff and I love to visit them but they don’t carry a lot of fiction so I do most of my buying of Christian fiction online at Amazon or directly from the author. Looking through the shelves is how I found new authors and books and was able to get the one I wanted without having to wait for it to ship. I miss the Christian bookstore and hope they grow again to at least the point there is one or two I can drive to.

    Again, thanks for the article. It was some great insight.

What do you think?