Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Christian Marketing: Is it different?

By Iola Goulton


We've been looking at marketing this month. There is a lot of information available on marketing in general, and on book marketing in particular. A lot of this information is aimed at the general market, not specifically the Christian market, which leads to an obvious question:
image via www.lightstock.com

Is there any difference?


No. And yes.

No, because the principles of marketing are the same, regardless of the product or service you are marketing.

But yes, because there are a lot of shoddy or unethical marketing ideas and practices out there. Some of these ideas are promoted, endorsed and practiced by Christians (or people who call themselves Christians). Personally, I believe that as Christians we are called to a higher standard, not just to abstain from evil but from the appearance of evil.

Yes, because I believe that, as Christians, we are called to stay away from any appearance of practicing or endorsing marketing practices that contravene the policies of the websites we are using (e.g. Amazon or Goodreads) and to hold ourselves to the highest standard.

Yes, because there are wolves in the market. Christians are often too trusting of other Christians, and get caught in scams or using unethical marketing practices because they don’t know better. We need to educate ourselves so we do know better.

Product

The kingdom of God is not built on second-rate work. As Christians, I believe we have an obligation to give our best for God. I've recently been reading Leviticus as part of a read-the-Bible-in-a-year challenge, and that makes it quite clear that God demands our best.

Giving our best means taking the time to ensure our books are the best they can be, utilising beta readers, critique partners, competent editors and proofreaders to give feedback and enable us to improve. It means gaining external professional assistance for any part of the writing, publishing or marketing process that we are unable to perform ourselves (and we should always get external assistance with editing. No one can edit their own work. We just don’t see our own mistakes). It does not mean publishing a book only days after we finish writing it. That’s not a book. It’s a first draft.

There are wolves in this area, especially in the realm of ‘self-publishing’. Narelle introduced this in her posts on Publishing Models, but self-publishing is when you do it yourself, not when you sign a contract with a publisher for them to do it for you. This is an area of the market which is full of scams like:

  • The Christian publisher with a ‘self-publishing’ imprint that charges between $999 and $6,499 (plus optional extras, such as professional editing), and is operated by the notorious Author Solutions.
  • The Christian publisher who will publish your book, but requires that you pay a ‘marketing’ fee of approximately $4,000.
  • The Christian publisher who will publish and market your book, but requires that you purchase an unspecified number of your books. I estimate this will cost in the region of $10,000.
  • The Christian publisher who will publish and market your book, but requires that you purchase a minimum of 2,500 books for cost plus $2 per copy.

I have two issues with these kinds of ‘publishers’:

What I have seen of their product is sub-standard. Their covers are less than inspiring, there is little or no sign the books have been competently edited, and their marketing is basic (it usually consists of Amazon and Ingram listings, and a standard website). On the plus side, the proofreading and interior design of the books is good. This kind of self-publishing does not represent value for money, and I don't believe it represents good stewardship of our talents.

These publishers, especially Author Solutions, make their money by selling products to authors, not by selling books to readers. You, the author, are paying the full cost of production, so they have no financial incentive to ensure your book is a success. And without book sales, you won’t be getting any of the royalties mentioned in the contract.

I am all in favour of authors who choose to self-publish. But not this kind of self-publishing. Remember, money flows from the publisher to the author. Not the other way around.

Place and Price

As far as I can tell, the issues surrounding Place and Price are the same for Christians as for everyone else. Ensure your book is categorised correctly and priced competitively. Keep watch on your sales and on the market in general so you can adjust categories or price as necessary.

Promotion

This is where it gets hard. The interwebz is full of ‘experts’, Christian or not. Some give excellent advice; others don’t. I'll be back next week with an overview of the best books I've read on book marketing (and some I don't recommend—and why not).

What do you think are the challenges facing Christians in marketing their books? Do you have any specific questions you'd like me to answer in a future post?



By Iola Goulton. I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website (www.christianediting.co.nz), or follow me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christianediting), Twitter (@IolaGoulton) or Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/iolasreads).

I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog (www.christianreads.blogspot.com). I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon Reviewer Rank that floats around 2600.


25 comments:

  1. Great post, Iola. Sadly, it's easy to pick the books which have been written one month and published the next.

    I believe one of the best marketing strategies is to deliver a well written novel. Revise, edit, grow... and promise the reader they'll not waste their time reading an undercooked book.

    I'm looking forward to your marketing book recommendations.

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    1. There are so many books available that readers have the luxury of choice - which means you only get one chance to make a first impression. With a book, that's the cover and the first couple of pages.

      Revision and editing might not be the fun part of writing - but it's the part that gets the reader to turn the page, buy the book, then buy the next.

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  2. I found this very interesting, Iola. There are a lot of sharks in the industry, and if you don't do your homework you can end up in big trouble.
    I am looking forward to your next post where we will see which books self-published successfully and which ones did not.
    Marketing is hard, but then I don't just see it as necessary for selling books, it's part of the bigger picture of ministry. I always consider that the Lord hasn't given me books to sit in my cupboard - just as I worked on the book, these days I must work on getting the books 'out there' for His purpose. But it's not an easy task.

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    1. So many sharks! I'm currently researching a series of posts on the publishing industry, and the things I'm seeing are enough to make my hair curl. One 'Christian' publisher charges $90 to set up a US Library of Congress Control Number ... which anyone can do online for free.

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  3. I found this thought provoking. Thank you Iola.

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  4. Helpful information as usual, Iola. Thank you. Marketing our books is always a challenge.

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    1. Thank you, Carol. Yes, marketing is a challenge, and one made harder because many of the authors talking about book marketing write non-fiction, and so much of that isn't relevant to fiction.

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  5. I really appreciated your insights.The wolves seem to prowl unrestrained in many areas, not the least in the publishing world. We need to beware and unmask where possible. Thanks again Iola

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    1. Thanks, Ray. I do believe we are called to be good stewards of the gifts we've been given. That includes spending our money wisely.

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  6. Thanks for the insightful and informative post, Iola.

    I find marketing Christian books difficult here in Australia because it is a small niche market. Just gotta keep plugging away ...

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    1. I think awareness is one of the big issues in the Australian market - people just don't realise there are Australian Christian novelists!

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  7. It's such a shame that we have to watch out for these wolves and sharks. I'm sure I went in like a lamb to the slaughter years ago, taking these people on face value and thinking they must be looking out for our best interests. I'm glad my friends, advisers and family members were more canny. Not to mention, we never had the money to be roped in by the big ones. I find it so sad that some people manage to find some funds, and then get bitten.

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    1. You're right, Paula. The advantage is we now have the internet, which means we can search for feedback on specific publishers. The disadvantage is we have the internet, which makes it easy for the wolves to find new victims.

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  8. Thanks for the warnings, Iola. Yes, I've read a few where they said they'd do everything including marketing, for you FOR FREE. I kept reading everything right down to a small para which said you'd need to pay for their help to mentor and guide you through. Fair enough, but they way they began their spiel it sounded as if they were Christians only wanting to help other Christians spread the Word!

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    1. I have no problem with people wanting to be paid for the work they do (after all, I work for money). But I have a problem with deceptive business practices, and your example is deceptive.

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  9. you know some of the practices make a reader wonder at times!

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  10. Iola, Thanks for your excellent post. Great advice here for new and more experienced writers. Authors should be publishing the best books possible, not their first drafts, underdone books or unedited books.

    I also agree with Dotti's comments. The quality of your current book will help readers determine whether or not they want to buy your next book. Marketing efforts and free book promos can direct potential readers to your book on a retail site. But, if your sample chapter doesn't grab them and hook them into the story, the reader probably won't buy the book or even download it for free.

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    1. Thanks, Narelle.

      You make a good point about the sample. I've downloaded Kindle samples where there were so many endorsements that the sample was only a few pages of the story, or where the book was so short, the sample was only the table of contents.

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  11. Iola, great post. Especially looking forward to next week's summary, even though I've got a sneaking suspicion of some that will feature. I've really appreciated your reading & review of these books as it has helped me a lot. I'm still trying to get to "Let's Get Visible"... soon, very soon. It's jumping out of the bookshelf (pick me, pick me)...

    Bless,

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    1. Yes, you're right. Let's Get Visible is on the list :)

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  12. Thanks for your helpful blog, Iola. There are so many marketing challenges for us as Christian authors, but I think, as Dotti mentioned, a key challenge is always to deliver the best 'product' we can, whether it be our books themselves or the content we deliver when speaking anywhere or how we conduct ourselves at some promotional event. Word gets around and, if we want to be writing and speaking for the long haul, then we need to deliver. So the challenge is to keep working hard, listening to God every step of the way--and enjoying the journey!

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    1. You're so right, Jo-Anne. We're in this for the long haul, and the work we do now will reap dividends in the future. And we do need to listen to God, and not let that still small voice be crowded out by the shiny lights of social media and the internet.

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  13. A helpful article Iola. Sad though to think that Christians can't trust others who claim to be Christian but are only out for their own gain. Actually sounded a lot like a conversation about money etc at our bible study group last night.

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