I am going to the bar with my Christian bookstore.

When you hear “an Australian, beer, and ______”, you may not assume that the last part of the triad would be “the Bible”, but it totally is. At least, it will be next Sunday (February 15th from 7-9pm) at Founder’s Brewery in Grand Rapids, MI.

Baker Book House and Harper Collins Christian Publishing are partnering to host “Skeptics Night” at Founder’s with John Dickson, author of the book “A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible.”

When the posters first went up in the bookstore, I think we shocked a few of our patrons. After all, the primary feature of the advertising is a pint of beer, which is not what you expect to see next to posters for southern gospel singers.

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When I first previewed the posters with the management, I asked, “Is this too much?” My manager replied, “I welcome the fights this will bring. People need to understand that you aren’t going to find many skeptics willing to attend an event at a Christian bookstore. So we’re bringing the Bible to the bar.”

I’ve overheard a number of customers who agree with this sentiment. But I’ve also heard the opposite; i.e. people who can’t imagine why a Christian would step foot in an establishment that serves alcohol. I mean, it isn’t like Jesus ever had anything to do with beer or wine or the type of people who drank such things. Right?

Anyway, if you are in the Grand Rapids area next Sunday night, you should check it out. Just be warned that seating is limited, so it would be a good idea to let us know on the Facebook event page if you are planning to attend.

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Jot 5 | Save the Date

jot_logoThe Jot Writers’ Conference always seems to sneak up on me. And that wouldn’t be so much of a problem if I wasn’t one of the main organizers of the event. But thanks to my skills in last-minute, procrastination-honed organization, I have exciting news.

Jot 5 is Friday, March 13th from 7-11pm at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, MI.

We even have speakers lined up. Good ones, too. I’ll be posting their topics soon on the main Jot website, but for now here’s the list:

Jot will also have some workshops, but those aren’t ready to announce yet. Just forget I said anything about the workshops.

Stay tuned to our main Jot website for all of the upcoming news about Jot 5!

I am thankful for my bookstore’s customers. Specifically, Ken.

A couple of weeks ago, a co-worker stopped me and told me that a customer who just left asked whether I was still working at Baker Book House. She told me that the customer had told her some stories about me. At first, I was a little nervous, but since I have positive memories with most of the customers who would know my name, the worry died down a little.

“Who was it?” I asked.

“Oh,” she said, “his name was Ken.”

All worries disappeared. My memories of Ken are among my best at Baker Book House. To be honest, I can’t believe that I haven’t shared anything about him on my blog until now.

selah_hiding_placeBack when I was the music buyer for the bookstore, six to ten years ago now, Ken was a frequent and friendly shopper. I’d see him in every couple of weeks and he always bought the same thing: a stack of CDs by the group, Selah.

After his third or fourth time making the same purchase, I had to ask him what he was doing with all the Selah CDs he bought. This is when I got to know Ken a lot better.

“I buy them for the people at the cancer treatment center where my wife was treated,” he told me. “The music of Selah was a great comfort to my wife while she was undergoing treatment there. And even though she didn’t recover, she felt peace because of this music.”

“Wow,” I said.

“I have a deal with the doctors and nurses at the treatment center that I’m allowed to come in and give these CDs out as gifts whenever I want to,” he continued. “So, I pick up a few at a time as my paycheck allows and I hand them out when I can.”

That was the day that Ken started getting the ministry discount that we give to pastors whenever he bought Selah CDs.

A while later, I saw that Selah was coming to town to do a concert. I told their record label about Ken, about his love for people, and about how he was using Selah’s music to spread love and comfort. I asked if I could get Ken a couple backstage passes for him to attend the concert and meet the group. The record label jumped at the opportunity.

Ken was blown away when I told him about the tickets and the concert opportunity. He thanked me up and down, but I was just glad to be part of what Ken was doing.

When I stopped being the music buyer and moved on to marketing and helping with store events, I lost touch with Ken. So I was really glad when I heard from my co-worker that he’s still around. Mostly, I am thankful because I’m sure that Ken is still helping people where he can, and the world needs more people like him in it.

I am a Bookstore Tour Guide.

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I recently had the opportunity to lead a group of intrepid high school students on an educational tour of Baker Book House, the indie Christian bookstore that I’ve called home for the last decade or so. I had that opportunity because the store was approached by a teacher of one of Grand Rapids Christian High School’s Winterim courses on the publishing industry. The teacher, Kim Childress, is not a full-time teacher as such, but a person who has experience in the publishing industry who was simply teaching a two-week course.

In the the initial email that Kim sent to the store, she asked if we could take the kids around and tell them a bit about the retail side of the publishing industry. Specifically:

  • How do we get books from publishers?
  • What are the differences between ABA bookstores and CBA bookstores?
  • What are the differences between indie bookstores and chains like Barnes & Noble?
  • And what is the importance of a bookstore relationship to a writer of books?

They were great questions and between talking about the history of Baker Book House and answering these questions, the tour took about two hours. Perhaps I was a bit long-winded. On the upside, I’m going to answer some of these same questions here and it should take less than two hours for you to read them.

How do we get books from publishers?

Bookstores either buy directly from publishers or we get product from distributors. Publishers create the books in-house and they often have a sales team that calls on larger accounts. Distributors cater to the needs smaller bookstores and are repositories for many publishers, but because they do not create the books themselves, they are not usually able to offer as great a discount as publishers. Sometimes, we get called on by independent sales representatives who sell products from many publishers.

The meeting with sales reps goes something like this. After a polite amount of small talk, the sales rep will open a catalog of products that will be released in the near future (from one month to six months in the future, usually). On each title, a sales rep will have a recommended quantity that they think your bookstore should buy. Discounts are usually offered on graduated system with the greatest discount given for the most products ordered. The recommended quantities are based on a combination of past sales of similar products and wishful thinking. The bookstore’s buyer must be able to realistically gauge their customer’s interest in these titles in order to bring in sufficient (but not excessive) supply at the best discount possible.

The sales rep will enter the order along with the special terms of the purchase (free shipping, 60-day payment terms, etc.). The buyer for the bookstore will take the order and create a purchase order for the products so that it can be received when it is shipped from the publisher. Once the book hits the bookshelves, they will usually stay there for about six months before they get returned to the publisher based on how they sold. In an ideal world, the buyer will not need to return any books because they will have bought the right amount at the beginning, but the world is not perfect in that way.

As an extra bit of information, our bookstore does a thriving trade in bargain (also known as “remainder”) books. These are books that have been on some store’s bookshelf, but did not sell there, so they were returned to the publisher. The publisher cannot sell them as brand new goods, so they mark them on the bottom page edge of the book and sell them at a steep discount to bargain book buyers. That’s why our store may have the same title at full-price on the bookshelf in one part of the store as well as for 60% off in our bargain department and with little noticeable difference between them.

What are the differences between ABA bookstores and CBA bookstores?

First, it would probably help to understand that ABA stands for the American Booksellers Association and CBA stands for the Christian Booksellers Association. As such, there are probably certain philosophical differences between the two types of stores. But for a practical answer, the difference is largely one of selection.

ABA stores offer a wide selection of books from all publishers. CBA stores offer a narrow selection from specifically Christian publishers. This is not exclusive by any means, as some CBA stores (like Baker Book House) offer some mainstream, family friendly products that are available in ABA stores. But the majority of the product that CBA stores carry is going to be religious in nature.

What are the differences between indie bookstores and chains?

At chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Family Christian Stores, buying decisions happen on a corporate level and represent all of the stores within that chain. As such, the selection at one chain bookstore is going to be virtually identical to others within that chain. As in any corporate situation, decisions take time and even more time to filter down into the bookstores themselves.

Indie bookstores can operate without this corporate red tape, thus they are much quicker to respond to the needs of customers. If a buying trend emerges, chains may get a better discount on the product, but indies are more able to get it into their stores first. So it is most a battle between buying power and agility.

And what is the importance of a bookstore relationship to a writer of books?

Many writers, when not holed up in their homes, can be found writing in coffee shops. But the wisest writers write in bookstores. Or, at the very least, are frequent shoppers at bookstores. Aside from the simple inspiration of being surrounded by other published works, writers need to cultivate a relationship with a bookstore for research reasons as well.

You see, in the manuscript proposal step in getting your writing published, publishers want to see a list of your book’s competition. They need to know if what you are writing is needed in the marketplace, that your book fits in with the other books that they publish, and that you are capable of doing some simple marketing homework in order to promote your own book. The book buyer at the local bookstore will have all of this knowledge on hand. In order to sell books, they know the current needs as well as the books that might be a writer’s competition.

And when your book is published, they can help you promote it with events and sales.

Bookstores are also great places to connect with other writers. Perhaps even form writers’ group that will amplify the success and resources of its members.

So that’s pretty much what I told the high school students. And now that I’ve read over this post, I wouldn’t be surprised if it took as long to read as the original tour did.

Sorry about that. But hey, knowledge is power! Right?

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Other resources for those curious about the publishing industry:

Storytelling and the Arc of Transformation with Bobette Buster

Who else likes free seminars on writing? Maybe a better question is who doesn’t like free seminars on writing? The answer to which should be that no one in their right mind doesn’t like free seminars on writing. And judging from the poor composition of that last sentence (did you see all the double negatives?), I could use a free seminar on writing as soon as possible.

Well, we are all in luck. And though the seminar isn’t about sentence construction, it is about something even cooler. Every year, Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan puts on a free-to-the-public speaker series in January called The January Series. Fitting name.

Buster500The first session of the series is Storytelling and the Arc of Transformation by Bobette Buster, which sounds like a funny name I just made up, but it totally isn’t. Buster has worked in Hollywood as a story consultant with clients like Pixar and Sony Animation Studios. 9781907974052She’s also written the book, Do Story: How to Tell Your Story So the World Listens. I’m pretty excited about the topic.

This event happens tomorrow from 12:30pm to 1:30pm at the Covenant Fine Arts Center Auditorium on Calvin’s campus. There’s information here about parking and seating.

— OR —

You could avoid the crowds and the hassle by attending one of the many remote locations where the series will be livestreaming. And because I like you so much, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Even though it isn’t mentioned on the official January Series website, Baker Book House (2768 East Paris Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546) is going to be the best remote location for the series that you could visit.

That’s where I’ll be on Wednesday at 12:30pm if you’d like to join me. I hope to see you there!

Finding & Filling a Need with Your Writing

Elliot_LOL_150SoldREV0512.inddI remember sitting in the sales meeting where Baker Publishing first mentioned the Laugh Out Loud joke books by Rob Elliot. Sandwiched between presentations of Amish romance novels and deep theological text books, was this joke book. It was unlike anything else in the catalog.

There were confused looks around the room.

And then the company president stood up.

“You may be asking yourself why we are publishing a joke book for children,” he said. “Well, not too long ago, one of our sales people approached me and told me that if we published a clean joke book for kids, we’d make money on it. So, we’re going to give it a try.”

The sales person in question was Rob Teigen, and it was him who collected the jokes, pitched the idea and got it published under a pen name. Why? Because he saw a need in the marketplace. Sure, there have been other joke books published. But what Rob noticed was that joke books sell and there was room for another one.

And guess what. It paid off. A lot.

Here’s an excerpt from an article published in the New York Post:

It sounds like the usual setup for a knock-knock joke: Who is the best-selling author on all of Amazon.com this holiday season?

Rob Elliott. Rob Elliott who?

Yet it’s no laughing matter for Rob Teigen, a father of five in Grand Rapids, Mich., who, under the pen name Rob Elliott, currently owns the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on Amazon.com’s best-selling book list, outpacing such hits as “Unbroken” and the latest from Bill O’Reilly.

Did you pick up on that? He currently owns the No. 1 and No. 2 spots and Amazon’s best-selling books, ahead of Unbroken and national celebrities.

How did a salesman become the author of the top two books on Amazon? He saw a need and he filled it admirably.

Whether you consider yourself an author or not, maybe you know of a need to fill. What are you doing to fill that need? Do it well and you might just wind up on a bestseller list too.

Last Minute Shoppers Guide | 10 Items Available Now at Baker Book House

“Wait a second,” you say. “This isn’t the last minute. We still have more than a week until Christmas Day.”

That may be true, but I thought I’d get this guide out there while there’s still a possibility of having some of these items on the shelf. The dangerous thing about waiting until the very last minute to buy a gift is that someone else has already made off with the thing that you were going to buy. So why not be the person that buys it first?

Anyway, here are some ideas for the people on your Christmas lists. And all of these items are conveniently located at Baker Book House (where I work), just waiting for you to come in and get them.

For the children who can appreciate reusable playthings that don’t require batteries:

water_wow_melissa_and_dougThe Water Wow! activity books from Melissa & Doug are awesome. They come with a pen that holds water. To color the images, you just run the pen over the white pictures and the color shows up. When they dry, the boards return to white and you can do it all over again. My girls love theirs and they’ll be getting two new ones for this Christmas.

For fans of fantasy literature akin to the Chronicles of Narnia:

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The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson is a surefire hit. I’m serious. I’d recommend this series to anyone who enjoys any type of reading, that’s how sure I am that you will like it.

For the lover of bad jokes in your family:

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I don’t mean naughty jokes. I mean groaners. These books are full of them, but kids (and select adults) seem to love them all the same. In fact, they were the number one selling item on Amazon last year. Not just the number selling book, the number one selling item.

Also, these are included on the 12 Days of Christmas Sale at Baker Book House at 50% off their retail price.

For nostalgic grandparents of young children who value a bit of reading time together:

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Did you know that Mercer Mayer has a series of Christian Little Critter books? They’re new. That’s right, new Mercer Mayer books.

By the way, these are also included on the 12 Days of Christmas Sale at Baker Book House as Buy 2, Get 2 Free.

For that couple that is either sickeningly cute together (like my wife and I) or that couple that needs the reminder that marriage can be good:

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I love my spouse shirts! Also mugs. Win some brownie points this Christmas and pick these up.

These also happen to be included in Baker’s 12 Days of Christmas Sale as 2 for $20. Just saying.

For the college freshman or high school senior or person who has already worn through their copy of Mere Christianity:

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What could be better for a person’s formative years of self-discovery than the wisdom of C.S. Lewis non-fiction books? And for those of you who claim to already own them, yes, you may have one copy of these books, but do you have two? Then you probably don’t have enough.

Also, these are 50% off at Baker Book House because of that sale I keep talking about.

For the person with ears and decent taste in music:

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This is just a really great album. In fact, whenever my two-year-old daughter asks to listen to music in the car, what she is really asking for is the third track on this album. Over and over and over again. And you know what? I’m still not tired of it. It’s that good.

For anyone who appreciates a good Bible and wants to understand it in relation to world history:

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This isn’t a new Bible. It’s been out for about seven years now. But it’s still my go-to choice when recommending a Bible for personal study. If you want to understand the text within the scope of its originally-intended audience, this is the Bible for you.

For people who are perpetually cold:

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It’s a soft, warm blanket with Baker Book House’s logo on it! (Beautiful daughter not included)

And for anyone who appreciates ugly Christmas apparel:

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Wear it to your next Christmas function! It’ll be a laugh riot. Anyway, just buy them so they aren’t sitting around my bookstore anymore.