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.

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.

Speak love to your spouse in the language of t-shirts

A few years ago, Baker Book House got a call from someone organizing a marriage retreat for their church. They asked whether we had any mugs that said “I love my wife,” and “I love my husband.” At the time, we didn’t. But the beauty of being an indie bookseller is that we don’t have a lot of red tape. We asked when they needed the mugs, then had them made up at a local print shop.

Seeing that there was a market for that sort of thing, we ordered more than we needed so we would have some stock to sell in the store. We also ordered t-shirts that matched the mugs. They all sold out pretty quick.

The following year, we noticed that a t-shirt company in our industry did a very similar exclusive design with the major Christian bookstore chain that was headquartered down the street from our shop. Coincidence? Probably not.

Anyway, after that initial printing, we got busy with other things (hosting big-name author events, completely renovating the bookstore, etc.) and we didn’t make time to design new “I love my spouse” shirts. But the demand never really died down. At least, I assume it hasn’t given that every time I wear my “I love my wife” shirt out in public, I get at least one or two positive comments on it. And the people always ask the same question. “Where did you get your shirt?”

Well, we made time this year and worked with another local print shop to make up some new shirts. I think they look pretty good!

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Even better, they are included in Baker Book House’s 12 Days of Christmas sale, which starts today. They retail at $13.99 each, but they are on sale for 2 for $20. Do you have someone on your Christmas list that could use these shirts? Call the bookstore at 616.957.3110 and get yours today!

Oh, we also have mugs, but they aren’t on sale at the moment. Still, they’d go well with the shirts, so you should probably get those too.

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Learn to Draw Comics with Sam Carbaugh

There’s something you should know. Sam Carbaugh is going to have an event at Baker Book House this Saturday at 10am. He’s going to teach kids (and adults) how to draw comics. Then, he’s going to sign copies of his new book. I think it would be best if you came.

sam_carbaugh_eventHere are 4 reasons why:

  1. Sam Carbaugh is a cool guy. I’ve never regretted time spent with Sam, whether it was when he spoke at the Jot Conference or when I had lunch with him that one time.
  2. Sam Carbaugh knows what he’s talking about. How many people do you know who have a Master’s degree in comics? I know one. Sam Carbaugh.
  3. You’ve always wanted to know how to draw comics. Don’t pretend that you don’t. What’s the first thing you do when you open a newspaper? You look at the comics. And somewhere deep down inside, you wish you could do what the comic artists are doing.
  4. The event is free. All it takes is a bit of time on your part. Oh, and a phone call to reserve your spot in the class. How many things in this life are free AND cool? Take advantage of this one.

In order to attend, you need to RSVP to Baker Book House at 616.957.3110. After pleasantly greeting the Baker Book House staff member, kindly inform them that you would like to put your name on the signup for Sam Carbaugh’s event this Saturday.

And whether you come to Sam’s event or not, you should probably buy his new book, Comics: Investigate the History and Technology of American Cartooning (Build It Yourself Series). It’s a quality book that covers all the things you should know about the world of comics, and it is understandable on a kid’s level. Give it to your kids for Christmas or keep it for yourself. Whatever you want, just go get it.

Book Review | The Baker Book House Story by Ann Byle

This coming weekend, I’ll be attending the Baker Book House staff appreciation party with my wife. I’ve been working for the bookstore for a full 10 years now, and I can’t imagine working for a better business.

9780801016585In my time at Baker, I’ve picked up on bits of trivia here and there, but I never knew the full story of the company prior to reading Ann Byle’s book, The Baker Book House Story. And it is a really good story.

Starting as a used book shop during the Great Depression, Herman Baker’s bookstore has grown to become a destination bookstore as well as one of the top Christian publishers in the world. Through it all, Baker Book House and Baker Publishing Group have remained family owned and loyal to the ideals of their founder.

I know that books like this don’t have a wide appeal to people who either don’t work for the company or who are unfamiliar with Christian publishing, but I really think this is a good book on its own merit.

Reading The Baker Book House Story has impressed upon me the great honor that it is to work for the Baker family. If you live in West Michigan, appreciate a good success story, or simply want an uplifting, quick read, pick it up and spend a pleasant afternoon with your nose in this book.

And if you just happen to start shopping at my bookstore more loyally afterward, I couldn’t blame you.

I am thankful for Jot

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jot_4_andrew_livestreamThis past weekend, my writers’ group put on the 4th Semi-Annual Jot Writers’ Conference. It was a great time of encouragement, interaction, and learning. If you didn’t get a chance to attend in person, you can still watch the Livestream video here.

Or I could just give you incredibly brief synopses of each presentation:

  • Alison Hodgson – Getting started is hard. It is easier to keep going than to start again. One day you’ll be able to shove your success in the faces of naysayers (but, you know, in a professional and nice way), but only if you keep going.
  • Andrew Rogers – Rejection can be as hard for the publisher as it is for the writer. Don’t be discouraged.
  • Ellen Stumbo – Write the truth, even (maybe especially) when it is hard. You will be more helpful to those people who are going through where you have been than if you pretend you’ve never been there yourself. The truth is worth it, even it some people dislike you for telling it.
  • Sam Carbaugh – Writers get residuals where illustrators do not. Keep your priorities straight. Your book may be a flash in the pan, but your family will be with you for the long run.

One thing we did differently for Jot 4 was the addition of concurrent workshops following the main presentations. I led one on blogging (I’ll post on this tomorrow). Matthew Landrum led one on poetry. Jeff Chapman led one on fiction. I would have loved to sit in on these, but I couldn’t (since I was leading one at the same time), but I’d love to hear some feedback from those of you who did attend them. We’ll probably do them again anyway, but feedback is always helpful.

Speaking of feedback, I’d love to hear any and all of your thoughts regarding Jot.

  • Did you attend?
  • What was your favorite part of Jot?
  • How could we improve the next event?
  • Would you buy a Jot t-shirt or button?

Jot IV – Mark Your Calendars

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My writers group, The Weaklings, met recently to discuss the next Jot Writers Mini-Conference. I thought I’d tell you what we know so far.

Jot IV or Jot 4 (which one do you like better?) will take place on Friday, September 12th at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, MI from 7pm – 11pm. The price, as it has always been, will be nothing. The value will be considerably more (hopefully).

At the moment, only a few of our speakers have been confirmed. We’ll have veteran Jot speaker and editor at Discovery House Publishers, Andrew Rogers, and we just signed on blogger and Houzz.com writer, Alison Hodgson. We have two more speakers that we’re still bullying into agreements, so stay tuned for those.

For past attendees, we’re excited to announce that Baker Book House has agreed to expand the stage area of the store to accommodate our ever-growing audience. We’re still trying to figure out what to do with parking. I know that a few people couldn’t find spots at Jot 3 so they turned around. Maybe it would be good for a few of you to carpool. Make a writing friend and come together.

Last, we are excited to announce that we are expanding our workshops. Matthew Landrum, poetry editor for Structo Magazine, will again lead a workshop on poetry. I’ll be leading a blogging workshop. And we have a third workshop that I’ll announce at a later date. All the workshops will run simultaneously after the main presentations.

If you’ve never been to a Jot Mini-Conference before, here’s what you need to know. We’ve tried to condense the writers conference experience into one night. We make it short because we know that writers have full-time jobs and families and that time is a limited resource. And we make it free because we know how expensive most writers conferences are. And if those things aren’t unique enough, we also incorporate some writing time into the evening so you can practice what you’ve learned right away.

The goals of Jot and the motto are the same: Meet. Write. Learn.

Mark your calendars now and we’ll see you on September 12th!

PS – I’ve decided that the Jot logo is in sore need of an update. Would you like a chance to vote on designs or submit your own? Tell me in the comments below.

21 Inexpensive Ideas to Fill an Easter Basket Without Candy

My wife and I were musing the other day about Easter baskets for our girls. Our oldest is three and is able to appreciate the idea of an Easter basket. And if we do a basket for the eldest, we should do one for the youngest (almost two) as well. But after a few disastrous experiments with Halloween candy, neither of us relish the idea of packing their Easter baskets full of candy. And since all the grocery stores seem to sell are bunny-themed diabetic starter kits, I started looking around for other basket fillers.

I didn’t have to look far though. My bookstore, Baker Book House, has at least twenty different things that would be perfect for parents concerned about their kids’ sugar intakes. And so, here’s the list:

  1. dimplesbooks
  2. stuffed animals
  3. bouncy balls
  4. bubble mix
  5. puzzles
  6. card games
  7. activity/coloring books
  8. coloring supplies
  9. rubber stamps
  10. sidewalk chalk
  11. movies
  12. an_easter_carolCDs
  13. toy cars
  14. stickers
  15. pinwheels
  16. play dough
  17. bracelets
  18. hair accessories
  19. a slinky
  20. bath toys
  21. trip coupons (ex. carousel ride at the mall, a library or bookstore, etc.)

I’ve spoken with management and we’re going to put together a few pre-packed Easter baskets filled with stuff from this list. So if you don’t have time to do hunt for all these items yourself, swing by Baker Book House and pick up one of the pre-made baskets. Otherwise, you can pick from these ideas to supplement a basket of your own design.

Do you have any ideas to add to the list?

Good Problems: A Reflection on Jot

jot_josh_1Last Friday, my writer’s group put on the 3rd Jot Conference, and for all the positive feedback we received, we also had some problems. But they were good problems to have.

The main complaint we heard was about parking. Jot is held at Baker Book House, my place of work, so I am able to hold the conference there free of charge. The building was just remodeled and the event space within is beautiful. jot_tracy_1Plus, what better surroundings could writers ask for than a bookstore? But while the inside of the building is quite nice, the outside doesn’t have quite enough parking to accommodate the growing crowd of Jot attendees.

You see, Jot is getting bigger. Our first event, we had about 60 people attend. Our second event, the number was around 70. This time, Andrew Rogers counted over 80 people in attendance. And amazingly, around 30% off the audience had never attended a previous Jot Conference. jot_susie_1We are a bit overwhelmed by the response of the writing community in West Michigan.

But what do we do about our growing numbers and the problems that can cause?

If we move the conference to somewhere larger, we would likely have to pay for the event space. And as Jot is a free conference, we are loath to do anything that might raise our costs.

Ijot_chad_1f we keep it at Baker, we’ll have to get creative when it comes to parking solutions. Do we rent a shuttle van for attendees? Do we ask people to carpool with other writers? Do we cap the number of people allowed to come?

When I met with my writer’s group, The Weaklings, to discuss these things, jot_thomas_1we all agreed that something will have to change before Jot 4 (tentatively scheduled for September 2014). We’re looking at options, but I’d love to hear some feedback from you. How can we continue to grow Jot so that every aspect of the conference goes better? Should we have an opportunity for people to offer donations? Should we charge? Should we do a Kickstarter campaign?

Anyway, I thought Jot 3 went really well. The content was great. The turnout was great. And I can’t wait for the next one! How about you?