marketing Christian self-published booksWhen talking about marketing Christian self-published books, the new self-publishing paradigm has large liberties and limitations. But things have changed a lot.

No one will market your book—especially a Christian book—except the author unless:

  • You have evidence of a substantial readership
  • You have previous books which have sold thousands of copies
  • Unless your Christian witness is quite limited
  • Even with these things, a publisher will only make one short marketing push

At this point, as we approach the second decade of the 21st century, all authors do their own marketing. Everyone except for the few NYT Best Sellers does most of their own marketing. Most do all of it. It doesn’t matter whether you like this new reality or not, it’s how it is.

The benefits of the new self-publishing are obvious. The gatekeepers are gone. Anyone can publish—for free. You can publish in a matter of days once the manuscript is completely edited and you have made the marketing decisions necessary like title, subtitle, description, keywords, genre, market, niche, type of reader, and so on. Everyone is on the same level to start. However, your experience helps a lot.

As I’ve hinted, marketing Christian self-published books has many additional hurdles. Mainly, Christians are no longer looked upon with favor. The more you talk about Jesus, the more people will get upset. In addition, being righteous makes many common marketing techniques unavailable.

Christian authors writing fiction and non-fiction become boggled by the complexity of publishing and marketing your book. My focus remains new and unknown authors who need to cut through the intense competition with a plan to reach their specific readers. I want to help self-published authors frustrated by low sales. Plus, these things will certainly help those of you who are doing fairly well already.

Though many of these things will also help the person seeking to be published by a traditional publisher, that is not my focus. I’ve done that and I might be able to help a little, but the Lord let me know that I was wasting my time in that pursuit. The readers upon whom He has me focused for most of my books are not huge in number nor easily found. You are a different person, and it is quite possible the Lord is asking you to find an agent and a publisher.

My focus is on do-it-yourself publishers. I don’t like to use the word self-publisher because that has traditionally been the term for authors who pay someone to publish your book. That type of self-publishing is also called Vanity Publishing. A vanity press will charge you thousands of dollars to print your book. Some may offer distribution help, but that costs thousands more. Plus, they are of no help in marketing. You need to carefully look at them and RUN the other way. If publishers want you to pay, you do not want to use them unless you are CERTAIN the Lord is leading you to that specific company.

I like to use the term DIY publishing because you can publish your book with little or no money while still offering your readers a professionally done book showing excellence and meeting genuine reader needs. I often see postings from new and first-time authors asking the same question.

What do I need to do to sell my book?

Why isn’t my book selling? It’s a sad question because so much bad or irrelevant advice is tossed at the new author—especially Christians. I want to help you clear the confusion.

You will hear all the following advice

  • You need an author platform
  • You must build a following
  • You must give away your books on Kindle
  • You need to use other authors to help you promote yourself
  • You must have a Website
  • You can’t do it without a blog
  • You need a FaceBook page
  • Twitter is the only way to go
  • Pinterest is better than Twitter for books
  • GoodReads is your best bet
  • Google+ is essential [of course, now they’re gone] >chuckle<
  • Linked-In is a must
  • Some insist you still need MySpace
  • Plus, there are dozens more…

I am going to give you guidelines to determine what type of author you are, what kind of readership you have or will have, and what you are selling. Without that knowledge, picking any of the choices just listed is an exercise in frustration, unless you are very lucky.

I don’t believe in luck, I believe in Jesus An old Barry McGuire song 1981

Now, if you are writing for a very popular genre (let’s say erotic romance or revenge thrillers) almost any of the ten things listed will work quite well for you. But as Christians, appealing to the lusts of the flesh is not likely to please the Lord. In fact, those appeals put us at risk of being picked out as one of those Jesus said should have a millstone tied around their neck and tossed into the sea.

They will probably work for a popular genre like Christian Historical Romances. But if you’re writing hardcore prophetic or speculative fiction novels with a strong gospel message, most of that stuff will not work.

Small niche non-fiction has its own special problems, as do obscure biographies or history, minority persecution stories, testimonial reports of successful missions, and so on. Almost all books require a special strategy and you need to determine what it is before you write your book, if possible.

For most of you, it would seem to be too late, for your book is already written. But that is not true. The techniques I will share can enable you to re-market an existing book which is doing poorly and completely turn it around.

What’s holding you back?

The blocks, in most cases, are preconceived notions of what it takes to sell a book, unrealistic assumptions, a ridiculous schedule, and the belief that it will all happen within a few weeks or months at most.

One of the worst expectations is the very common one which has you believing that you can take a simple Word document, upload it through an easy conversion process, and sell ebooks like crazy. That is wrong on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin.

You may be able to get away with it if you are selling ninety-nine cent formula novels in a popular genre. But it won’t work well or long for anything better than that. You need a well-written, edited, proofed, and professionally formatted book which is attractive, easy to read, and tells the readers you are targeting that this book is for them.

Can I guarantee a million books sold?

Of course not! But I can give you the tools you need to sell your book online with reasonable expectations without spending a huge amount of money. I can give you a realistic shot at making your living from your books. After that, you’ve done what you can and the rest is up to the leading of the Holy Spirit. He may have you do many different things.

You will go through reality orientation and give up your Oprah interview fantasies and/or your spot on FoxNews. For most of us, this type of fame is not possible, necessary, or even desired. A book sharing academic study results to determine the real date of the Exodus is not going to be helped by Oprah or Hannity. What is required is professionalism for your book production and a realistic examination of who is going to be attracted to your book.

Determining who makes up your readership is initially an educated guess. This is updated by experience gained from talking with readers and seeing what they say when they review your book. But in the new world of do it yourself publishing, you can always redo it until it works—with little or no financial penalty.

You can make a huge leap forward with a few simple steps

It will take some time, in almost all cases. But it will become part of the fun of publishing which goes beyond the joy of creation experienced by all authors. This will change your life and the lives of your readers. More than that, a lot of it can be done very quickly (a couple of days). The long term growth of steady income takes a while.

  • Realize this is not rocket science.
  • It is complex, but not particularly difficult.
  • It will require the purchase of good tools—but that is always the case.
  • There’s not much room for stupidity.
  • You will need several books
  • But if you are willing to learn and able to work, you can get’er done.

When marketing Christian self-published books — traditional marketing realities often do not help

  • Marketing packages start at $1000 and rapidly cost several thousand or even over ten thousand.
  • There are no guarantees.
  • Selling more than a couple of hundred copies is very rare.
  • BUT, self-publishers can gradually increase their sales over a period of years.
  • An excellent, well-thought-out marketing plan will really help

Everything I write is based on the fact that I am a believer and Jesus is the center of my life. I’m assuming that this is true for you also. If not, these principles should work regardless. Many things change for believers, as authors and publishers, because of these truths.

Many of the tools and techniques I read about book marketing involve sin: lying, false witness, pride, and all the rest. My underlying operating principle for writing and publishing comes from here.

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. [II Cor 4:1–2 RSV]

I read a book a while back which suggested that I set up six separate Amazon accounts so I could write my own reviews, which are needed to increase sales for my books. That’s lying, at best (disgraceful and underhanded are words which also come to mind). I can’t do that or most of the myriad pieces of worldly advice you will hear as you look for methods and venues to share your book with your audience.

I will continue to trust God to provide those things necessary like reviews, likes, readers, and so on. We are different and live in a Kingdom with a King of power.

I refuse to participate in things like LikeFests, adding friends I do not know {at least a little), and many of the other things we’re asked to do—often by believers I respect. Why would I share a book I haven’t read, in a genre I don’t like, written by a person I don’t know, just because they are a member of a supposedly Christian group in which I am participating? That seems very close to lying to me. I only share books I haven’t read, if I know the author and trust his or her walk with the Lord.

But in this age of the Great Falling Away, there are many Christians who claim to be a Christian with no evidence of a transformed life in obedience to Jesus. More and more we need to be careful who we recommend, and who we associate with. The day is coming when the current cultural Christians will consider it to be a work of God to turn us in for incarceration or beheading.

My unique background

I am a Bible teacher and a former teaching pastor as well as a professional graphic designer, typographer, and art director working since 1971. Now that I have my own company I am no longer forbidden to mention the blessings of working under the anointing of the Lord. I was forced to live under that constriction for several decades. The Lord blessed my efforts. But it is a real joy to be able to share how to work in the Kingdom.

If you want my doctrine or denomination, I increasingly find that irrelevant. I know Jesus, and have walked with Him as close as I know how since 1974. In that time I was led to the Lord in a Roman Catholic Charismatic meeting. I’ve been an Episcopalian, Lutheran, Full Gospel Businessman, non-denominational, Vineyard, Assembly of God, Foursquare, and currently unofficially tied to Perry Stone, Dr. David Reagan, and a few other ministries. So, I guess I’m a Pentecostal, Charismatic, Fundamentalist, Baptist, Catholic, believer in the Lord Jesus.

Do you have a call?

If you aspire to be a Christian author working for the Kingdom, the first thing you must settle is your vision and the call of the Lord. We’ve talked about this already. But it is very important! If you’re not called to this with a vision for your mission—please do something else. We definitely do not need more non-believers claiming to be Christian writers called by Him to write.

Ask Him. He’ll make your path clear, if you seek Him for guidance. I realize that we all walk by faith and not by sight. However, if you are writing to get rich, famous, women, or any other worldly lust, repent now.

You cannot do this without His love, guidance, and anointing. Let me rephrase that. You certainly can do it—many do—but the results will not be good, either for you or for your readers. The Lord will not be pleased. So start your efforts with prayer and keep them bathed in prayer throughout your career as a writer.

We are teachers

In the Christian communities online in which I participate, I regularly get arguments about this. But you need to examine yourself carefully. If the Lord has called you to write, at least part of your call is as a teacher.

Authors are teachers. Like it or not, readers will be affected. We are judged more strictly than normal because of this. The Lord told us this specifically through James.

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. [James 3:1 RSV]

This is a serious thing we are doing. We are attempting to use our God-given writing ability to affect change in our readers. Even if you are writing sheer escapist stories, you are responsible to make sure that you are telling the truth in love as you know it. Let them escape to a place of healing, regeneration, and spiritual growth.

Inspire them. Comfort them.

Paul laid it out clearly, as usual. We need to take this calling seriously, though not pompously—please!

Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God. II Corinthians 7:1 NLT]

This is modified from Writing in Holiness, a book I wrote.