You have probably heard the story about the two shoe salesmen sent to Africa in the early 1900's to scout the territory.
One telegraphed back: "Situation hopeless. Stop. No one wears shoes."
The other telegraphed: "Glorious business opportunity. Stop. They have no shoes."
Now, I’ve seen a couple of interpretations of this probably apocryphal story – most laud the second salesman for seeing opportunity. Some point out that modern marketing often exploits people by creating a yearning for false and even unhealthy 'needs' (the beauty industry, for instance), while one suggested that salesman A went back to Europe to a lucrative career while salesman B struggled to sell shoes to people who didn’t want them.
Whichever way we look at the story, sometimes I feel that being an Australian or New Zealand Christian author is a little be like trying to sell shoes to barefooted people. We often struggle to interest people in our books.
Why is it so hard?
Now, partly that’s because Australian is a small market. We have a smallish population 22 million compared to 320 million in the US. And, hard as this is understand, not everyone is a reader and, if they are, not everyone reads fiction. A successful book run in Australia is 500 copies.
Then too, the percentage of people who not just vaguely identify themselves as Christian, but are actively involved in their faith in some way, is a much smaller percentage of our already small population – maybe 7-30% (depending on how the measurements are done).
But the problem goes deeper than this – I know many avid Christian readers who aren’t interested in reading ‘Christian’ fiction. They prefer the big name secular titles (yes, mostly US and British authors). Some may have read Christian Fiction in the past and not liked it (it might have been too sanitised or maybe the quality of the writing was the issue or the themes didn’t interest them). And those who do read Christian fiction tend to read the big US names – Jeanette Oke, Francine Rivers, Dee Hendersen etc. rather than say Mary Hawkins, Meredith Resce, Paula Vince, Carol Preston or Jo-Anne Berthelsen. In part, this is because the big-chain Christian bookstores have often promoted US (& UK) authors and when they stock Aussie Christian authors, those books don’t always sell. Why – because readers are spoiled for choice and they often don’t want to waste their time on a bad book, so they stick to the authors they know and love or follow the recommendations of friends. So you need to be popular to become popular.
And, to be frank, many of my avid reading friends don’t know about Aussie Christian authors except for the fact that I’ve mentioned them (at which point their eyes begin to roll).
So what do we do?
We can be Salesman (or Saleswoman) A
- We can give up on the Australian market and address our works to the overseas market, such as the UK or USA. But often, these readers may not interested in reading about Australian location or Australian protagonists (this is not always the case of course). And the Christian market in USA has it problems.
- We can aim for the general market in Australia or overseas – though again the gatekeepers in this market may be wary of books with obvious Christian content or may expect certain problematic content (like gratuitous explicit sex scene in some romance titles).
- We can decide that it doesn’t really matter if anyone buys our books, because it's more important that we are obedient to God in writing them.
- We can sell our books to our fellow authors, friends and family; who will enjoy reading them.
All these can be valid and realistic responses. I’m not critiquing them (in fact, I think there are good arguments for writing 'crossover' fiction or aiming for the general market – but what I do ask myself is, are there other opportunities we are not seeing? What would Salesman (or woman) B do?
What would Salesman B do?
In other words, how can we give Aussie & NZ Christians greater choice – so that they are aware that there are many good Aussie Christian authors and books available? Which they might enjoy if they knew about them?
I’m thankful for our pioneers – our ‘veteran’ authors who have been writing and publishing for decades, for the writing groups like Omega Writers, Christian Writers Downunder, Faithwriters and Australasian Christian Writers. For Christian publishers who often struggle to stay afloat and have a passion to have books of quality and influence published. For efforts to get Aussie Christian writers in bookstores or to reach new readers (through Book Fairs, Light the Dark, Books in Stock etc).
One thing I’m sure of is that this is something we can do together – as we promote to our friends and fans not only our own writing, but work of our fellow Australasian authors that we read and enjoy – or think they would enjoy.
By encouraging, promoting and helping each other we ensure that our books are not lonely little pin points of light struggling against the wind of indifference – but a bonfire that is visible for kilometres around.
Here some ideas:
- Taking time to read, enjoy and review Aussie & NZ Christian books
- Give Aussie & NZ Christian books (that you enjoy) as gifts at Christmas or birthdays or as giveaways
- Participating in readers groups like book clubs, Goodreads, reading challenges etc,
- Being active on Goodreads and/or Booklikes – review books, add them to lists, recommend them to friends
- Author talks at schools, libraries, bookclubs – maybe even churches and youth groups?
- Have a book party
- Have a book fair
- Joint ventures like anthologies, boxed sets etc where fans of one author may discover another author to love reading
- Joint book launches
Perhaps you have some other wonderful ideas or stories – I’d love to hear them.
Christian Book Fair
There is one thing that Raelene Purtill and I are planning to do (under the umbrella of Omega Writers). In early September, we will be running a Christian Book Fair in Brisbane – with stalls from authors, booksellers and publishers. Others like editors, illustrators, cartoonists etc. are also welcome. The Fair will be run in conjunction with workshops run by Omega Writers.
However, our primary focus will be on books and readers – as we aim to reach a wider audience for all our books. We (the organisers) will be promoting the event as wildly and as targeted as we can. However, I think this will be a success if we all own it. The best promotion is word of mouth. And of course, we appreciate your prayers – for unless the Lord build the house we labour in vain.
The story about the salesmen reminds me of some other scouts - twelve to be exact; ten of whom looked at the giants in the land; two who saw the promise and had faith in God.
More information on the Book Fair coming soon. (And if you live too far away to come to the Book Fair this time round – maybe this is something you could think of for your own local area :) )
Image source: Jeanette O'Hagan
Image source: Jeanette O'Hagan
Jeanette O’Hagan enjoys writing fiction, poetry, blogging and editing. She is writing her Akrad’s Legacy Series—a Young Adult secondary world fantasy fiction with adventure, courtly intrigue and romantic elements. Her short stories and poems are published in a number of anthologies including Glimpses of Light, Another Time Another Place and Like a Girl.
Jeanette has practised medicine, studied communication, history, theology and, more recently, a Master of Arts (Writing). She loves reading, painting, travel, catching up for coffee with friends, pondering the meaning of life and communicating God’s great love. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and children.
You can find her at her Facebook Page or at Goodreads or on Amazon or on her websites JennysThread.com or Jeanette O'Hagan Writes .