Christian Retailing

Inspiring devotional sales Print Email
Written by Leslie Santamaria   
Tuesday, 09 October 2012 02:38 PM America/New_York

DavidCCook-TheSameLoveHow deliberate development and thoughtful selling ensures this mainstay reaches readers

As the calendar turns to 2013, Christian retailers know sales of devotionals will likely hit their high point. Stores have additional opportunities to recommend devotionals to shoppers seeking gifts for Christmas as well as tools to re-ignite their own Scripture study. Store personnel who know the offerings and employ trusted sales techniques position their stores for the highest possible devotional sales throughout the year.

Many publishers see spikes in devotional sales for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and graduation, as “a lot of devotionals are bought as gifts, and gifts are a year-round need,” said Barb Sherrill, vice president of marketing at Harvest House Publishers.

Mike Scalzo, manager of the Family Christian Store in Altamonte Springs, Fla., observed that often a customer comes in looking for a gift and ultimately purchases a devotional as at least part of the gift.

“In my opinion,” said Ken Flanders, owner of The Olive Branch in Dublin, Ga., “there are two main reasons a customer comes in for a devotional book—other than people who read them regularly and are just looking for the next one. One is that they are hurting or know someone who hurts and they want something to help. The other reason is they are looking for a gift for someone and they want a devotional that’s entertaining in some way, whether it’s a sports devotional or has some other unique flair.”

Publishers continue to think strategically about what customers really want in devotionals. Marketing Manager April Kimura-Anderson reports that Tyndale House Publishers has “noticed an increased interest in devotionals that inspire people to slow down so they can experience God in intimate and deep ways. People are looking for a counterbalance to the constant demands of our instant, always-on culture.”

Bill Westfall, vice president of sales at Barbour Books, has seen customers connecting with all types of devotional titles.

“Some are author-driven, some are classic titles that have a proven track record, and … themed titles have done well, especially if they are targeted to a specific audience such as women and mothers,” he said.

Other publishing approaches are brand development, targeting niche readers, tie-ins to other media and best-seller reissues.


Among titles by notable authors is the Game Plan for Life: Chalk Talks Devotional (Zondervan, August). Author Joe Gibbs is a three-time Super Bowl champion coach and three-time NASCAR champion team owner. A companion to the Game Plan for Life NIV Bible, Gibbs’ devotional is designed for men of all walks of life.

For women, two new titles are offered by well-known authors. The Women’s Devotional Guide to the Bible by Jane Syswerda (Thomas Nelson), co-author of Women of the Bible, builds on the same five-day prayer-and-study approach used in Women of the Bible and provides Bible study strategies for busy women.

In the Stillness of Quiet Moments by Emilie Barnes (Harvest House Publishers) attempts to capture “two aspects of a woman’s day—her stillness and her quite moments,” which Barnes says are fleeting in the daily bustle of life.

Banking on her best-seller Unglued, popular women’s nonfiction author Lysa TerKeurst sees her Unglued Devotional: 60 Days of Imperfect Progress (Zondervan) release in December. TerKeurst has a strong platform as a national speaker and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries.

Worship leader and best-selling recording artist Paul Baloche has penned thoughts and prayers that complement his album of the same name. The Same Love: A Devotion released last month from David C Cook.

Author Jim George also has quite a following. His Harvest House title A Man After God’s Own Heart Devotional, which released in October, speaks to the key areas of every man’s life and to his purpose.

Franklin Graham is another name that sells books. Graham’s new 31-day devotional, The Sower: Finding Yourself in the Parables of Jesus, gives step-by-step instruction as well as daily inspiration for following in Jesus’ footsteps. Written with Donna Lee Toney, the hardcover from Worthy Publishing (EMI CMG Distribution) released last month.

Best-selling author Melody Carlson’s Devotions for Real Life (Revell/Baker Publishing Group) released last month. Carlson has career sales of more than 5 million copies.

ThomasNelson-JesusTodayDevoBRAND BUILDING

Publishers often use a multi-pronged approach to brand development by creating related books and companion products for an already successful title. Numerous releases this year extend existing brands. A prime example is a set of devotionals which build on the popularity of the Jesus Calling franchise by missionary Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson).

The phenomenon began in 2004 with the publication of Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence. After years of journaling her own thoughts and questions, Young had begun listening to God with pen in hand and writing what she believed He was saying to her. Sales indicate that readers are evidently drawn to her approach because the first devotional quickly appeared on major best-seller lists.

Young’s second and third devotionals, Dear Jesus: Seeking His Light in Your Life and Jesus Lives: Seeing His Love in Your Life, hit the market in 2007 and 2009, respectively. Since then, Thomas Nelson has created a Facebook page and an app for Jesus Calling because “today’s readers get content in a variety of ways,” said Laura Minchew, senior vice president and publisher of specialty publishing at Thomas Nelson. The line with its multiple products, including the Jesus Calling Devotional Bible, have now topped 5 million worldwide.

In 2010, young readers got their own version of Young’s debut book with the release of Jesus Calling: 365 Devotions for Kids, which has also become a favorite, as evidence by Christian market best-seller charts.

Then last month, Thomas Nelson released Jesus Today: Experience Hope Through His Presence, as well as two other age-appropriate additions to the line: Jesus Calling: Teen Edition and Jesus Calling Bible Storybook for young children.

No doubt other Christian retailers agree with Scalzo, who sees Jesus Calling as one of the best-selling devotionals he has observed in his 20 years in Christian retail. Of the brand’s popularity he said: “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The success of another Thomas Nelson title, Heaven Is for Real, has prompted the creation of a companion title, Heaven Changes Everything: A Devotional Reader (October). The New York Times best-seller written by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent tells the story of Todd and Sonja Burpo’s son’s journey to heaven and back at age 4. A DVD-based conversation kit and a children’s version of the book are also part of the line, which also includes an e-version of the book with sales topping 1 million.

The new devotional offers 50 inspirational readings based on excerpts from Colton’s story, relevant scriptures, take-away thoughts for reader application and features Sonja’s voice for the first time.

Another prolific brand is the One Year line by Tyndale House Publishers. With the first title created by Ken Taylor in 1985, One Year Bibles are organized to make reading through the Scriptures in one year achievable with short daily readings. Multiple translations are available, and themed editions exist for men, women, couples, preschoolers and more. Formats include hardcover, softcover and e-editions.

Kimura-Anderson attributes the One Year success to “its simple title and format. You can pick it up on any given day and find a relevant, short devotion … and if you desire to go deeper, you can read the Scripture passages and surrounding verses.”

“We sell a lot of the One Year [brand] throughout the year because it meets a lot of people’s needs,” said Bruce Anderson, owner of two Alpha & Omega Parable Chrisian Stores in Rochester, N.Y.

This year Tyndale added several titles to the line. The One Year Devotions for Women (September) is written by Ann Spangler, co-author with Jane Syswerda of the best-selling Women of the Bible devotional. In the new release, Spangler asks “How can I experience more of God’s peace in my own life?” Kimura-Anderson says the new devotional “is a year-long quest for that peace.”

TyndaleHouse-TheOneYearFatherDaughterDevoThe One Year Father-Daughter Devotions (Tyndale, October) by Jesse Florea, Leon C. Wirth and Bob Smithouser—three fathers who create youth products at Focus on the Family—is designed to foster communication and strengthen bonds between fathers and their tween or teen girls. Beginning with short stories and written in a conversational tone, entries also provide discussion questions, related Scripture passages and activities or applications of daily lessons.

The One Year Unlocking the Bible Devotional (Tyndale, October) is written by pastor Colin S. Smith (with Tim Augustyn), host of the national radio program “Unlocking the Bible.” Designed in a page-a-day format, the entries guide readers through the larger story of the Bible mainly using the New Living Translation.

Tyndale’s 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life by life-coaching pioneer Tommy Newberry (October) is based on the message of his New York Times 2007 best-seller, The 4:8 Principle: The Secret to a Joy-Filled Life. The publisher’s product description makes a direct connection to the previous title, stating that readers of The 4:8 Principle “will love the reminders and reinforcements provided in 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life, while new readers will be introduced to the life-changing power of The 4:8 Principle for the first time.”

Stormie Omartian’s “The Power of a Praying” line with Harvest House Publishers seems to have a life of its own. With its latest version released in April, The Power of a Praying Wife Devotional has sold more than 13.5 million copies alone. The Power of a Praying Wife Devotional Journal is to release in February.

WaterBrook Press has extended the nonfiction brand of Joanna Weaver’s popular Bethany trilogy by releasing At the Feet of Jesus: Daily Devotions to Nurture a Mary Heart (October). Drawn from Weaver’s best-selling books Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Having a Mary Spirit and Lazarus Awakening, the devotions in the new book are designed to help readers set aside responsibilities and spend time sitting at Jesus’ feet.

This month, the release of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces (Zondervan, November) promises to be a favorite among fans of her New York Times best-seller, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. In the 2011 book, Voskamp reflects on the stories of everyday life and chronicles the gifts of God. She encourages the expression of gratitude for life as it is in order to discover life longed for.

The One Thousand Gifts Devotional comprises 60 devotions inspired by the initial book. A special section provides space for readers to write their own thoughts of gratitude inspired by the daily scriptures and prayers.


With some devotionals aimed for a specific readership, retailers are best equipped to recommend targeted titles when they know something about the intended end-user.

Expressly for couples in any stage of life is Bill and Pam Farrel’s A Couple’s Journey with God (Harvest House). These authors of the best-selling Men Are Like Waffles—Women Are Like Spaghetti have written devotions for a couple to do together to strengthen their bond.

Busy families are the intended audience for Instant Family Devotions: 52 Bible Discussions for Anytime, Anywhere Use by Mike Nappa and Jill Wuellner (Baker Books). They require no preparation and can be used in a variety of settings to spark biblical discussions between parents and children. This title is also a brand extension, utilizing the same approach from Instant Small Group: 52 Sessions for Anytime, Anywhere Use (2011), also by Nappa.

For teens and tweens, is Jay Strack’s Impact: The Student Leadership Devotional (Thomas Nelson), a companion to Impact: The Student Leadership Bible. Based on the premise that teens want to change the world but don’t know how, the devotional aims to equip teens as leaders, servants and world-changers.

To guide grandmothers in devotions with their grandchildren, children’s author Crystal Bowman offers My Grandma and Me (Tyndale, October). This hardcover, full-color 68-page book includes a number of tools, like rhymes, prayers and interactive songs, helping grandma pass on her faith. The introduction also provides ideas for connecting with grandkids across long distances using the phone or Skype.

For history fans, J. Stephen Lang has penned The Christian History Devotional with its 365 readings and prayers. Drawing from 2,000 years of history, Lang provides readers with stories ranging from missions to martyrdom in the December release from Thomas Nelson.

Some products serve even more narrow niche audiences. For example, widows are encouraged in Margaret Nyman’s Hope for an Aching Heart: Uplifting Devotions for Widows (Discovery House Publishers, August), while job seekers and career changers are the unique target for Help Wanted: Devotions for Job Seekers by Aaron M. Basko (Judson Press, October).


With a clear media tie-in, A Hobbit Devotional by Ed Strauss (September, Barbour Publishing) was released in anticipation of the December major motion picture, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey from New Line Cinema. The book features 60 entries that each relate one scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit to a modern situation readers might face, plus an applicable scripture or Bible story. Readers will also find a glossary of terms and a timeline for the Tolkien classic, further tying the devotional to the original work.

Barbour’s Senior Editor for Nonfiction Paul Muckley explains that since the author is a big Tolkien fan, “the devotional flows out of his longtime reading and study of all things Hobbit-related,” and that Strauss “has done a tremendous job of spinning real-life applications from scenes in the story.”

Because of Strauss’ experience writing for the youth audience, Muckley sees this title as doing especially well with readers in the teen years through the early 30s.

Based on the self-publishing phenomenon that is The Shack, The Shack: Reflections for Every Day of the Year targets fans of author William P. Young and his creative brand of fiction. The new title from Windblown Media releases this month.


Titles with strong sales histories are often updated and re-released. One substantial new devotional on the market this season is Billy Graham’s Hope for Each Day: Morning and Evening Devotions (Thomas Nelson). This 784-page leather book includes two daily readings and is a combination of two of Graham’s previous devotionals.

For single women, Harvest House is re-releasing a title by writer, singer and speaker Michelle McKinney Hammond. Now called Sassy, Single, and Satisfied Devotional: Secrets to Loving the Life You’re Living, the devotional is based on Hammond’s nonfiction book Sassy, Single, and Satisfied, which sold more than 200,000 copies.

“We wanted to be sure that all those readers clearly understood this is a devotional by the same author of a book they absolutely loved,” Sherrill said. “They’re going to find the same passion and biblical insights in this devotional that they truly resonated with in that book.”


For retailers trying to increase sales in this category, Minchew notes that “merchandising is critical.” Thomas Nelson’s J. Countryman program consists of floor spinners and dedicated shelving sections.

The spinner “has increased gift books and devotional sales by as much as 93%,” and “in the accounts that chose the dedicated section, sales still increased 38%,” Minchew reported.

Sherrill of Harvest House mentions boutiquing devotionals as gifts with other gift items and emphasizes store placement.

“In addition to placing all devotionals in a devotional section in the book area, spread them throughout the categories. … If you have a section for a specific reader in your store, be sure the devotional targeted to them appears in that section.”

Westfall suggests stores might promote free imprinting with the purchase of leather or leather-like devotionals to increase sales. Barbour’s Daily Wisdom for Women is an example of an annual devotional with an imprintable cover.

Family Christian’s Scalzo said he and his team members do suggestive selling of devotionals.

“If we see a customer come up with a Bible, we might suggest a devotional book to go along with that Bible,” he said.

Anderson and his store staff do the same, especially for children’s products.

“We often recommend the spiral-bound devotionals for kids by Legacy Press as First Communion gifts anytime throughout the school year, but especially in the spring,” he said.