|More than just a pretty face|
|Written by Deonne Lindsey|
|Monday, 11 August 2014 11:30 AM America/New_York|
Devotional books offer rich spiritual content for the growing Christian
Devotional books didn’t often make headlines, that is, until Sarah Young came along with her 10-million-copy-selling “Jesus Calling” brand from Thomas Nelson. Ann Voskamp of One Thousand Gifts fame also has had success with a devotional based on her best-selling Zondervan book that helped readers cultivate thanksgiving and joy—and this year Tyndale will release her Christmas devotional, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. Whether headline-making or not, readers of devotionals often want new titles for themselves and to share with others.
MEETING THE MARKET
With fall and winter the key selling seasons for the category, Christian retailers may be asking what’s trending.
Publishers are releasing to market devotionals that include morning and evening readings, sometimes as a value-oriented pairing of two different previous or classic works—for example, the classics God Calling and God at Eventide edited by A.J. Russell (Barbour Publishing, September)—and at other times as way to offer multiple brief readings such as in the holiday offering All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas (Abingdon Press, October).
Marketers are using words such as “quick” and “convenient” to appeal to consumers as well as pocket sizing for readers on the go. For many readers, devotionals that fit into their busy lifestyles, often promising that they can be read in anywhere from one to five minutes, are a must.
Another focus is encouragement, which seems increasingly to be oriented not around major life occurrences, but simply around the routine challenges of life and trusting God in them. It’s a theme on which Voskamp continues to focus.
In terms of price point, this category hovers under the $20 glass ceiling, as publishers recognize the reluctance of customers to spend much more for the type of book they’ll want to purchase annually. In format, devotionals remain evenly split between specialty bindings and trade paper or traditional hardcover options.
BOOSTING THE BRANDS
While lesser-known names still manage to gain footholds with segments of readers, it’s no surprise that recognized author names and brands, as well as best-sellers, tend to dominate the category.
The popularity of Tyndale House Publishers’ One Year brand has led to new releases under that moniker for September. Capitalizing on the general rise of interest in biography and history, The One Year Women in Christian History Devotional by Randy Peterson and Robin Shreeves (Tyndale) will cover women of significance from biblical times through modern history. The One Year Book of Bible Promises by James Stuart Bell (Tyndale) is the most recent in a series of similar books with a focus on praying the Scriptures, and Walk Thru the Bible Editor Chris Tiegreen has written The One Year Hearing His Voice Devotional (Tyndale Momentum). All three release Sept. 14.
Baker Book House Manager Sue Smith notes that Tyndale’s promotion on its One Year line is one that her store staff looks forward to each year since it allows them to stock up for Christmas and the New Year when sales are heaviest.
Joyce Meyer appeals to viewers of her TV program, Enjoying Everyday Life, with The Power of Being Thankful, coming out in October from FaithWords. Another popular pastor, Joel Osteen, offers Daily Readings From Break Out!, based on his Break Out! trade title, both from FaithWords.
Pastor and best-selling author John MacArthur focuses on the believer’s ongoing communication with God in A Year of Prayer (Harvest House Publishers), releasing Sept. 1. The September releases of Faith for the Journey by Charles Swindoll (Tyndale) and Beside Bethesda by Joni Eareckson Tada (NavPress, distributed by Tyndale) focus on courageously trusting God and on deeper healing, respectively.
Best-selling author and pastor Dr. David Jeremiah capitalizes on the popularity of his Turning Point TV broadcast with Turning Points With God (Tyndale), a year-long daily devotional releasing in October. New York Times best-selling author Steven Furtick—the young but popular pastor at Elevation Church based in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area—delivers The Greater Devotional: A 40-Day Experience to Ignite God’s Vision for Your Life (Multnomah Books, Sept. 9).
Pastor Kyle Idleman is back with a 40-day devotional, 40 Days to Lasting Change: An AHA Devotional (David C Cook, January), which ties in with his AHA book. Also from Cook, Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and grandson of Billy Graham also is set to release his 365-day devotional It Is Finished in January.
John Piper has penned a 25-day Advent devotional, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, released last month from Crossway.
PROMOTING THE PRODUCTS
Apart from the December-February selling season, devotionals comprise a category that lags for many retailers. Digital availability may be a factor that has added to the issue of seasonality.
Manager Sue Smith of Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan, asks a good question about the genre: “I’m wondering if the release of new devotionals has declined with increased blog traffic—people using blogs for devotionals or email delivery of devotionals—and the total domination of the devotional section by Jesus Calling.”
Smith and other Christian retailers, including Mark Hutchinson, president of the Blessings chain in Canada, indicated that Jesus Calling and the other titles in that brand have remained top sellers in the last several years. Indeed, three of the top 20 nonfiction and three of the top 25 Evangelical Christian Publishers Association best-seller spots for July belong to Jesus Calling-branded projects.
To keep other devotional options in the mix for their customers, Smith’s team has gotten creative. One successful strategy has been making use of promotions offered by publishers, including the Manager’s Choice Promotions offered by HarperCollins Christian Publishers, which also publishes Jesus Calling.
“This allows us to create a sale around the book of our choosing,” Smith said. “We have a few titles that are continual best-sellers, so we keep those devotionals on a perpetual promotion. One good example would be Cowman’s classic Streams in the Desert.”
Mollie Lassiter Flowers, owner of Gospel Music & Christian Bookstore in Laurinburg, North Carolina, said that several of her top sellers annually are Christmas titles from Guideposts or The Upper Room daily devotional guide (Abingdon Press). These make up about 50% of the year’s sales of devotionals, while the other half comes from a small group of continual customer favorites like Max Lucado’s Grace for the Moment (Thomas Nelson), Joyce Meyer’s Starting and Ending Your Day (FaithWords) and Rick Renner’s Sparkling Gems From the Greek (Harrison House).
Renner’s book is proof of the power of knowing your customer and employing hand-selling approaches. The book carries substantial weight at more than 1,000 pages and is priced at $34.95, much higher than typical devotionals.
One title that may be easier to promote than others is Jesus Daily by Aaron Tabor, M.D. (FaithWords, Oct. 21). Based on Facebook’s No. 1 fan page with its more than 27 million followers, it includes interactive devotions. The book features creative elements in its design and uses the author’s posts, fans’ comments and questions, and responses from what Tabor considers “the largest ‘Roman Road’ in history.”
New Morning Mercies (Crossway, Oct. 31) by Paul David Tripp also was born out of a social-media concept. It provides 365 meditations led off by a gospel-centered tweet (140 characters or less).
Another gospel-centered title is Gospel Formed by J.A. Medders (Nov. 27). The Kregel Publications book focuses on the sufficiency of the cross for everyday life.
RELATING TO READERS
Not surprisingly, women’s and children’s devotionals remain popular choices. With a number of the women’s devotionals done in a gift-friendly, fashion-forward style and with many children’s devotionals inviting family participation, these two groups of readers are perhaps less impacted by blogs, e-books and other digital offerings.
Women’s devotionals remain a mix of feminine covers and giftable bindings. The 2015 edition of Daily Wisdom for Women (Barbour), available in October, provides readings for each day in a floral-inspired cover that can be imprinted for personalization. At $14.99, it represents the sweet spot that has become the median price point for devotionals. The annual has sold over 80,000 copies in previous editions.
Other Barbour offerings for women include Encouragement and Hope for a Woman’s Heart (October); Where God Leads, I Will Follow (October); 180 Prayers for a Woman of God (September); and The Woman’s Secret to a Happy Life (October), a daily devotional journal based on the Hannah Whitehall Smith classic The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life.
One of Tyndale’s latest offerings was written specifically with busy moms in mind. The September title 365 Pocket Prayers for Mothers applies the successful concept of convenient pocket-sizing along with daily prayers and Scripture readings to the challenges women face as mothers.
Revell (Baker Publishing Group) adds a new devotional from Holley Gerth to the September releases with What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days. Gerth, co-founder of (in)courage and a partner with DaySpring, wrote the devotional as a companion to her book You’re Going to Be Okay after seeing a need among women for reassurance that God is still God regardless of all the hard things that may come into their lives.
That trend is something that Kim Venema, associate at Living Water Christian Resource Center in Big Rapids, Michigan, sees as a key factor devotional sales.
“Many times, people come in looking for something that will help someone through a time of trial, whether that be grief or something else,” said Venema, who pointed out that devotionals must often be in the best-seller range to find year-round sales.
For the younger set, a number of new releases this coming year are part of a larger brand that already has seen success in the marketplace. That may mean building on a brand already connected with devotional products for adults to appeal to parents. For example, The One Year Devotions for Active Boys (Tyndale, October) and Daily Whispers of Wisdom for Girls Journal (Barbour, September) would be familiar to many parents. Another new release for girls is God Hearts Me (Barbour, October), a devotional collection for 10- to 14-year-olds.
Beauty of Believing (Zonderkidz, Oct. 7), a year-long devotional collection connected with the Faithgirlz! line, is a good example of one of the ways publishers such as Zondervan are freshening up their materials with new packaging and fewer ISBNs, yet still keeping a strong brand in play.
Other new releases include the revised edition of Adventure Bible Book of Devotions for Early Readers, NIrV by screenwriter Marnie Wooding (Zonderkidz, Oct. 7) and Devotions for Beginning Readers by author and Mothers of Preschoolers speaker Crystal Bowman and filmmaker Christy Lee Taylor (Thomas Nelson, Oct. 14).
New from B&H Publishing Group in September are 40 Days of Purity for Girls by Shane King and 40 Days of Purity for Guys by Clayton King, both tied to King’s True Love Project trade book.
Another category returning in devotionals is marriage. Tyndale is betting on the value of well-known names with two projects from best-selling brands. The publisher will be releasing The Uncommon Marriage Adventure from Tony and Lauren Dungy (Tyndale Momentum) in October as a companion to the Uncommon Marriage book released earlier in the year.
Tyndale also is set to release The Best Year of Your Marriage, a 52-week devotional with readings from Focus on the Family counselors and edited by Focus President Jim Daly and his wife, Jean. Rounding out the fall offerings from the company is the November release of a tan imitation-leather edition of The One Year Love Language Minute Devotional by Gary Chapman.
FINDING NEW NUGGETS
From the United Kingdom come two voices lesser known to Americans. Angus Buchan, a farmer-turned-evangelist in South Africa, offers Now Is the Time (Nov. 27), available through Monarch Books and distributed by Kregel. Buchan is known to those who watched the 2006 Affirm Films movie about his life, Faith Like Potatoes, available through Kregel.
Simon Guillebaud writes of his life in Burundi, Africa, where the contrast between Christianity, militant Islam and the repressive powers of witch doctors is stark. His devotional, Choose Life (Monarch/Kregel, Sept. 27), releases in September.
Mercy and Melons by Lisa Nichols Hickman (Abingdon Press, September) features meditations that help readers pray through the alphabet in the spirit of the Hebrew acrostic tradition. Also from Abingdon, Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door by Chicago Tribune columnist Barbara Mahany (October) offers thoughts on seeing the sacred in the everyday.
Retailers may want to know how to give lesser-known devotional works a fair shot with their customers. For Flowers, one of the biggest aids is hand-selling.
“When people come in looking for a gift, I go and get one that fits what they’re looking for and just about every time I get one and put it in someone’s hands, they end up buying,” she said.
Flowers admits that another part of the equation is having an extremely loyal customer base, but notes that the practice of hand-selling works well with many types of devotionals.
“I like to ask customers what their birthday is and then I’ll turn to that day in a devotional and let them read through the day’s thought,” she said.
Keeping a balance between best-sellers, classics and fresh voices, as well as putting effort into merchandising devotionals near related books or in prime spots for impulse buys and making sure to hand-sell your staff’s favorites will help give devotional sales a boost throughout the year.