Christian Retailing

Author Philip Yancey explores questions of substance Print Email
Written by Ann Byle   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 10:06 AM America/New_York

Writer and fellow pilgrim provides Christian retailers with books on subjects that meet customer needs

PhilipYancey-PortraitWhen Philip Yancey writes a new book, his publisher and his fans gear up for the excitement. Yancey’s latest is Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?, releasing this month from Zondervan.

Vanishing Grace is his first book with Zondervan since Prayer in 2006, according to Tom Dean, senior director of marketing for trade nonfiction. Dean and his team have revamped Yancey’s website, are organizing a book tour and planning plenty of promotional materials to keep Christian retail stores happy and part of the launch.

“Philip is on a journey with the reader,” Dean said. “He says to them, ‘I have the same questions you do, so let’s explore them together.’ ”

One of the first things Dean and Zondervan did was a brand analysis of who Yancey really is. His website,, received a complete overhaul with his input an integral part of that work. The second thing was to plan a seven-city book tour from one end of the U.S. to the other.

Yancey will visit churches that seat at least 1,500 for each of the free events. Titled “An Evening with Philip Yancey,” he will speak for 30-40 minutes on the topic of “vanishing grace,” and after a musical interlude, take questions from the audience. He’ll visit San Diego; Detroit; Atlanta; Cleveland; Auburn, Alabama; Kansas City; and Menlo Park, California.

“We are taking the creative assets of our own marketing campaign and providing them to the churches, including printed pieces, eblasts, PowerPoint presentations and website materials,” Dean said.

Christian retail stores are also part of the design, with the author planning to visit several stores in the Denver area after the holidays and taking part in Skype interviews or book club gatherings via digital connection whenever possible.

“This is a key opportunity for Christian retail to step up, and we’re looking for our retailers to deliver significantly,” Dean said.

Merchandising materials provided to bookstores will mirror those provided to Yancey’s tour venues, with additional pieces such as artwork for bag-stuffers and website banner ads available on request. Zondervan also is releasing a DVD and study guide appropriate for group and individual use.

“This is our biggest budgeted book for fiscal 2015 and our biggest frontlist title,” Dean said. “It’s the book we have the highest expectations for this year.”

One of Yancey’s goals is to provide bookstores with titles that truly sell.

“I’ve published 25 books or so and cover a lot of different topics,” he said. “People come into the bookstores with a problem, and my books can offer help. So often Christian booksellers become counselors; I want to provide them with books they can give to customers who need them.”

Yancey has a library of around 5,000 volumes, the majority of which came from Christian stores through the years.

“I love Christian retail stores,” he said. “My mother made her living with the Bible Club Movement, now BCM International, so she would go into Christian bookstores and buy flannelgraphs and booklets. I would tag along with her.”

He acknowledges the struggles Christian retailers face, but also the good services they provide.9780310339328 image

“Christian retailers need that sense of mission as well as good business practices,” Yancey said. “One thing they offer is a personal, listening ear and knowledge about a particular book that might help. Many times a person wanders into a bookstore but doesn’t know what they want. Perhaps he or she has questions or knows someone with a problem. That’s where Christian retailers with a personal touch can fill the gap.”

Zondervan has been intentional about introducing Yancey to retailers, including meeting with Parable Group retailers and a visit with Munce Group retailers.

“When you hear Philip talk about the book, he’s got amazing stories of everyday Christians extending grace in amazing ways,” Dean said. “He truly has a heart for the church. General lay readers as well as church leaders will be interested in this book.”

To retailers such as Bill Ballou, who has owned The Solid Rock in Kearney, Nebraska, for 40 years, a new Yancey title means promoting the book via displays and handselling to customers.

Vanishing Grace is going to be a very relevant book, as Christians are becoming less relevant to our society and as we react badly when things don’t go our way on things like gay marriage, abortion and healthcare,” Ballou said. “We need to act like Christians.”

Zondervan’s David Morris, vice president and publisher for trade books, calls Yancey “a trusted fellow pilgrim who helps everyday readers put into words the things we’re all feeling. He captures the important human questions, shows how we might think about them as Christians and shows us the places and ways where the gospel message shines.”

Yancey is quick to say that he didn’t want to write a scolding book, but a soul-searching kind of book.

“I really want this to be a positive book that helps the church think through what we’re not doing right, and come up with ways to do it better,” he said.

The book’s beginnings go back to his earlier title What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Zondervan), which was first released in 1997. We live in a different world now, he says, than we did 20 years ago when Christians were more respected.

“People who are outsiders to the faith no longer see what we have as Good News, but as bad news,” Yancey said. “I decided to find out what happened and how we should respond to those opinions. I wanted to ask the questions, ‘Is it really Good News, both for me and at large?’ ”

Zondervan’s Morris agrees.

Vanishing Grace tells everyday Christians, who might feel a little embattled and lost in today’s religious climate, that nothing should stop us from taking an opportunity to show God’s grace,” Morris said. “My hope is that the book will inspire and equip us to do what Christians are called to do: show love toward others. It’s biblical, achievable and there for the taking if you’re courageous enough to answer that call.”

Even U2 lead singer and activist Bono endorsed Yancey’s latest work.

“It’s a lot to expect authors themselves to live up to the magic of their words, and it’s very special when they do,” Bono said. “Philip Yancey has a way about him that can only be described as graceful. Not vanishing at all … very present.”

Next year, Yancey plans to start on a memoir.