Christy Award-nominated novelist sees great benefit in Christian retailers’ customer connections
Lisa Wingate has published more that 20 books, but never has she dreamed the entire plot of one of her novels—until The Story Keeper, that is. Her newest novel with Tyndale House Publishers is out this month and promises as much emotion and drama as The Prayer Box (Tyndale, 2013), which was one of her two Christy Award nominees this year.
“I dreamed the plot, woke up and wrote it all down,” Wingate said, referring to The Story Keeper. “I wrote out a synopsis and was going to meet with my editor the following week at the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference. This was a different book than what I had planned, but I told her I really wanted to write this book, and she was fine with that.”
Wingate, who lives with her family in Texas and makes her own prayer boxes (to hold prayer requests or favorite scriptures), is no stranger to writing novels. Her first, Tending Roses, was published in 2001 with New American Library (NAL)/Penguin Group USA and is now in its 21st printing. Its first home was in ABA stores, but these days it’s also carried in Christian retail stores as a Penguin Praise title. Sales are at about 200,000 copies, Wingate said.
“The ABA publishers said they loved it, but it had too much church stuff,” she said. “The CBA publishers were saying they loved it, but it’s not historical fiction and nobody gets saved. But NAL published it as women’s fiction. It was a crossover book before there was any such thing.”
Nearly 15 years ago, when Tending Roses released, it was brick-and-mortar stores such as Barnes & Noble selling the book to readers who were “looking for gritty novels with a faith element, and a lot of readers wanted that.” Wingate has sold more than 1 million copies of all of her titles since then.
These days the author “loves being an ambassador for Christian fiction” and is eager to meet readers at signings and share her story.
“What I love about my books being in Christian retail is that the stores are so relational,” she said. “When I go to a signing at a Christian retailer, the people are so much more interested in talking about the book and finding out about your journey. Readers know the cashiers well and are frequent customers.”
Christian retail stores have helped to boost sales of Wingate’s books.
“Christian retailers have been great for my books,” she said. “One of the biggest things is that retailers know authors who are similar and are able to recommend my books. I hear a lot from readers who say they found my books when they asked about other novels. That’s the skill of the retailer knowing their books well.”
Tyndale is eager for readers to discover Wingate, who also has been published by Bethany House (Baker Publishing Group). To increase awareness ahead of the release of The Story Keeper, another of her Carolina books, Tyndale offered The Prayer Box at a deep discount. The company included the first chapter of The Story Keeper in the $5 copies of The Prayer Box and promoted it through marketing group catalogs.
Stores such as the two Kregel Parable Christian Stores in west Michigan took advantage of the promotion. The stores sold 40 copies in June and 35 in July, plus ordered ahead.
“Our two stores sell a lot of fiction, and we have a lot of fiction readers on staff, so it’s easier to recommend books, especially Lisa Wingate’s books,” said Jeremy Fleming, manager of the two stores. “The nice thing about the $5 book is it introduces people to an author they wouldn’t pick up if only seeing the name on the shelf.”
Fleming, who stocks all of Wingate’s books, plans to reserve feature space for The Story Keeper when it releases.
“She’s a very good writer, and we want to get her name out based on previous purchases and reader recommendations,” Fleming said.
Wingate herself participates in “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Book” campaign, which takes place several months prior to the release of each book. Early copies of the book travel around the country in “Sister Circles” of readers, who interact on the Sisterhood’s Facebook page, get acquainted via email and leave their thoughts in the margins of the shared books.
“These women become ambassadors for the book and begin driving early word-of-mouth for The Story Keeper. They spread the word within their book groups, church groups and local areas, thereby driving sales for local Christian bookstores or favorite Christian online retailers,” said Cheryl Kerwin, senior marketing manager for Tyndale. “This year, over 130 women participated in 23 Sister Circles, and The Story Keeper traveled from coast to coast.”
Wingate is also going on a seven-state book tour that will include church, community and store events. CBA retailers will sell books at some of the events.
Family Christian, Mardel, LifeWay and Parable Group stores all do well with Wingate’s books, as do a number of ABA retailers in the Outer Banks, North Carolina, where her Tyndale books are set, and at SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance) stores in Texas and across the South.
Tyndale has purchased targeted online media that reaches previous buyers of Wingate’s books and Christian-fiction buyers.
Wingate is “quickly becoming one of our most popular authors,” Jan Stob, senior acquisitions editor for fiction, told Christian Retailing. “Her fan base is growing, and she’s becoming popular because she finds unique ways of getting the word out about her books.”
She has released two e-books, both tied to her Tyndale titles. The Sea Glass Sisters is a prelude to The Prayer Box, while The Tidewater Sisters is a postlude.
“These are nice little discoveries for her rabid fans, whether a longtime fan or a new fan via her Tyndale books,” the Tyndale editor said. “They have sold well.”
Stob pointed out that there are underlying themes to Wingate’s Tyndale books, though each can stand alone. Wingate has a third print book and a third novella under contract, and “we’re hoping to extend that,” she added.
“Readers are discovering her beautiful prose, but they will also recognize themselves or people they know in these stories of women struggling with their pasts,” Stob said. “Lisa’s writing makes you stop in the middle and savor the imagery or a phrase. You can read them over and over again.”
Wingate remains committed to finding and keeping her readers, especially those who shop at Christian retail stores.
“Retailers are passionate about connecting books to readers who will love them,” Wingate said. “They are smart about positioning my books near other books readers like, which is so valuable to me. It all goes back to the relational aspects of Christian stores. Bookselling is incredibly different when there are close relationships there.”