Christian Publishers Groom New Authors to Become the Next Big Stars

Emily Ley
Emily Ley

Success inspires the search for more success, and Christian publishers are always on the lookout for authors who can follow in the footsteps of their current stars to become mainstream bestsellers. Publishers say that the hunt for the next stars is not a primary motivation in acquisitions, but adding more top performers must be on their minds as they acquire and launch books.

This is especially true of the acquisitions of books by three types of Christian nonfiction authors: women giving other women advice and encouragement, scholars crossing over from the academy to write for general readers, and pastors writing books to expand their ministries. All three types bring solid platforms with them, and when publishers add their muscle to marketing and publicity, these writers have the ingredients to break out and become the next big thing.

A Lifestyle Leader for Women

Self-help/Christian lifestyle books that offer women emotional, spiritual, and practical guidance are a booming genre for evangelical publishers. Authors such as Shauna Niequist (Present Over Perfect), Lysa TerKeurst (Uninvited), and Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts) have racked up seven-figure sales and enjoy long runs on the PW and New York Times bestseller lists. It’s not surprising that publishers are eager to find more like them.

Thomas Nelson publishes TerKeurst; Voskamp and Niequist are published by Zondervan. Both are units of HarperCollins Christian Publishing that have deep pockets and sophisticated marketing and promotional resources. Now Nelson is betting on first-time author Emily Ley, whose Grace Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy was released in October. A successful entrepreneur and powerhouse promoter, Ley is the creator of the Simplified Planner, a day planner for women, and has grown her business to include baby books, address books, prints, and more. She had already built a thriving online platform and attracted thousands of followers before she came to the attention of MacKenzie Howard, Nelson’s editorial director for children’s and gift books.

“As we read more about Emily, her blog, and her successful business, we knew we wanted to work with her,” Howard says. “Her message—that it’s okay to hold ourselves to a standard of grace, not perfection—seems to resonate with today’s busy women.” Howard calls Grace Not Perfection “a combination of inspirational self-help and motivational Christian living.” Nelson has designed Grace Not Perfection as a gift book, with four-color art and photography. The publisher has an option for future books by Ley and plans for her to develop the kind of franchise top authors in the genre have, with line extensions and a broad market reach.

Ley has been a skillful promoter for her business, drawing extensive coverage from mainstream media outlets such as Family Circle, Forbes, and Southern Lady magazines, as well as the websites of Fox News and Today. And when it comes to marketing her book, the question isn’t “what is she doing?” It’s “what isn’t she doing?” In addition to being active on social media, Ley features the book in her catalogues and on her website, packs postcard inserts in shipments of Simplified Planner products, and sends email blasts out to her 35,000-plus subscribers. Ley also partners with gift companies to cross-promote products and contributes content to sites such as Realtors.com, where she writes about topics such as home organization and planning a move. In addition, Ley has formed partnerships with brands such as Gerber and retailers including Anthropologie, Banana Republic, and Kate Spade. Nelson has added resources to Ley’s own efforts, mobilizing its marketing team and hiring an outside publicity firm. “We’re expecting to see 75,000 units in the marketplace by the end of the year, which is amazing for a first-time author,” Howard says.

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SOURCE: Publishers Weekly
Lynn Garrett