Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Canadian Christianity Newspaper on Canadian Writers & Bookstores

Canada's Christian writers, booksellers face tough times
By Frank Stirk

TORONTO-AREA book publisher Larry Willard sees a possible way out for struggling Christian bookstores that have been hurt by lost sales of popular American titles -- such as the Left Behind series, The Prayer of Jabez and The Purpose-Driven Life -- to retail giants like Costco, Wal-Mart and Indigo.

"I think the focus needs to get off American product," he says. "They should be looking at Canadian product. They have an unique product and that's what they should be trying to put out the door."

Markham, Ontario, novelist N. J. Lindquist (Glitter of Diamonds) goes further. The founder in 2002 of The Word Guild, a support network for about 300 Christian writers, she believes something needs to be done to "get bookstores across Canada that are Christian to actually care that Canadian authors are promoted."

"I find it really, really difficult to get my books into the [Christian] stores," she says. "Frankly, I'm selling more in the U.S. than in Canada, and I find it much easier to get into the mainstream than I do into the Christian stores."

But Kevin Lee, proprietor of Sign of the Fish, a small Christian bookstore in North Vancouver, BC, counters that while he will do what he can to promote local authors, the fact remains his profit-margin depends on him offering the products his customers want.

"I don't feel guilty or overly mercenary in doing that," he says. "It has to be operated as a business . . . as a prudent piece of stewardship. You can 'minister' yourself into the ground operating a bookstore, I think, and that's not going to do anybody any good."

"We do in fact actually sell a really good selection of . . . lesser known authors simply to provide an unique kind of selection," says Margo Smith, co-owner of Hull's, a family-run Christian retailer in Winnipeg. "There's a lot of pressure that's been put on us with the taking away of the cream of the crop."

They may differ on how to resolve the problem, but no one who writes, publishes or retails Christian books in Canada denies that their industry faces some serious challenges.

Of the upwards of 700 Christian bookstores across Canada, over half operate as small or very small businesses. But regardless of size, says Smith, "Sales right now are a challenge for all bookstores. . . . There's just so much competition."

Not only are the high-volume stores siphoning off the most high-profile Christian titles and selling them at discounted prices, more and more people are also buying products online. But Lee, who spent most of his career in marketing before buying Sign of the Fish last year, believes these "seismic shifts" are not unique to the Christian marketplace.

"This industry is undergoing the same changes that the book industry at large is undergoing. . . . Good grief! Indigo alone controls more than 50 per cent of the book trade overall in Canada -- and that's a monster astride the country," he says.

Smaller publishers are also being overshadowed by their more powerful American rivals. "Our sales are down this year a good 30 per cent. It's been terrible," says Willard, who owns Castle Quay Books and Bay Ridge Books, which between them publish about a dozen titles a year.

Some Canadian authors, such as Alberta humorist Phil Callaway (Golfing With the Master) and Vancouver Island pastor Mark Buchanan (The Rest of God), have succeeded in getting U.S. companies to publish them. But most writers are far less fortunate.

"It looks to many people that unless you have an American publisher, you can't get a Canadian distributor, and if you can't get a Canadian distributor, you can't get in the bookstores," says North Vancouver Anglican priest and author Ed Hird (Battle for the Soul of Canada). "So basically you're shut out of the market."

For Hird and others, including Lindquist, their only recourse has been to handle their own publishing and distribution. Since last year, Hird has sold (2,100)copies and has managed to get the book into (over 100) bookstores across Canada. It also won him The Word Guild's award this year for best independently published non-fiction book.

"There's a lot of negativity and timidity in Canadian culture around the area of books, and so . . . a lot of people basically tell you why things won't work," he says. "What I've discovered is that it's not easy, but it can work."

"Ed's an example of an author who maybe is doing what you need to do these days, which is getting out there and marketing your book . . . talking to every last retailer in the country," says Lee. "Locally, he was selling them out of his car."

But it is not an experience Hird would like to repeat. "For my next book, I'd rather have an established publisher who was able to run with a lot of it," he says.

Some opt for so-called vanity publishers, who turn manuscripts into finished books. But Lindquist, who has written nine books, does not recommend it. "You don't have quality control and a lot of things can happen," she says.

Even authors who have landed an American publishing deal caution this does not necessarily guarantee fame and fortune. Montreal writer Marg Buchanan's two books (Famous Jerks of the Bible and Parenting with Purpose) were both published in the U.S. -- breakthroughs that she credits ultimately to the sovereignty of God.

"Your manuscript has to land on the right day with the right person in the right mood. . . . It kind of has to be a slow period for the big names and they're looking for something to talk about," she says.

But despite twice getting accepted, Buchanan adds, "I got lost among the giants. The sales reps are not going to necessarily promote my book if the same house has put out a Max Lucado book that month."

In 2004, Buchanan put her book-writing projects on hold, so she could focus on raising her three children. She now works full-time for a Christian charity.

"If anybody thinks you're going to make money writing books, you need to take a long, quiet nap," says Lindquist. "It's not going to happen. Most people are subsidizing their writing either by working or, in my case, my husband has a good job."

Indicative of the challenges facing this community was the disbanding this spring after 39 years of the Christian Booksellers Association Canada. Faced with a declining membership, its board decided it had neither "the time, energy, finances or will to turn this ship around," chair Lando Klassen wrote in a statement to members.

In its place, Lindquist hopes to see a new national group emerge that embraces everyone involved in creating and selling Christian books.

"We all need to be working together," she says, "because really we're on the same team and we're all trying to do, I hope, the same thing, which is to get the books that need to be read into the hands of the people that need to read them."

Smith sees more than a little irony in their current circumstances. "We got into this believing our products were worthwhile and of value in terms of spiritual development," she says. "And now that they're quite widely available, we're in a tough spot."

But for all the challenges and frustrations they face, neither can they overlook what they have going for them. As Buchanan realized, there can be a downside to signing with a big American publisher.

"You really are a small fish in a big sea, whereas in a smaller publishing house, you can be the big fish even if you're just a beginner, because maybe they only print four or five books a year and they can invest a little bit more time in your title," she says.

For Buchanan, the writing can be its own greatest reward. "I learn a lot by putting pen to paper," she says. "The book that I needed to read to change my own life [was the book] that I wrote. It impacted my life going through that process. And so that was a success."

Hird is thankful for The Word Guild. "They have been so helpful. These guys have been through the ropes," he says. "I have learned so much."

As for the booksellers, Smith believes they need to capitalize on what their secular competitors can never offer-a meeting place for people of kindred spirit.

"We really value service in a much deeper sense than others might," she says. "We are one of the few environments in which people of different backgrounds, different denominations, different churches, actually interact."

Lee too has a soft spot for people who come in with their new self-published book. "Even if it's kind of hokey looking and the cover's kind of sideways and I don't like the font, I'll take some and put them on the shelf-because I've been through this," he says. "I understand the gumption that requires."

p.s. In order to obtain a copy of the book 'Battle for the Soul of Canada', or any of our six books in paperback or ebook on Amazon, just click on this link.

To receive a personally signed copy of any of our books within North America, just etransfer at ed_hird@telus.net, giving your address. Cheques are also acceptable.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

BC Christian News on the CASJAVA Achievement Award

OttawaWatch: K-John's passion
By Lloyd Mackey
IF THERE is a source of influence for faith-based social conservatives, it could well be found in a law office on West Broadway in Vancouver.

That is where K-John Cheung practices law half of his working day. The other half is spent leading the Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values Association (CASJAFVA).
Cheung is slight, energetic, friendly and clearly in charge. At CASJAFVA's annual fundraiser banquet this past Sunday night (September 23), he told the restive crowd that if they did not stop talking and listen, there would be no food. He was smiling as he spoke, but the slight edge to his voice showed that if the noise continued, he might just lose his patience. And no one who had plunked down $38 for a ticket to this evening was about to risk giving up on this 12-course dinner.

Edna and I had occasion to attend the gala event, which draws around 1,000 each year to Floata, arguably Canada's largest Chinese restaurant. As it happens, the member of parliament for whom she works as administrative assistant, Maurice Vellacott, was this year's guest speaker. (Previous speakers at this event have included veteran Conservative MPs Art Hanger and Jason Kenney, as well as Stephen Harper, when he was opposition leader.)
Vellacott needed some organizational help in Vancouver, thus Edna's reason to be there. And, in turn, she -- out of her own pocket -- found me a reasonably-priced airline ticket, so I could tag along.

As a result, OttawaWatch readers will get a glimpse, this week, at one example of the social virility of many of the Christian-based Chinese communities in Canada.
* * *
CASJAFVA reflects the activist socially-conservative part of the Chinese community in BC.

The group carefully selects a range of issues on which they can become involved. Their annual fundraiser contributes to the costs of research and advocacy, as they take an issue forward.
The Floata event was, as it was supposed to be, fun. After all, not only the Lord, but the leaders of advocacy groups, love cheerful givers. The more cheer, the better the dollars roll in.

But there were three points in the evening when a serious message was being communicated.
The first was what the theme speaker communicated. Vellacott delivered an inspirational, non-controversial homily -- a personal witness, if you like -- about his upbringing, preparation for service and the influences that these factors had on the way in which he functions as a member of parliament. He drew on his parents' influence, his own faith journey, his education (he has an earned doctorate in ministry from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), the growth and development of his own family and his experience both as a pastor and a community health board member in Saskatoon(...)

At the same time, however, he was prepared to recognize the achievements of other groups and encourage them to keep working away at their goals.

The recipients of the CASJAFVA 2007 achievement award were Dr. Vellacott, Tristan Emmanuel (a Christian polemicist who leads Equipping Christians for the Public Square) and Edward Hird, an award-winning author and Anglican priest who has been active in the struggle against the use of same-sex blessings in that communion.
* * *
Lloyd Mackey is a member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa and author of Stephen Harper: The Case for Collaborative Governance (ECW Press, 2006). He can be reached at lmackey@canadianchristianity.com.
September 27/2007
p.s. In order to obtain a copy of the book 'Battle for the Soul of Canada', or any of our six books in paperback or ebook on Amazon, just click on this link.

To receive a personally signed copy of any of our books within North America, just etransfer at ed_hird@telus.net, giving your address. Cheques are also acceptable.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Achievement Award for The Battle for the Soul of Canada

Dear Colleagues,

On Sept 23rd Sunday night I received an 'Achievement Award 2007' for my book 'Battle for the Soul of Canada' http://battleforthesoulofcanada.blogspot.com/ and for our ACiC/St. Simon's NV biblical stand from 'The Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values Association' http://www.canadianalliance.org/pdf/71.pdf .

In receiving the plaque, I was given an opportunity to address the 1,000-strong crowd at the annual CASJFVA Chinese Food dinner in historic Vancouver China town. CASJFVA http://www.canadianalliance.org/ is led by the well-known Christian lawyer, K-John Cheung.

The large percentage of the 80 tables present were Chinese people. The entire evening was bilingual, in both Cantonese and English. Chinese people generally have a very strong commitment to family values and the traditional definition of marriage.

It was a great opportunity to share about the values of the Anglican Coalition in Canada http://www.acicanada.ca/ with our Chinese Canadian community.

Sincerely, Ed Hird+
p.s. In order to obtain a copy of the book 'Battle for the Soul of Canada', or any of our six books in paperback or ebook on Amazon, just click on this link.

To receive a personally signed copy of any of our books within North America, just etransfer at ed_hird@telus.net, giving your address. Cheques are also acceptable.