Books ARE Judged by Their Covers

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Larry Taylor

Book covers really do matter. Editorial folks would like to think that it’s all about the content. Marketers would like to say that it’s the title and the marketing plan that will carry the day. While those scenarios may be true in some cases, we cannot escape the fact that readers buying books look first at the front cover. And that cover will many times determine whether or not they actually pick up the book and look more closely.

If you get them to grab that book, they’ll flip it over to the back cover, check out a synopsis of the book, and maybe read some endorsements. They then open it up and check the table of contents or begin to scan the wonderful writing that begins on page 1. At that point, they’ll make the buying decision.

But they first had to pick up the book. And that had to happen because of an interesting cover.

And think of the books that land on the desks of book reviewers. The best title and most well-written manuscript may not even get the opportunity of a review if the cover is poorly done.

You see, if you want the books you produce to be purchased and read, the covers must pass “the glance test.”

Here are some things to take into consideration as you look at book cover designs and consider that “glance test”:

  • Is the cover design visually attractive? Is it tasteful?
  • Does the cover design create interest?
  • Does the cover design stimulate a reaction from the potential buyer?
  • Does the cover design effectively convey the author’s message and style?
  • Will the cover design appeal to the book’s target market?
  • Does the cover design stand out from the crowd?

Don’t Cut Corners on Cover Design

To insure that you get a cover that satisfies all the bullet points above, you will need a professional graphic book designer. Because the cover design is a major factor in how your book will be perceived at first glance, you need to entrust the cover to someone who can deliver what you need.

Fair or not, it’s an inescapable truism in the book marketing business that not just any graphic designer will do—for the best results you need a designer who really knows the trade or industry that the book is written for and will be marketed in. These designers know the questions to ask, and they know how to work with the editorial and marketing departments to get the best possible cover for a particular product.

Remember the Spine

I purposely waited until the end to mention this last detail (because it is usually thought of at the end of the design process, if at all)—the book’s spine design. Most new books don’t get the luxury of being “face out” on the shelves. The spine is sometimes all the potential buyer sees. That means that the beautiful, dramatic cover (upon which great effort and sometimes expense may have been lavished) never gets seen if a book buyer doesn’t reach out and pull the book off the shelf. Therefore, a strong readable spine design is also extremely vital.

We’re Here to Help

Here at The Livingstone Corporation, our major client base is in the Christian Booksellers Association. We use CBA-experienced designers for all of our CBA cover design projects because of their familiarity with the subject matter and the customers themselves. We work with your teams to fine-tune every cover, giving it the attention it deserves.

After all, if you believed in a book enough to get it this far, we want to deliver a cover and spine design that propels it off the shelf and into readers’ hands.

Larry Taylor
Creative Director of Design and Production

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A Love Letter to Acquisitions Editors

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Linda Taylor

Dear Acquisitions Editors,

At Livingstone, we love acquisitions editors. Truly. Now, not in the sense that freelance writers love acquisitions editors because you are the gatekeepers of all things published. No, we love you because we understand your world.

We understand what you have to go through around the clock, month by month, year by year. We understand what it takes to sit at writers’ conferences hearing 15-minute pitches and hoping to find that “diamond in the rough” idea that just may be the next bestseller (and hoping for a bathroom break soon!).

Did you know that Livingstone exists to help publishers—folks like you who are looking for ideas to fill those slots in your lineup? Maybe you’ve got a book that was slated for a particular genre but the author isn’t delivering on time. Maybe another book project just isn’t coming through as you had hoped. At this time you may be trying to come up with yet another dynamite idea for Christmas for next year (or this year!). Or maybe you’re still looking for ideas for 2010 and beyond.

Livingstone’s motto, “Ideas to Marketplace,” is focused with you in mind. You see, while we can write, edit, design, and typeset (with more than 20 years of experience doing so), we also have a really good record of coming up with great ideas to help you get your job done.

For instance, maybe you didn’t know that the bestselling Life Application Study Bible (which started our company) was the brainchild of our owners along with our friend Ron Beers (who is currently at Tyndale House). Maybe you didn’t know that some of Zondervan’s bestselling Bibles (True Identity, True Images) were conceived by our team. Sticky Situations (a book we proposed and wrote for Tyndale House, volume 1 published in 1997 and still selling) has passed 100,000 copies sold. Another book 500 Questions & Answers from the Bible (Barbour, 2006) has already sold almost 94,000 copies after just six months.

Maybe you didn’t know that Livingstone products have won 11 Gold Medallion awards and been Gold Medallion finalists over 30 times?

In short, we can deliver what you need, when you need it, with top-notch quality. And we’ve got the ideas for you!

We don’t want you staying awake at night worrying about how to get your lineup filled and ready to roll. We are committed to getting God’s message out in a variety of forms and have worked on hundreds of Bibles, devotional products, study guides, trade books, curriculum, and reference products to help make that happen.

You won’t find our names on the covers. Like you, we help get the ideas out there and then quietly retreat to our desks while authors and publishers enjoy the credit.

And that’s why we love you!

Watch for a special e-mail from Christopher Ribaudo with some ideas for Christmas books—books we’ve conceived, books we can deliver from start to finish (some even this year if you’re really desperate!).

Ideas to Marketplace. That’s us. We’re here to help. Give us a call or drop an e-mail. We love to hear from you.

The Livingstone Team

Linda Taylor
Editorial Director at The Livingstone Corporation.

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To See Thee More Clearly

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Timothy R. Botts

When I was studying graphic design at Carnegie-Mellon in the late sixties, it was a breath of fresh air for me to discover the work of InterVarsity Press whose design was in step with the radical graphics of that time. Already committed to Christ, I determined to help present God’s truth with such relevance and passion.

I remember, however, the long string of book cover rejections in my early years at Tyndale. I had to balance my desire to be relevant with the culture of CBA at that time. Vogue in the 1970s meant quirky new typefaces with shadows and very tight letter spacing, posterized photos, and closely-cropped images. I remember being told that it was disrespectful to crop off the top of someone’s head!

Thirty-five years later I am amazed at the 12-point type titles approved on some covers. My training had prepared me for communicating the main thrust of the text as faithfully as possible. Today, post-modern thinking has encouraged irrational, humorous, and irreverent solutions to arrest the book buyer’s attention. Still, the basic principles of visual communication remain: simplicity, contrast, the element of surprise, and unity of text and image—to name a few.

I consider one of my greatest contributions to the industry to be the added care and embellishment of book interiors in unity with the approved cover. Like the increased numbers of sidebars that have crept into books, I recognized the need to visually entertain readers who were spending more time watching television. The pendulum has swung and today we are creating more conservative, standardized layouts with fewer “bells and whistles.”

Bible design has continued to be my greatest love; I desire to find new ways to communicate its truths to each new generation. I am personally proud of Tyndale’s history of innovation beginning with the conversational style of The Living Bible. Then there was The Book, whose one-column format was designed not to look like a Bible. The One Year Bible dared to rearrange the text so that people could read through the whole Bible in a year without getting bogged down in Leviticus.

In response to my own need to spend more time in the Bible, I began creating word pictures of familiar texts. As illustrated in Doorposts, I tried to make the words look like what they mean helping me, a visual learner, to see the Word.

Inspired by the book Purple Cow, I recently made a list of success stories in our industry from the last 50 years and discovered some common threads: maintaining a laser-like focus to communicate the gospel, removing the barriers to faith by making it plain and simple, and visualizing what has only been verbal communication in the past.

I look forward to seeing what “purple cows” are waiting around the bend!

Timothy R. Botts has designed more than 600 books at Tyndale House Publishers since 1972 where he is currently senior art director.

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Is the Blockbuster Strategy Enough?

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Christopher Ribaudo

Change is hard.

It’s difficult to be open minded to new ways of seeing and doing things. We all know this. I need only to listen to my son’s good-humored critiques of the music on my iPhone and I know the world is changing. The world turns, lives change, and our stories continue.

The world of Christian publishing is changing too. In publishing consumers are now co-creators with editors, consumers play a larger role than editors as cultural gate keepers, demand-side economics is replacing supply-side economics and distribution channels have moved far beyond brick and mortar stores. Amazon’s ever rising dominance and the explosive growth of self-publishing and digital platforms have converged to create a totally new publishing environment.

So with this magnitude of change swirling around us, what can Christian publishers do to carry out their mission, serve their customers, and maintain profitability?

This question has many facets, and I just want to focus on one: New Product Development (NPD) strategies into the future.

My aim is that the suggestions I make here will create further discussion and refinement and, if adopted and implemented, result in improved NPD success rates, lower return costs, higher ROI, and improved profitability.

It’s Not Enough

Don’t radically alter your blockbuster strategy.” – Anita Elberse

When Harvard associate professor of marketing, Anita Elberse, offered her recommendation at a Book Industry Study Group gathering last fall, the deeper forces of our current recession had not been felt. She revisited Chris Anderson’s “long tail theory” to answer the question of whether the blockbuster strategy is still the most effective marketing strategy given the new dynamics and realities of today’s digital world.

In her recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Blockbuster or Bust,” she offers a clear and cogent explanation of why publishers keep using the blockbuster strategy, keep making huge bids on new books and, indeed, why they must. Personally, I’ve enjoyed being informed by Elberse’s thoughts. The blockbuster strategy may be the most effective, when compared to other historical strategies. Given the demands of today’s new and changing market environment, however, I ask: Is it enough?

My premise is that it’s not. It’s not because a strategy of parity and doing what the other person does isn’t good marketing. The strategy should be to offer some added value above what competition offers.

Even more important, the larger technological and cultural shifts have transformed publishing into a more personal rather than mass communication medium. This change demands more robust relationship building energy and a more nuanced and finer degree of customer knowledge and trust than historically pursued by publishers.

Those publishers who pursue profitability through use of the blockbuster and ratcheted-up relational strategy can expect to be rewarded more than those who rely mostly on the blockbuster strategy as traditionally practiced.

Why It’s Not Enough

The dirty little secret of book publishing is that most books fail.” – Mike Hyatt

In his blog entry, “Marketing 101,” Mike Hyatt of Thomas Nelson comments that “something like 90% of all books published sell fewer than 5,000 copies. And by almost every commercial publisher’s standards, these books are failures.”

More than unpurchased items, however, failed books also represent failures and breakdowns in publishers’ acquisitions and NPD processes too. It’s interesting how we infrequently hear publishers used the word “failure” in association with their products. Hyatt’s candid public comment is as refreshing as it is rare among publishers.

But why is this the state of the industry? Why do publishers seem so accepting of such high NPD failure rates and overloaded warehouses of returned books headed to the shredder? No doubt there are many reasons. One of these seems to be the impact of relying too heavily on the blockbuster strategy and a Borg-like, group think attachment to it. The either/or flavor of Elberse’s Wall Street Journal article, “Blockbuster or Bust,” captures this beautifully.

The need for a different approach comes into view when you consider how blockbuster thinking directly contributes to substantially high NPD failure rates, which exists in most publishing houses. It comes more sharply into view when you closely examine the blockbuster strategy and realize that it is, in essence, a sophisticated, high-stakes gamble based mostly on a secular notion of “luck” or “chance.” In her “Blockbuster or Bust” article, Elberse quotes one publishing executive who notes that the process of picking winners remains “an informed crapshoot.”

Blockbuster-Relational Strategy: Small Steps

Admittedly, selecting successful books involves art and science. Storytelling is essentially a human activity; human essence can’t be reduced to a spreadsheet, so neither can the selection and development of books. I don’t think the “crapshoot” element can ever be totally eliminated from the acquisition editorial process. This said, I believe the “crapshoot” element can be much better managed and exposure to ROI risk reduced through publishers considering and implementing the following small steps of what I call the blockbuster-relational strategy:

While you continue to be open and search for the next “hot” personality or thing, consider:

1. Giving priority to consumer demand over editors’ subjective choices within the framework of your mission and values in your NPD process. Rather than let editors’ preferences drive NPD decision making, allow consumer data to drive NPD instead, and then let editors further shape and refine consumers’ ideas. This will help ensure you develop and release the kinds of titles that people actually need and want, while you stay on mission.

2. Restructuring operations so that editorial acquisitions and NPD aren’t autonomous. Weld the editorial acquisitions process with marketing and customer research to allow new ideas and opportunities to be vetted and validated by objective data. Marketing and customer research directives would guide acquisition editors’ NPD search and selection, product managers’ priorities and strategies, and pub board strategic planning and decision-making.

3.  Raising the bar on the quality and granularity of your marketing research. In his exposé in New York magazine this past fall, Boris Kachka noted, “Focused consumer research is almost nonexistent in publishing.” In my opinion, this is critical. If you ask a publisher, “Do you know your markets and readers?” many will, of course, say they do. The hidden reality, however, is that publishers often “know” their markets at a “country club” level rather than at a “family” level. This distinction makes a direct impact.

If you don’t do regular surveys and tracking studies with your customers, start now. If you do, reevaluate them. Are they really robust enough? Are you certain that you’re talking to the right people? Are you sure you’re asking the right questions? Are you doing serious relationship building and marketing research, or are you just doing marketing tactics (blog, web, mobile, video, advertising, PR, etc.)? Are you really learning who your customers are and what they really like and want?

Best practices and tools for marketing and consumer research don’t have to cost an arm and a leg, nor do they have to involve long turnaround times between implementation and insights. The more rigorous the research vetting and validation, the more easily the ideas of wheat and chaff can be separated and the opportunities with the strongest missional and ROI potential be developed and brought to market.

4. Evaluating everything. See what’s going right, what’s going wrong, and what could be improved in your new market-missional acquisition editorial process, and make the necessary adjustments. With deeper customer relationships and more accurate customer knowledge, publishers will be able to more accurately assess customer trend data and more profitably evaluate failed books sales—which in turn can lead to more breakthrough insights for future products and services.

Following Christ into the World

The blockbuster strategy may still be a popular strategy for publishers. After all, it’s an old, familiar friend.  But the blockbuster strategy—as it has been historically practiced—isn’t enough. The easy, country club atmosphere of the past Christian publishing era is over. New environmental realities demand a more holistic, focused, and intimate strategy.

I’m suggesting that the blockbuster strategy be upgraded or replaced by a blockbuster-relational strategy to profitably exist in our new environment. At a minimum, this means a philosophical shift that gives more influence over the NPD process to consumers than editors, an operational re-shaping that results in more integration between acquisitions, marketing, and customer research for the entire NPD process, a commitment to higher market research standards that includes more granular knowledge of customers, and ongoing evaluation and accountability to goals and mission.

The essential and strategic intent of the blockbuster-relational approach is to follow Christ into the world and be more incarnationally aware and sensitive to customers we’re in relationship with. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is the clearest example of knowing people whom we serve and a constant reminder for Christian publishers to not settle for superficial forms of “knowing” your present and future customers.

Yes, change is hard. But not changing may be harder.

The stiffest challenges for Christian mission in publishing today and in the years ahead may not come from the environment around us, but from stubborn attitudes and thoughts within us.

Either way, Jesus Christ is sufficient for both. Let’s keep following Christ into the world.

Christopher Ribaudo
Chief Brand and Marketing Strategist, Livingstone.

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The Constant of Change

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Les Stobbe

In the fall of 1952, I was lying in a four-patient hospital room in northern British Columbia, Canada, with a split femur turning the pages of Christian Life Magazine when a quarter-page ad caught my attention. “You Can Write” it boldly proclaimed, inviting me to sign up for seven lessons in “The Beginning Christian Writer Course.” I decided I could afford the $15 cost and signed up, completing the course the next summer. Ten years later at Christian Life Publications, my desk sat next to the person who had served as my instructor in that course. Then many years after that, in 2001, Jerry Jenkins asked me to write new non-fiction lessons for his recently acquired Christian Writers Guild Apprentice Course.

Book-ended between that first correspondence course in learning to write a news article and now teaching others how to write non-fiction books are 45 years of journalistic experience during the most incredible changes in publishing technology imaginable.

Back in 1955 I had to deliver my denominational weekly’s copy to hot metal typesetters where one correction meant re-setting a whole line (see the illustration in the IdeaCast video on the front page—this reflects technology still in use 25 years later). During the laying out of the pages, I stood at the composing table telling a German-speaking compositor which typeface and size of letters to extract with tweezers from his tray and use to set a headline. Seven years later, I would dash onto Wacker Drive in Chicago to an early electronic typesetter to collect headlines on strips. Those strips were then pasted onto boards with articles and pictures to be photographed for plate-making. In Winnipeg, Canada, not many years later, I would sit by the hour at the color separator to make sure the colors came out right for our business magazine.

I was at Moody Press in the early 1970s when a reluctant production manager agreed to test computer typesetting (typesetters were striking because they did not want to learn how to work as computer typesetters). The first book electronically typeset at Moody, A Thief in the Night, had up to 30 typos per page—all electronically introduced after the final proofs had been meticulously proofread. Sure, it was tough at first; we had to figure out how to make this work with fewer errors. We did another proofread and another printing of that book.

About two years later, V. Gilbert Beers and I convinced the executive team to publish six full-color hardcover books for preteens written by Dr. Beers. Because the production manager had no experience with full-color printing, I became the go-to guy for the Donnelly Printers rep—and my willingness to accept change back in my color separator days in Winnipeg paid off with this new initiative at Moody. And this succeeded bigtime when Southwestern, the door to door sales folk, took that package of six books. We made back many times the cost of the investment.

Changes in publishing were happening fast and publishers had to keep up. As president of Here’s Life Publishers in 1987, I approved Wayne Hastings putting computers on every desk and acquiring word processing software that enabled the editors to not only edit online but also to format the pages. That was a potentially risky move because most publishers were not using desktop word processing because they had too much invested in the earlier generation of massive computers running typesetting equipment. But with that software, pages could be sent from computer to laser printer and finished pages then mailed off to printers. By 1993 when I landed at Scripture Press, five art designers sat at Macs to lay out full-color curriculum—and memory devices carried those pages to the printer.

Now the laptop I can carry with me on my travels has far more memory than all of those Macs combined. I can send complete books as one e-mail attachment to a printer. And a reader can carry that book on Kindle and read it wherever he or she pleases.

For the last five decades, it seems that change has been the only constant in publishing. And there’s no reason to think that the future will be any different.

What’s the next wave? Books you read for a fee on the Internet or books that will flow from a computer to a “book” like Kindle, into a Blackberry, or appear in DVD form with all kinds of entertaining illustrations now considered too costly to print in a bound book. While I don’t believe that books will ever go away, those publishers who don’t react quickly to the new technologies will soon be considered dinosaurs.

Our typewriters are gone, along with the compositor with the tweezers and blocks of letters—and we wouldn’t have it any other way. And while the industry causes us to change our formats, our applications, and our marketing methods, our message is the same. We are responsible to keep up with the trends and use the new methods at our disposal to continue making that message available to the next generation.

Les Stobbe is a writer, literary agent, editor in chief of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild, and Director of International Christian Writers.

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Exploring New Avenues

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Betsy SchmittSome of my fondest childhood memories are snuggling next to my mom as she read to us, utterly engrossed with the goings-on of The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, the adventures of The Bobbsey Twins, the suspense of Treasure Island and Kidnapped. Listening to those wonderful classic stories instilled in me a love of reading; I still enjoy the thrill of being transported to another world through the words of the author. It was a legacy I wanted to pass on to my own children, and I treasure the time we spent together pouring over the wonderful words and pictures of Beatrix Potter, Barbara Cooney, Chris Van Allsburg, and Eric Carle. We explored the lives of the pioneers through Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, we laughed at the antics of Mrs. Piggy-Wiggle, and we learned about our country’s history when the American Girls series first began.

Flashforward to today, and imagine this scene—a mom and her children gathered next to her, waiting to hear the opening words from Little Women as mom turns on the Kindle and begins. What? Snuggling up with a good Kindle? Is that possible? Not only is it possible, but educators and parents alike are seeing the value of getting their children to read by using the Kindle. A recent news spot on MSNBC featuring Dr. Jim Henderson, director of instructional technology in Granite School District in Salt Lake City, begins with these rather frightening words, “Say goodbye to school libraries as we know them.” But Henderson not only is sold on the Kindle for his own personal use, but he also believes that the Kindle will encourage children to read more because books will be more easily available to them. Henderson has bought Kindles for everyone in his department and plans to buy 147 more as a trial for the district’s avid readers club. He hopes that in two years, all students in his school district will be using Kindles in favor of textbooks.

So what does that mean for those of us who are in the business of creating, developing, and producing books for young people? First and foremost, it means we need to be “container agnostics” and look at print products as just one avenue for content, but not the only one. We need to think outside the traditional trim sizes and embrace this technology and others that are sure to come as yet another tool to place God’s Word into children’s hands, minds, and heart. Think about it. A tween may not want to carry a Bible into school, but he or she can easily take one with them via the Kindle. We should not only limit our thinking of new product development in these terms, but what about the wealth of content and material on our collective backlists? What better way to breathe new life into kids’ devotionals, fiction series, and Bibles than by offering it in a newer, cooler format for kids? The possibilities are endless once we open our minds to what can be done.

I may never give up my wonderful stack of picture books that I have carefully packed away with the hopes of one day sharing them with my grandchildren, but I am willing to explore any avenues that will encourage children not only to read, but to carry God’s Word with them wherever they are. Aren’t you?

Betsy Schmitt
Director of Children & Youth Products, Product Development, Agent

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Win-Win Relationships

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

Here in Chicago, baseball is king these days. We have two (count ’em, two) teams in the playoffs, something that hasn’t happened in 102 years. And, I must confess, that I am a baseball fan, more specifically, a perpetually suffering, wait-till-next-year, die-hard Cubs fan.

If you follow baseball at all, you’ll be sure to hear or read the comments of a general manager after a “blockbuster” trade. This past season I heard lots of them from Jim Hendry (Cubs) and Kenny Williams (White Sox). And they almost always emphasize that a trade must be good for both teams. But that’s not what fans like me want to hear. We want to get another team’s stud in trade for an unproven minor leaguer to be named later or another teams golden arm for one of our over-the-hill, lame arms. We’d like to trick the other team and win in the deal. But, as the wise general manager will say, “A trade like that might work once, but that team would never trade with us again. A good trade must benefit all the parties.” In other words, it must be a win-win.

That expression, “win-win,” is common in business. Ideally, any negotiation or deal should end with both parties benefiting. Interestingly, in my 20+ years in Christian publishing, I haven’t always found that to be the case. Maybe it’s because my company (The Livingstone Corporation) is small or perhaps because we “serve” publishers. (Of course, it’s also possible that I’m just paranoid or a perpetual whiner.) Often I get the feeling that we are expected to do whatever we can to help the other party succeed at our expense. Usually that happens during our negotiations when the discussion turns to the costs of our services. Sometime it involves schedule.

Let me explain, here, that often we bring product ideas to publishers. At other times, they contact us for help in producing their ideas.

Lest you begin to hear the sound of a fine whine, I have to say that I understand that negotiation involves give and take, back and forth, offer and counter offer. I’m just saying that in all of this I would hope that both parties would be working for win-win. Sometime that means win-win-win (when an agent represents us) or win-win-win-win (when an agent represents someone else to the publisher, and we are retained by either the agent or the publisher).

At times, the publisher is probably thinking, “You don’t understand. This will turn out to be a big investment, and we’re taking all the risk here. We’ve got to make our pro-forma work with sales projections . . . ” At the same time we’re thinking, “You don’t understand. We’re not a freelance brother-in-law who does this in his spare time out of his house. We’re a company of professionals, with real company overhead expenses . . . ” Both valid points. And the negotiations continue.

Eventually, I guess, it gets down to trust with each party wondering if the other one has his or her best interests at heart or is pulling a fast one. We never know for sure, unfortunately, till the deal is done. But if we feel ripped off, we’ll probably not do business with that person or company anytime soon.

Fortunately, through the last couple of decades, I’ve found that most industry veterans understand this and try to work with us. The push back often comes from newer staff who feel the pressure of budget constraints and superiors’ expectations (and they don’t know us very well).

My point is simply this: Let’s at least approach the discussions/negotiations with the goal of win-win.

Dave Veerman, Chief Creative Officer

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Not For Sale

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Not for Sale blogHe held up his hand in a “stop-right-there-for-a-moment” gesture. I could tell something had just triggered a disconnect in his mind.

“Let me get this straight,” he said. “You’ve been involved in developing dozens of published presentations of God’s Word in numerous translations over the last two decades, but you claim you have never sold a Bible?”

“That’s pretty much what I said,” I answered. But I knew the setting made my claim a little incongruous. At that moment, we were standing on opposite sides of a book table. It included quite a large selection of study Bibles, devotional Bibles, and several uniquely bound Bibles, along with other books that Livingstone has produced over the years. I was on the selling side of the table.

I also knew that he was perplexed over my statement since it followed hard on the heels of an exchange in which I had handed him a Life Application Study Bible and he had handed me some money. He doubted the veracity of my claim and thought his case was irrefutably made. He held out his new Bible as exhibit A and smiled. “Excuse me, but didn’t you just sell me this Bible?”

“Actually,” I said with a smile of my own, “I didn’t just sell you that Bible.”

With a friendly furrow of confusion between his eyes, my customer said, “I guess you’ll have to explain, because if it looks like a sale, and smells like a sale, and costs like a sale, I’m thinking it’s a sale.” He was gesturing with his new Bible for emphasis as he spoke. The sword-waving similarities of his actions immediately reminded me of several passages in Scripture, but I didn’t want to digress.

So, I tried to allay his curiosity with an explanation that went something like this: “The reason I try to remember to never think of the Bible as an object I sell is because God’s Word isn’t for sale. Like the gift of salvation, the Scriptures are a priceless gift from God. Whether a copy of the Bible is handed over free or sold for money, the content of God’s Word is not for sale. And putting any price on it has the subtle effect of devaluing the treasure God has given to us.

“The price tags that are affixed to copies of the Bible must always relate to what is reasonably available for sale: cost for translating, the value of various types of paper, costs for production, costs for the time to develop various features, outlay for cover choices, and dozens of other factors that create a market aspect of a particular copy of the Bible. But the value of God’s Word remains beyond calculation.

“So,” I said in conclusion, “the money you just gave me covered some of the material and human costs for that copy of Bible, but you just got God’s Word for free.”

This thought parallels one of Jesus’ parables of the Kingdom that Matthew collected in his thirteenth chapter. Jesus described our encounter with His Kingdom as an episode in which a man goes on a stroll through the fields and stumbles over hidden treasure. When he realizes what he’s found, he immediately sells everything he has in order to buy the field. The point of the parable, of course, is not that the Kingdom of God costs us everything. Rather, Jesus was telling us that even after giving up everything, the Kingdom of God always comes to us free, hiding in the field we bought. So whether we have a little or a lot to give up in order to receive God’s Kingdom, the final accounting determines that we got the Kingdom absolutely free.

Similarly, the priceless treasure of God’s Word may come to us hiding on pages of recycled newsprint between a simple paperback cover or it may be enclosed in fragrant, embossed leather and printed on fine, gilded-edge paper, but the value of the presentation never compares to the worth of the Word.

Growing up among Wycliffe Bible Translators missionaries, working in Youth for Christ, and spending years as pastor of a rural church in Wisconsin, my life has been laced with opportunities to deliver God’s Word to people in various presentations. Studying the Scriptures with others and preparing various products designed to facilitate people’s access to the Bible have created a continual metronome in my life between challenge and delight.

Now, whether assisting pastor-authors in developing manuscripts, brainstorming Bible products, or writing a continually widening variety of devotional, instructional, and expositional pieces, I find this work always stimulating. As I visit with our clients and remind them of our experience and expertise, I’m amazed how often people with whom we’ve worked for years will say, “I didn’t know Livingstone could do that! You guys can really help me!”

Nothing thrills us more than seeing a well-designed presentation of God’s Word delivered into the hands of a carefully identified audience. We enjoy thinking up new ways to make that happen. I know Livingstone can help you.

Just don’t ever ask me to sell a Bible.

Neil Wilson
Special Projects, Account and Project Manager

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Aha! Moments

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

Linda Taylor“Let the Bible speak for itself,” my friend said over her latté. “All of this specialty gobbledy-gook just waters down what’s really important.”

I had just described for her some of the Bible projects I was working on. I think she went on overload as I talked about the specialty Bible products that pass through Livingstone’s hands every year.

I couldn’t help but wonder if she had a point. Isn’t that part of the struggle we’re all facing in Christian publishing? As Bible publishers jostle for shelf space, as we consider the sheer cost of producing a 2000-page Bible, we also wonder, “Is there room for another Bible?”

I believe there is—there always is. And I don’t say that just because I’m in the business.

I say that because I love God’s Word with every fiber of my being—as do most of us who stare into our computer screens all day laboring over products that are meant to share that Word in a variety of genres.

I love God’s Word because it changes lives. I know that from personal experience.

I remember receiving a specialized New Testament in The Living Bible back in 1975 when I was in high school. I brought that New Testament home and devoured it—and I vividly remember reading the book of Hebrews and actually “getting it.” It was an AHA moment, a moment when I understood what the book was about and how the New Testament fit with the Old Testament. And I’ve been in love with Scripture ever since.

My heart is to help others have those AHA moments. I want them to realize that the Bible is not a big scary book, but a big amazing story—so big that it reaches across time itself. And yet, it can reach into their lives on a rainy day and give them the comfort they need to keep going. Those AHA moments mean they get it. They begin to see how the pieces fit together and to understand how that matters to them personally.

As a kid of 17 in 1975, I needed the simple and clear language of The Living Bible to make the book of Hebrews make sense to me (thank you, Ken Taylor). So as I watch different Bible versions be created, I’m overjoyed. Someone else will have an AHA moment as well.

Now granted, in the same breath I could also say that the same person may find himself utterly confused. Standing at the local Christian bookstore to buy a Bible, he thinks to himself, NIV? ESV? GWT? NLT? KJV? NKJV? NRSV? OK, I really need some help here. I’m drowning in alphabet soup! But if he reads a few lines of these Bibles, it won’t take long before he finds one that reads to his level, his liking.

Aren’t we amazingly privileged to be able to do this? William Tyndale would be astounded.
Beyond that, however, we might ask the question my friend was pondering—specialty gobbledy-gook. By adding our ancillary material, are we guilty of not letting the Bible speak for itself?

I fondly remember purchasing my very first study Bible after wearing out my New Testament. I had started college and wanted something with notes, something that looked serious, something to help me really understand more deeply what the Bible was saying. That first study Bible was a burgundy bonded leather Criswell Study Bible. His “scarlet-thread of redemption”—his way of describing how the salvation message runs throughout Scripture—captured my heart. Through those notes began a journey that has brought me where I am today.

But have we gone too far? Do moms, dads, parents, kids, teens, tweens, sick people, hurting people, tired people, business people really all need a Bible of their own?

I believe that if we can create something that will speak to them, then we should do so. Why? Because of the AHA moments that still need to happen in the lives of those moms, dads, parents, kids, teens, tweens, etc. People need Scripture “in their own tongue”—the material we produce is meant to help those people understand that the Bible speaks to them, it’s relevant. Mind you, we aren’t making the Bible relevant (it doesn’t need our help), but we are helping these many audiences see that relevance, maybe for the first time. For some of those people, that plain text Bible in a particular translation or that specialty Bible designed just for them might provide that first AHA experience.

My friend didn’t want me watering down what was most important. I explained to her that I just see myself as laboring alongside modern-day Martin Luthers and William Tyndales and early church leaders who simply sought to bring Scripture to the people—all people, in all places, in all walks of life, in all phases of life. Whatever it takes, I want them to have that AHA experience that will help them see the message of salvation and grace.

And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Linda Taylor, Editorial Director

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Four – Not Just Two

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

In most evangelical publishing firms, acquisition editors are typically the ones charged with searching for new talent, cultivating relationships with authors and agents, entertaining new proposals, and purchasing a certain number of projects a year.

Acquisition editors function as key culture-shapers because what authors get contracts, what stories get admitted into the mainstream Christian publishing system, and what personalities get media platforms and distribution for their story is largely influenced by this virtually unseen and unknown group.

To a significant degree, in traditional marketing and increasingly in online communications, acquisition editors select the content that in turn shapes the ideas, opinions, attitudes, rhetoric and discourse within evangelical circles and the broader evangelical movement.

For these reasons, it’s interesting to ponder how acquisition editors do what they do. How do they sort through the glut of opportunities to identify the ones they want to invest in?

In a recent post, Michael Hyatt, President and CEO of Thomas Nelson, informally sketched out a two-criterion approach that included “brand equity” and “competitive advantage.” Building on this, I want to suggest two more criteria editors could use in assessing new opportunities: Gospel content and Gospel motivation.

Gospel Content

By Gospel content I’m suggesting that evangelical acquisition editors might evaluate business prospects with an eye to alignment with the actual biblical facts of the full Gospel.

For example, an acquisition editor could perform a Gospel risk-benefit analysis by asking how much and how well the proposed idea or concept reflects the Church’s historic Gospel message.

Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone are Gospel facts. But what about other Gospel facts beyond these—like foreknowledge, regeneration, faith and repentance, justification and sanctification, spiritual adoption, glorification and union with Christ?

How conscious are acquisition editors about these Gospel truths as they evaluate different manuscripts for content and quality?

From a theological and Kingdom perspective, the quality of an acquisition editor’s evaluation of authors and proposals is linked to the accuracy and quality of Gospel facts they possess and can apply. This understanding is a powerful precondition and influencer of an acquisition editor’s thinking and choices.

Gospel Motivation

In addition to Gospel content, I also suggest Gospel motivation be a selection criterion.

By this I mean acquisition editors would evaluate authors and proposals and the degree of alignment between how their content—directly or indirectly—motivates believers and how the Gospel does.

Watching my sons grumble when asked to clean their rooms one day reminded me of something I learned over time growing up. I remember times when I was asked to do a specific chore. I did it, but I did it with a grumbling and complaining spirit. I outwardly obeyed, but inwardly I was all about rebellion. I externally conformed while inwardly breaking the 1st and 5th Commandments. I was performing rather than living by faith and love.

The point is God desires disciples and not performers. He desires people who externally follow him because internally they are continuously rooted and transformed by Gospel grace.

When evaluating the risk-benefit profile of a particular author or book deal, acquisition editors could ask, “How does the author or content—directly or indirectly—motivate readers? Does it seem to rely on appeals to egotistic, pragmatic, emotional, sentimental, romantic, hedonistic, duty or private ethical motivations, or does it motivate believers to obedience flowing from heart gratitude to God and the joy of the Gospel in Christ?

Four Criteria for Acquisition Editors

Christian content that leaves out truths of the Gospel distorts it and loses Kingdom relevance. On the other hand, content about the Gospel’s message of grace that directly or indirectly motivates believers to live by performance or fear, instead of by grace, undermines the Great Commission.

For publishing houses concerned with providing content that is missional and Kingdom-focused, an acquisitions approach that includes brand equity, competitive advantage, Gospel content and Gospel motivation as its criteria may more effectively help you achieve your ministry goals and vision.

Christopher Ribaudo, Chief Brand & Marketing Strategist, Livingstone
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