Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What I Learned at the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS)

With thousands of travelers stranded in the Detroit airport, I remember praying to the Lord, "If You want me there [St. Louis], Lord, You must get me there. If You don't want me there, I submit to that as well, Lord."

On June 28th and 29th, I had the privilege of attending the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) in St. Louis. Yes, I got to the ICRS show on-time (see below), had wonderful contacts and conversations with Christian leaders, bookstore owners and vendors from throughout the US, and was wonderfully at-ease throughout the entire time.

Sunday's message from my pastor was such a great encouragement to me. His message on "Showing Love to One Another" spoke volumes to me: how I must present myself at this show. Even though the real message of "A Garden of Love" is about loving our Lord and one another, I sensed that a number of intercessors helped to reinforce my role at the meeting.

The travel difficulties from Sunday afternoon were very unsettling. Had I missed God's timing? Did He really want me there? Five tornadoes had touched down near the Detroit airport leaving possibly 5,000 travelers in a total tizzy. My first flight was cancelled because of the weather, and the only other flight was cancelled because there were no available crew members. The hotel rooms for miles around were sold out. The carpet was littered with several thousand people waiting for a flight on Monday morning. My prayer, and possibly the prayer of some of the intercessors, was, "If You want me there Lord, You must get me there. If You don't want me there, I submit to that as well Lord."

Monday morning I was on a flight at 6:15am that took me first through Atlanta. My books were waiting for me at the St. Louis airport, thank You Lord. I missed the first train out of the St. Louis airport by just a minute, but by this time I was confident that the Lord was behind me the entire way. I am certain that the intercession of many took care of so many possible difficulties.

With my suitcase in tow, clothes pressed by the Detroit carpet, unshaven, sweaty, and smelly, I arrived at the St. Louis convention center. The appointment was at 1:00pm where I would sign books until 2:00pm, and then someone else would take the chair. I arrived not at 12:59pm, or at 1:01pm, but exactly at 1:00pm. The manager of the book signing suddenly looked up from the previous author's signing, started to say "Where's Tom Cl..." and then turned to me. Her instructions were simple: "Put your suitcase here, I'll open the first box, and you start signing." She had not received my eMail that I might be late. And I wasn't. The Lord provided.

There were long lines waiting for me to sign their free copy of the book. The lines were longer for authors such as Joyce Meyer, David Jeremiah, and Kenneth Hagin, but by comparison to the other "unknown" authors, I was so tremendously encouraged to see what our Lord did. There were never less than 10 people in line, and often there were 20 or more. "A Garden of Love" had been on display at the booth all Sunday and Monday morning, so people knew to come for this signing. Where many "unknown" authors handed out far fewer books or had much shorter lines, I gave 60 books away on Monday and could have easily tripled that amount. No promotion was necessary.

Today I am convinced more than ever that God wants this message of love to spread to His people. To some, the emphasis of Matt 22:37-40 is often on loving our Lord; to others, the emphasis is often on doing good works as a representation of love to one another. I believe that God wants to turn both camps into deep and profound lovers of our Lord and of one another. To many people at this book signing, when presented with that truth, they seemed to understand.

I thank all that prayed me through but really this effort is not done. Those that have received the book need to be convicted that they must open the manuscript to savor the love that is presented. The message of this book is not about book sales; it is about changed lives, using flowers from our Gethsemane Prayer Garden to help get them there. Please pray for the conviction of their spirits.

POSTSCRIPT dated November 14, 2011:
In retrospect, I could be very pessimistic about this experience. Of the contacts that I established, not one developed and most did not acknowledge my efforts to contact them. I gave away, at no cost to the recipient, over 60 books – I believe that a few ended up on Amazon as used books which compete with my new books; there was no increase in sales that came from this effort.

The biggest benefit that I gained was an increased knowledge of the publishing and book sales industry. I learned that to be successful with most bookstores, you really should have the backing of a large publishing house using offset printing. It is rare for a self-published author or a vanity press such as Xulon or Winepress to make the grade in national bookstores.

I found that the Christian bookstore industry is very much of a closed, inward focused collection that showed considerable disdain for self-published authors and in particular for print-on-demand books. They want books that are produced by an offset printing press so that their costs can be greatly reduced. I learned that their margins are typically around 55% which means it is exceptionally hard for a low-volume publisher such as myself to enter their world. I can't blame them for their competition from the internet is drastically cutting into their sales.

As a result of this ICRS event, I came away with the deep realization that I had over-simplified my marketing approach and it was time to get out a clean sheet of paper. My market must be through personal contacts, the internet, and other outlets that can deal with a low-volume press. Although my manuscript was clearly God ordained, the competition was far more formidable than I had anticipated.

For other articles about self-publishing in this series, see:
Index of Self-Publishing Articles by Thomas B. Clarke