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Should You Publish with a Christian or Mainstream Publisher?

August 9th, 2017 by Christopher Ferebee
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Students in the Write Brilliant Academy often ask, “Should I publish with a Christian or mainstream publisher?”

I love this question because it means our members are thinking ahead, planning for a bright future, and living a life worth writing about.

But rather than just give you my opinion, I asked Christopher Ferebee, a literary agent, to weigh in on this important issue…

Authors often agonize over whether to pursue a Christian or faith-based publisher versus a mainstream publisher. Usually, that question is driven by the idea that they don’t want to “preach to the choir,” or that a general market publisher will have a much more significant market reach then a faith-based publisher. But that isn’t always true, and there are some really practical considerations that should go into this decision making that a first time author wouldn’t even know to think through.

Not all authors are equal. Authors with bigger platforms and sales potentially receive more attention and marketing dollars than authors with smaller platforms and sales potential. This is just the realities of the business of publishing, no matter who your publisher is.

The best placement for you. Many of the major Christian publishers—including Zondervan, Thomas Nelson, and WaterBrook—are all owned by large mainstream publishing houses. When it comes to placement in retail bookstores, a mainstream publisher generally has better access, unless your book is considered a big book or A-list title. If so, your publisher will have the same basic access to all sales placement.

What about mainstream book placement? If you’re particularly concerned with airport or mainstream bookstore placement, this can be tricky. Why? Publishers must pay for placement with airport stores, as well as premium placement (such as front of store) in other retail outlets. Who your publisher is isn’t as important as whether your publisher is willing to pay the money. This is an issue that can be discussed with a publisher up front during the negotiation, though keep in mind, most publishers will not want to make any marketing commitments.

Where are the bigger fish? If your individual relationships and networks of influence are Christian, then you will be able to galvanize them regardless of your publisher. While a Christian publisher can also access the general market media very well, the general market publishers simply won’t reach into the Christian market. You’ll have little to no support from a major mainstream publisher trying to reach a Christian audience, Christian marketing, etc. Sometimes this doesn’t matter, but if you need to be able to reach both, typically a large Christian house will do this much better than a mainstream house.

Where discounts are deeper. If you envision wanting to purchase books to sell at your own speaking events, Christian houses will give much deeper discounts than mainstream houses.

If you have specific design instruction. The majority of mainstream houses have systems in place that they’ve had for 100 years and don’t like to change for anyone. You’ll often find the attitude, “you write the book, we’ll do the rest.”

For writers with a strong sense of design and aesthetic, this can be super frustrating. Overall, I’ve found Christian publishers far more willing to engage in conversations about cover design, though at the end of the day, they’re the ones taking the financial risk so you need to trust the guidance and direction of your publisher.

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