Skyrocket Your Book Marketing by Attending a Trade Show
What is the Christian Product Expo? The Christian Products Expo is the trade show where products are displayed for Christian retailers to order for their stores. Walking into the CPE trade show, it looked like dozens of other trade shows I’d attended. Instead of finding a bunch of self-absorbed, business types, I found a community of believers (authors, publishers, and bookstore owners) working to promote the kingdom of God and each other, rather than their bottom line. I was continually amazed at the love and acceptance of total strangers who didn’t know me but reached out to befriend a brand-new aspiring author. Read on to learn how to skyrocket your book marketing by attending a trade show.
Why Attend the Christian Product Expo Trade Show?
I was a bundle of nerves as I walked to the registration table for the St. Louis Christian Product Expo (CPE—www.cpeshow.com), in August 2021. As a retired educator, I have attended hundreds of conferences. So why all the nerves? I didn’t know what to expect! I was entering a new world, a world as foreign to me as those early pioneers must have felt the first time they approached the banks of the Mississippi River that would later become St. Louis. It was a world that could intimidate and captivate at the same time. For me, the CPE was a gateway to the world of Christian Marketing. A world I needed to explore and master.
I was a new author that had just entered the industry of Christian writing and publishing. Prior to writing my first book, my concept of the industry was a few short steps: write a book, edit it, send it to a publisher, and buy it at your local bookstore. I had never heard of the CPE. Although, I had visited many Christian book stores without thinking about how they obtained the wonderful items displayed in their stores. At the CPE, I was about to find out how.
How Does the CPE Connect to the Christian Writing Industry?
The Christian Products Expo is the trade show where products are displayed for Christian retailers to order for their stores. It is literally “all things sellable” pertaining to the Christian faith, including books. If you are a Christian retail business looking for the newest products to market, then the CPE is the place to see them and order directly from the vendors. Here you can talk to publishing representatives, artists, and authors.
My Journey to CPE
From the moment I contacted a publisher, I was suddenly hearing new phrases and terms like indie versus traditional publishing, agents, galley proof, ISBN number, one-sheets, etc. I quickly came to realize my understanding of the publishing world was limited. I found everything about the Christian book industry confusing, overwhelming, and intimidating. The more I learned about the industry, the more I realized there would not be a simple read of “A Guide to the Christian Book Industry for Dummies.” It would take years to understand it all and master the craft of writing. I needed help.
In my pursuit of learning, I realized that marketing was a big part of an author’s success. So I began exploring what a newbie author needs to learn. One pearl of advice was to enter writing contests and get feedback on your book’s strengths and weaknesses. I was told winning a contest could validate myself as being an “award-winning author.” I entered contests and sought feedback.
I won the Christian Indie Award for general fiction. Susan Neal, director of the awards and Christian Indie Publishing Association, contacted me about representing my book at the CPE in St. Louis. Naturally, I was curious about the expo and wondered about the value to someone like myself. Susan graciously answered every question. By the end of our conversation, I knew I wanted to experience the event firsthand. I was hoping to see the workings of the industry and get a picture of how Christian books were marketed. However, walking through the large convention center, viewing aisle after aisle of displays by the large publishing houses exhibiting all the famous authors that sell thousands of books, I wondered if I really had a place in this book world. I was an unknown, award-winning author. Who would take a risk on me?
CPE Book Signing
Among the hundreds of books displayed, would there be a place for my book to shine? I followed the map to the CIPA booth at the CPE and saw my book proudly displayed just like the books of well-known Christian writers. For the first time, I had a little flutter that perhaps I had a place after all. I displayed my six-foot book banner, took out my stack of pre-signed books, one-sheets, and business cards, and arranged them on the high-top table for my author signing. Inside, I wondered if all the other authors felt nervous yet excited, proud yet worried. Would anyone stop to peruse my book or talk? Yes, they did!
As a first-time published Christian author, the emotional stakes surrounding my newborn book ran high. I felt like a first-time parent wanting everyone to say my child was precious. Before publication, I believed writing or giving birth to my creation would be the hardest part. I soon realized that just like with my own child, I was responsible for bringing this creation to its fullest potential. That meant book marketing, book marketing, and then more book marketing. Many new parents feel unprepared for raising a child to reach their God-designed destiny. That’s how I felt! I wished I had taken classes on the techniques of writing, self-publishing, and marketing long before hitting send on my galley-ready Word document. I wished I had come across Christian Indie Publishing Asssociation and all its helpful writing tools before I ever published. My hope for CPE was for someone to like my book, see its potential, and take a chance on selling it. Indie publishing could get your book out there, but so much more was needed to sell my book.
The World of Christian Book Marketing—A Family
Walking into the CPE trade show, it looked like dozens of other trade shows I’d attended. I scanned large booths, sales reps, and freebies. Nothing new here. However, I discerned an atmospheric and attitudinal difference. Of course, I was expecting Christian interactions. What I wasn’t expecting was a community that felt like a family. My focus on my book aspirations quickly shifted to the family of God I was connecting with. I was continually amazed at the love and acceptance of total strangers who didn’t know me but reached out to befriend a brand-new aspiring author.
Christian Brothers and Sisters
Instead of finding a bunch of self-absorbed, business types, I found a community of believers (authors, publishers, and bookstore owners) working to promote the kingdom of God and each other, rather than their bottom line. They really cared about each person. I saw spiritual brothers and sisters, genuinely concerned for others’ welfare and especially how they were faring in this crazy COVID world.
Can I Pray for You?
Other authors wanted to know how you and your book were doing. When sharing about themselves—they explained their struggles, opportunities, and lessons. Many authors engaged bookstore owners in conversations, not about “my latest book” and “why you should sell it,” but “how are you doing, what was tough for you during the pandemic shutdown, and how can I pray for you and your business moving forward?” What an incredibly altruistic environment. I walked away with a changed perspective about the Christian book industry. We are all one big family.
Author/Retailer Personality Party
One blessing of my CPE trip was the Author/Retailer Personality Party. This venue allowed 50 authors to display their new books, one sheet, business cards, and banners to Christian retailers. The bookstore owners enjoyed strolling the aisles, catching up with author acquaintances, and other bookstore owners. They could select free signed books and listen to the author’s elevator pitch if the theme intrigued them. It was an evening of shared inspiration and hope.
Personality Party Plus
Besides the networking done across the table, an added plus to my evening was the opportunity to meet “divine connectors.” I was blessed to have two authors on each side of me during the event that I had just met, but when the evening concluded, we felt like family. We had a kindred connection that only God can create. We ate together, attended classes together, and have stayed in touch since. Only God knows the eventuality of these relationships. But just like the CPE experience of meeting other Christians and praying together, I believe God will use these new relationships in His way and timing. Next year’s CPE will surely feel like a family reunion that I don’t want to miss. If you are an author, check out the CPE at https://www.cpeshow.com/shows and register to attend with CIPA at https://christianpublishers.net/trade-shows/.
About the Author
Betty Kulich is an ordained pastor and serves as an Associate Pastor at Redeemer’s Church, Columbus, Ohio. Betty also serves as the Women’s Ministry Director for Harvest Preparation International Ministries (HPIM) of Sarasota, Florida for Mexico and Central America. Her book, The River: A Spiritually Transforming Journey, won the 2021 Christian Indie Award for General Fiction and the 2020 Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award. Betty is currently working on a companion devotional for The River. You can find Betty at Transformed-Image.com.
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