By Fred Koenig
You could fill a book-bag with titles that have authors related to the Missouri Conference, and most of the books contain stories about experiences in Missouri Conference Churches. Brian Milford, chief content officer of the United Methodist Publishing House, joins us to answer 10 questions on the Christian book publishing business.
1. Let’s start with the book that really got things going, The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by Bishop Robert Schnase. Why was it such a hit? More than 500,000 copies of the book in its various translations and related products have been sold and customer evaluations are extremely positive. Five Practices resonates with our hearts and reaffirms what people can agree are critically important values and goals for their ministries. Five Practices has helped thousands of congregations take a fresh, proactive and self-aware look at what they were doing and how to increase their fruitfulness. It has become a treasured source of inspiration and encouragement.
2. The Five Practices is what Bishop Schnase is best known for, but what are some other titles he has published through Abingdon Press? We published two books prior to Five Practices, Ambition in Ministry (1993) and Testing and Reclaiming Your Call to Ministry (1991). Including Five Practices, from 2007 forward, there have been 50 print, video and digital products related to the Five Practices content. Bishop Schnase also wrote Remember the Future (2012), Seven Levers (2014) as well as the newly released Just Say Yes. That makes a grand total of 56 different resources.
3. How is Just Say Yes doing so far? There is widespread and strong interest in the book. People want their churches to be beacons of hope and they are looking for help to discover new and life-changing ways to say “Yes” to more faithful and fruitful mission and ministry.
4. What are some other big sellers with Missouri Conference ties? Bob Farr’s Renovate or Die (2011), cowritten with Kay Kotan, has been well received and widely used. They also wrote Get Their Name and then 10 Prescriptions for a Healthy Church which has recently been released. I would also point out that Adam Hamilton has Missouri connections as he started the Church of the Resurrection as a church plant for the Missouri Conference.
5. What is the most in demand type of book that Abingdon is selling now? Books that help to shape and improve ministry programs in local churches are most in demand, especially those that are useful for small group conversations and various study groups and classes.
6. Are their specific categories in which you are looking for authors to write more? We partner with authors who demonstrate that they are adept at listening intently to the needs and aspirations of people of faith. We look for practitioners and dreamers who are gospel-inspired and write about relevant and practical ways to make disciples and build communities that honor God and care for God’s people and all of creation. Our mission is to “Reach more people in more places with quality services and resources that help them come to know and deepen their knowledge of God through Jesus Christ, learn to love God and choose to serve God and neighbor. We publish diverse resources ranging from inspirational books for individual readers to seminary textbooks, Bible commentaries, church school learning resources and volumes on the practice of ministry for clergy and laity. We are always eager to discover new voices and gifted writers and welcome all proposals.
7. If a new author has an idea for a book, what is the process for getting published through Abingdon Press? Our submission policy is outlined on our website at http://UMPH.org under Customer Service and Manuscript Submission.
8. How have overall book sales been in recent years? What are the trends? There is frequently variation and changing emphases in publishing depending on the preferences of readers and trends in the church and culture. When our Abingdon Fiction line was new we saw a big surge in sales – and as expected, that has leveled off as we produce a steady stream of new titles each season. The books we develop change based on ongoing customer feedback and emerging opportunities. We have been expanding the selection of titles in studies for small groups because interest continues to grow. Our offerings of academic books have become more selective due to an abundance of new titles from many publishers and the impact of the Internet on classroom teaching. The number of digital products continues to go up year over year. We publish for the UMC but also for the wider ecumenical community as we seek to reach “the church that is becoming” with fresh, relevant and faithful resources for worship, the practice of ministry and forming disciples of Jesus Christ.
9. How does Abingdon Press compare to other Christian book publishing houses? Abingdon Press has long been a major presence in religion publishing with authors such as Lyle Schaller, Leonard Sweet, Bruce Metzger, Joel Green and others who reach across denominational border lines. We distribute across the U.S. as well around the world. We are the oldest ongoing book publisher and book seller in the United States having been founded in 1789. We have wonderful new products like Covenant Bible Study, the Deep Blue Kids children’s Christian formation materials and the forthcoming CEB Student Bible and the CEB Women’s Study Bible. The future is bright with opportunities to deliver books and other resources that people choose, use and value for Christian ministry.
10. How much has the closure of the Cokesbury stores affected sales? Bookstores in general and Christian bookstores in particular have been confronted with major challenges. The advent of highly discounted on-line selling platforms with fast delivery of both print and digital products has led to big changes across the industry. Cokesbury responded with a bold move to reinvest in a more robust Cokesbury.com; a newly revamped 1-800 call center and by deploying regional sales personnel to visit churches across the U.S. Just recently America’s largest Christian bookstore chain, Family Christian, filed for bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, having already made the shift from brick and mortar to other ways of reaching and serving customers, Cokesbury is strong and gaining new customers daily.