Why Christian Memoirs Rarely Sell Well

It’s a mystery to many authors why Christian memoirs have such a difficult time finding their way in the book publishing market. In fact, this agency specifically states on our website “Guidelines” page that we aren’t looking for personal stories.

If you want to share your Christian faith with another person, you tell them your story. But the very thing which is an effective tool for personal evangelism (your testimony) is not something book publishers are looking for in a book.

I’ve often told new authors to self-publish their memoir so they have it to sell at their speaking engagements. Then let us discuss writing something else for a publisher to consider.

Why are memoirs with a Christian theme difficult to get published?

Memoirs have two characteristics publishers consider negative:

  • They represent relatively short-term publishing. When most publishers would prefer books which sell for years, memoirs have built-in obsolescence which almost require they go away after about six months on the market. Very few sell longer than this. Once the story is known, it is done.
  • They are highly regional in appeal. Very few memoirs appeal to readers outside of the town where the author grew up, the town where they achieved their fame and the town where they currently live. Even bestselling memoirs are highly regional in sales pattern. In other words, few people care to read it who didn’t already know about the author.

The above are significant drawbacks. They make for frustrated publishers who would always prefer to publish books with staying power and broad interest.

But I believe the issue with memoirs by Christians goes even deeper.

I certainly do not wish to devalue or consider any testimony unworthy of being told.  I am not saying your story is not special in God’s eyes.

The very reason Christian themed memoirs don’t sell particularly well could be because God is incredibly merciful, gracious and loving.

Come again?

While angels rejoice when one person comes to Christ, could it be God is so prolific in his transforming work, great stories are not as rare as one might think?

  • Hundreds of millions (billions?) of people have been saved by the Grace of God. Many from horrific lives. Countless millions have dramatic stories to tell those around them, drawing countless more millions to Christ.
  • Millions of people have journeyed through the valley of the shadow of death with Christ at their side, learned of his care and faithfulness, and healed.
  • Millions upon millions of people have lived a form of hell in this life and by God’s mercy and grace now have a peace and joy which is beyond whatever they could have ever imagined or thought.
  • Millions have locked arms with their Creator God and with God’s strength empowering them, beaten back the demon of addiction.
  • Millions of broken relationships have been restored.
  • Millions of babies have died and their broken, discouraged parents found their only solace from the Holy Spirit who indwells them day-by-day.
  • Millions and millions of people have failed at things but with God’s counsel instead learned what true success looks like.

Maybe the reason Christian-themed memoirs don’t sell particularly well is because dramatic stories of God doing miraculous and wonderful things are neither uncommon or isolated.

I’ll bet you thought I was going to give a marketing or business explanation.

I thought so too until this post took an unexpected turn.

 

20 Responses to Why Christian Memoirs Rarely Sell Well

  1. Avatar
    Cec Murphey November 1, 2016 at 5:39 am #

    Dan, another reason they don’t sell is they tend to be formulaic.
    1. I was a horrible sinner or facing death-sentence illness.
    2. Jesus told me and changed my life.
    3. Now I’m serving the Lord.

    Writers need a lot of creativity to avoid the 3-step style.

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow November 1, 2016 at 5:43 am #

      That’s a very good point Cec. So it looks like the writing has something to do with it after all!

      🙂

  2. Avatar
    Robin Luftig November 1, 2016 at 6:08 am #

    How ironic that your statement is true. And it’s a reminder that our God is that loving.

    Thanks, Dan.

  3. Avatar
    Rebekah Love Dorris November 1, 2016 at 6:24 am #

    This post turned out quite encouraging! 🙂

    For those who believe their story needs to be out there but face this hurdle, an option would be to pare it down and submit it to the Unshackled radio program. If it’s accepted, it will be dramatized and broadcast worldwide for years to come. They’re always looking for great true stories, and it’s a powerful tool. You can submit your story at https://unshackled.org.

    God bless! 🙂

    • Avatar
      Catherine Hackman November 1, 2016 at 7:31 am #

      Thank you for posting this, Rebekah. It is a good resource. I am working with a client on a memoir right now, and she will be interested in the link.

  4. Avatar
    Catherine Hackman November 1, 2016 at 7:18 am #

    Thank you for this, Dan. I am currently working with a client to write her memoir. I have explained to her that we will probably have to self-publish, and that it probably isn’t going to sell a ton of copies even though it is a great story, and she has a fairly good platform already. We will go ahead with the project, of course. She isn’t paying me to do this since I am fairly new to writing and this is a really good learning experience for me. I told her that after we publish, we will split the royalties up to the point that I feel my work has been paid in full, then she can have the rest. I am going to show her this article because I still don’t think she understands the limitations of such a project. I saw on this website that sometimes 5,000 copies of any book is a good number to sell. I am not sure with her platform that we can sell over 500 copies, but that article encouraged me that 5,000 isn’t tragically low. Thank you for this information. It is a tool in my tool belt!

  5. Avatar
    Carol Johnson November 1, 2016 at 7:51 am #

    One more comment, Dan: the very fact of uncertainties about how to pronounce “memoir” possibly reflects a rather literary expectation for the writing itself. So the majority of personal stories that reach a wide audience require either an extraordinary “plot line,” the “what’s-going-to-happen” thread to pull readers along–e.g. Soul Surfer or Ninety Minutes in Heaven–or a Tim Tebow/Chip&Joanna Gaines captive audience,

    Then there’s Anne Lamott, whose Traveling Mercies faith story and extraordinary wordsmithing combine for a most powerful reading experience–probably what most readers think of when they see the designation “memoir.”

  6. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins November 1, 2016 at 7:58 am #

    Once I suggested that a friend tell the local paper about something good a person had done for her. The editor told her stories like that aren’t news because they happen all the time. I guess God changes so many lives for the better that’s not news, either.

  7. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee November 1, 2016 at 9:14 am #

    Dan, great posting. I will stay away from writing a Christian memoir…..BTW, are you ahead on your postings now? You had mentioned a few months ago that you are up to October 31, 2017 with planning your blogs……

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow November 1, 2016 at 9:32 am #

      I’m outlined through February 27, 2018 now.

      It’s a sickness.

  8. Avatar
    Robert Stroud November 1, 2016 at 11:10 am #

    I love it when the Holy Spirit inspires “unexpected turns” in our writing.

    Thank you for your great insights.

  9. Avatar
    Carol Ashby November 1, 2016 at 11:49 am #

    What about autobiographies? Do they have even worse market potential?

    Not that I’m ever planning to write one. The peculiarities of my past probably wouldn’t enthrall the typical reader.

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow November 1, 2016 at 1:33 pm #

      If the person writing the autobiography is extremely famous, then they are fine.

  10. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka November 1, 2016 at 11:58 am #

    Dan, I’m glad you wrote this post. I have friends who are writing/have written and are trying to publish their memoirs. The reasons you give for them not selling well. And what I love the most about what you said is that, contrary to what people may think, God really does do amazing things for millions of people around the world. Each story is special. Thank you for sharing this perspective.

  11. Avatar
    Faith November 3, 2016 at 6:51 am #

    This is interesting. What’s your take on why stories like The Shack and Heaven is for Real sold millions… they seem like personal Christian stories to me

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow November 3, 2016 at 8:54 am #

      If a book has a spectacular story and written really well, it can sell great!

      By the way, most novels (including The Shack) have characters and themes based on real life stories.

  12. Avatar
    Ann L. Coker November 4, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

    During posts in Facebook I found my voice. Memoir and personal experience received the most likes & comments. So I used that voice to start my blog: Connections. Only because my blogs get posted on FB do I get comments. Interesting. Someone said I should put these posts (memoirs) in book form. I’m not inclined do so. Your blog supports my decision. I continue to write my personal experiences and some of these have sold as articles. I even has a first: submitted and accepted on same day.

  13. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins November 4, 2016 at 12:42 pm #

    Ann, my blog posts get almost all their comments on Facebook, too.

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