A team effort
David Jeremiah shares marketing secrets that help Christian authors like him find readers
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David Jeremiah, author and senior pastor of a San Diego–area evangelical megachurch, has mastered the use of audio and video to expand his audience. He forthrightly explained to Patrick Henry College students how he does it.
We have in American evangelicalism a certain star system, and that can lead to cults of personality. You’re a star: How do you guard against that? I have a good wife: That’s the most important thing. I’m involved in a local church and don’t think of myself as a star. I was in a bookstore, and the girl who was running the store said, “I can’t believe you’re in my store, I’m so excited! Can you just wait here a minute?” She came back and said, “Would you sign these books for me?” She gave me seven books written by Josh McDowell. I signed Josh McDowell’s name in them and gave them back to her.
With everything else you’re doing, how do you produce your non–Josh McDowell books? I’ll preach a series of messages. That’s what I know how to do. Then I have one man who works for me, a Westminster graduate and a wordsmith. He’ll clean up some of it, and then one other guy looks at it. The goal is to take the thoughts in my heart and the preaching that I do and put it in the best written form. I need a lot of people to help me, and I give them all credit. We’re a team.
Sounds like the labels we see in museums: from the studio of such and such famous artist. Yes. A friend that I did a book with did art, and a lot of people worked on his art. He didn’t paint all his pictures.
‘You can’t just write a book and say I’m not going to have anything to do with marketing. If you don’t care enough about it to try and figure out how to get it in the hands of other people, nobody else is going to either.’
I appreciate your demystifying the process of authorship. What about becoming a bestseller? We release a new book every fall, and around that book are eight rallies that we do across the country in arenas. We have radio and television programs and a magazine read by 200,000-300,000 people: During the month the book is released all the articles, all the devotionals, everything has to do with the content of that book. We have a prelaunch campaign from August 15 to the first days of October, offer that book through the internet. We try to get people to pre-buy the book, and in order to do that we say if you pre-buy the book, we will open up for you a whole library of digital assets.
Then comes the release. We keep those books as they’re ordered until the book is released. Then we push them all through the wicket at the same time. When that happens, the book gets noticed: It’s not about how many you sell; it’s about how fast they go through the sale programs so they get noticed. One of the challenges if you write as a Christian is that Christian bookstores don’t report to the bestsellers lists, so you’ve got to build a marketplace in the Barnes & Nobles, the Books-A-Millions, the Targets, the big houses so the books get counted. For the first time last year we sold more books in secular bookstores than we sold in Christian bookstores.
The New York Times for its bestseller list counts sales from a bunch of secular stores; I understand there’s a company that will go in and buy several books in each of these bookstores. The companies that do that spread the release point of these books that are purchased by individuals so they can get attention. Is that legitimate? The bottom line is you’re selling these books and they’re just not getting noticed. If you want the books to be noticed so that you can reach more people with them, you’ve got to figure out how to do that. I don’t know all of the ramifications of it, but I know that you can’t just write a book and say I’m not going to have anything to do with marketing. If you don’t care enough about it to try and figure out how to get it in the hands of other people, nobody else is going to either.
You have videographers working also? We introduce almost every one of our television programs by a three-minute vignette that’s geared around the message. When I do a new book, they’ll create 10 vignettes to introduce every chapter so that every time it comes on the air it grabs people’s attention. Somebody asked me if it’s fun to write a book, and I said no, it’s not fun to have written a book, but it is fun to market one.
When you start a new sermon series that’ll eventually become a book, how do you decide what to emphasize? I love to preach through the Bible: Right now I’ve been in the book of Mark. When you preach consecutively through the Bible, you may think: How’s that going to help you with what else you’re doing? It helps you stay alert to all the issues that are going on in the lives of people. It keeps you off of your favorite topic, from getting caught up in things where you will be unbalanced.
You don’t get that discipline if you’re just choosing particular topics. A lot of people tell me you can’t keep a congregation interested for more than six or eight weeks on a certain topic—but that’s making the assumption that the Bible is uninteresting. Mark was the first eyewitness to the life of Christ and was probably Peter’s amanuensis, recording Peter’s thoughts. Mark is exciting: Did you know that the most frequent word in the book of Mark is “immediately”? It’s in there 42 times, and every time you turn around Mark is jumping off into something else. It’s difficult for me when I go to do a topical series and leave the consecutive exposition of the Scripture.
One topical series became your book last year, What Are You Afraid Of? In the spring I preached 10 messages on fear and that 10 message series became the book, then aired on television in the fall. As soon as I got done with that, we also did a small group curriculum, which I’d never done that before. I taped condensed messages on fear and made them available to our small group leaders so they could play them in the homes, and we opened up a lot of new small groups doing that.
One more question: You have four grown children, 11 grandchildren, and one more close to birth: When you think of your grandchildren, what are you afraid of? If we have the same amount of erosion that’s happened during my lifetime, it’s hard to imagine what it will be like for our children. I fear government’s constant intrusion into the life of the family and the church. I fear that we may not have enough strong leaders to withstand that, and enough courage to stand up and say, “That’s enough, no more.”
See other excerpts from this interview.