Monday, June 28, 2004

June 28, 2004

My Trip to the Christian Booksellers Convention 5:07 PM A few impressions from my first day at the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) annual convention in Atlanta: The convention center is huge. Even though CBA draws 13,000 people, it fills up only part of the building. Publishers, bookstore owners, distributors, musicians, authors, retailers, wholesalers, media types, celebrities, dealmakers, and a lot of wannabe celebrities come to CBA each year. They come from all over the US and from many nations. The exhibition floor would cover quite a few football fields. Roughly speaking, there are three sections-gifts, books, and music. The gift section is larger than the other two put together. You can walk for a long time and still have a long way to go to get to the other end of the hall. You see all the big names at CBA: Lucado, Dobson, Swindoll, Yancey, Eldredge (a new big name), Warren, and basically anyone else you’ve ever heard of. One reason people come to CBA is to bump into some of these Christian celebrities in the aisle. It’s fun to go back home to Yakima, Washington and say, “I bumped into Max Lucado the other day.” They put authors and musicians in “Personality Booths” where people form long lines to receive free copies of books and the latest CDs. But the celebrities are secondary. The annual convention is really about buying and selling. It’s about publishers hooking up with local bookstore owners and making deals. Everywhere you go, you see salespeople talking up their products and busily writing orders, making deals, offering discounts, etc. You can tell who the big names are by the banners. I saw a billboard-sized banner (actually three or four of them together) with the word “DOBSON” and the title of his newest book, “Marriage Under Fire” on another banner. Rick Warren is big this year. You also see a lot of advertising for “Left Behind.” A book called “The Maker’s Diet” (based on the dietary laws of the Old Testament) is making a splash. Lots and lots of Christian art, trinkets of various kinds, Bible software, plus a booth for Scripture Candy-hard candy with a Scripture verse on the wrapper. Their motto: “Reaching the world one piece at a time.” I noted a booth offering “Christian Toiletries,” which raises the question, “What would non-Christian toiletries be?” On and on it goes, hundreds and hundreds of exhibitors, row after row. I ventured into the music area and left quickly when I realized that I recognized almost none of the names. Along the way I met Linda who works for Mary Rice Hopkins but couldn’t find her. I overheard someone say, “I’ve having dinner with Ryan Dobson tonight.” I walked past Philip Yancey as he was having his picture taken with some fans. I clapped when a publisher gave Kay Arthur an award for selling 1.7 copies of a particular title. One reason you come to CBA (besides making deals) is to see old friends. Along the way I chatted with Rob Tiegen, Ken Stephens, Bill and Mary Thrasher, Lane and Ebeth Dennis, Randy Jahns and Marvin Padgett. I saw Erwin Lutzer but didn’t get a chance to chat with him. That’s the way it is at CBA. The area is so vast, and there are thousands of people coming and going so you end up mostly meeting people by chance. Late this afternoon I did a TV interview for my new Crossway book—Discovering God’s Will. We had a bit of difficulty because the book isn’t out yet and the publisher hadn’t sent over any questions. So we talked about the book even though the interviewer had never read it. In cases like that, you just make sure you keep on talking and don’t stop until time for a break. It went reasonably well, I think. 11:17 PM Tonight I attended a wonderful banquet marking the 25th Anniversary of Crossway Books and the 66th anniversary of Good New Publishers. I started my writing career ten years ago with Crossway so this was like coming full circle . Over 300 people gathered for the celebration. I gave the invocation. Robert Wolgemuth (who happens to be Debbie Birkey’s brother) led the music. Around the table I met a couple that works for D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries, two men who work for Sovereign Grace Ministries, and literary agent Curtis Yates. After the meal Lane Dennis showed film clips of the late Francis Schaeffer and a contemporary clip of Edith Schaeffer (now 90 years old). In the great debate over same-sex marriage, his name has come to my mind a lot lately. Almost 30 years ago, he warned that a day would come when Americans would sacrifice truth on the altar of “personal peace and affluence.” It was eerie to see him on the screen, circa 1976, saying that one day the unthinkable would be acceptable. Verily, he was a prophet and that day is upon us. Edith Schaeffer spoke slowly, but you could hear her say, “The only thing that matters is truth.” Nancy Pearcey gave a stirring talk on the fact/value dichotomy in our society. That may sound dull, but her talk electrified the crowd. It was as if Francis Schaeffer had come to life again. She showed how a commitment to “total truth” is the message this generation needs to hear. Max Lucado spoke with eloquence and passion about the glory of God in all things. Max McLean wrapped up the program by reciting the story of the resurrection, the ascension and the second coming from the English Standard Version. Maybe the most powerful Scripture reading I’ve ever heard. Made you want to cheer and then fall on your face when he was through. Afterwards I chatted with Greg Webster, Kathy Jacobs, Jacqueline Cromartie and Jill from Jakasa (the folks who set up my first radio interviews ten years ago). And I said hello and thanks to Max Lucado. One other note and I’m done. A visit to CBA tells you what people are buying these days. On the good news front, Bible sales post-9/11 have been strong. You see a few books about same-sex marriage, lots of books about parenting, marriage issues, lots of books for women, not much on Bible prophecy, fiction is big, huge, enormous, and getting bigger all the time. A few books on theology or Bible study. I didn’t see a single book for men, much different from the height of the PK movement eight years ago when every publisher offered at least one book for men. Relationship books are big. This is my first CBA in three years and there is a new crop of authors on the horizon. One proof is: I see their names and have no idea who they are, but long lines of people wait to meet them. You can find books at CBA on every conceivable subject-almost. I haven’t yet seen a book on how weblogs will revolutionize the world. I must be ahead of the curve on that one.

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