After 15 wonderful years in Christian retail I am finally moving on to a new chapter in my life. Starting Monday I will be a publicist for Baker Academic and Brazos Press. I’ve learned a lot while in the retail environment. I never planned on being in retail. But I caught the retail bug while working at various retail stores while in seminary. That sounds strange to say–especially for someone who was planning on teaching–but it’s true. I enjoy the pleasure of meeting new people every day and having a contingent of regular customers who have become staples in my life. My position as a buyer for Bibles and academic books has been incredibly fulfilling. It’s no secret that my favorite imprint is Baker Academic and Brazos Press. To have a closer connection to that amazing staff is a privilege I eagerly await. Part of my responsibility will be to maintain the Brazos blog. Come visit me from time to time and see what’s new from Brazos Press.
My appreciation for Christian fiction and music
I started with Baker as a cashier working at the store in Holland, Michigan. The only remaining staff person from that store now works by my side here at the Grand Rapids store–Chris, our fiction buyer. She delights in telling people that she got me to cross over to “the dark side.” It’s true. I’ve never been a fan of fiction but she introduced me to Steven James and I was immediately hooked. Yes, it’s only one author but it was a step in the right direction as far as she was concerned. Her job was done. Thank you Chris for all that you’ve taught me. I’m a better person because of our friendship.
Prior to Baker I rarely listened to “Christian” music. But I’ve developed a strong liking for two artists: Matthew West and Jimmy Wayne. I have had the pleasure of meeting both of them. If they ever come to the store I’ll be in the front row.
Books, Bibles and Trends
During my first training session in the Holland store my trainer said in passing “We can’t seem to keep this book on the shelf.” The book she was referring to was The Prayer of Jabez. As I reflect on that I think of the books/trends I’ve seen come and go. I’ve seen Left Behind get left behind. The “Emerging Church” emerged and has now wilted. I’ve seen the birth of a few Bible translations (English Standard Version, Holman Christian Standard, Modern English Version, Common English Bible and the new Passion Translation) and the death of at least one (TNIV, although some have argued it was reincarnated in the 2011 NIV). More than a few study Bibles and devotional Bibles have been introduced into the market. They include (in no particular order) The Archeological Study Bible, The ESV Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The NLT Study Bible, The NIV First-Century Bible, The NIV Essentials Study Bible, The CEB Study Bible, The Chronological Study Bible, The Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Reformation Study Bible, The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible and soon we will see The NIV Zondervan Study Bible. We also saw the introduction of the Waterproof Bible. When it first came out I took one and put in a fishbowl full of water. It stayed there for two months. I still have it today and it looks like brand new. They hold up quite well.
I’ve watched the industry change in dramatic ways. Hundreds of bookstores have closed including a few chains. Family Christian stores is on life support. The publishing landscape has changed as well. In my time Baker Publishing Group acquired Bethany House and made a sizeable acquisition from both Hendrickson Publishers and Regal Books. HarperCollins bought Zondervan and then later Thomas Nelson. Random House purchased Multnomah. When I first started field reps (vendor reps that would actually visit a store) were numerous. Now there are only handful. Speaking of field reps I want to give a shout out to two who have been with me the longest: Larry Avery (HarperCollins Christian Publishing) and Jerry Gortmaker (Noble Marketing). Both have taught me so much about being a buyer and understanding the nuances of the industry. Thank you!
Some favorite events.
We’ve hosted a lot of events over the years. We have worked hard at making Baker Book House more than a bookstore. We are a resource for the community to come together and engage with each other and to discuss the pressing issues of our culture.
There are two events that stand out for me: William Lane Craig and Fr. Robert Barron. As different as these authors are a common thread is the way in which they incorporate philosophy into their vocations. Craig with theology and apologetics and Barron with theology and culture. Both have been a huge influence in my intellectual life. Close behind these two was our forum on homosexuality (featuring Justin Lee and Wesley Hill). We took a risk with this one but we knew that many in the church were struggling with how to talk with loved ones who either identifed themselves as gay or were dealing with same-sex attraction. The event focused on the importance of dialogue. The question at hand was a simple one: how do two people who have firmly-held convictions on the subject talk to each other? It was not a time for persuasion but rather a model of tolerance and dialogue. Most people got it. Some didn’t. Other favorites would include Alvin Plantinga, N.T. Wright, John Walton, Norman Geisler, Kevin DeYoung, Michael Wittmer, Steven James, Michael Horton, Richard Foster, and John Dickson. Of course there’s always a story about the one that got away. I had Bart Ehrman booked and ready to go but it didn’t work out. I found him to be gracious and more than willing to come to the store. Our plans were to have him along with Craig Evans talk about Ehrman’s new book How Jesus Became God. Both men were excited about the possibility. I think that would have been a great event.
Doing book tables was a regular part of my job. As I look back I figure I’ve done over 200 book tables. Most of them were in churches but I’ve also done them in seminaries, hotel ballrooms, a couple of high schools, a movie theater, a civic center, a college gym and one pub. One of my most awkward tables was when I did my first all women’s conference. The church had converted all the restrooms to ladies’ rooms. When nature called I scrambled to find a restroom that was allocated for my gender. Fortunately for me they had one (though it was outside in another building). Since that time whenever I did a women’s conference (and there were more) that was my first question. The record for fewest books sold at a table–one.
Future of this blog
I didn’t start this blog. It kind of landed in my lap after a coworker started it and then left two weeks later for a job with Zondervan. I had no idea what I was doing. Over the years I’ve made it into something that I hope has served some purpose. I’ve received lots of compliments and have a small following. Thanks to all of you who have helped me find my way and provided comments. Special thanks to my friend Paul Adams who helped me on several occasions to tweak or repair the blog as needed. Without his help there would be no blog. Not a healthy one at least. Any imperfections remain my own. My replacement (who has not been named by the time I wrote this post) will take over the responsibilities of the blog. I’ve scheduled several posts through the last half of July and August to help him/her along. Most of those are notices of forthcoming titles. The Spring 2016 list from Baker Academic and Brazos Press is especially strong. I think you’ll find many of them quite interesting.
I love my job. I love the people I’ve worked with both past and present. They have shaped me in more ways than they will ever know. For the purpose of this blog I’ve referred to them as “staff” but they are so much more. They are friends. Some of them walked with me through one of the darkest times of my life–the death of my son. They carried me when I felt I couldn’t go on. They cried with me in quiet moments. They pushed me forward knowing I could go further than I thought I could. But far outnumbering the tears of sorrow was the laughter we shared. Our lunch conversations would range from our favorite TV shows to the history of the birth control pill. We covered it all.
It’s a job I leave with memories I will cherish and friends I know I can count on whenever I need them. The best thing about this new chapter of my life is that I will stay with Baker. This is a company like few others (and I’ve had plenty of jobs). Though I never met the founder, Herman Baker, I’ve worked closely with his son, Rich, and his grandson, Dwight (the current president). I can testify that it is a company that cares about every facet of the business especially the people. You could say I’m moving from one hand to the other. Today I’m in the left hand. Monday I’ll be in the right. Different hands, same heart.