Dani: Hi Rachel, Thanks so much for being on Writerly Wednesday. For those who don’t know you, could you take a moment and introduce yourself?
Rachel: Sure, I’m Rachel McRae and I’m the Senior Book Buyer for LifeWay Christian Stores. Nashville, TN has been home for the last 16 years and I’m originally from East Tennessee. For my job, I oversee all of the adult trade books in our stores. I spend a lot of my time working on Fiction and that’s just fine by me as it’s my favorite category!
Dani: Having the job you do and knowing you, it’s obvious you love what you do, and you love stories. What is it about books you love so much?
Rachel: What’s ironic is that I was not a fan of reading growing up. I read the Little House on the Prairie series because all of my friends did and I read Anne of Green Gables because I found Gilbert Blythe to be oh-so dreamy. Beyond that, you would never find me with a book.
Fast forward to college and you would have heard me proclaiming that I would never be a buyer. I wanted to be a Christian bookstore manager. Given all of that, it’s funny to me that I’m now a book buyer. It shows that God certainly had other plans!
This job certainly has given me a love of books and especially for Christian fiction. I love how stories can provide a welcomed escape from the normal grind of daily life. Even if I can only get through one chapter on a quick lunch break at my desk, I find myself refreshed enough to carry on through the day.
While I enjoy general market fiction, there’s something special about Christian fiction. Melody Carlson was quoted in an article I read years ago as saying, “Christian fiction is one of the best evangelism tools there is.” I wholeheartedly agree with that. Sharing a novel that has themes of love, forgiveness, faith, and redemption all wrapped up in a powerful story can speak to a person’s heart and make them think upon the Lord. I love that Christian fiction has a higher purpose in addition to being a form of entertainment.
Dani: There’s always the doomsday talk about all bookstores closing, but LifeWay seems to be doing stronger than ever, which I’m so happy to see. What is it about LifeWay that helps it stand so strong, and where do you see bookstores in general in the next five years?
Rachel: We are in interesting times within the Christian retail industry. The recent closing of Family Christian Stores was a hard day. I’ve had people say to me that we must be excited that stores like Family are going out of business. I quickly tell them no and that we never see it that way. These stores are a part of the greater mission we all support so to lose even one store, let alone a full chain of stores, is a blow for all of us.
LifeWay Christian Stores has been blessed to be weathering the changing tides in our industry a bit better than others. There are several reasons for that, but one of the main ones is that we are a part of a bigger organization. As a division of LifeWay Christian Resources, we have constant support in all areas of our business from our corporate office. Because all of our divisions benefit each other and support each other, LifeWay Christian Stores has a more solid base in our finances, operations, and future growth opportunities.
We are currently pouring resources into our stores that will set us up well for future growth and sustainability. We have increased our training for our associates so they can better assist customers and churches. We’re in the middle of implementing a lot of new systems both in our stores and in the corporate office. That may not sound too glamourous but new technology will allow us to serve our customers and churches in more personal ways as well as to help us manage our business efficiently.
These investments plus many others will help us to be good stewards of what God has entrusted us with. As we continue to seek His guidance and direction, we trust that He will lead LifeWay into the years ahead to accomplish the work He has given us.
Dani: Being the fiction buyer, you know what attracts readers to books. What is it that draws them in when they walk into a LifeWay store? The cover, back cover copy, author’s name, bookseller recommendation?
Rachel: It’s honestly a combination of all of that. One is not more important than the other. When a publisher presents a new novel to me, I immediately critique the cover. If I see something that might hinder the book grabbing someone’s interest, then I’ll share those thoughts with them. Sometimes even the slightest change to a font or brightening up the color of a girl’s dress can make a big difference.
If we’ve gotten the shopper’s attention long enough to pick it up and read the cover to learn about the story, then we certainly need that description to be impactful and leaving the reader wanting to know more.
Of course, the best selling tool for a novel comes by way of a recommendation. I hope that LifeWay Christian Store customers know us enough to trust the novels we recommend to them through our promotions, on social media, and more importantly, by our store associates. If you love a book or a particular writer, you want to tell people about it. Word of mouth will always be the best bookseller!
Dani: For authors, what can they be doing to come alongside LIfeWay and help support your stores?
Rachel: Some of our best friends at LifeWay are our authors! We see you as an integral part of our ministry. You are entrusting us with your talents and your own ministry and we want to serve you well.
We love partnering with authors in a variety of ways. We always invite you to get to know the LifeWay Christian Store in your area. Meet the managers and ask if you could sign a few copies of any of your books they have on the shelf. You could even do a post or a tweet about how your local store has some limited quantities of signed copies.
Authors can encourage readers to buy their book at LifeWay. Online shopping is great but you can never replace the experience you have in a Christian book store. From the selection of titles you can actually pick up and flip through, to getting help with your questions, to seeing all of the other great resources we have around the store, customers can have a fun and encouraging experience at their local store.
Oh, and a side note… LifeWay Christian Stores price matches other retailers and online stores. Our customers love being able to shop and support us while still getting a great deal should a book be a bit cheaper somewhere else.
Dani: Finally, who are some authors you see really shining in the industry and who are some new names to be on the lookout for?
Rachel: I’m excited to see some upward trajectory in 2017 on novelists like Katie Ganshert, Laura Frantz, Jocelyn Green, and Kristy Cambron. These ladies have been writing for a few years but we’re seeing some nice growth with them. Lisa Harris, Kristi Ann Hunter, Tessa Afshar, and Susan Mason are authors that are being discovered by our customers, too. I would encourage you to check out Connilyn Cossette, Liz Johnson, Rachelle Dekker, Sarah Loudin Thomas, and Julianna Deering if you haven’t had a chance yet.
There are a lot of great new novels coming in the second half of 2017. I’m excited that Randy Singer is back with a new legal thriller this fall. Two of my favorites, Lynn Austin and Kate Breslin, both have titles coming. Allison Pittman is back with an intriguing look at Martin Luther’s wife in October. I also think readers will enjoy The Promise of Breeze Hill by Pam Hillman, Freedom’s Ring by Heidi Chiavaroli, and Jane of Austin by Hilary Manton Lodge.
We also have several debut novelists to look forward to. Two that I’m personally looking forward to are Joanna Davidson Politano with Lady Jayne Disappears, coming in October, and Jamie Jo Wright with The House on Foster Hill in December,
Oh, and I can’t help but mention my excitement over another novel in the Chesapeake Valor series from Dani Pettrey! Customers are already asking for Blind Spot now!
Dani: You’re so sweet! Thanks so much ☺ I’m thrilled to hear that readers are excited about Blind Spot. Thank you for taking the time to visit with us and share your insight today. I so appreciate having you on Writerly Wednesday!
Rachel McRae is the Senior Book Buyer for LifeWay Christian Stores. Be sure to follow her on Twitter at @LifeWay_Books
I’m giving away an e-gift card to LifeWay so one lucky reader can pick up one of the fabulous authors or titles you recommended. To be entered to win the gift card, just answer this question in the comment’s section below.
Which Christian fiction release are you most looking forward to this year?