December 17, 2007

Interview with Cynthia Ballenger

Cynthia Ballenger is the Acquisitions Manager for Lift Every Voice, a division arm of Moody Publishers where we publish books for/by African Americans. As the acquisitions editor she makes contract agreements for authors, designers, editors, illustrators, etc. on behalf of the partnership of Moody Publishers and the Institute for Black Family Development.

LH: It's been said that books with people of color on their covers limit their audience or reach. What is your opinion on that?
CB: I believe that rings true with people of color on the cover or with people of European decent on the cover. However, if your book is targeted to a specific audience you should show your audience that you are sensitive to their wants and needs by keeping up with current events/issues that pertain to people of color and creating a cover that speaks to that audience. The subject matter and the way the book is marketed can then cross over to other ethnicities due to the appeal of the subject matter.

LH: Do publishing houses use African American (AA) marketing firms to help them market the book? If not, are there any efforts underway to consult with AA marketing professionals?
CB: From what I know of, most companies do not get African American marketing firms to market their African American titles. I believe that there may be efforts underway, but not enough measures are taken to partner with African American marketing firms.

LH: To the best of your knowledge, are there any African Americans working in marketing for Christian publishing houses?
CB: Most African American marketing firms I am familiar with are not Christian based. However, there are more and more Christian African American publicity/marketing firms making themselves known on a regular basis.

LH: Does CBA's relations with CAABA (Christian African American Booksellers Association) have any reach?
CB: I believe the reach that CAABA has is fair and getting stronger each year bringing awareness to the CBA marketplace.


Thanks, Cynthia for your involvement in this month's series. Your viewpoint is invaluable.


rjcovjr said...

Disclaimer: I many kinds of fiction, not just African-American Christian Fiction.

As a reader, I find that most of the African-American Christian novels are published by imprints of mainstream publishers, not by CBA houses. It's rare to walk into my local Family Christian store and find someone on the cover who looks like me.

The CBA is limiting itself, not just because it's leaving millions of consumer dollars on the table to be swept up by non-Christian publishers. It's also a ministry issue: Christian Fiction edifies and inspires, so why stories stories about people of color be used to spread the Gospel?

It bothers me that I have to walk past large displays for "Baby Mama Drama IV" or "Drug Dealer Chronicles II" in order to find the latest books by Marilynn Griffith or Mata Elliot.

Marina Woods, Marketing Guru said...

This is very crucial dialogue.
When I was inspired to launch 7 years ago, I was
charged with reconciling Christians in their reading choices. For far too long Black Christians were limited in their reading selections, especially Christian fiction. I wanted Blacks to begin to open their minds to
embracing books by nonblacks and nonblacks to embrace books by Black authors as we can all glean a new perspective when reading as it takes us places spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
I applaud your broaching this subject. Truth be told, when I visit my local John's Christian bookstore, I rarely if ever see books by Black authors -- specifically fiction. Oh, there are plenty of Gospel CD's and what not. However when I implore their management to house books that are more reflective of the diverse middle and upper class neighborhood they look puzzled.

This is why Christian publishing houses need African American marketing directors, publicists, sales reps, buyers, and to use the services of African American Christian owned PR and marketing firms. I further think authors should press their publishers for this because after all they are helping the publisher make money.

I pray a change is gonna come.
More African American Christian
authors is a good thing, but what happens when they are published
and the system fails them because adequate internal and external support is missing? What happens when their book sales are dismal compared to authors who have the support of in house and outsourced marketing reps who know their market as well as how to cross over?

Marina Woods|Chief Marketing Officer & Christian Book Promoter

Hi, I'm Dee said...

great discussion, linda.

pam perry said...

Very interesting. For the record, there is a network of African American Christian marketing/pr and promotional professionals. We are not invisible. If firms really wanted to hire us, they could find us. There needs to be more media exposure for us like on Moody Radio stations and in major magazines like Christian Today or Charisma or on TBN!!!