The Bestselling Christian Books of 2008

A few weeks ago, Publishers Weekly published their list of hardcover bestsellers for 2008. They included all hardcover books that sold more than 100,000 copies. There were 155 fiction titles that made the cut and 119 non-fiction titles. I read through the lists, highlighting the ones that could be considered “Christian,” since I run a Christian publishing company.

a stage with a cheering crowd

Interestingly, only one Christian book made the fiction list—Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana by Anne Rice. Knopf published it, and it sold 112,000 units. (There may be others on the list, but I didn’t recognize them. If so, they were published by general trade publishers.)Non-fiction was a different story. Fifteen Christian titles made the list. In the table below, I have provided the overall rank, author, title, publisher, and the number of units sold. In the disclaimer, Publishers Weekly says,

As in previous years, all the calculations on the following pages are based on shipped-and-billed figures supplied by publishers for new books issued in 2007 and 2008 and reflect only 2008 domestic [i.e., USA] trade sales.”

Although Thomas Nelson didn’t have the top-selling title—that honor went to Howard (a division of Simon & Schuster)—we did have the most titles with five on the list. Congratulations to each of the authors, agents, and publishing teams who made the list.

Bestselling Non-fiction Christian Books of 2008
Rank Author Title Publisher Units
Sold
2 Rick Warren The Purpose of Christmas Howard 1,290,000
12 Jon & Kate Gosselin Multiple Blessings Zondervan 523,000
20 Victoria Osteen Love Your Life Free Press 325,000
28 Robin McGraw What’s Age Got to Do With It Nelson 289,000
34 Dave Ramsey The Total Money Makeover Nelson 252,000
35 Dave Ramsey Become a Better You Free Press 250,000
44 Don & Susie Van Ryn Mistaken Identity Howard 235,000
45 Mike Huckabee Do the Right Thing Sentinel 232,357
46 David Jeremiah What in the World Is Going On? Nelson 223,000
49 T.D. Jakes Before You Do Atria 212,984
55 Joyce Meyer The Secret to True Happiness Faithwords 190,851
65 Joyce Meyer Start Your New Life Today Faithwords 158,676
67 Tim Keller The Reason for God Dutton 155,104
96 John Eldredge Walking with God Nelson 118,000
100 Max Lucado Cast of Characters Nelson 110,000

Update: You might also want to take a look at paperback bestsellers for 2008. You’ll find The Shack by William Young as the number two bestselling paperback of 2008. We also had Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, Fireproof by Eric Wilson, and Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge.

Question: What observations do you have about this list?
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  • http://lynnrush.wordpress.com/ LynnRush

    Only one Christian fiction book to make the list….Hmmmm, I find that interesting. Why do you think that is?

    I listened to the Ann Rice interviews on Christian talk radio a while back. It's really inspiring where she's taken her writing. So, congrats, Ann Rice!! **smile**

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I added a link to the paperback list. It includes The Shack, which was really the bestselling novel of 2008.

  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    My initial observation is that most all of these authors have a substantial media platforms by way of either having their own TV broadcast or something similar on a national scale. Rick Warren skews the list obviously. They amazingly orchestrated such a phenomenal initial launch of "The Purpose Driven Life" via pastors.com and the national push for other churches taking part in it as a study – which catapulted the success of it globally (from what I understand). The continued success of it is also proof of the “Tipping Point” phenomenon.

    All this just goes to show the power of the platform but that doesn’t always mean the best selling books are the best books. 

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Maybe not, but I think consumers vote with their pocketbooks. A big platform can help launch a book, but it cannot sustain it unless the book itself is good. I have published many authors in the past who had HUGE platforms but fell flat on their face because the book didn't deliver.

      Obviously, this is not an either/or proposition. But, as I have written about previously, I think it's critical to start with a great product.

  • http://www.lawrencewilson.com Lawrence W. Wilson

    Most of the books seem to be aimed at helping readers answer an important question or solve a life problem–which should be a clue for us writers. People are less interested in what we think than in what they need.

    Also … can't help but notice that nearly all of the writers are big–make that huge–platform celebrities. The ability to get your message out really does matter.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Larry, your first point is very important for authors to consider. So many books attempt to answer a question that not enough people are asking.

  • http://www.duffbert.com Thomas Duff

    My first observation is that I'm pleased to see that Thomas Nelson hasn't gone down the "name it and claim it" theology path…

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    Every single title is either attached to a big name or a big, well known news event. With that in mind, what's your advice for authors like me who do not yet have a big name or had something newsworthy happen?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      First, you don't have to be in the top tier like these authors to be successful. There are hundreds if not thousands of authors below this level that make a living from writing and speaking.

      Second, if you look at the paperback bestseller list, you'll see lots of examples of authors who don't have much of a platform.

      Third, a platform doesn't just mean a "media platform." More than ever, your online platform is crucial—and you are worth on that!

      • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

        That's true. If you define success as making a living as a writer. I totally agree. I'm arriving there, thankfully.

        It's very true that an effective online presence is tantamount. I can see a huge difference between my last book launch and this one, in numbers and the amount of buzz. My encouragement to authors: Keep plugging away at the little things that build your web platform. Eventually, all those little tasks pay off.

  • http://www.InnerMess.com Bill Giovannetti

    First observation: most are by media celebrities.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JakeSchwein JakeSchwein

    That Mr. Warren sold 750,00 more than the next Christian book on the list. That is amazing!

  • http://www.theresepatrick.com/ terri patrick

    This post raises even more questions, to me, regarding what is a Christian book and what makes it non-Christian. I read some of the non-fiction books on NYT list and found them inspirational, and about very Christian people. Yet of the list above of Bestselling Christian Books, from the titles, I would only see two of these books as Christian. What criteria do the others meet, that make them Christian and not just non-fiction or how-to?

    What amuses me, personally, as I’ve researched Christian and Inspirational publishers this past year regarding my memoir is – since my parents were Roman Catholic – it’s not a Christian book. :) Which raises another question, regarding the people who we have “come from”…

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yep, this is always a challenge. Stuff doesn't always fit into the our neat little categories.

    • http://wwwpenandpalette-susancushman.blogspot.com/ Susan Cushman

      The same goes for us Orthodox Christians, Patrick. But I don't want my memoir to be categorized as "Christian." I want it (and hopefully future books of both fiction and creative nonfictin) to be good literary works by someone who is an Orthodox Christian.

  • SFG

    That The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman sold over 500,000 copies (in paperback) 13 years after it was published. Wow

  • http://true-small-caps.blogspot.com Derek

    I'd like to point something about about "platform".

    None of these authors started out with a "platform". They may have one now, but they didn't to begin with.

    So when people talk about "platform," I mentally translate that into "decades of hard work."

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      That's a great point. The good news is that it is easier than ever. In the good old days, you had to buy television or radio time. Now you can build an audience online. Note that I didn't say it was "easy"—just "easier."

      Thanks for your input.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    I find it intriguing looking into the realm of the publisher.

    Apart from bibles to give away, I personally have never purchased a hard-cover book. Actually, scratch that, I have purchased two: The Married Guys guide to Great sex (four years ago) and a bible concordance (three years ago). I don't know of any others.

    Probably 95% of the books on my shelf are paperback (I have been given a couple of hardbacks here and there.)

    To me, this makes the above list almost irrelevant. I love to read and currently am reading at a rate of one novel a week but hardcovers rarely even come into my sphere of existence. My sister listed all of the books she read last year. I think it came to around 56. Less than five of those were hardback.

    Hardcover books turn me off. They are too heavy, bulky and expensive.

    I do understand that, as a publisher, you need to know how you are doing in different categories and so I love that you share that with us but I personally have never heard of any of the books listed above.

    What can a publisher do to reach someone like me?

  • Laura Knoerr

    The Christian book world needs a Susan Boyle. In these times of fear and confusion, people long for gems of hope and encouragement, and are so delighted when they find them in unexpected or surprising places.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, her video totally captivated and delighted me. It did give me hope and encouragement. It also proves that you can't always judge a book by it's cover—or an author by his or her platform!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Good point. Certainly many readers are content to wait for the book to come out in paperback. We are also doing more original paperbacks than ever before. (By that, I mean that the book launches in paperback rather than hardcover.)

    With regard to the second question, I don't know what we can do to reach you. We certainly want to reach as many people as we can.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    I have been thinking about how publishers and market hardcover's to paperback readers like me.

    My first thought is that the only Christian book store I ever walk into is my local independent store. I'm going to take the list above and ask them if they stock those titles. I certainly don't recall any promotions on them. Can publishers do more to encourage independent stores to feature their books more prominently?

    The second thing I came up with is a question: In your opinion as a publisher, why should I buy a hardcover?

    What's the benefit for me?

    I generally only read books once and 90% of the books I read are fiction (we call fiction "want to read's" and non-fiction "should read's") Stephen Lawhead and Douglas Adams are the notable exceptions that I re-read often – and I have all of their books in paperback.

  • http://wwwpenandpalette-susancushman.blogspot.com/ Susan Cushman

    Perhaps one reason "Christian novels" are rarely best-sellers is
    because so many are hybrids–trying to be something (good fiction,
    whether literary or commercial) but holding back because of
    self-imposed religious legalism. Sometimes they are preachy. To me,
    the best fiction by Christian authors is just that–good fiction by authors who are Christian, rather than "Christian fiction." Two of my favorites, Flannery O'Connor and Madeleine L'Engle, both said they didn't set out to write "Christian fiction" but that their own Christianity and world view fed their writing. They brought their whole selves into the work, holding back nothing. As O'Connor said, "Writing fiction is dirty work. If you scorn getting yourself dusty, you shouldn't try to write fiction." I'd love to see more Christian authors showing their truly human sides and not being afraid to get dusty. That's what I've tried to do with my published essays and memoir-in-progress. Maybe it's harder with fiction.

  • http://SydrycalWorks.com Sidney

    The phenomenal sales of 'the shack' by someone with a platform that amounted to absolutely zero, substantiates this: Yes, the reading public is interested in things that belong to Christ. Things that say *Jesus/Lord without the bloodletting of religious dogma. The human mind is most interested in reading and learning about feeding the soul, experiencing the
    grace of the almighty without having to say grace outside of their
    own tri-dom(their mind, body and soul.) The reader is tired of the FARANDOLE experience. They are ready to break the chain the tradition, the religious habit that says one must follow a regimen or a course. The time
    is now to go directly to the top to the creator of the math that says 1=3. Faith
    is the new fervency. A one on one personal attention to Christ. The reader and his/her heart are turning to a new adherence a new find. Einstein called
    his one equal three [e=mc2] for matter. For all that matters, man is calling
    out for a personal 1=3. It is available and waiting. Faith. Now that is a
    platform we can all stand on.
    Sidney

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/WillieMae Willie Mae Hawkins

    Hi Michael, thanks for reaching out to me on twitter. Great blog by way. Can you assist me with understanding how Publishers Weekly and others determine how many books are sold. I am new at publishing…self-publishing. Are there info on the web you can refer me. I would appreciate it. Thanks in advance.

  • http://www.ihopecommunity.org Dan

    Mike,

    Informative post! You know, Tim Keller's also been speaking a lot about urban ministries and reaching out to the inner-city poor in his home city of New York. He recently spoke for Here’s Life Inner City (http://www.hlic.org), the compassionate urban ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. He spoke about Christian responsibility to the poor, among other insightful subjects. Thought you might like to take a look at the video. Feel free to share it with friends and readers. It’s available here: http://hereslife.ning.com/page/case-for-compassio… Also, would love to have you join iHope at http://www.ihopecommunity.org, where you can dialogue about inner-city poverty and homelessness. Thanks again for this most, in the meantime!

    Best,
    Dan

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  • Tayeb Ibrahim

    A best seller does not mean a great book.Only time shows how great and inspiring the work of a writer is .As a new christian and a writer of a christian novel,divine seal,I only hope that the few i care for see the beauty of my creation.

  • http://www.kitchentowelsset.com Kitchen Towels

    my sister and i loves to read christian books because it inspires us to live life in its fullest .,: