Kevin Ferguson; his wife, Krista; and the team at Willamette Valley Christian Supply (WVCS) in Corvallis, Oregon, have championed a new program that supports and honors independent authors. The first award ceremony was held Dec. 14, 2017.

“We’re saying to the industry that independent local stores around the country can host local authors, communicate their value, and [affirm] all the hard work they’ve done in getting published—which is a very difficult thing today—and marketing their books. That’s our heart,” says Ferguson, owner of Willamette Valley Christian Supply.

Beyond the booksigning

The idea originated with the store when it was a Tree of Life Christian Outlet owned by Mark Schoepke. Authors would often come to the store for signings during the week, which didn’t result in a lot of foot traffic. At the same time, Ferguson had an opportunity to meet Karen Barnett, a local author from Albany, Oregon, who had written a book called Mistaken. That relationship developed into a question for Ferguson: “What can I do to help her sell her books?”

He invited Barnett to come to a summer event and, despite promotional efforts, only five or six people showed up.

“I started thinking we have to do something different to get more people involved, because I want our authors to feel valued, and our community to know about their books,” Ferguson says.

The store hosted a well-attended annual midnight sale close to Christmas as well as successful events with the local business community that they decided to combine with author events, which has resulted in more traffic in the store and additional opportunities to sell books.

“This time, rather than just have our authors come and sign books, we said we’d like to do something to honor our authors,” says Ferguson. “This comes out of being a part of the Munce Group, being involved with CBA, going to [CBA’s annual convention] all those years, spending critical time with authors, and developing a sense of what authors need in terms of sharing their new resources with the community.”

‘Not just an award’

Ferguson looked at the store’s inventory management system to determine what books were selling well and which authors had done well in their community. Barnett had done extremely well, selling more than 300 copies of Mistaken.

“We decided to give her an award for ‘Best-Seller’ of the year,” Ferguson says.

The award also noted several sponsors, including the Munce Group, Oregon Christian Writers (OCW,) Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA,) Northwest Christian Writers Association (NCWA), and Points for Profit, as well as the store.

“It’s not just a local award. It’s saying to the industry, ‘This is a person who has gone above and beyond in marketing their own book,’” says Ferguson. “They’ve done a good job in our store, and we see that they’ve done a good job in our industry, and we wanted to honor Karen Barnett for all her hard work.”

Other awards were handed out to Christina Suzann Nelson with Kregel for New Book of the Year, to Tyndale House Publishers for The Wayfinding Bible, and to John Mark Comer, a Portland-based pastor and author with Zondervan, who received Book of the Year for God Has a Name. The store also gave a Legacy Award to C.S. Lewis, which was presented to HarperCollins.

“I’ve never experienced anything quite like the awards ceremony at WVCS,” says Barnett. “Events like this create a bridge between stores and authors. Receiving the best-seller award was a delightful surprise and a highlight of my year.”

Ferguson says the store plans to make the award ceremony an annual event, and he hopes other independent Christian retailers will host similar events. Authors also participated in a panel discussion moderated by Ferguson that focused on persevering in writing as part of the celebration. Other festivities included free carriage rides and giveaways.

—Ginny McCabe