Bonnie S. Calhoun
the Founder and Publisher of Christian Fiction Online
Magazine . She is also the Owner and Director of the Christian
Fiction Blog Alliance which is the parent organization for
I met Ariel Allison as a fellow authors of Abingdon Press. It is through that friendship that I became aware of her and Marybeth and their fabulous organization She Reads. I love to see women empowered with the ability to create organizations and this is one that is really shining through for the Lord's glory.
Marybeth Whalen is the wife of Curt and mom of six children, ages almost 18 to almost 5. Their family lives outside Charlotte, NC. Marybeth is a member of the Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker team and a regular contributor to their daily devotions, Encouragement for Today. She serves as director of She Reads, the fiction division of Proverbs 31. She is the author of the recently released novel, The Mailbox (David C Cook) and also The Reason We Speak, For The Write Reason and Learning To Live Financially Free, which she co-authored with her husband Curt. Marybeth speaks regularly to women's groups and enjoys sharing stories from her daily adventures as a wife, mom, writer, and, most importantly, a follower of God. (You can find her online at www.MarybethWhalen.com.)
Ariel Allison is first and foremost the wife of Ashley, and mother of London, Parker, Marshall, and Colby. She has a penchant for adrenaline-infused madness such as rock climbing, running marathons, and jumping off bridges – as if raising four pre-school boys were not adventure enough. Her first novel, Eye of the God, released in October 2009, from Abingdon Press. She is the co-author of Daddy Do You Love Me: a Daughter’s Journey of Faith and Restoration (New Leaf Press, 2006), and Jesus: Dead or Alive (Regal Books, 2009). In addition, Ariel is also the Assistant Director of the nationwide book club, She Reads. When not immersed in a book, changing a diaper, or rescuing her dog from the death-grip of a toddler, you can find Ariel loitering in her little corner of cyberspace at www.arielallison.com. She also ponders on life and literature at www.shereads.org. She and her family make their home in Texas, which is, according to her husband, the greatest state in the union.
Women have gathered to share their thoughts on faith and fiction for as long as books have been in print. It is our nature to invite others into our homes and lives as we ponder the truth and challenges presented in a good novel. The most natural—and popular— way is through forming a book club. And yet book clubs tend to be rather elusive entities, meeting in homes, churches, and workplaces. By and large they are quiet and private, yet few would argue that book clubs are the heart of the publishing industry.
When a book club reviews a novel, it’s not one book sold; rather, it’s often upwards of ten. And novels that are embraced on a large scale by book clubs (usually through word of mouth) often rocket onto best-seller lists. Consider these titles, all top book club
picks over the last few years: The Help, Water for Elephants, The Kite Runner, My Sister’s Keeper, The Secret Life of Bees, Olive Kitteridge, and The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Although readers and publishers covet having their novels selected by book clubs, few know how to tap into this market. We know that word of mouth is the single largest factor in influencing readers to buy a novel. But how does one influence readers on a large scale? And more important, how does one build trust with a large audience of readers so that they take those recommendations seriously?
For Marybeth Whalen, founder of She Reads, an online book club and gathering place for readers, the answer was simple: tap into a large and existing constituency of readers. As a longtime member of the Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker team, Marybeth saw an opportunity to create a fiction book club within the thriving ministry. As an organization, Proverbs reaches over 250 speaking events each year, has a print magazine with over six thousand subscribers, and a daily devotional that reaches 350,000 readers every day. Yet fiction did not factor into the equation. Shortly after conceiving the idea, Marybeth approached me and asked if I would help her create an online book club that would cater to the vast number of existing readers that Proverbs reaches each year. As a fellow writer and fiction lover, it was a perfect fit with my skills and passions.
She Reads officially launched on September 1, 2009, and experienced spectacular growth in the months that followed. Because She Reads is not affiliated with any particular publisher, we have the freedom to review and select a wide variety of novels by a diverse group of authors. Our goal is to connect readers with the best novels in Christian fiction and the authors who write them.
To harness the power of book clubs, we use a two-pronged approach: create an umbrella organization where existing clubs can turn for book recommendations, and build a constituency of new groups from the readers who frequent our site. And though still a young organization, She Reads already has a loyal group of visitors who read each of the novels we recommend. Over time we expect those numbers to grow exponentially.
Fiction is important. We all know that Jesus used stories to illustrate spiritual truths. And Christian fiction in particular has the ability to peel back the layers in the human heart. Here at She Reads, we are delighted to play a part in helping readers find novels that both challenge and encourage.
Ariel Allison Lawhon is the assistant director of She Reads. You can find out more at www.shereads.org.