- change ups
Beals produces books with inspirational themes
The book publishing industry has experienced a tailspin of change in recent years. Tim Beals willingly stepped into the for-profit fray when, in 2005, he launched his two-pronged publishing business: Credo Communications LLC and Credo House Publishers.
As its name implies, Credo is a statement of Christian beliefs. The business primarily centers on producing books with Christian, inspirational themes, chiefly in the nonfiction vein with a smattering of fiction, poetry and business-related topics.
Beals’ company averages 10 titles annually, for a current total of 65 books since he decided to strike out on his own.
Beals said he realizes the days when customers willingly made a jaunt to their neighborhood bookstore to shell out money for a hardcover or paperback have significantly changed, due largely to e-book readers and the multinational electronic commerce company, Amazon.com.
As a result, it’s not been easy for book publishers to piece together a profitable business model, he said.
“There’s a mad scramble to figure out how to monetize e-distribution,” he said. “The Nook or Kindle can sell more books for less and make money. On a non-print book (digital), there’s no money required for paper or printing. It’s a neat opportunity.”
“I hear through statistics and anecdotally that even young people prefer printed books but like the availability of digital,” he said.
Beals is well aware such a trend hasn’t boded well for bookstores, given that a thousand went belly up last year, and that doesn’t include the Ann Arbor-based international book and music retailer Borders Group Inc., but does include some Barnes & Noble outlets and independent retailers.
He attributes many of the book publishing changes to Amazon’s success.
“They have cornered about 74 percent of the market,” he said. “Most people don’t drive to a bookstore anymore but hop online and get free shipping. There’s a lot of hand-wringing going on.”
If that hand-wringing includes Beals, there is no outward sign of it. Instead, he exudes confidence that the best is yet to come.
The key element to his self-assurance is not relying on authors to pitch what they believe are good ideas for a book. Instead, he tracks hot-button themes readers want to plumb.
“It’s exciting,” said Beals. “It’s fun to puzzle what are the creative options, starting with the audience, the needs of consumers and what they’re demanding. Communities of affinity groups want to read the message they need. We’re beginning with the end in mind. And is it better with digital or a print format or both?”
Credo Communications essentially is a literary agency. It has four agents — of which Beals is the primary agent — representing a cadre of 70 established authors who are shopping for a traditional publisher.
As a book agent, Beals only considers authors who’ve already been published, either by a traditional publisher or print-on-demand, but that’s only if they’ve demonstrated some ability to market their manuscript by blogging or speaking before an audience, and if they have a marketable message.
“Occasionally, I will seek out an author,” said Beals. “We have a new filter that all new authors must come by another author or preferably an agent.”
He also wants to discern if they know the difference between being a writer and being an author.
“They have to have a message,” said Beals. “It really has to come from your gut to make a good end product. They have to have a sustainable message.”
Credo House Publishers works with less-established authors by either requiring them to fund half the money to print, design and edit their books or, another option, by providing all the funds to produce their books.
It seems the die was cast early on for Beals to have a career in publishing.
His parents were missionaries to the Central Africa Republic, which is where Beals was born. He moved to the United States as a young child in 1964, when his father began teaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and his mother at Cornerstone University, back when it was known as Grand Rapids Baptist College.
“Early on, I loved being read to,” said Beals. “I memorized a lot of scripture and poetry. My dad had 4,000 volumes in his library when he died. I was surrounded by words and their ability to transform.”
To no one’s surprise, Beals majored in English (and also studied Greek and Hebrew) at Grand Rapids Baptist College. He went to work for Zondervan Corp. right after earning his sheepskin in 1981. He worked for Zondervan for five years. He then earned a master’s degree in professional writing from Western Michigan University in 1986 and an Executive Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Notre Dame.
He worked for RBC Ministries’ Discovery House as its managing editor from 1989-1999, but then returned to Zondervan to work in its Bible department as an associate publisher, where he stayed until 2003.
That’s when he went to work for the Christian relief and development organization World Vision International, which hired him as publisher of its trade publication, a position he held until 2005.
At that point, Beals decided he had amassed enough experience and contacts with a variety of publishers and authors to launch his own business.
He believes some of books’ sustainability includes bridging the gap between healing and hurting. “There will always be books for hurting people,” said Beals.
And then there are books about those who’ve turned themselves around, such as the Rev. Troy Evans, whose earlier life was immersed as a leader of the gang Conservative Vice Lords, and who is now pastor of the Grand Rapids-based hip-hop church, The Edge. Beals’ company published Evans’ biography, “The Edge of Redemption: A Story of Hope for Rescuing the Unreachable.”
“I’ve seen it time again — people rising above their background,” said Beals.
The work he does now is a far cry from his first job as a janitor’s assistant at Northland Baptist Church, where he learned he had the ability to keep a positive attitude while accomplishing occasionally unsavory work.
“I learned responsibility, showing up on time, doing an honest day’s work and doing it cheerfully,” he said.
While he declined to indicate his business’s annual revenue, Beals said there’s an intangible side to his business he doesn’t believe he’ll see fully played out until after he dies.
“I think that so much of what I do is unseen and unknown on this side of eternity, in the sense that I will not know how successful I am until then.
“I think that’s a good place to be. I think we can get carried away with too much obvious success. It’s not a metric I can quantify.”