The Shack: Self-Published to 15 Million Copies Sold

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The Shack: Self-Published to 15 Million Copies Sold

Many people know that The Shack by William Paul Young is an amazing read, but few realize the book has a history that is nearly as dramatic.

Young was a Portland, Oregon salesman who began writing his tale in 2005 at the urging of his wife, Kim. It took him about four months to complete the first draft of his novel.

What did he do then? He photocopied 15 copies, which he gave away as Christmas presents that year. For most such books that would have been the end of the line. Normally, people put such gifts on a shelf to gather dust.

Something unusual happened, however. Young got emails from people he didn’t know telling him they loved the book.  Friends had given copies to others, and it became viral.

Young was shocked at the response he received. At that point he enlisted the help of clergyman Wayne Jacobson, who loved the book.  Jacobson, along with friend Brad Cummings, rewrote the book with Young’s permission, and the duo sent it off to publishers. It was soundly rejected. Mainstream publishers found it too Christian and Christian publishers found the plot too theologically flaky.

Jacobson and Cummings decided to publish the book themselves, again with the involvement of Young. They created a publishing company called Windblown Media and turned a $15,000 investment into millions of dollars in sales.

They sold the first 1,000 copies from their web site, and it took four months to run through their initial printing of 11,000 copies. They ordered 22,000 more copies, and they were gone in 60 days.  A third printing of 33,000 sold out in only 30 days. The company only spent about $250 on advertising; the rest of the sales came through word of mouth.

Windblown Media sold 3.8 million copies, and in June, 2008 the huge Hachette Book Group took over distribution.  Today, there are 15 million copies and sales show no sign of abating. Update: As of 2017, sales exceed 22 million copies according to some sources. Sales have been steady over recent years but received a boost by the 2017 film adaptation with Sam Worthington portraying Mack, Octavia Spencer as Papa, and Tim McGraw as Willie.

This is a tremendous Christian self-publishing success, but it did not come without problems.  Young, Jacobson and Cummings sealed their deal with a handshake, and later some inexact legal documents, and now they are embroiled in lawsuits over the division of funds.  Nevertheless, these men were present at a Christian self-publishing miracle, one that brings hope to many Christian authors.

 Published on: Jan 20, 2011 


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6 Responses

  1. NB says:

    wow katie, you don’t sound very christian with all that judementality going on sister

  2. starsword says:

    I was overjoyed at the Shack and since reading it decided WE NEED MORE SHACK! But since it doesn’t seem like he’s going to be making any more, I’ve decided to take a try — Spiritual Fiction as an exploration is incredibly theraputic and invigorating, even spiritually feeding when coupled with regular Bible Word intake. The sky is not the limit when it comes to the spirit world, and we have the Bible as our base from which to launch off of!

  3. Yolanda says:

    I have read the book The Shack and found it one of the best book I have ever read. I have studied the Bible for forty years. When I say studied I mean it. Useing Lexicons, Interlinears, Concordances and many other helps. After reading The Shack I realized what salvation meant. What Jesus did for us is Huge! Not many people get it. I had a hard time at first also, when I got into the middle when he went back to the shack I had to stop and go to the end once I did that I could read it in its entirety. I am a bible student not a church goer maybe that is the difference. I am not led by useless tradition but am very happy with my new found knowledge of salvation. John 3:16 says it all even thought this is what main line churches has been teaching for years, to bad they don’t believe it. They always teach it with a big BUT.

  4. Rob says:

    I think hardcore Christians are missing the point. Take the message for what it’s worth; don’t criticize based on your personal view of the Bible or Christianity, or how you THINK everyone else should believe. If the message overall is a positive one, then GREAT JOB on the book! I’m not a Christian but I read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it because of the story and the message.

  5. Shawn says:

    Amen Sister!
    THIS BOOK IS NOT CHRISITAN! At best it’s Liberal Christianity; at worst it’s heresy. To say that Messiah doesn’t care how you refer to Him (as Budha, Mohammed, etc) is blasphemy. Jesus is the only way and the way is narrow. The “success” of this book just show’s the lack of leadership in Christian churches and a lack of personal relationship with Jesus by the believer. To say nothing of discernment!

  6. Katie says:

    “The Shack” has so many things that are flatly unbiblical and offensive to me as a believer that I don’t even know where to start. I believe it may be a trap for some weak Christians, or potential believers to lap up this warm and fuzzy vision of the trinity. Use discernment when you read this book, and you’ll quit grouping it in with Christian fiction.

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