Growing up, many individuals have vivid dreams for the future. Regardless of profession, one wishes to envision goals and achieve them. That may be especially true for people whose mission is the literary and publishing worlds. They long to leave behind a world-changing legacy, creating compelling content—often defined as a book. That was undoubtedly true of Byron Williamson, a young American from the farmlands of North Texas in the late 1940s.
The Pathway to Publishing
Byron Williamson completed his M.S. in ministry and church history at Abilene Christian University, studying under professors with doctorates from Harvard, Duke, University of Chicago, USC, and St. Andrews own Scotland. As with many aspiring professionals, his career track demanded hard work, consistency, and focus. Starting from scratch in 1984, he launched and served as president of the first iteration of Worthy Publishing, placing emphasis on children’s books. He conceived and developed the first Bible translation for children, the International Children’s Bible (ICB), initially promoted by Dr. James Dobson on his Focus on the Family radio program. Excited by the impact of the ICB, Williamson then focused on the development of a far more readable Bible translation for adults. The New Century Version (NCV) was initially promoted by Billy Graham, who distributed over 700,000 copies through a nationally televised crusade in 1988. These two innovative translations are presently published by Harper-Collins and have sold more than 10 million copies. Worthy also published bestsellers with Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and Lawrence O. Richards, winning multiple ECPA industry Gold Medallion Awards emphasizing children. With these achievements, Williamson was motivated to move boldly forward.
In 1988 Worthy Publishing was sold to Word, Inc., a CapCities/ABC company, now part of The Walt Disney Company. Currently located in Las Colinas, Texas, Williamson moved into the leadership of Word, managing the growth of Word Books from $19 million to $72 million by fiscal 1999. First, he recruited a team that successfully published such authors as Billy Graham, Max Lucado, Charles R. Swindoll, Nolan Ryan, Os Guinness, Dr. James C. Dobson, Charles Colson, and the MacArthur Study Bible, as well as completing the Communicator’s Commentary series and the Word Biblical Commentaries series. Progressing further, in December 1992, Word was acquired by Thomas Nelson, located in Nashville, TN. Soon after that, Nelson was listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), and Williamson was named President of Thomas Nelson and Word. The new management team drove sales from $128 to $173 million by fiscal 1999. Then, step by step, he converted WordKids into Tommy Nelson children’s books and recruited Jack Countryman to launch J. Countryman gift books.
On October 30,1995, the New York Times ran a feature, front-page story about Word’s breakthrough successes in publishing fiction, particularly noting new novels from Frank Peretti, Charles Colson, and Pat Robertson. Nelson/Word also signed such authors as leadership bestsellers John Maxwell, Anne Graham Lotz, and John Eldredge.
An Entrepreneurial Growth Model
In 1999 Williamson resigned from Nelson/Word to found Integrity Publishers in 2001. From the outset, Nashville-based Integrity established a leadership position in the Christian book industry, publishing Jesus Calling by Sarah Young in 2004, which has sold more than 30 million lifetime copies. The Integrity team also produced Max Lucado’s NYT smash hit It’s Not About Me, David Jeremiah’s Captured by Grace, which hit #13 on the USA Today list, Beth Moore’s New York Times hit, Get Out of That Pit, and Emerson Eggerichs’ two million-copy bestseller, Love and Respect. After only six years, Integrity achieved an annualized revenue rate of $25 million. In 2007 Integrity was acquired by Thomas Nelson.
Shortly after the sale, Williamson resigned from Thomas Nelson to relaunch the Worthy Publishing brand. In 2010 Worthy signed Jerry Jenkins, whose Left Behind fiction series had sold 70 million duplicates, and John Hagee, whose Worthy book, Four Blood Moons, would make the New York Times list for 17 weeks and sell 750,000 copies. In 2013 Williamson signed and published The Jeremiah Study Bible based on study notes by Dr. David Jeremiah. This work had already sold 550,000 copies by 2015.
Worthy published such authors as Mike Huckabee, Michael Vick, Margaret Feinberg, Max Lucado, Dr. Don Colbert, BeBe Winans, and Stephen Mansfield. In addition, Williamson imagined and signed an imprint agreement with the new Museum of the Bible, based near the Smithsonian in Washington D., which then premiered in November 2017.
Reflecting Worthy successes, in September of 2018, the New York-based Hachette Book Group, the third-largest trade book publisher in America, acquired Worthy and merged it with its existing Nashville-based assets.
Leadership and Recognition
Resulting from Williamson record in 2016, he was named Chair of the non-profit Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA), composed of such publishers as Waterbrook and Multnomah (imprints of Penguin Random House), Tyndale House Publishers, Thomas Nelson, and Zondervan (imprints of HarperCollins), and FaithWords, CenterStreet, and Worthy (imprints of Hachette USA).
In 1995 Williamson was granted the Distinguished Alumnus Citation from Abilene Christian University. In 2012 he presented the NEXT Award from the Nashville Chamber of Commerce as Entrepreneurial Start-Up of the Year in Digital Media and Entertainment. Then in 2021, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) recognized Byron Williamson with the ECPA Chair Award, given from time to time for a Career of Remarkable Service to Christian Publishing.