Where some publishers saw a business opportunity in Spanish-language publishing, for the religion houses with full-fledged programs or imprints—virtually all of them evangelical Christian publishers—the enterprise historically had its roots in foreign missions. And while these publishers today face the same business challenges in Latin America as their general-market brethren, there also are issues unique to the religion category.
Editorial Portavoz was founded in Spain in 1970 by American missionaries Harold and Esther Kregel and later moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., to be headquartered with Kregel Publications, the English-language house headed by Harold's brother Robert. Portavoz publishes primarily English-language authors in Spanish translation in the categories of Christian living, family, and marriage, and contemporary issues, as well as biblical studies resources, and, in the past few years, a growing children's and YA line.
Portavoz has 500 backlist titles and adds 35–40 new titles per year. Among its top authors are Jim and Elizabeth George (combined sales of 590,000) for books such as Una madre conforme al corazón de Dios (A Mother After God's Own Heart) and Guía bíblica esencial (The Bare Bones Bible). Portavoz also has sold more than 380,000 copies of John MacArthur's books, among them Avergonzados del evangelio (Ashamed of the Gospel) and ¿A quién pertenece el dinero? (Whose Money Is It?).
Of the challenges faced by Christian publishers in Spanish-language publishing, Cathy Vila, director of sales and marketing, says, "Our market is smaller, our print runs are smaller and more expensive, and the Christian bookstores we used to count on to sell our books are quickly disappearing, not just in the United States, but in all Spanish-speaking countries around the world."
In the early '90s, Thomas Nelson acquired Editorial Caribe (founded in 1949 by Latin American Missions) and Editorial Betania (started in 1970 by Bethany Fellowship) to create Grupo Nelson. The imprint now has some 720 titles on its backlist—including both nonfiction and fiction books, Bibles, and curriculum—and is publishing 50–60 new titles per year. Current top-selling titles include Jesús te llama (Jesus Calling Devotional) by Sarah Young and El cielo es real (Heaven Is for Real) by Todd Burpo
Grupo Nelson v-p and publisher Larry Downs—himself the son of missionaries—says, "One thing we deal with as Christian publishers is our self-imposed filters of who we can publish. For some of us, those can be denominational restrictions. And that can limit the talent pool of authors."
Editorial Vida was owned by the Assemblies of God until 1995, when it was acquired by Zondervan. In line with Zondervan's core business in Bibles, Vida publishes La Nueva Versión Internacional (NVI), the Spanish translation of the top-selling New International Version (NIV). Vida's top two trade titles are the translation of Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life and In Honor of the Spirit (En honor al Espiritu Santo) by Guatemalan pastor Cash Luna, which has 266,000 copies in print.
Says Vida publisher Lucas Leys, "Our challenges are indeed the same [as general publishers] but sometimes there is an extra shade of prejudice toward our nonspecifically religious books. Some of our books can be attractive for the market as a whole, yet they will anyways end up in the religious area in some stores."
Casa Creación, the Spanish-language imprint of Charisma Media, was launched by Charisma EVP Tessie DeVore in 1997. DeVore viewed launching the imprint as good business, "but it was also my passion, and it has to be, to be successful in this market, which is very relationship driven." Casa Creación publishes both Spanish-original authors and English authors in translation. Among its top authors are Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Jentezen Franklin, John Hagee, Wanda Rolón, Danilo Montero, Nolita W. de Theo, and Ricardo Sanchez. The house has 470 titles on its backlist and published 57 titles in 2011.
About the difference between publishing for the U.S. market and into Latin America, DeVore says the Christian stores in those countries tend to be less technologically sophisticated ("many are still not wired"). And while it is hard to generalize about the 21 different countries in the region, she says, "Christian distributors and stores generally do not return product—they prefer to get better terms instead."
Whitaker House began publishing in Spanish 20 years ago and has seen growing sales in the past three years with the addition of a bilingual account rep; a higher profile at Expolit, the annual Christian literature and music conference; and, in Guillermo Maldonado, a top-selling author who is pastor of "what many consider the largest and fastest growing Hispanic congregation in the U.S.," according to marketing manager Cathy Hickling.
Whitaker now has a backlist of 110 titles and currently publishes about 20 per year. Whitaker began by publishing just a few of its top books in translation, but, says Hickling, "Now all of our frontlist books and the popular classics are released in Spanish, usually the quarter after the English version is released. In 2011 we released the first title simultaneously in English and Spanish, Maldonado's How to Walk in the Supernatural Power of God." Mary Baxter's Divine Revelation of Hell is Whitaker's overall bestseller, with 220,000 copies sold since 1993.
Says president Bob Whitaker Jr., "Seeking [quality] authors from Spanish-speaking regions is typical for all publishers, but finding excellent writers who are also qualified Bible teachers is a unique challenge. We had been cautioned that the typical American church experience reflected in our books could be confusing to Spanish readers. Now we encourage authors to think globally when including cultural references."
The Assemblies of God denomination began publishing in Spanish in the early 1930s as part of its mission efforts, at first focusing on curriculum, denominational resources, and textbooks. It founded Editorial Vida in 1947 and began publishing trade titles, but most of those went to Zondervan when it acquired Editorial Vida in 1995. Vida published the bestselling The Cross and the Switchblade in 1966, and it remains a top-seller for AG today.
With the launch of its Influence imprint this year, AG is re-entering trade publishing in Spanish, with five fall titles—four translated from English and one, Fe Asombrosa (Amazing Faith), by Chicago-area pastor Wilfredo de Jesús, being published simultaneously in Spanish and English.
According to Steve Blount, v-p of publishing and production, "As a denominational publisher in addition to being a trade publisher, we must be aware in each country of the role that the national church of our denomination wants to play. In some cases, that can make it easier for us to serve that country's market," since there is a network of church customers in place.