Last week we held three days of meetings in the latest of our semiannual Religion Summits (spring and fall), this time in Chicago. Fourteen publishers of religion/spirituality books presented their spring/summer and fall titles and talked about the challenges of the business. We heard about new voices to watch for and rising topics, and a number of themes emerged.
Memoirs seem to be taking an issues-oriented bent that will break them out of navel-gazing mode. HarperCollins Christian Publishing’s imprints have several such books, including W Publishing’s The Last Rescue: How Faith and Love Saved a Navy SEAL Sniper (veterans issues; Oct.), Nelson Books’ Kidnapped by the Taliban (the war on terror; Oct.), Row for Freedom (human trafficking; Sept.), and The Walk to Beautiful (foster care, homelessness; Oct.). From other publishers: Revell’s Stolen by Katariina Rosenblatt (Oct.), by a sex-trafficking survivor, and Dancing for the Devil by Anny Donewald (Howard, Sept.) from another survivor. Skyhorse has The Reappearing Act: Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team Led by Born Again Christians (May), Howard is publishing Facing the Music (Oct.) by Jennifer Knapp, a Christian music star who came out as a lesbian; and from Tyndale’s Momentum imprint comes The Waiting (open adoption; May).
Some topics are perennial but seeing fresh approaches. Among them is marriage, with some books coming from unlikely authors. Howard is publishing next January an as-yet untitled book on marriage by “the beardless brother,” Alan Robertson (with his wife Lisa Robertson); Alan is joining the Duck Dynasty cast this season (and beginning to grow a beard). Howard also releases The Imperfect Marriage by Darryl Strawberry and his wife Tracy Strawberry in August. B&H has Eight Twenty Eight (Aug.), about a man gravely injured in a car crash whose fiancee sticks by him and becomes his wife. There are many, many more: The May 5 Religion Update supplement will feature books on marriage, parenting, and other family life issues, highlighting new and forthcoming titles across the faith spectrum.
More publishers are realizing that to appeal to millennials they need to think multimedia—not just books (digital and print), but apps, more graphic novels, and, increasingly, and television and theatrical movies. Among Christian publishers who are active in book and movie tie-ins are B&H (Mom’s Night Out; Son of God), Tyndale (Son of Hamas), and Nelson (Heaven Is for Real). More are on the way--look for a feature in the May 5 religion supplement.
B&H eliminated its trade fiction line last year and has developed a highly focused publishing program, with a strong children’s line led by its Big Picture Interactive Bible brand, and is strong in Bibles, with The Study Bible for Women released in January; RVR 1960 Biblia de Estudio Holman scheduled for May; and in the fall, Holman Rainbow Study Bible (Oct.). B&H is developing its Bible brands, as are other Bible publishers. Abingdon Press, one of the denominational publishers involved in the Common English Bible translation, uses the CEB for the Step Stone Bible (Oct.), a study edition that emphasizes the historical context of the Bible’s many characters and places. Crossway uses its ESV translation in a Women’s Devotional Bible (Aug.), offering 365 devotionals from such contributors as Lauren Chandler, musician wife of pastor Matt Chandler, and Ann Voskamp (A Thousand Gifts). Kregel will release The Evangelism Study Bible in July, with study notes geared toward Christian evangelism, provided by the EvanTell organization.
Many Christian publishers use events like the Catalyst conference to gain exposure for its books; B&H, for example, will do 35 such events in 2014. Crossway reaches its neo-reformed readers at more than 200 conferences. Our discussions also dealt with issues such as the future of mid-sized publishers, how publishers can expand by adding distributed lines, and other business strategies and challenges. Look for articles from us on these topics in the coming months.
The Ducks are still quacking, with both spin-off and new Duck Commander titles coming from Howard, as well as a line of Duck Commander fiction, for both children and adults, from Tyndale; the first adult title, the Christmas novella A Robertson Family Christmas, releases in October 2014, as does a four-book children’s series, Be Your Own Duck Commander. Zondervan is even publishing church curriculum: Faith Commander: Living Five Values from the Parables of Jesus (May). Far from being jealous of sales of the Duck Commander books being siphoned off by chain bookstores and other retailers, says Howard v-p of marketing Rob Birkhead, Christian bookstores are benefiting from the Ducks craze, with new customers coming into their stores looking for the books. Howard now has 5.5 million in combined sales for its Ducks franchise.
The Traitor’s Wife, a first novel from Allison Pataki, has been a surprise hit for Howard, with at least 30,000 units sold and another 15,000 projected for this year. As the daughter of former New York Governor George Pataki, Allison Pataki's book has no doubt benefited from her father’s wide circle of friends, which includes Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein has bought (not just optioned) the book and already hired a production team to begin work on a movie.
Pastors and other people of faith are wondering out loud about what the postmodern, post-denominational, post-emergent Christian community should do and look like. PostChristian by Christian Piatt (Jericho, Aug.) and Slow Church by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison (IVP, June) offer reflections and models. Churchless edited by cultural influential George Barna and David Kinnaman (Tyndale, Sept.) is sure to add statistics to the conversation.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is becoming a C.S. Lewis type lodestar for appreciation of rigorously thoughtful Christian theology. Nelson is publishing an abridged edition of Eric Metaxas’s Bonhoeffer biography. Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet,Spy whittles the biography to 256 pages, making it more accessible for readers (the original was more than 600 pages). There also are two fresh takes: Baker’s Brazos Press imprint will publish Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker—focusing on a lesser known aspect of his ministry—in October. From Baylor comes an even more surprising twist on Bonhoeffer’s history. Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance (Oct.) focuses on his time at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and how his exposure to black Christology affected the development of his own theology.
The temperature of the religion category? While--as for all publishers—e-book sales have leveled off, sales numbers remain steady or up slightly. And, of course, publishers can rely on healthy sales of new books by the usual suspects--Joel Osteen, David Jeremiah, Karen Kingsbury, and Ann Voskamp will be back, along with a veritable choir of new voices whom publishers want to succeed. We’ll sift through them for you in the months to come.