Aa any demographer would have predicted, the sizable and demanding baby boom contingent is shaping what is being published for and bought by aging adults. Still, when PW carried out its religion books consumer research last spring, our survey yielded a surprise: the average age of buyers was 38, and the largest group—28%—fell between the ages of 25 and 34. Not to worry—religion and spirituality publishers have a variety of operating manuals for life's ages and stages at the ready. There's a perennial market for books about raising children and growing old, and today's generations are mining tradition to put their own stamp on the topics.
Everything Old Looks New
Many of today's books for teens and young adults update religious and spiritual traditions. With 62 million U.S. adherents, Catholics embrace a variety of age groups, and Loyola Press publishes for that variety. But it is also working in a deliberate way to reach the younger demographic. "We've started to focus on young adults," says Melissa Crane, director of marketing at the press. Swimming with Scapulars by Matthew Lickona (Apr.), embraces Catholic disciplines and devotions, has already made the Catholic bestseller list. Lickona 31, was recently featured in a U.S. News and World Report story about the appeal of religious traditions to younger people. Loyola has also launched a series of classic works of fiction, reviving selected titles by such 20th-century novelists as Evelyn Waugh and Myles Connolly whose work was influential in its day. While the intention is to revive for a new generation key works that are out of print, Loyola is finding older readers who remember the books and are buying them to give away.
The Jewish tradition gets a rewrite for relevance to today's girls in The JGirl's Guide: The Young Jewish Woman's Handbook for Coming of Age by Penina Adelman and Ali Feldman, with Shulamit Reinharz (Jewish Lights, June). The guide blends ancient wisdom with contemporary voices of Jewish girls, offering Jewish values and history as a guide for adolescent girls' common questions. Traditional Judaism may not have said anything positive about same-sex relationships, but Judaism for Two: A Spiritual Guide for Strengthening and Celebrating Your LovingRelationship (Aug.) uses the traditional Jewish holiday cycle to provide guidance for both heterosexual and same-gender committed couples. "Dealing explicitly with all types of relationships—straight and gay—in this way is new," says Jewish Lights publisher Stuart Matlins.
While some young adults are drawn to tradition, others are spiritually eclectic. Interest at HCI in What the Bleep Do We Know? Discovering the Endless Possibilities for Altering Your Everyday Reality by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente (Nov. 2005), based on the 2004 movie that mixes science and spirituality, was sparked when 30-something editorial director Bret Witter walked into a meeting wearing a "What the Bleep?" T-shirt. More explicitly targeted at the young and existentially restless, Your Life Only a Gazillion Times Better by Judy May Murphy and Cathy Breslin (June)incorporatesself-help and life coaching in a mind-body-spirit title with a fresh edge. "It's self-help meets chick lit," says Kim Weiss, HCI director of communications. Self-help is a healthy and perennial market: PW's survey showed that 21% of consumers had purchased a self-help religion or spirituality book in the previous 12 months.
HCI's evangelical imprint Faith Communications covers the more traditional Christian waterfront and is itself getting a face-lift that it will debut at the July International Christian Retail Show (formerly known as CBA International). A future indicator can also be found in plans for a title about Christian rock. On its current list, Forever Young: Ten Gifts of Faith for the Graduate (Faith Communications, May) teams popular evangelical Christian writers Pat Williams and Karen Kingsbury in an inspirational message for those at the starting gate of their adult lives.
What Christian publishers call "postmoderns"—believers with a decidedly non-traditional approach to their faith— tend to be younger adults, though they're easier to label by interest than by age ("Pomos Toward Paradise," PW, Jan. 17). Thomas Nelson is eyeing this audience with interest, having succeeded with Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller (2003), which has sold 200,000 copies. "That is a category we're going to continue to focus on," says Jonathan Merkh, senior v-p and publisher of Nelson Books and Nelson Business.
Tim Flannigan, religion book buyer for the Barnes & Noble chain, agrees that interest in books for those with a postmodern outlook on religion and spirituality are growing in popularity. He cites Miller's books and those by Brian McLaren, who has been signed to a three-book contract with W Publishing. He also says that inspirational titles for graduates have sold in increasing numbers over the past five years.
PW's religion book-buyer survey showed the next largest group of purchasers between the ages of 35 and 44. Buyers' average age was 38. The middle of the market is the large and moving target aimed at by Warner Faith. These readers, mostly women, like inspirational fiction. Their tastes may be somewhat conservative or traditional, but they aren't interested only in religion. As faith fiction grows in quality and diversity, Warner Faith is developing Center Street, an imprint for those readers that will serve the ABA market by publishing general "fiction for America's heartland without gratuitous sex or violence," says Rolf Zettersten, publisher of Warner Faith and Center Street. While Center Street is just getting going, it has already sold 85,000 copies of Karen Kingsbury's A Thousand Tomorrows (Apr.), the popular evangelical author's first hardcover for the general market.
PW's research showed that 20% of religion and spirituality buyers had purchased books dealing with health and healing in the previous year. Evangelical Christian advice for diet and fitness continues growing, right along with American waistlines. Nelson Books has signed Jordan Rubin, author of the biblical diet book The Maker's Diet (Siloam, 2004), for a new book. At Family Christian Stores, diet booksby Carole Lewis from the First Place fitness program have sold especially well, particularly a group kit that includes hardcover books, videos and student guides. "Churches picked up on the kit," says senior book buyer Tim Way.
Consumers age 45 and older constituted 31% of the religion book-buying market, according to PW's survey. Healthy and purposeful aging is one of a number of items on the still-to-do list of the 76 million— strong generation of baby boomers. "We're quite frankly trying to get our arms around the category," says Lyn Cryderman, v-p and publisher for Zondervan. The house is revising Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook by Walt Larimore and Donal O'Mathuna, a successful backlist title, to include new therapies in the changing field.
As technology provides new forms of critical medical and end-of-life care, more people will find themselves needing guidance for decisions they will make about their own or their families' needs. Zondervan's How to Be a Christian in a Brave New World,forthcoming later this year, teams Joni Eareckson Tada, the inspirational paraplegic writer, with bioethicist Nigel Cameron.
The death of Arnaud Maitland's mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's, prompted the Dutch Buddhist teacher to write Living Without Regret: Growing Old in the Light of Tibetan Buddhism(Dharma Publishing, July). "I know of nobody who read this who didn't start to think about their own relationship with their loved ones," says Caroline van Tuyll, managing director of Dharma Publishing.
A relationship book for empty nesters, Rekindling the Romance: Loving the Love of Your Life by Dennis and Barbara Rainey (Nelson Books, 2004), has already sold 65,000 copies. "Based on what we see from trends or news," says Nelson's Merkh, "I think there will be plenty of opportunities to publish to meet the needs of an aging population." Nelson may even develop an imprint specifically for boomer titles. "We believe, based on research we have, that baby boomers read more than others," Merkh says.
Spirituality is traditionally thought to deepen with age. Popular Catholic writer Joyce Rupp joins Macrina Wiederkehr, another popular Catholic writer, in The Circle of Life: The Heart's Journey Through the Seasons(Ave Maria Press, Mar.). The four-color book is illustrated by Mary Southard, who also has a following in that market. Bob Hamma, editorial director of Ave Maria and Sorin Books, says the house has already gone back to press. While he's interested in publishing more on midlife topics, Hamma reports mixed success with books on aging. How well a title does depends on the author's track record or platform.
Still, there can be sleepers and surprises. Autumn Years: Taking the Contemplative Path by Robert H. and Elizabeth M. King (Continuum, 2004), which draws eclectically from Christian and Eastern spirituality, found an audience in suburban Los Angeles, thanks to a persuasive sales representative who talked Ed Conklin, manager of Dutton's Brentwood Bookstore, into giving it a try for the customers of his independent general bookstore, where Eastern spiritual titles do well. "I said, let's try it out, so we did and it did sell," Conklin reports.
Yet not everybody reads the market as age-segmented. Booksellers are generally less likely to perceive a relationship between age and purchase, partly because they don't keep data that way. But it's easy for them to notice interest in specific subjects—can you say Da Vinci?—or niches such as Christian living. Tim Way of Family Christian Stores says sales at the 310-store chain in 39 states reflect bursts of interest in topics, often following a strong title. Last year was a good one for parenting books, not because more people were having children but because a revised edition of The New Strong-Willed Child: Birth Through Adolescenceby child development expert and evangelical leader James Dobson (Tyndale) drew readers to parenting titles. "People were looking at that [bookstore] section," Way says. "You get a hot book, it raises the whole ship. I don't think it has anything to do with demographics."
Barnes & Noble religion buyer Flannigan tells PW he's noticed a steady growth in titles for boomers, but he and others say the track record of very specific demographic-niche books is mixed and generally not as successful as books with broader appeal. Still, "We believe that the trend of targeting demographic groups will persist," he says.