Meditation centers or communities associated with spiritual teachers routinely publish as a way of preserving and disseminating their teacher's words. Just as routinely, these small operations face challenges in combining business with mission. Several small publishers talked to PW about balancing meditation and money.
Trying New Things
Shambhala Publications in Boston, Mass., is a model for many small, spiritual teacher-centered publishers. Its first publication in 1969 was Meditation in Action by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa. Now 21 books by Trungpa are part of its backlist, as are works by integral psychologist and theorist Ken Wilber and Asian spiritual classics translator Thomas Cleary. Shambhala offers a variety of titles about the transformation of consciousness. "We have the advantage of being mostly able to trust our own taste," says Jonathan Green, v-p of trade sales and marketing. The 20-year Shambhala veteran adds that editorial staff have been right often enough to continue not only publishing but also expanding and diversifying.
In recent years Shambhala has added fiction and two new imprints. New Seeds publishes such Christian mystics as Thomas Merton; Trumpeter Books publishes humanistic titles with mainstream marketability. Integral Books, an imprint with Wilber as editorial director, will launch in 2007. Shambhala purchased Weatherhill in 2004, giving it the classic Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Japanese Zen master Shunryu Suzuki. Five years ago Shambhala added to its Sufism list by licensing titles from the Threshold Society, followers of the popular Sufi poet Rumi. "We haven't been afraid to try new kinds of things," says Green.
A Limited Market
The Golden Sufi Center in Inverness, Calif., publishes the work of Sufi teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee and other mystics. The center's publishing operation is small, just two titles a year. Four full-time people run all aspects of the center. "It's a lot of work to publish a book," says Seana Quinn, who acts as publicist among her other responsibilities. Still, publishing in-house has advantages. It assures editorial integrity, provides control over schedule and ensures in-print backlist. "We are trying to present a body of spiritual teachings rather than just sell books," she says. Promotion is the center's greatest challenge. It also lost money when distributors went bankrupt. Technology has made the center's publishing task easier, "but we've had to accept that the limitations are not being able to publicize our books beyond a certain market," Quinn says.
An American Swami
Associated with the spiritual community Ananda, Crystal Clarity Publishers in Nevada City, Calif., publishes the work of Swami Kriyananda, a disciple of the Indian yogi Paramhansa Yogananda, as well as some of Yogananda's work. Publisher Sean Meshorer says that outsourcing its publishing wouldn't be effective. "No one will care for it in the manner we believe it deserves," he says.
Sales and titles grow each year for the company, which has been in business since 1968. "We find publishing very challenging, particularly because it's capital-intensive and capital prepay," Meshorer says. As a not-for-profit, Crystal Clarity can count on some backing from those who support its spiritual mission. It also produces a wide variety of products, including music, four-color gift books and instructional videos.
The mainstreaming of yoga and meditation has broadened its market, giving it opportunities in big box retailers and airports. Its international market is also growing, and it runs divisions in Italy and India, the latter completing the circle from Yogananda to the American Kriyananda. "I've been three times to India, and people are fascinated by the concept of an American swami," Meshorer says.
Foreign Markets Grow
Los Angeles—based Self-Realization Fellowship was founded by Yogananda in 1920. It focuses on his key works, including the best known title The Autobiography of a Yogi,about to come out in its 23rd language, Finnish. The fellowship's challenge is not so much to publish as to keep the teachings from getting too diluted—a commercial temptation, says spokesperson Lauren Landress. Even if he is not necessarily an easy read, the markets for Yogananda's work are growing, especially abroad. Political changes in Eastern Europe have stimulated exploration of all religions, including Asian ones, says Landress. Spanish-language sales are increasing, and overall sales in 2005 were up 10% over the previous year.
Hitting the Trade Shows
The Krishnamurti Foundation was established by Jiddu Krishnamurti, an influential teacher of Eastern spirituality, to preserve his work. "The difficulty for us is how to market Krishnamurti's work without making it propaganda," says Derek Dodds, director of publications, an attitude that reflects Krishnamurti's own opposition to dogma. The foundation, in Ojai, Calif., publishes some works itself, but also sells rights to publishers like Shambhala or New World Library. On the other hand, in-house publishing is fast, says rights manager Michael Lommel, and allows the organization to take material to book fairs. The foundation has attended the Frankfurt show the past several years, and the foreign market is growing. "We're thinking about adding Beijing and the new South Africa show," Dodds says. Krishnamurti's work has been translated into 35 languages, and Swahili and Farsi may be next this year.
A 'Healthy Balance'
Parallax Press celebrates its 20th anniversary this year as the publishing division of the Unified Buddhist Church, founded by Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. The office (in Berkeley, Calif.) is a place to practice as well as publish Buddhism. "Nowadays we have come to a very healthy balance between being rooted in the teachings in our community and being able to function as a business," says publisher Travis Masch. Nhat Hanh is both prolific and popular, so other publishers have brought out his work. But the monk has decided that Parallax will be the sole publisher of new work. "He felt it important that his books be handled by people who are closer to him," Masch says.
The nondenominational simplicity of Nhat Hanh's writings make them suitable to a variety of audiences, and the press is actively targeting new ones. Teachers, social workers and police are the audience for Keeping the Peace: Mindfulness and Public Service (2005). Peace Begins Here: Palestinians and Israelis Listening to Each Other(2005) has sold well in the Middle East. The accessibility of his work also makes it ideal for gift packaging. Released in 2005, Moments of Mindfulness, Parallax's first gift box, with meditation cards and a small book, did well, and a second one is scheduled this year.
Nilgiri Press is the publishing arm of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in Tomales, Calif., begun by Eknath Easwaran, an Indian mystic and scholar. Easwaran, who died in 1999, left works to be completed by his American wife, and a group of followers have ramped up their publishing efforts, which began in 1975. The press hired a marketing team, attended BEA in 2005 and has been reprinting and reissuing books with new covers. Classics of Indian Spirituality is due out in 2007. Easwaran's reputation has also been spread by bigger publishers of some of his writings, including Vintage Classics and Shambhala, a gamble that such works would not cannibalize the press's own sales. "[We thought] the prestige and exposure that Vintage would give would get out the word about Easwaran," says Nick Harvey, a 30-year veteran editor at Nilgiri.
Easwaran and others leave behind not only teachings but people who are motivated by mission and empowered by printing presses to perpetuate spiritual legacies. "The idea that this must live on for generations to come has become a passion," says Nilgiri marketing associate Barbara Schmidt.