"While the moniker 'New Age' is becoming a bit passé, it's not becoming old age," says Llewellyn publisher Bill Krause. "We have many new and fresh voices populating our frontlist and complementing the stalwarts of our backlist." The category has broadened along with American consumers' definition of spirituality, and mainstream media gurus like Oprah and Martha Stewart readily espouse the importance of connecting mind, body, and spirit—the four-word label that's become the alternative title for this category.
Krause echoes many of his colleagues, who report that they're proceeding confidently if selectively, carefully tuning their approach to the changing times. "Today, spirituality is so personal," says Llewellyn's acquisitions editor Carrie Obry. "People are not going to church anymore—and we now have words like ‘metrospiritual.' " This term, coined by Beliefnet.com, captures the trend of unifying spirituality and style (think celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Richard Gere, and Donna Karan) and is, according to Obry, "epitomized by the kind of woman who is drawn to Eat, Pray, Love."
While not a New Age title per se, Elizabeth Gilbert's 2006 blockbuster memoir of her postdivorce quest has become a touchstone for some metrospiritual seekers. The film version, starring Julia Roberts, reinvigorated sales this summer: according to Nielsen, 94,000 books were sold in the week ending August 1, which is the same number as that for all of 2006; it's been in the top three titles on PW's trade paper list since June 14. "Mine is just a simple old human story of one person trying, with great rigor and discipline, to comprehend her personal relationship with divinity," Gilbert told USA Today. Maybe so, but the accidental guru has inspired millions of readers on their own journeys, whether their roadmap includes contemplation, degustation, or a simple attitude shift.
Speaking of which, the same year Eat, Pray, Love reached readers, another book arrived with a potent message: that one's own positive intentions are enough to attract health, wealth, and happiness. Rhonda Byrne's The Secret captivated American audiences from the outset, and took off in February 2007 after Oprah scheduled a one-hour sit-down with the author. It has sold more than 19 million copies in 49 languages and has been on PW's list for 132 weeks. Byrne is poised to match its success with her top-selling follow-up, The Power—five weeks and counting on PW's nonfiction chart. According to publisher Atria, Byrne's new book is "the handbook to the greatest power in the universe—the power to have everything you want." Although The Power's message is similar to that of The Secret, the book hits at a very different moment, says publisher Judith Curr: "When we published The Secret, we were in a time of plenty, and we were going toward that plentifulness. The Power is coming out at a time when the opposite is true. It's basically saying that if you change how you view things, then things are better."
Perhaps a similar brand of spiritual individualism has led to the success of SoulPancake.com, a hub where people can address their major questions and explore their spirituality through a variety of media. Emmy-nominated actor Rainn Wilson (The Office) launched the site in March 2009 with a group of friends; Hyperion Voice will publish the book in November (subtitle: Chew on Life's Big Questions), which will feature insights from guest contributors such as Amy Sedaris and David Lynch. Hyperion editor-in-chief Elisabeth Dyssegaard says she thinks of the book as spiritual exploration for the Internet generation. "I think the idea of spiritual authority is eroding—the notion that one person will tell others how best to live their lives," she says. "In the past, books have tried to offer readers answers. Now I think that readers are more concerned with the questions themselves."
Practical Matters, Powerful Intuition
One question looming large these days is the connection between money and happiness. The Secret's Web site includes more than 1,100 financial tales, including a recent story of one practitioner's visualization and subsequent receipt of a literal check in the mail. At a time when money is especially tight—prompting some to pray for fiscal health—a new crop of New Age books explores this connection and urges readers to make positive changes that will lead to prosperity.
Hip-hop mogul and unlikely spiritual guru Russell Simmons posited in his 2007 book, Do You!: 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success, that the key to prosperity is a connection with your higher self; the title was a New York Times bestseller.
"We're very selective in this category," says Gotham Books publisher William Shinker. "But when Simmons came to us with the idea for a book on how to be rich on the inside and out, we thought the message was particularly topical for this economy." That idea, encompassed in Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All, will reach readers in January. "Being ‘super rich' is knowing that regardless of what is happening in the economy, if you have a rich spirit and the faith and courage to use your unique gifts to serve the world, then the world will, in turn, reward you," says the book's editor, Lauren Marino. "Once you tap into your higher consciousness and purpose, you will have access to the greatest stimulus package of all time: your higher self."
In August St. Martin's Griffin published I See Your Dream Job by career intuitive Sue Frederick, a former career counselor who combines numerology with ancient mystical teachings to create a practical plan for work advancement. Executive editor Jennifer Enderlin believes the book appeals to an audience that embraced What Color Is Your Parachute? but with a New Age bent. "Traditionally, job seekers have been searchers," she says. "This book allows them to think about searching on a deeper level."
Readers looking to understand why they may be drawn to a particular career path will find good fodder in Chetan Parkyn's Human Design: Discover the Person You Were Born to Be (New World Library, Sept.). "Readers used to drilling down through Web searches to find specific information are also looking for detailed personality readings that go beyond the typical astrological horoscope," says publicity director Monique Muhlenkamp. "Chetan's book allows readers to develop a thorough personality profile that can help them make decisions, choose professions, and create relationships."
Some seekers find inspiration beyond trusted teachers; several new titles encourage readers to look within to find the answers to their deepest questions. Topping the list this fall is a new work from psychic medium John Edward, perhaps best known for hosting TV's Crossing Over and John Edward Cross-Country, both centered around Edward's communication with people who have died. Edward is also the author of several bestsellers, but Infinite Quest: Develop Your Psychic Intuition to Take Charge of Your Life (Sterling Ethos, Oct.) is by far his most practical. "His events are packed with people who are always asking him, ‘How do you do this?' " says editorial director Michael Fragnito. "He leads you through the process, so you're accessing that part of your mind but not letting the process get in the way."
The semantics around the idea of psychic experiences have changed over the years, says Llewellyn's Obry. "I see a shift—you have magazines that are completely comfortable talking about intuition, but would never call themselves psychic," she says. "But psychic is just a word that means ‘of the psyche.' " Among the publisher's forthcoming books on the topic are When Tomorrow Speaks to Me: Memoirs of an Irish Medium by Bridget Benson (Dec.) and Servet Hasan's The Intuitive Heart of Romance (Jan.), a guide to finding lasting love.
In March of this year, Weiser Books published Transition Now, which provides, through channeled messages, instructions for surviving and thriving in these changing times. "The messages of the four different channelers is that we're all connected to each other," says publisher Jan Johnson, "and that we create drama and conflict through our separation from God." The number and breadth of these books suggests that our intuition is something that we all can access and, as Fragnito says, "We function on intuition whether or not we're conscious of it."
The Ancient Past, the Near Future
"When people are experiencing difficult times, either natural disaster or economic downturns, there are all kinds of speculations about what is going on—is this a shift in history?" says Johnson. Weiser's The Secret History of Consciousness by Meg Blackburn Losey (Sept.) weaves both ancient spiritual elements and actions for our species' future survival into her message. "Losey helps us make sense of the changes we're going through now," says Johnson, "by putting them into a much larger context."
In April 2011, Tarcher will publish The Kyballion: The Definitive Edition, which offers a comprehensive yet accessible guide to the 1908 book based on ancient hermetic writings—and which some say is the foundation for The Secret. "It's commanded an audience for 100 years; we've decided to treat it as a classic," says Tarcher editor-in-chief Mitch Horowitz, who calls these classics "an unrealized market." For example, Tarcher's Essential Marcus Aurelius, published in 2008, is already in its sixth printing. "High-quality, signature editions of classic works always attract an audience," says Horowitz. "The truth is, at the end of the day, you can't fake it. If you know it best, you'll publish it best."
Inner Traditions' current top-seller, Zecharia Sitchin's There Were Giants upon the Earth, reflects reader interest in ancient history and philosophy—the publisher has sold 20,000 copies after two printings since its May release. "The recent popularity of TV shows about ancient mysteries, such as the History Channel's Ancient Aliens series, also reflects this trend and hints at a shift in mainstream attitudes," says sales and marketing director John Hays.
Also surfacing within the New Age matrix is a contemporary connection to the long, long ago: "As people gear up for a possible event with the galactic alignment, they're questioning where we came from," says Hays. "There is astronomical evidence that something will change a little bit."
Yes, whether you fear it, anticipate it, or ignore it, we're inching ever closer to December 21, 2012—the end of a more than 5,000-year cycle in the Mayan calendar and, according to many New Age philosophies, the mark of projected global cataclysm or transformation. And while some publishers think that demand has leveled for books attempting to make sense of such prophecies, many New Age imprints continue to address the date. "People are looking for scientific as well as spiritual and emotional meaning on what it is," says Susan Weis, owner of Breathe Books in Baltimore. One trusted authority, according to Weis, is Daniel Pinchbeck, whose high-profile 2006 title 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl suggests that the date will be whatever humanity chooses to make of it.
Coming from Tarcher next month is Pinchbeck's Notes from the Edge Times, a collection of columns and essays that relate current events to the ticking clock. "Each work brings Pinchbeck's inimitable perspective to a pressing subject," says Horowitz, "helping readers understand that they don't need to wait for the dawning of the next age to radically change their perspectives."
Author Gerald Benedict has two titles related to 2012 coming from Sterling/Watkins: The Maya 2012—The End of the World or the Dawn of Enlightenment? (Sept.) and The Mayan Prophecies 2012—The Message and the Vision (Oct.). The uniting factor of these writings is an emphasis on evolution rather than extinction. Last November, Findhorn Press published Diana Cooper's 2012 and Beyond: An Invitation to Meet the Challenges and Opportunities Ahead. "There's no doubt that things are really changing," says Findhorn's U.S. publicist, Gail Torr. "Instead of publishing a book of doom and gloom, we've chosen something to inspire people, showing them how to deal with the changes and painting a much more positive view of the global future."
New Age readers who may be cowed by current events are approaching the date by asking, in the words of Weis at Breathe Books, "What does this mean to me? What does this mean to my family?" As more and more parents are hoping to provide their kids with versions of the philosophies that guide them, prominent thinkers like Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, and Thich Nhat Han have responded with children's titles. "These writers take all the fear out of the situation," says Weis. "They say ‘don't worry, we're all in this together.' "
The small Australian publisher Pick-a-Woo Woo, which this year has turned out eight titles for children, reports that it's had more online sales of children's New Age books in the last six months than during the past two years. "Titles that have sold well are those with angels providing answers," says codirector Julie-Ann Harper. (The latest book in its Pick-a-Woo Woo series, Archie Angel to the Rescue, will be available through its Web site—www.pickawoowoo.com—in October.) And the most frequent request? For 2012, says Harper, "is it the beginning or is it the end?" Which just may go to show that it's really never too early to start taking the long view.
The most accessible yet challenging vehicle for spiritual exploration is at once ancient and contemporary: meditation. "With the economy and stress and things the way they are, people are thinking, this is a cheap way to take care of myself," says Susan Weis at Baltimore's Breathe Books, who counts meditation books among her top-sellers.
"Everyone ultimately sees him or herself as a beginner," says Tarcher's Mitch Horowitz. "I find that basic books on meditation continue to be relevant—there are new people coming to it all the time." Coming in May 2011 is Meditation: An In-Depth Guide by Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson.
"Meditation is not as easy as you first think it might be," says Findhorn Press's Gail Torr. "Things happen, you fall asleep, you can't get to clarity." To respond to the growing interest, the publisher offers Inner Tranquility: A Guide to Seated Meditation by Darren Main (Oct.), as well as the second edition of Kat Tansey's Choosing to Be: Lessons in Living from a Feline Zen Master, which centers on the author's struggle with depression and the inspiration of an unlikely guru—her cat.
Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof has spent decades researching the transformational power of alternative states of consciousness; he and his wife, Christina, developed holotropic breathwork, a workshop-based method that combines accelerated breathing with other techniques. In August, SUNY Press published their definitive guide to the practice, Holotropic Breathwork: A New Approach to Self-Exploration and Therapy, with a foreword by Jack Kornfield. "It's not a how-to book, it's an explanation," says marketing and publicity director Fran Keneston. "It blends scholarship as well as nonacademic language and approach so a layman can read it."
Another noted meditation teacher is Sharon Salzberg, cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society and author of eight books, including the bestselling Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness and Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience. In December, Workman offers Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation, a 28-day program that explains the fundamentals and the benefits of meditation, and offers 12 practices.
"Our goal with books like Real Happiness is to move beyond that stereotype—to make ‘New Age' wisdom available to people who don't normally think of themselves in any sort of counterculture kind of way," says Workman editor-in-chief Susan Bolotin. "Maybe that's the point: the ideas that the New Age movement spawned are now becoming so mainstreamed that the category as a category is no longer as needed."