Classic how-to books on meditation—practices that still the mind and bring insight and tranquility—have long been mainstays of Buddhist and mind-body-spirit (MBS) publishing. Today it's books on mindfulness—a practice that brings the insights and attentiveness of meditation into everyday life—that are proliferating: if you are a teacher, writer, parent, or in the military, there's a mindfulness book for you.
While both Buddhist and MBS classics continue to sell strongly, an exploding population of those who identify as spiritual but not religious has also pushed the markets for these books in new directions. A recent Pew study showed that the population of those who are unaffiliated with any religion has doubled in the past two decades, and many of them turn to books for guidance and inspiration in place of religious congregations or ministers.
Wisdom Publications’ core audience is Buddhists, but “if I only depended on hardcore Buddhists it would be hard to survive,” says Tim McNeill, Wisdom’s CEO. Many titles have a broad appeal because Wisdom understands Buddhism primarily as a human resource and a philosophy rather than a religion, McNeill says. Practical books like Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness (2009) are “Buddhist in spirit,” but “there’s no idea that people are going to make a prostration in front of a statue,” McNeill says, when they are finished reading them.
Classics Retain their Hold
Emily Han, acquisitions editor at Beyond Words, which publishes both Buddhist and MBS titles, finds older staples have a continuing appeal. Thich Nhat Hanh’s 1991 Peace Is Every Step is “just as fresh, profound, and relevant [to readers] over 20 years later.” People have the same need for finding peace and wellbeing amid the stresses of modern life as they did decades ago, she thinks. McNeill points to Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhunte Gunaratana, which came out in a 20th anniversary edition in 2011, as a perennially strong-selling introduction to mindfulness practice.
Dave O’Neal, senior editor at Shambhala Publications, which also publishes both Buddhist and MBS books, agrees that “tried-and-true titles in the realm of Buddhist meditation and mindfulness continue to sell very well,” but notes that it’s particular authors that draw readers with new books as well. “There always seems to be a thirst for Pema Chödrön’s new teaching—she’s a major backlist seller for us—but her new book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change (Oct., 2012), has started out very strong.” Other popular authors include Chogyam Trungpa, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Jack Kornfield. Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind has sold strongly for more than 40 years. O’Neal attributes the continuing popularity of these books to the high quality of their writing as well as to their content.
As spirituality morphs into secular applications, both Buddhist and MBS publishers have moved into titles that appeal to the nonreligious through specialized applications for mindfulness practice. These include education, sports, food, medicine, psychoanalytic therapy, and healing environments, even the military and business, says McNeill. Wisdom titles in “applied Buddhism” include The Mindful Writer by Dinty W. Moore (2012); How to Be Sick by Toni Bernhard (2010), a book both for caretakers and those with chronic illnesses; and Arts of Contemplative Care: Pioneering Voices in Buddhist Chaplaincy and Pastoral Work (2012), which McNeill describes as a “volume that brings together the voices of pioneers in the field of contemplative care, from hospice and hospitals to colleges, prisons, and the military.”
Sara Carder, executive editor at Penguin’s MBS imprint, Tarcher, says, “Lately, we’ve been looking for fresh new niches within the category to focus on, [with titles] such as Buddha’s Book of Sleep by Joseph Emet [Jan.], which includes seven exercises to combat sleep problems.” Even a book in the death and dying category, such as Barry Eaton’s upcoming Afterlife (Sept.), offers a practical, step-by-step guide to life after death, including what activities and environments to expect in the afterlife.
Shambhala has also entered the field of applied mindfulness. O’Neal mentions Jan Chozen Bays’s How to Train a Wild Elephant (2011), which includes mindfulness practices one can do even as a telephone is ringing, and lawyer Diane Musho Hamilton’s forthcoming Everything Is Workable (Nov.), which applies Zen meditation practice to conflict resolution.
In 2011, Shambhala spun off Roost Books, founded by executive v-p Sara Bercholz. Roost is another illustration of the evolution of MBS books into the practical direction of how-to books on cooking, crafts, and creativity. Lifestyle books, Bercholz says, “were doing well for us and were particularly inspiring in the energy they were bringing to the company, so creating a brand around them felt like a natural progression.” To reach a broader audience, “it also made sense from a branding perspective to create a unique identity apart from Shambhala, which is known for spiritual/psychological/philosophical titles,” Bercholz says.
One type of book is not currently appearing on Shambhala’s list: “We hope all of our books are those readers turn to regularly for inspiration and guidance, but in 2013 the ‘daily inspirational reading’ format isn’t appearing in our seasonal lists,” says Steve Pomije, Shambhala’s marketing communications manager. Wisdom, on the other hand, will release Daily Doses of Wisdom, a book of inspiration. “People like that,” says McNeill. “It’s a comforting thing.”
Being Heard Above the Noise
Han says Buddhism has flowed naturally into the broader MBS category, but she notes that both the MBS and Buddhist markets are saturated. Beyond Words is seeking books that can rise above the “white noise,” she says, and offer something fresh to the reader. She sees two major directions: books for the spiritual-but-not-religious, and “young emerging voices that are sharing their own unique experiences and exploration of spirituality free from dogma and doctrine.”
Beyond Words is adding titles that offer a “new twist” to traditional subjects, such as the upcoming Buddha’s Wife by Janet Surrey and Stephen Bergman (Sept. 2014). Aimed at women, the book will tell the story of Princess Yasodhara, locating Buddhist enlightenment in a practical environment of “family, relationships, and community,” Han says.
Other titles, such as Lama Marut’s A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life (2012), seek to share “the wisdom of Buddhist teachings and practices for modern-day spiritual seekers or ‘renegades’ who are looking for [both] a grounded and slightly rebellious approach,” says Han. Marut’s second book, Be Nobody (June 2014), also aimed at the nonreligious, will continue the edgy dialogue with traditional Buddhism. The Internet has driven at least one acquisition: Beyond Words has signed the Indie Spiritualist Web site owner, Chris Grosso, whose book will combine teachings from Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity with the creative arts.
The titles say it all: Wisdom’s recent entries into an edgier market include the still popular Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea (2009), while Shambhala offers Lodro Rinzler’s The Buddha Walks into a Bar (2012) and his forthcoming Walk like a Buddha: Even if Your Boss Sucks, Your Ex Is Torturing You, and You’re Hung Over Again (fall, 2013). “He’s a young and hip Buddhist teacher who speaks to those among the ‘nones’ who might say ‘if I’m anything, I’m a Buddhist,’ ” says O’Neal.
MBS publishers are also releasing books to help push people into higher cognitive awareness. Leap of Perception by Penny Peirce from Beyond Words (May) is “a how-to book for the ‘attention skills’ that will become normal in the upcoming intuition age, such as undivided attention, unified field attention, and collective self attention. Readers will learn new human abilities such as telepathy and instant healing,” according to Beyond Words publicist Jessica Sturges. At Tarcher, “one recent trend we’ve seen in the MBS market is a fascination with how mindfulness practices can impact brain development,” says Carder, noting the upcoming, tentatively titled, Brainstorm by Daniel J. Siegel (fall, 2013), which approaches a specific topic—the adolescent brain—with mindfulness theory.
For Beyond Words’ Han, “It’s been important for us to publish titles that open up the conversation—that extend and expand the dialogue—and be as inclusive as possible to a wide range of readers.” For Wisdom’s McNeill, the future looks bright: “I’m convinced there will be continuing efforts to apply these techniques in more and more environments. In the West science tends to be the great arbiter of truth. As these research efforts validate the efficacy of meditation and mindfulness, it will only serve to stimulate reader interest.”