Revell Publishing was founded in 1870 by Fleming Hewitt Revell, allowing him to publish the works of Dwight Lyman Moody, his famed evangelist brother-in-law. Since then, it has evolved into a contemporary trade house offering faithful living advice, inspiring personal narratives, and novels that always end on an up note.
Executives at Revell, which is based in Ada, Mich., and parent company Baker Publishing Group said the key to staying in the publishing business for 150 years is the imprint’s ability to pivot to face challenges and changing times while remaining anchored in the Christian perspective. They’re certain this commitment will carry Revell through today’s issues, which range from a pandemic and demands for racial justice to more industry-specific challenges such as disappearing Christian retail outlets, heightened competition from multinational publishers, and new technology.
“We were founded five years after the Civil war,” said Andrea Doering, Revell editorial director, who joined the company in 2007. “Georgia had just rejoined the union. African American men had just been given the right to vote. It was a time of turmoil. But there were Moody and Revell deciding we need to be providing hope and help. Since then, this company has been at this through the Great Chicago Fire, two world wars, the Great Depression, and the Spanish Flu. I think we are going to get through these times, too.”
Revell is doing more than getting through. One of six Baker Publishing Group imprints, it accounts for 20% of the privately held company’s overall revenue, according to BPG. Richard Baker bought Revell in 1992, after the company, which had been run by the Revell and then Barbour families for more than a century, went through three owners in the 1980s. It had also moved from its primary focus on publishing for ministers and church leaders to publishing for the people in the pews and secular markets, according to The Story of Revell, a history of the publisher by Ann Byle, which was released in June.
Revell hit its stride with celebrity books, dating back to Dale Evans’s personal story Angel Aware (1953), about the death of her and husband Roy Rogers’s young daughter, and provocative titles such as Marabel Morgan’s Total Woman (1973), which suggested that housewives should greet their husbands wearing only Saran Wrap. Dwight Baker, Richard Baker’s son and successor as company president, told Byle that absorbing the trade publisher into BPG, a house known for academic publishing, got off to a rocky start. But, he said, “Everything became more interesting after 2004, when Revell published 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper.” To date, Piper’s title has sold more than five million copies.
Since becoming part of BPG, Revell has drawn on its parent company’s resources. Many of the group’s 218 publishing and retail employees work with multiple imprints. Jennifer Leep, executive v-p, trade publishing for BPG, noted there are also advantages to being an independent publisher when it comes to attracting and retaining writers. “Being an independently owned company with a streamlined structure allows us to stay nimble and relational,” she said. “We promise authors a high level of collaboration, creativity, and commitment from our team through every part of the publishing process.”
Revell’s powerful backlist (there are century-old titles still in print) continues to hum along, and it maintains a steady presence on current bestseller lists with such titles as Catch a Star by the WNBA’s Tamika Catchings and The Next Right Thing by blogger and podcaster Emily Freeman. Half of Revell’s 75 new titles per year are fiction, and the list includes prolific and popular authors such as suspense master Ted Dekker; romance maven Irene Hannon, whose 21 books for Revell have sold more than a million copies combined; and mystery/thriller author Lynette Eason.
Marketing moves include a new e-commerce stream on the BGP website, launched just in time to meet consumer demand when the coronavirus swept in and Amazon began focusing on staple items, not books. And the company has done well finding new outlets for its titles: Tractor Supply Co. sells Revell books along with agricultural goods and home decor in many of its 1,800 locations, and Revell books are also available at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.
Revell looks for casual readers who are “indifferent about format and media,” Doering explained. “We look for their needs, provide help in book form, then we get the books where they are.”
A century ago, Revell was the platform publisher of fundamentalist theologians. Today, its titles are not religiously didactic, but faith is always in the framework. Doering noted, “A book from Revell won’t say, ‘God said do this,’ but it will say, ‘Here’s your problem, here are some solutions and here’s a resource, and oh, by the way, this is a really old idea.’ And the author might cite the Bible. A book of fiction with Revell’s logo on the spine will have a redemptive, helpful quality. There’s a decision for good. Justice will prevail. There’s a sense of a moral universe, that our actions do matter, that you can change with grace and find a way forward.”
A year of pandemic and deep unrest may prompt a new pivot for Revell, Leep said. “Everyday life has changed—we’re facing new challenges and having different conversations today than we were six months ago. So staying on mission for Revell means publishing books that address those new challenges and speak into those conversations. That may mean some pivots in terms of topics we’re focused on or ways we approach familiar categories, yet at core for us it always comes back to publishing faith-based content that inspires and equips readers.”