Despite the time crunch felt by some (this reporter included), many religion publishers at BEA were enthusiastic about this year’s midweek, condensed show, which brought busy booths and packed aisles. “We’ve been nonstop,” said Nicole Krier, marketing manager for Quest Books, which exhibited with its new distributor, PGW. “The traffic has been great.”

HarperOne deputy publisher Mark Tauber acknowledged that although sales of religion books in general have been weak, and there have been no “breakout books” for Harper, the bright spot has been Bible sales. “Those have been solid,” he said. “We’ve seen growth in our Bible line, especially Catholic Bibles.”

This year, for the first time, HarperOne attended the L.A. Religious Education Congress, which was held March 18–21, where Fr. Jim Martin drew 1,500 for a signing of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything (Mar.). “We’re super-excited about Jim Martin, and we’ve just signed him for two more books,” Tauber said. “We’re also looking at doing some other new Catholic shows,” he said, in addition to the imprint’s long-time presence at the Religious Booksellers Trade Exhibit (previewed in this issue).

Martin is a Jesuit priest who has become the telegenic spokesman for sophisticated American Catholicism, with multiple appearances on The Daily Show and nightly news programs under his belt. He was previously published by the Catholic houses Paulist Press and Loyola Press—his 2007 book with Loyola, My Life with the Saints, has sold more than 100,000 copies, “huge for a small press like us,” noted senior acquisitions editor Joe Durepos.

Laurie Schlesinger, Jewish Publication Society senior sales and marketing manager, was excited about the release of Crown of Aleppo: The Mystery of the Oldest Hebrew Bible Codex, proudly displaying the beautiful hardbound edition at the press’s booth. The book tells the story of the recovery of the codex, thought to have been destroyed in a 1947 pogrom in Aleppo, Syria; Crown of Aleppo features more than 50 photographs and maps, some in full color.

In lean times, several houses have been nourished by durable successes. FaithWords has been buoyed by The Shack; Baker Publishing Group’s 90 Minutes in Heaven continues its long run on the bestsellers lists; and Thomas Nelson’s Same Kind of Different As Me has also become a list fixture. Tyndale House has been noticeably active in acquisitions lately, as have Hachette’s FaithWords and S&S’s Howard Books imprints.

Said FaithWords and Center Street publisher Rolf Zettersten, “A lot of authors are in play right now, and because of The Shack we’ve had the resources to go after them. Our fall list is the best we’ve ever had.” He noted he was publishing not only his star author, Joyce Meyer, but also Philip Yancey (formerly with Zondervan), as well as Chuck Swindoll and David Jeremiah (the latter two former Nelson authors). “I’m expanding our list beyond our charismatic emphasis to become more broadly evangelical,” Zettersten said. He has purchased the mass market rights to Ted Dekker’s thrillers and plans more releases in that format.

Howard Books publisher Jonathan Merkh has signed Charles Stanley and re-signed novelist Debbie Macomber (for nonfiction), each to multibook deals. Howard will publish prophetic pastor John Hagee this fall (Can America Survive? Ten Prophetic Signs That We Are the Terminal Generation) and has a new novel coming from Frank Peretti—the founding father of the Christian thriller—in 2012.

Thomas Nelson’s Remainders & Bargain Books manager, Barry Baird, told RBL the house “had a great year” and that the publisher had just announced a 2% across-the-board raise for employees. (Thomas Nelson itself no longer has a presence at BEA.) “We’ve had strong sales and low returns,” said Baird, noting there have been no layoffs for 18 months, and Nelson has been hiring. He said the publisher has been “harvesting and repurposing” books from its backlist, such as Billy Graham’s Storm Warning, originally published in 1992 and just released in a new hardcover edition in May.

A topic trend noted at Harper, as well as Guideposts and Tyndale, is a spate of books on near-death experiences, which last had their heyday in the mid-1990s. In addition to Evidence of the Afterlife on its backlist, Harper has just released Consciousness Beyond Life (June); both are by physicians. Guideposts has Glimpses of Eternity by Raymond Moody, a new title from a seminal author on the subject. Though this has been an evergreen topic for Guideposts, Tyndale (perhaps inspired by the success of 90 Minutes in Heaven) is new to it, with The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven (July).

Julie Gwinn, trade book marketing and promotions manager at B&H Publishing Group, was excited about the press’s launch of its new fiction line, Fidelis, which will feature authors like Oliver North and Ralph Reed. “These are guys who have been there,” noted Gwinn—in the military and in the halls of political power—“and they’ll be writing about what they know.”