There were a dozen or so religion/spirituality specialty houses at the ALA annual conference this year, along with several general trade publishers with religion imprints or lines. Most are long-time exhibitors at the conference, but a few Christian houses are relatively new, having found increasing value over the past several years in getting their books before librarians and picking their brains about what patrons like and want.

Christian genre fiction—in particular, historicals and romance—are top picks for librarians, and YA has been growing in patron demand, publishers reported. Moody Publishers, which began exhibiting in 2004, found this year’s conference a good place to meet with e-book distributors as it finds its way in that market, but also to increase librarian awareness of its ramped-up fiction program, both adult and YA, said Deb Keiser, associate publisher/River North Fiction. Moody is publishing YA fiction within its Lift Every Voice line, targeted to African-American youth. Nonfiction demand for topics in religion can be more regional, but Keiser hopes for wide success with Honoring God in Red or Blue (May), which calls for dialogue and respect between conservatives and those less so in today’s charged political climate.

Several Christian houses brought authors to the conference. Tyndale House had five authors, including Richard Platt (One Devil to Another); library sales rep Michael Walling reported solid interest as well as “good traffic and interactions with libraries.” He gave away chocolate bars stamped with the logo for Tyndale’s 50th anniversary, which it celebrates this year. B&H Publishing brought Amanda Flower—a librarian—to sign her Amish mystery, A Plain Death. “We had a steady line for that for about an hour,” said Jamie Phillips, v-p of global market sales. In addition to its fiction, Phillips said B&H does well in libraries with its Bible reference books. He said their library sales overall were up double digits in 2011. Zondervan author Nikki Grimes (A Girl Named Mister) signed on Saturday morning, also to a good reception.

Abingdon too is finding success in libraries with its fiction, in particular the Quilts of Love series, which it was promoting at the show. “Being here has to help, because the buyers are here and now they’ll know who we are,” said sales director Bryan Williams. “They tell us ours is not the same old fiction, and they appreciate that we are offering them something unique.”

In fact, quilts and quilting were an overarching theme at the conference. Eerdmans was featuring a quilt-themed children’s book, I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery by Cynthia Grady, herself a librarian, who signed in the booth both Saturday and Sunday. Illustrated by Michele Wood, the book is filled with images of quilts and fiber arts. Also featured at their booth was Michelle Markel’s The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau (illustrated by Amanda Hall; Sept.), which received a starred review from PW.

At the conference, Zondervan senior v-p and publisher Annette Bourland and v-p of marketing for Zonderkidz Chriscynethia Floyd emphasized the house’s solid commitment to publishing for teens. Referring to librarians, Bourland said, “The big thing they like is that we provide an alternative” to the edgier YA fiction. “We offer cleaner, safer titles. And when a kid asks for dystopian, [the librarian] can suggest other titles as well.” Floyd calls their books “inspirational, moral, and ethical, but not overtly Christian.” Zondervan’s middle-grade fiction has also been welcomed into libraries. She dates Zondervan’s accelerating YA publishing from this January, when the house released a number of titles, including Halflings, the latest in Heather Burch’s series of the same name,“which got us into paranormal. The feedback on Amazon convinced us this was something we should do.”

Also seeing interest among librarians for its YA line is Llewellyn, the Minneapolis-based publisher of books on esoterica, earth religions and paganism, as well as fiction in its Midnight Ink imprint of adult mysteries and Flux line of YA fiction. “That’s really why we are at ALA,” said publicity manager Steve Pomije, referring to the popularity of Flux books with library patrons. Also in demand are Llewellyn’s books on ghosts and hauntings, Wicca, and Tarot, “though librarians can be reticent about those because they say they are often stolen.”

Rowman & Littlefield has deep ties in the library market, with a pool of librarian advisors who have input to acquisitions decisions. On Sunday morning R&L held a brainstorming session with library directors and other leaders in the field, V-P of marketing Linda May said, “and we’re planning to make that an annual thing.” The session addressed the big issues and questions facing libraries and publishers as they work together. R&L, including its several religion imprints—Sheed & Ward, Cowley, Jason Aronson--finds a ready library market for its books, which are more academically oriented, and for the reference works published by its Scarecrow Press, such as its Encyclopedia of Christian Literature and the books in its HD series of historical dictionaries on a variety of religions and religious/philosophical topics.

On the PGW aisle, New World Library publicity director Monique Muhlenkamp said that although New World has exhibited from time to time, this was her first ALA. She noted that librarians like their animal spirituality books, as well as Michael Krasny’s Spiritual Envy, Christian Mystics: 365Readings and Meditations, and SoulSpace, which guides readers through how to declutter and organize their homes for greater inner peace. Said Muhlenkamp, “We also have high hopes for Huston Smith’s Live Rejoicing” due out in September. New World enjoyed increased traffic from being on the route to Sherman Alexie’s signing of Blasphemy.

White Cloud Press was at ALA for the first time. Publisher Steve Scholl reported that sales were up 50% in the previous year, with the press’s three primary topic areas being yoga, Islam, and ecology. Most in demand in libraries, he said, are White Cloud’s I Speak for Myself series, with American Muslims telling their own stories, and their top-selling title, Approaching the Qu’ran, which was published in 2000 and gained sales momentum after 9/11, selling more than 70,000 copies to date.