Milwaukee-based Hal Leonard--publisher of how-to books for musicians and aspiring musicians, actors, and others in the performing arts, as well as sheet music--is venturing into religion/spirituality with a line of books about the spiritual thoughts of celebrities. Now the company just needs to figure out where it can sell them.

The Spiritual Lives series includes a debut list of three titles: The Spirituality of Carlos Santana, of Bono, and…of Richard Gere (Backbeat Books, Mar.), all edited by Nicholas Nigro. The 4.5 X 6” books contain collections of quotes culled from media interviews, thus requiring no permissions or purchase of rights. Three more titles--The Spirituality of John Lennon, …of Steve Jobs, and…of Oprah—release in November.

Bernadette Malavarca, associate editor of Backbeat Books and editor of the new series, came up with the idea while working on a book about Carlos Santana and reading interviews with him in Guitar Player magazine. “It struck me how Santana would answer questions about writing, technique, career planning, and practice with a spiritual perspective,” she said. “His spiritual, inner world informs his work, and his compassionate outlook is inseparable from it.” Malavarca thought “anyone, not just musicians, could find some value in his comments. Because of their visibility, celebrities mirror our humanness. I thought it would be very positive to present books that frame that reflection in an inspirational way.”

This is new territory for the Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group, which includes the trade imprints Backbeat Books, Hal Leonard, Applause Theater and Cinema, Limelight Editions, and Amadeus Press, and also distributes for other publishers. Hal Leonard also is “the world’s largest print music publisher and distributor to North America,” said David Cywinski, key accounts manager for books.

“We approached the religion buyer at B&N, and she thought her customers are looking for books on specific religions and our subject matter did not fit with the rest of the section,” Cywinski said. “We also pitched it at BAM with little success.” Although Leonard sells a line of how-to books for church worship music directors and musicians into Christian bookstores, these titles are too eclectic to be picked up by those retailers. HL sells some of its how-to books and sheet music at music stores, but Cywinski doubts they would stock this series. “Those stores are really crowded, and the emphasis is on instruments.” And the trim size and nature of the content puts the books in the gift or sidelines categories, which can present a merchandising challenge for retailers.

“We saw this series as a way to build on our strengths in the music and entertainment categories by looking at our subjects from a new angle and, in the process, expand into some new markets,” Cywinski said, including “the wellness and inspirational markets and, because of their design, the gift market.” Cywinski is considering exhibiting at gift and stationery shows and perhaps having a gifts/sidelines/stationery distributor pick them up. The promotional campaign for the series includes advertising in such publications as Publishers Weekly, Spirituality & Health,and Shambhala Sun. Editor Nicholas Nigro will do radio and podcast interviews.

Of course, Cywinski said, the dream would be to get the books into Starbucks. But “I see very little possibility of decision makers [there] ever seeing our great books. After many attempts to reach someone in the past we've given up.”