Devotionals—daily, weekly, and monthly short readings intended to inspire and strengthen readers’ faith—have grown increasingly more important to Christian publishers since their debut in the 1920s. Some have been remarkably durable: Hind’s Feet in High Places, originally published in 1955 and still available from w reader favorite. And more than 40 years ago, Norman Vincent Peale’s Guideposts organization became a pioneer in serial devotionals with Daily Guideposts, which collects material from Guideposts magazine into volumes sold via mail order and online as well as through Zondervan.
Some houses have published devotionals since they opened their doors, including Harvest House, founded in 1974 and still introducing new titles every season. “Devotionals will always have a presence in the market, especially with the busyness of today,” says LaRae Weikert, senior v-p and publisher at Harvest. “They provide personal quiet time and are great for reading biblical content in a digestible way.”
But not all Christian publishing houses offer devotionals every season. At Crossway, the books are acquired “when we believe they will serve a genuinely edifying purpose,” says Justin Taylor, executive v-p of book publishing. “Devotionals should probably not be the meat and potatoes of one’s reading diet, but they can be a tasty and nutritious appetizer.” Crossway’s forthcoming entry is Collin Hansen’s The New City Catechism Devotional: God’s Truth for Our Hearts and Minds (Apr. 2017), a resource for churches, small groups, and families that summarizes 52 Christian doctrines alongside questions, answers, passages from Scripture, commentary, and prayers.
On the business side, devotionals can be a low-cost way to expand an author’s brand by repurposing existing content into the devotional format. And writers with experience in the genre can quickly produce easy-to-edit original content for short daily readings. “We spend less time on the editorial and more time on the beauty of the book’s interior,” says Susan Salley, associate publisher for the Christian Living category at Abingdon. “We want to make it lovely because it’s so experiential.”
Devotionals can top bestsellers lists and rack up impressive numbers. Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling (Thomas Nelson) is currently #1 on PW’s Religion Nonfiction chart, and sales for this wildly successful devotional exceed 17 million copies worldwide, in both hardback and paper, since its publication in 2004. Young’s latest, Jesus Always (Thomas Nelson, Oct.), has an initial print run of 1,000,000—a record high for the gift division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing.
Although many devotionals are spin-offs from previously published books or are part of a series, this fall and winter also bring a plethora of new original adult titles. Fans welcome daily readings by their favorite writers, and Christian fiction star Francine Rivers, author of more than 30 novels (such as Redeeming Love), offers her first nonfiction—and first devotional—in Earth Psalms (Tyndale, Oct.), a book intended to help readers understand God through observing nature. Photographs, excerpts from Scripture, and prayers accompany Rivers’s daily reflections, and Tyndale plans a major marketing campaign around the release.
Blogger Rachel Macy Stafford is expanding her audience with a debut devotional, Only Love Today (Zondervan, Mar. 2017). The collection of daily entries encourages readers to let go of distractions and connect with loved ones. Tish Harrison Warren also makes her authorial debut with Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (InterVarsity, Dec.), which examines daily life through the lens of the liturgy.
Joyce Meyer, bestselling author of more than 50 books, including devotionals, adds to her list with Wake Up to the Word: 365 Devotions to Inspire You Each Day (FaithWords, Oct.). It features individual words to meditate on, relevant Scripture, and practical advice from Meyer. Similarly, Harvest House is releasing Truth: A Bigger View of God’s Word (Apr. 2017) by Randy Alcorn, the author of some 40 books and devotionals. The book’s 365 daily meditations, Scripture readings, and inspirational quotes aim to help readers understand the wisdom, love, and guidance found in the Bible. Harvest House reaches a more specialized market with The Hunter’s Devotional (Aug.) by Steve Chapman, whose bestselling A Look at Life from a Deer Stand (Harvest House, 2009) has sold nearly 300,000 copies, according to the publisher.
A group of 10 Canadian bloggers turned cookbook authors, Mennonite Girls Can Cook, bolster their brand with a 90-day devotional, Bread for the Journey: Meditations and Recipes to Nourish the Soul (Herald, Aug.); it highlights promises made in Scripture and features fans’ favorite recipes.
Pastor/authors extending their brands with devotionals include John Hagee, whose Four Blood Moons (Worthy, 2013) made the New York Times bestsellers list. His first devotional, Daily Truth (Worthy, Aug.), walks readers through excerpts from Scripture for every day of the year. Charles Stanley, author of multiple books and devotionals, has a new yearlong devotional, Wisdom from Above (Howard, Feb. 2017) that is focused on Proverbs.
Gifts to Give and Get
Often available in hardcover and in a variety of trim sizes, devotionals make popular gifts for readers of all ages. Many boast ornate covers and glossy illustrations, and some include space and prompts for journaling. No matter the format, their purpose is the same—to help guide believers through the Bible and fortify their faith.
Gift sales drive a significant amount of the devotionals revenue at Baker Publishing Group, according to Dave Lewis, executive v-p of sales and marketing. “We sell a lot of pretty cloth 365-day devotional books in the big-box stores,” he says. “By pretty, I mean color photographs on most two-page spreads.”
Bethany House, a division of BPG, features full-color photos throughout in Blessings for Women: Words of Grace and Peace for Your Heart (Sept.) by author and radio show host Susie Larson. The hardcover devotional combines Larson’s blessings and words of encouragement with Scripture passages.
Worthy’s gift division, Ellie Claire, also recognizes the appeal of full-color interior designs. The publisher has several new illustrated hardcover devotionals, among them Simple Blessings (Sept.) by editors at Ellie Claire. Another popular format in the genre, deluxe faux-leather covers—is featured in Worthy Inspired’s The Imitation of Christ (Feb. 2017) by James Watkin, which is based the words of Thomas à Kempis.
B&H’s Between Us: A 52-Week Keepsake Devotional by Vicki Courtney (Oct.) is a gift for mothers and daughters to share. With discussion questions and journaling prompts, the book focuses on Scripture that mothers and daughters can contemplate together.
For a busy and stressed-out friend, Too Blessed to Be Stressed... Inspiration for Every Day: 365 Devotions for Women by Debora M. Coty (Barbour, Jan. 2017) blends humor with faith-filled readings on relationships, brokenness, love, boundaries, and praise. A Day at the Beach: Devotions to Help You Relax, Reflect, and Renew (Tyndale, Apr. 2017) by brothers Todd and Jedd Hafer, available with faux-leather binding, offers encouragement for pursuing a life of faith. And the hardcover 365 Devotions for Finding Rest by Christina Vinson (Thomas Nelson, Nov.) has suggestions for ways to unplug in today’s busy world.
Serving the Niches
For readers seeking guidance on specific areas of their life, such as marriage, relationships, career, or aging, there are special-purpose devotionals with a strong topical focus. These titles often highlight relevant Bible passages and suggest prayers directed toward a particular goal.
At Revell, a 365-day devotional from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Victory 365: Daily Motivation for a Champion’s Heart (Oct.), is aimed at coaches and student athletes, while Faith Sommers’s 90-day devotional, Prayers for a Simpler Life (Herald, Feb. 2017), includes ideas and prayers for simplifying daily activities. Author Crystal Stine addresses investing in a meaningful relationship with God in Craving Connection: 30 Challenges for Real Life Engagement (B&H, Jan. 2017); Charles Lattimore Howard gently introduces readers to the devotional format using stories, questions, and illustrations about finding peace in Pond River Ocean Rain (Abingdon, Feb. 2017).
Devotionals can offer comfort from grief, stress, and depression, as with Come, Follow Me: 365 Comforting Messages from the One Who Knows Your Name (Barbour, Nov.) by Matt Koceich, which provides 365 readings intended to remind readers of God’s love. Joni Eareckson Tada, who has lived as a quadriplegic for 50 years, also addresses tough situations such as dealing with chronic pain in A Spectacle of Glory: God’s Light Shining Through Me Every Day (Zondervan, Oct.), while Troy Schmidt’s collection of devotions, The 100 Most Encouraging Verses of the Bible (Bethany House, Nov.), is a resource intended to strengthen the faith of those experiencing trials or suffering.
Devotionals on marriage and parenting, evergreen topics in the genre, include The Kingdom Family Devotional (Tyndale, Jan. 2017), a book about virtues for the entire family by Tony Evans and his son Jonathan Evans. Refresh: Spiritual Nourishment for Parents of Children with Special Needs by Kimberly M. Drew (Kregel, Sept.) offers lessons and perspectives on raising a child with special needs. Love at First Fight by Carey and Dena Dyer (Shiloh Run, Sept.) comprises 52 meditations on the ups and downs of marriage. And My Beloved, My Friend by Brent D. Christianson (Judson, Jan. 2017) features 26 devotions inspired by the Bible’s Song of Songs.
Devotionals can deepen readers’ understanding of their faith. Showcasing a Jewish model for weekly Bible reading, Rabbi Evan Moffic offers “Torah-inspired devotions for a sacred life” in Shalom for the Heart (Abingdon, Mar. 2017). In Shalom in Psalms: A Devotional from the Jewish Heart of the Christian Faith (Baker Books, Jan. 2017) authors Jeffrey Seif, Glenn Blank, and Paul Wilbur also walk readers through Hebrew traditions to shed new light on the psalms. Patricia Mitchell caters specifically to women in Secrets of Ruth: Fresh Perspectives on Biblical Wisdom for Women (Barbour, Dec.), which incorporates teachings from the Old Testament. And in light of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination’s annual stewardship campaign, Chalice is marketing Bruce Barkhauer’s four-week devotional Community of Prayer (Sept.) to church leaders as a resource for teaching congregants about stewardship and generosity.
Devotionals for specific age groups include a book for the “Passion generation”—Christians ages 18–25—from Thomas Nelson Gift and Passion Publishing, Simple Pursuit: A Heart After Jesus (Nov.), inspired by the annual gathering of Christian leaders at the Passion Conference. And for those in middle age, Westminster John Knox has The Sun Still Rises (Feb. 2017), comprising 50 meditations on growing older.
Publishers show no signs of slowing down with publishing devotionals, and the genre allows rare safety from the threat to print sales by e-books. “It’s a strong category that hasn’t crossed over to digital formats,” says Susan Salley at Abingdon. “We have experimented with text and email programs to go with the books, but it feels important to have it in a format you can hold.”