Celebrities have stories to tell, especially when it comes to the faith that sustains them through the ups and downs of life and fame. Religion publishers are jumping onto the stage with spiritual memoirs from a host of celebrities' from music to media, fight ring to the racetrack to the football field.
“There’s always much more to a celebrity’s story that we might give them credit for. They’ve worked hard, paid dues, honed a craft,” said David Morris, executive vice president and publisher at Zondervan. “Even the seemingly most one-dimensional pop star has had to go through challenges, and how they thrived in spite of those challenges can be interesting.”
Morris is quick to say that faith-based memoirs aren’t about cashing in on a new market for celebrities. “A book by a celebrity simply can be another way the celebrity impacts their fans for the better, to inspire while also entertaining,” he said.
For Ainsley Earhardt, FOX and Friends co-host and author of The Light Within Me: An Inspirational Memoir (Harper, April), her memoir is a chance to “talk about what’s important to me,” she said, after publishing two successful children's' books..
“When I realize I’ve come through so much, good and bad, because of my relationship with Christ, I can’t hide that light within me. I want to be honest about my faith, but not preachy, for my viewers and my readers,” said Earhardt in an interview with PW.
Publishers often do memoirs by ordinary people with a compelling spiritual story but no headliner status, but this season there are several releases by authors with huge name recognition.
“There’s no question that name recognition helps, but most celebrities are famous because they have a special talent, skill or achievement that readers will be interested in,” said Jan Long Harris, executive publisher for Tyndale Momentum.
Or they may be professionally tied to marquee names that will draw attention. A Christian publisher points out that Dr. Kristi Funk, the renowned surgeon who operated on Angelina Jolie and Sheryl Crow, adds personal details to her guide to breast health, Breasts: The Owner’s Manual: Every Woman’s Guide to Reducing Cancer Risk, Making Treatment Choices, and Optimizing Outcomes (W, May 1) by telling readers how her belief God led her to this medical specialty.
Religion publishers occasionally face the issue of celebrity authors being exposed in a moral, ethical, or legal wrongdoing. In 2015, Tyndale House pulled The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven (published in 2010 and still popular at the time) when it learned that Alex Malarkey, the boy whose story is told in the book, said the tale was made up.
“It’s always sad when an author makes choices or behaves in a way that doesn’t represent their best self or their professed faith,” said Long Harris. “In rare instances when that happens, we have to end a publishing relationship, but we do so with sadness and, we hope, grace.”
Morris says a number of factors go into consideration when someone has rocketed to public attention.
“Will the buzz around a certain event, artist or movement still be there when a book comes out maybe a year later? Are the fans actually book buyers and readers?” said Morris. “Do fans engage with the celebrity’s platform, or do they passively watch? How big is the platform really? Will the network of people they belong to promote the book and will that help?”
A sampling of new and upcoming books includes:
Music with a melody of inspiration:
Undivided: Coming Out, Becoming Whole, and Living Free from Shame by Vicky Beeching (HarperOne, June). Songwriter and worship leader Beeching was an international church music star — until she came out as gay. She reveals her struggles as she lost everything yet gained much more. She has become a public voice for LGBT equality in the church.
Don’t Stop Believin’: The Man, the Band, and the Song that Inspired Generations by Jonathan Cain (Zondervan, May). The keyboardist and songwriter for the band Journey reveals details behind Journey’s most downloaded song ever, his tough childhood, details about the band, his faith throughout, and his marriage to the President’s pastor, Paula White.
The Faith of Dolly Parton: Lessons from Her Life to Lift Your Heart by Dudley Delffs (Zondervan, June). Parton has never been shy about talking about her faith; now this book, written by her fan Delffs, spotlights 10 faith lessons that shine in her music and life.
Media stars share off-camera life
Box of Butterflies: Discovering the Unexpected Blessings All Around Us by Roma Downey (Howard, March). Best known for her role in Touched by an Angel, Downey has seen butterflies throughout her life as a reminder of God’s presence. Now she shares stories from her life, quotes, poems, Scripture and artwork to encourage readers.
The Light Within Me: An Inspirational Memoir by Ainsley Earhardt (Harper, April). The Fox news host shares her own experiences in faith after writing spiritually infused children's' books.
Kind is the New Classy: The Power of Living Graciously by Candace Cameron Bure (Zondervan, April). Full House and Fuller House star Bure reveals thought patterns and practices that have empowered her to stay centered and practice radical kindness and graciousness. She also reveals how living with grace has been one of the biggest fights of her life.
Sports stars get spiritual
Rise: Surviving the Fight of My Life by Paige VanZant (Hachette Books, April). Long before VanZant was a world-class Mixed Martial Arts star, she says she learned to transform pain into power with God’s help and become one of the toughest women in the world.
The Pact: A UFC Champion, a Boy with Cancer, and Their Promise to Win the Ultimate Battle by Cody Garbrandt (W, May). The mixed martial arts champion describes the life-changing impact of his friendship with a small boy facing cancer as they both trusted God to lift them past their toughest challenges. Garbrandt fought his way to the top of the UFC as Maddux Maple fought leukemia.
Be Unstoppable: The Art of Never Giving Up by Bethany Hamilton (Zondervan, June 5). Surfer Hamilton has long been an icon of courage and faith after she returned to her sport despite losing an arm to a shark bite. She calls to be bold and enjoy life, including never-before-seen photos from the making of her new documentary.
Believe It: My Journey of Success, Failure and Overcoming the Odds by Nick Foles (Tyndale, June) The Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback and MVP of Super Bowl Lll led the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl championship. Foles addresses how his faith helped him face fear and failures in life and on the field. He’s donating all proceeds from the book to Christian charities and humanitarian causes around the world.
Walk On: From Pee Wee Dropout to the NFL Sidelines—My Unlikely Story of Football, Purpose, and Following an Amazing God by Ben Malcolmson and Patti McCord (Multnomah, July). Malcolmson was a reporter looking for a story when he participated in walk-on tryouts for the Seattle Seahawks. He made the team and, while never playing much, felt his position there was inextricably linked to his faith.
Racing to the Finish: My Story by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. with Ryan McGee (W. October). In Earnhardt’s first book since his 2017 retirement, he tells how he dealt with concussions and how his faith kept him on track in life.
Still in the Game: Finding the Faith to Tackle Life’s Biggest Challenges by Devon Still with Mark Dagostino (W, January 2019) Still, with the Cincinnati Bengals, shares his story of inspiration and his daughter’s cancer, and how hope in God helped him (and readers) battle back.