During 2020’s siege of coronavirus and social turmoil, many people turned inward or looked upward, seeking wisdom, solace, or escape – and sending sales of books on mind-body-spirit themes soaring. Executives at Inner Traditions, St. Martin's Essentials, and Red Wheel/Weiser — publishing houses that specialize in such topics — report noteworthy sales bumps both for new titles and rediscovered backlist books.
“People are scared and they want to explore their fears. They are looking for answers,” said John Hays, v-p of sales and marketing for the new age specialty house Inner Traditions. “Overall, sales are up 30%,” Hays said. A key to the increase, Hays explained, were big gains in online and direct-to-consumer sales. Online sales were especially strong in subjects such as the esoteric, New Age spirituality, divination, healing, and self-care — drove significant sales increases through online retailers. And sales through the company’s direct-to-consumer channel were up 40% in 2020 over 2019. In the massive move to online marketing, Inner Traditions’ email subscriber list climbed from 30,000 two years ago to 50,000 at the end of 2020, Hays said.
High on their list of hot selling titles, new and backlist, were:
—The Hoodoo Tarot, a book and tarot card deck set by Tayannah Lee McQuillar based on the hoodoo tradition from the Southeastern U.S., From its release in mid-February 2020 to the end of the year, it sold 20,000 copies, reflecting a great urge by readers to divine the future, said Hays.
— Dark Fleet: The Secret Nazi Space Program and the Battle for the Solar System, by Len Kasten, is the hot occult title, reflecting a grim view of the future, Hays told PW. He described the title as a “nonfiction look at Nazis, with reptilian alien partners, infiltrating NASA” and repeats with emphasis, “Nonfiction.” True or not, it’s sold 10,000 copies since it was released in March.
—The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T.K.V. Desikachar, published in 1999 was a classic with steady sales for the health and healing readers, said Hays. Despite its longevity, 2020 sales jumped 30% over 2019, putting it at #3 for sales for Inner Traditions.
—Tuning the Human Biofield: Healing with Vibrational Sound Therapy, Eileen Day McKusick’s look at energy systems in the human body and how to heal blockages caused by trauma, was a such a hit for the publisher when it came out last year that it will issue a revised and expanded new edition in September, Hays said.
Books that 'met the moment'
St. Martin’s Essentials, the spirituality imprint for St. Martin’s, launched in January 2019. In just 24 months of books on the market, “sales have far exceeded what we were planning,” said Joel Fotinos, v-p and editorial director. Like everyone, they were surprised by the pandemic’s onslaught but “the books we were launching met the moment,” he said. “During difficult times, people do look to spirituality to find ways to deal with the challenges they are experiencing.”
Titles driving sales include:
— Everything is Spiritual: Who We Are and What We’re Doing Here, by Rob Bell, released in September, “is so perfect for this time period,” that it has sold over 55,000 copies in all formats, said Fotinos. It weaves his memoir – a young mega-church pastor turned best-selling author – with ancient wisdom.
— Spirit Hacking: Shamanic Keys to Reclaim Your Personal Power, Transform Yourself, and Light Up the World is by Shaman Durek. A sixth-generation shaman with a booming online presence, he draws on spiritual healing in indigenous traditions from Haiti to Norway, said Fotinos. Sales from the hardcover edition, released in October 2019, and the paperback a year later, add up to “more than 30,000 and rising,” he said.
— The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention by Julia Cameron — the author of five-million-copy-seller The Artist’s Way — sold 4,800 copies in the first week after its January 12 release. “She encourages people to listen to their own lives and use listening as a creative force,” according to Fotinos.
He also is excited about a new book from Eileen Day McKusick, Electric Body, Electric Health, which takes a science-based look at how prayer and meditation work. It had so many preorders that it was already in second printing before it was released Tuesday, Jan. 26, Fotinos said, although he declined to offer the print run total.
Seeking answers for 'profound uncertainty'
Covid, social upheaval, and the fraught aftermath of the 2020 election are not the only drivers for such strong interest in spiritual topics, said Peter Turner, associate publisher for Red Wheel/Weiser. As acquiring editor for Weiser, which specializes in books on witchcraft, the occult, and magic, Turner said he’s seen interest in these topics “trending upward for three or four years now.”
He explained: “When you are confronted with existential threats, with profound uncertainty, you really have two choices — retreat into the familiar or open yourself up to what is at the root of that anxiety and uncertainty, roots that are intensely spiritual."
Turner draws examples from new titles and reissued books grabbing fresh interest:
— Year of the Witch: Connecting with Nature’s Seasons through Intuitive Magick by Temperance Alden, came out in November, and Turner said it’s sold nearly 15,000 copies and climbing. He describes Alden as “social media darling of the handle of Wild Woman Witchcraft whose book is about the annual rituals and celebrations of the Wicca traditions.” But the main idea is that "you are fundamentally empowering yourself to create your own rituals of life. It’s not a panacea but it is about self-empowerment by tapping into spiritual traditions.”
—Astrology for Real Life: A Workbook for Beginners by Theresa Reed, known online as the Tarot Lady, is also bumping past 15,000 copies sold since it released in October 2019. “She’s a trip!” said Turner. “She’s energetic and straightforward and the book is definitely not woo-woo. Her view of astrology is deeply personal and practical.”
—Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Tarot Journey to Self-Awareness, by Rachel Pollack, was a steady seller since it was first published in 1980. Then Weiser reissued it with “a new cover and marketing push in 2019, and sales really took off. It sold about 12,000 copies last year. It used to be a third of that. It’s in our top five sellers right now when, a few years ago, it would have been in the top 50,” said Turner.
— The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts, by Baba Ifa Karade, also saw renewed interest in 2020. Originally published in 1991, this primer on West African spirituality was selling 2,000 to 3,000 copies a year until it was reissued with a new cover last year. It caught on with a rising interest in African healing traditions, selling 10,000 copies in 2020, said Turner.
What threads through Weiser’s titles is a pragmatism that’s very appealing in unsettled times, Turner said. He points to “a worldview that the world is animated in a very deep way and one can, through certain rituals and practices, can enter into this. Our most popular books are grounded in lived experience. They are fundamentally practical books based on practices and beliefs that may not be part of the mainstream – yet.”