Recent years have brought a transformation in scholarly publishing, and thus to the work of many scholar/authors. Changes in economic realities for university presses and the academic imprints of church-owned houses, as well as an evolving audience for serious nonfiction in general, have pushed scholars to write outside the tribe of fellow academics. General trade publishers now eagerly seek out books by authors with solid academic credentials who can write accessibly, a trend that has become even more pronounced in today's sobered political and economic climate.
Hunting Down the Scholarly Trade Book
Reed Malcolm knows that although university presses face some tough challenges today, they will adapt and meet those challenges head-on. Malcolm, an acquisitions editor for the University of California Press, notes that the market for 'the specialized, scholarly monograph,' once the bread and butter of academic publishing, is all but disappearing. 'By this I mean books whose principal purchaser is the academic or the university library. A typical print run would be 1,500 cloth copies or less,' he says. 'Shrinking library budgets, the rise of the 'course reader,' and the advent of the Internet have eroded the market for these specialized books. Add to this the reluctance of parent universities to subsidize these monographs and the cost of press operations.'
Younger scholars trying to get tenure feel the biggest squeeze.. 'The irony here is that tenure requirements have not changed in step, and so junior faculty whose futures depend on publishing one or two books (usually revised dissertations) are finding it near impossible to do so if their book is on a narrow subject,' Malcolm says.
In light of these new realities, California, like most UPs, is looking now to publish the 'scholarly trade book,' which aims for a broader market and is not riddled with highbrow jargon. 'We seek out those books that have a crossover appeal and will also reach a non-scholarly, general readership,' Malcolm says. 'I find the level of reading comprehension for your typical non-academic reader (of a university press trade book) to be more or less the same as your average undergraduate. Consequently, books that work well in the world also work well in the classroom, especially in introductory seminars.'
But Malcolm concedes that publishing the scholarly trade book is easier said than done for a UP. 'While the pressure is being put on editors to bring in more trade books, the truth is we're not a trade press, and aren't thought of as a commercial house,' he says. 'Nor do we have the same promotional resources. What's more, the authors we typically work with--academics--have difficulty writing for a trade audience. To retrain them to write for a wider audience can be quite excruciating.'
One successful scholarly trade book for California is Mark Juergensmeyer's Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, which was released in paper last September, shortly before the terrorist attacks. It has sold 50,000 copies and netted a quarter of a million dollars for the press in the past year. 'Since 9/11, university presses have seen sales of their Islam-related books skyrocket,' he says. Malcolm also predicts 'great growth' in Buddhist studies, particularly Buddhism in America. This fall, the press's lead title is a photography book called Visions of Buddhist Life (Nov.) by Don Farber. 'We expect it to do quite well over the holidays as a gift book,' Malcolm notes. -- Jana Reiss
Speaking to Armchair Academics
There's a story Cynthia Read, executive editor at Oxford University Press, likes to tell to show how much scholarly religion publishing has changed. When she was an editorial assistant at OUP, the house was considering a book of essays by a little-known Islamic scholar. 'I don't know,' Read remembers her boss saying. 'Do you think anyone wants to read about Islamic politics?'
That was 23 years ago, and that author, John L. Esposito, is now one of OUP's stars, with Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (May) and What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam (Oct.) currently enjoying robust sales. Other titles that have crossed over to trade success via OUP's religion list include The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Mar.) by Philip Jenkins and What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (2001) by Bernard Lewis.
The acceptance of scholarly religion titles in the trade market is the biggest change Read has seen in academic publishing in the past few years. She ties this shift not so much to the events of September 11--though she concedes that bolstered the trend--but to a growing interest in serious nonfiction generally that finally made its way into the religion category. 'We always realized average educated people want to read books about history and maybe science,' she says. 'But religion has now registered on everybody's radar and is falling into that same category.' And it isn't just the faithful who buy these books. More and more, it is the armchair academic who wants to know how religion affects the world. 'It is not just 'religious' books any more,' she says. 'It is books about religion.'
That shift is confirmed by media interest in books and authors that would once have been thought too brainy for general readers. Mark Noll's America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (OUP, Oct.) is destined to be reviewed widely and well. 'The book editor at Atlantic Monthly told me he thinks this is the most important book in American history this year,' Read says. 'And it is a book about theology. People are realizing religion is a part of everything and not separating it out they way they did before.'
As a long-time home for scholarly religion titles, Oxford was well-positioned to satisfy the trade market's hunger for serious religion. Still, the new demand has changed the way OUP packages these books, with more thought given to appealing covers, eye-friendly print and attention-grabbing cover copy. She also finds herself doing a lot more editing--even line editing--of books with crossover potential. 'It used to be 'if you publish it, they will come' because you were publishing for a narrow market,' Read says. 'But now, if you want these books to break out, you have to put a lot more work into it.'
So do the authors, who are often relatively obscure academics used to writing for other obscure academics. But breaking into the trade market means academics can no longer write just for the cognoscenti. At the same time, they must maintain the highest academic standards. Read says she sees many writers--Philip Jenkins predominant among them--becoming better at satisfying both requirements.
Current events drive the three topics Read thinks will gain strength in the academic religion field. Islam will continue to grow, Read says, as many colleges and universities are beginning to establish Islamic studies departments and courses post-September 11. Religion and health will be hot, too. 'You keep reading in the newspaper that religion is good for your health,' she says. OUP was pleasantly surprised by the success of its Handbook of Religion and Health (2000), edited by Harold Koenig, David Larson and Michael McCullough. 'It is a $55 hardcover and it just goes and goes,' Read says. 'I think that is a real sign.' OUP recently commissioned a history of healing in Christianity and an anthology on religious healing in the United States. Catholicism also will be a lively topic. OUP's In Search of an American Catholicism (Sept.) by Jay Dolan is selling well, Read says, and they have high hopes for Hating the Church: Anti-Catholicism in Modern America (May 2003) by Philip Jenkins. 'There is a lot of ferment in the American church and there are currents in the church overseas that are in conflict with ideas over here,' she notes. 'So I think this is an area a lot of people are going to be looking at.' -- Kimberly Winston
Taking It to the Streets
An ongoing fascination with spirituality in contemporary culture affords scholarly authors the opportunity to 'reflect thoughtfully and reach a wider-than-usual audience,' says Robert Hosack, senior acquisitions editor at Baker Academic and Baker Books. In these situations, 'it's the academy hitting the streets with an accessible vernacular.'
This opportunity to successfully reach the wider reading public is one of the most refreshing recent changes Hosack sees in the publishing of serious nonfiction in religion. By virtue of subject matter, cultural context or current events, there are 'publishing windows' through which publishers can reach new audiences with thoughtful works from scholar/authors, he says. 'The success over the last few years of books by Karen Armstrong and various Jesus Seminar authors seems to show that scholarship can go mainstream,' he says. Hosack also mentions Kathleen Norris, who he admits isn't technically an academic, but whose books have a trickle-down effect. 'If she can popularize esoteric subjects like monastic disciplines, then all the good for other authors who come alongside writing in similar areas.'
Baker Academic's list is mostly composed of textbooks for college/seminary use, monographs, and ancillary texts. 'It's this third area where there's the greatest freedom to try reach a broader reading community,' Hosack says, adding that when he acquires books, he keeps this market in mind. A recent Baker Academic title is Habits of the High-Tech Heart (Aug.) by Quentin Schultze, which Hosack says has all the formal apparatus of a textbook but is also attractive to a larger audience of computer users. Another book, Reel Spirituality (2000) by Robert Johnston, the first book in Baker Academic's Engaging Culture series, offers readers theological analyses of films. 'Everybody, except fundamentalists, goes to the movies,' notes Hosack. 'That's why a good book on the topic by a careful scholar brings us success.' Other books in the series cover subjects as diverse as the environment, music and technology.
Spirituality, popular culture and interreligious dialogue are examples of what Hosack sees as fruitful publishing areas these days. He believes that postmodernism affects both how authors communicate and readers receive information and has major implications for the making of academic books in the future. The study of theology, which Hosack called a 'never-say-die category,' can be positively influenced by postmodern thought, he says, citing as examples Roger Olson's The Story of Christian Theology (InterVarsity Press, 1999), and Eerdmans's Guides to Theology series, designed for a broad audience. Because 'the present is only understood in light of the past,' guidebooks and histories will continue to be important. Hosack specifically mentions Randall Balmer and Lauren Winner's Protestantism in America (Columbia Univ. Press, July) and Mark Noll's 'magisterial' America's God (Oxford Univ. Press, Oct.) as good examples.
Hosack plans to continue looking for books that fit in the classroom but have the potential to reach a larger market. 'It's a legitimate audience for a scholarly press to pursue, both in terms of broadening influence and contributing to the bottom line,' Hosack says. He admits he's more sales driven than he used to be. 'There's no shortage of excellent ideas, good proposals, and complete manuscripts,' but when he looks at sales potential, 'it simply eliminates most projects from more serious consideration.' -- Cindy Crosby
Crossing Disciplines and Markets
'In many ways, I think the study of religion is only now coming into its own,' says Elaine Maisner, who has been an acquisitions editor at the University of North Carolina Press for six years. 'Historians and cultural studies experts are now investigating the interdependent currents that run between religion, society, culture and politics.'
And that's a good thing, since the narrowly focused scholarly religion monograph is fast going the way of the spotted owl. Maisner describes a 'two-fold change' developing in the university press market. 'One is the acceleration of the shrinking of college and university library markets. There's more consortium buying and inter-library loans, and even major research libraries are choosing the less expensive paperback over the cloth-bound books when given the choice,' she says. 'Secondly, there's a greater potential for general non-academic readership for informed, scholarship-based titles that are written to be highly accessible.'
Maisner says that the market changes affect which projects she signs. 'This leads to an increased focus on acquiring a mix of books, so that acquisitions are distributed more broadly than ever over a range of significant scholarly studies, to mid-list books and books that can be given a trade discount,' she notes. She also suspects there may be 'a course adoption shift--an increased use of religion books in courses on history and cultural studies. I think that, balanced against the terrible library market, could be hopeful. But I haven't come to any conclusions yet.' Maisner is particularly interested in acquiring interdisciplinary projects, like Tona Hangen's Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion, and Popular Culture (In Profile, this issue) and James Goff's Close Harmony: A History of Southern Gospel (Mar.), both UNC titles. 'These books really exemplify the intertwining of culture, business and religion in the United States,' she observes. She also cites the 2001 book Religion on Campus, 'which has been a bit of a lightning rod for discussion of secularization and 'true religion.' '
Maisner senses a hunger for more books that are about transnationalism and cross-cultural encounters. 'That's really an important emerging trend--books about people encountering other regions and religions, and creating new networks and exchanges. ' UNC's spring list will feature Judith Snodgrass's Presenting Japanese Buddhism to the West: Orientalism, Occidentalism, and the Columbian Exposition (June 2003). The cross-cultural approach is catching on. 'In Catholic studies, this trend toward transnationalism is happening quite a bit now,' Maisner explains. 'Scholars are looking to Italy, Germany and even the Caribbean to understand American Catholicism.'
Maisner is pleased to see that historians, sociologists, and scholars from other fields are paying attention to religion as one important--but heretofore understudied--dimension of culture. Many of the authors on UNC's religion list 'are not necessarily just religion scholars,' she says, and they take pains to connect religion to politics, the economy and culture. She believes that this broader, more inclusive approach to studying religion will help to balance the shrinkage in traditional academic markets. 'Our intention is to have a fairly broad-based list in religious studies.' -- Jana Reiss
Connecting Church and Academy
The byword for acquisitions at Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing might well be bridge-building, and Jon Pott, v-p and editor-in-chief, is one of the primary architects. Involved in acquisitions there for almost three decades, Pott acquires 'a good portion' of the 110-120 books Eerdmans publishes each year. The resulting eclectic catalogue ensures that the house 'bridges the church and the academy, the evangelical and mainline worlds, and the Christian world and the general market,' Potts says. 'It makes our program diverse.' A family-owned publishing house, Eerdmans is editorially driven, but 'we do have to survive,' Pott says. 'We are attentive to sorting out markets and try to publish intelligently to them.'
When Pott looks at these markets, he finds a growing reconnection between the academy and the interests of the church. This awareness extends to connecting theology and various practices of the church, and Pott cited Eerdmans' 'flagship' book, Practicing Theology: Belief and Practices in Christian Life (2001), edited by Miroslav Volf and Dorothy Bass, as an example of one title that reflects the ongoing dialogue.
Worship is another area where the study of theology intersects with the life of the church, and with this in mind, Pott has acquired several forthcoming titles. The multi-author primer, Discerning the Spirits: Understanding and Evaluating Contemporary Worship Practices, will be published in late summer of 2003. Other viable topics for acquisition by Pott include healing, liturgy, sacraments, baptism and communion.
Pott says he sees a renewed interest in acquainting the church with Bible reading in fresh ways. 'There seem to be more commentaries meant for the laity, with a pastoral dimension,' he notes. With this in mind, in April Eerdmans published Making Sense of the Bible: Literary Type as an Approach to Understanding by Marshall Johnson, meant for students and educated laity.
More scholars are writing out of the academy for a general market, Pott says, pointing out Quentin Schultze's Habits of the High Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age (Aug.) from Baker, and two older books from Eerdmans: Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (1999) by Christine Pohl and Cornelius Plantinga's Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (1996). But books written for the general trade by scholars don't work unless scholars adopt a different mindset. 'It's not just a matter of simplifying,' says Pott. 'There must be an ability to make stylistic adjustments and to dramatize, telling stories with some narrative life so they don't sound like academic case studies. Neal Plantinga does this well. Lewis Smedes does it well. Marva Dawn does this well.'
Although authors who write for both the academic market and the trade may be able to command more money for their manuscripts, Pott says finances are usually not the only consideration authors have when choosing a publishing house. 'Most authors who want to cross over into trade are attentive to whether a publisher can reach the market they have in mind,' he said.
Pott also sees major interest now in religion and antiquity. 'What are these ancient religions' texts? What can one say about them? What can one learn about early Judaism, the New Testament period, the early church?' Pott asks, noting that the Dead Sea Scrolls have become a 'minor industry.' A recent coup for Eerdmans was a review of Jodi Magness's The Archeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Dec.) in the September issue of Harper's. And in the spring, Eerdmans will publish William Dever's Who Were the Early Israelites, and Where Did They Come From? (Mar. 2003). 'You'd think this was arcane stuff, but there is strong interest out there, not unlike the Jesus Seminar had,' Pott says. -- Cindy Crosby
A Need to Understand
From Barbara Hanrahan's post as director of the University of Notre Dame Press, the sounds of change are loud and insistent. Of the trade market's recent demand for academic religion titles, she says, 'This is where the revolution is taking place. You can really see a shift in attention toward taking the study of religion more seriously. And it is not just happening in the academic study of religion, but people are beginning to realize religion is of such fundamental importance in any culture and in any period of history, and we haven't given it enough credit.'
Driving this revolution, of course, are recent political events both here and abroad--September 11, the rising conflict in the Middle East, the looming war with Iraq and the bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines. Now Americans not only want to know what drives violence in the name of religion, they need to know. 'I think that religion publishers are going to be more interested in this as well,' Hanrahan says. 'And within the next couple of years we are going to see many books published that assume religion is not only interesting, but that we have to understand it, because there is truly an enormous amount at stake here.' One UNDP title that recognizes this need is The Enticement of Religion (Oct.) by Kees Bolle. A professor of history at UCLA, Bolle has written a book not only for students, but also for general readers, showing how to study a religious tradition not so much as a wisdom path, but as an academic subject.
Because of the growing need to understand religion within a political framework, UNDP has asked several scholars to write books based on academic conferences on the same theme. Currently in the pipeline for Notre Dame is a book by scholar Adam Seligman that came out of a conference at the Institute for the Study of Human Sciences. Still awaiting a title and publication date, the book brings together different scholars from Judaic, Christian and Islamic studies to discuss the relationship between these three traditions and what each defines as 'toleration.' 'There is an exchange of attitudes in this book that I think is tremendously relevant right now,' Hanrahan says. 'It might have been interesting five years ago, but now there is such an urgency about this.' In April 2003, UNDP will publish Promise and Peril: The Paradox of Religion as Resource and Threat, edited by Anna Lannstrom. The book, which evolved from a Boston University series in philosophy and religion, looks at the religious roots of major world conflicts. 'These are the current hot political issues of the day and at the base of every one of them is religious conflict,' Hanrahan says. And where the book might have once been found in the middle of the press's catalogue, 'We are putting this book at the front because it is so timely.'
As for what's next for the academic religion category, Hanrahan says she isn't sure. But she hopes some of the attention given to Islam in the past year will bleed over to other religious traditions. 'I really hope that we take some of this urgency and extend it so that the need to understand the importance of all religions occupies a more central place,' she says. UNDP has already started shifting some of the focus of its religious studies list from Catholicism to other world religions. A recent title in this line is Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church (June), edited by Michael Plekon and Lawrence Cunningham, a book of sketches of 10 notable figures in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Overall, Hanrahan remains optimistic that the consumer's attraction to religion books will not wane. 'Despite all the problems the economy and the book industry have been having, religion is one of the few areas that has remained very strong and very vigorous,' she says. 'It has simply remained for a very long time one of the most healthy [categories] in terms of sales.' -- Kimberly Winston
Peering Through a Pop Culture Lens
Popular culture and the academy aren't strange bedfellows anymore, affirms Henry Carrigan, acquisitions editor at Trinity Press International. Carrigan, a former PW Forecasts editor, college professor and librarian, acquires about 30 books each year. From this vantage point, the examination of religion and pop culture is one noteworthy trend in academic publishing.
'There's no question that today's generation is so hooked into popular culture that they see their religion mediated through it,' Carrigan says. He cited Westminster John Knox Press's success tapping into this fondness for reading religion through the eyes of popular culture with its Gospel According To series, and with its book, The Faith of 50 Million: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture (Mar. 2002), edited by Christopher Hodge Evans and William Herzog. As its contribution, TPI will publish Tangled Up in the Bible: Bob Dylan and Scripture by Michael Gilmour, a professor of New Testament at Providence College & Theological Seminary in Canada, next September.
In the wake of September 11 and with the possibility of war looming on the horizon, Carrigan also foresees a flood of books on religion and politics, mentioning two books that deal with September 11 in a specific way: Harper San Francisco's When Religion Becomes Evil (Sept.) by Charles Kimball and TPI's forthcoming Is Religion Killing Us? (Mar. 2003) by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. Carrigan adds, 'If we have a war, we'll see another spate of apocalyptic books.'
When looking for projects with strong sales potential, an established name helps. Carrigan notes that Fortress Press author Walter Brueggeman has a large following outside the academy. 'Finding these first-tier authors makes a huge difference in the sales potential of a book,' he says. Carrigan also searches for up-and-coming young scholars who become known from their conference papers and published articles, such as Scott Spencer, whose What Did Jesus Do? will be published with TPI next fall.
Proposals on topics with strong sales potential always draw Carrigan's attention. Currently these include biblical studies, religion and science, theology, and archeology. As a good example, he cites William Dever's What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? (Eerdmans, 2001), which Carrigan calls 'a bit of a manifesto.' TPI's Archeology and the Galilean Jesus (2000) by Jonathan Reed sold through its hardcover print run and is 'selling well' since its paperback debut in April, Carrigan notes. And 'Old Testament is a happening category Old Testament studies are coming into their own in some ways,' he says, adding that people also still buy 'Jesus books.' He also pointed to Before the Flood, Ian Wilson and Charles Erber's book on the historicity of Noah's biblical event, to be published in December by St. Martin's Press. 'It confirms the fact that scholarship can be made palatable, but it will be a controversial book.'
Carrigan also commented on the current vogue for religion books among general trade publishers. 'It used to be that a discrete group of scholarly religion publishers vied for the authors in the small pond of religion publishing,' he says. 'Then, all of a sudden, many trade publishers began building religion lines that featured scholarly books on religion for general readers.' This means that acquisitions decisions at TPI must be much more sales-driven than before. 'We won't publish books that don't have a certain sales potential,' Carrigan says, adding that for a press such as TPI, this might mean at least 3,000 copies. 'Now I have to acquire more books that can go beyond the walls of academia to speak to a broader audience in accessible language about any number of topics.' -- Jana Reiss
Mining a Broad, Rich Market
The religion book market today is 'a treasure chest,' says Stephanie Egnotovich, executive editor of Westminster John Knox Press. 'I'd characterize it as an abundance of riches,' says Egnotovich, who has been with the press for 10 years. 'The extraordinary breadth of the academic market has, over the past few years, become even more obvious. Part of what I am looking at is the growth of presses everywhere and the increase in the number of titles they are all producing.' And at WJKP, she says, 'There is a general enthusiasm that greets our catalogue, and our sales are up this year.'
Much of this expansion has been generated by WJKP's academic authors. 'They are increasingly interested in writing both for students and for general readers who have a serious interest in religion,' Egnotovich says. 'I've sensed an attitudinal change among some scholars, tied at least in part to their recognition of the need for knowledgeable public voices to speak and write on faith-related issues of all sorts.' One book that has found a home with both audiences is Jesus the Savior by William Placher (2001), which explores Jesus Christ's relationship to Christianity with both the theologically trained and general reader in mind. 'Bill demonstrates perfectly how an academic can bridge two audiences,' she says. Also in this category is Stanley Grenz, whose What Christians Really Believe and Why (1998) has had broad appeal. Egnotovich thinks Katharine Sakenfeld's still untitled book about wives of the Old Testament will receive a similar reception. 'This could have great crossover appeal,' Egnotovich says. 'She brings her years of teaching experience and time doing Bible study with women in Asia to this book.'
The desire of scholars to reach a wider audience has led WJKP to diversify its publishing program. As a Presbyterian press, they have long been a home for mainline Protestant scholars, but now evangelical authors are making more frequent appearances on their frontlist. Partly this is due to the house's desire to respond more fully to the growing sophistication of readers. But it also reflects the desire of many evangelicals to find a broader audience. 'There is a recognition on the part of evangelicals that mainline presses can expose them to another segment of the market,' says Egnotovich. 'So I think there is a lot of fluidity between scholars and publishers right now. We offer them a different customer.' Titles in this line include the forthcoming Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living in an Affluent Society (March 2003) by Marva Dawn. Over the next 10 years, WJKP will continue its publication of Regent College professor Stanley Grenz's six-volume work of systematic theology, which began with The Social God and the Relational Self (2001). Earlier this year, WJKP issued a 20th-anniversary edition of Cornel West's Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity and plans a forthcoming anthology of African-American religious thought from West and Eddie Glaude, another Princeton professor.
Future topics cited by Egnotovich cover a wide range, from the ultimate good to the darkest evil. WJKP will publish The Angry Christian (June 2003) by Andrew Lester, a pastoral counselor and theologian, which explores the relationship of anger to Christian belief and its role in Christian life. 'I think the events of the past year have generated great interest in issues of personal morality and accountability,' Egnotovich says, 'and that books on sin and evil, virtues and vices, and topics such as anger and hate will do very well.' Likewise books on the ultimate good, as Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary (Oct.), edited by Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Cynthia Rigby, a look at that paragon's relevance to other mainline religions. World religions remain an important topic, she says, and the house will publish the third edition of Jacob Neusner's World Religions in America next fall. -- Kimberly Winston