Like gourmet ice cream, books on prayer come in every possible flavor. Traditional and contemporary, gift format and pocket-sized, Christian, Jewish and generically spiritual, there's something for anyone who has ever felt a little conversation with a higher power was in order and wanted some guidance on how to make the connection. While sales of books in the prayer category are mixed these days—with publishers and retailers reporting everything from mega-sellers to weakened performance—authors continue to look at prayer from every possible angle, finding new spins on an ancient discipline.

"A good many seekers are searching for innovative, fresh and substantive prayer books," says Joe Durepos, senior trade acquisitions editor for Loyola Press, "and it's a competitive market." Adds Orbis Books publisher Michael Leach, "There's room for every kind, from the traditional to the unconventional. Why? We feel lost in this world, and yearn to be in touch with our source."

Christians Find Crossover

In this search for divine communication that often spans denominations and crosses faith boundaries, religion publishers are finding readers outside their traditional audiences. "As spirituality has become a stronger interest in the mainstream culture, our books on prayer have found a growing audience outside of CBA," Baker Book House marketing director John Sawyer tells PW. "Sales of books on prayer in other channels, such as the general trade bookstores, big boxes and Internet retailers, are increasing steadily." At Augsburg Fortress, general manager Scott Tunseth notes that the press's primary audience has continued to shift its buying over the past five years from greater concentration in CBA stores to more general interest stores. His sales staff tells him that this change "seems to relate to more focus on the CBA side on author name recognition and less on subject area."

Sales of some books on prayer continue to astonish publishers and consumers alike. For the 19 Mardel superstores that cater to Christians, the mega-selling The Prayer of Jabez (2000) was "an incredible short-lived spike" (more than nine million copies sold), but the real news is the staying power of Stormie Omartian's Power of a Praying... series from Harvest House Publishers. "The Omartian series has been a trend in itself, and largely responsible for the increased sales in our prayer category," Stoll says. John Constance, v-p of sales at Harvest House Publishers, notes they've sold over six million copies of the Power of a Praying... series over the past six years. "Stormie knows that prayer has been an effective means to change her own life, and that resonates with the reader," Constance says. Since the first title, The Power of a Praying Parent (1995), Harvest House has successfully extended the line to include a backlist of 36 titles, audiobooks and products ranging from study guides to prayer cards, and will release seven new books and audiobooks between March and September.

Another hot seller is Germaine Copeland's Prayers That Avail Much series from Harrison House; the original Prayers That Avail Much (1980) sold more than one million copies. Together, the 20 different products have sold three million copies, including a Prayers That Avail Much Commemorative Gift Edition (1997). Since the publication of the first book, titles from the series have appeared on Christian bestseller lists 30 times, says Susan Janos, v-p of marketing. In March, Harrison House published four new pocket editions of titles in the series, including Prayers That Avail Much for Moms and Prayers That Avail Much for Women.

Zondervan v-p and associate publisher Lyn Cryderman says the prayer category continues to be very strong for them, and he sees two distinct trends. Books such as Jerry Sittser's When God Doesn't Answer Your Prayer (Jan., starred review Nov. 10, 2003) "focus on helping people sort through the misconceptions about prayer and dissect what prayer really is." Cryderman also sees a renewed interest in formal prayer. "Readers are looking for books that provide a guide to prayer life and actual prayers to recite, such as those found in Praying with Women of the Bible" by Nancy Kennedy (Feb.).

This search for more formal prayer is spreading across Catholic and Protestant lines. Eerdmans sales director Michael Thomson notes that houses such as Eerdmans and InterVarsity Press are tapping into "a retrieval of tradition" to reclaim some ancient prayer forms, such as Celtic, icons and spiritual formation. "There are some readers, thank goodness, who are not satisfied with pop musings," he notes. Eerdmans recently published its first prayer/icon books, The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (Mar., 12,500 first printing), and will advertise it in print venues including Books & Culture, PW, Good Books, First Things and several Episcopal catalogues. "It gives thoughtful, hungry Protestants an entree into praying with icons while providing a genuine theological rooting for the practice," Thomson notes. With this more contemplative type of audience in mind, InterVarsity Press recently partnered with Ruth Barton, author of Invitation to Solitude & Silence (Feb.), to sponsor a series of retreats with the Transforming Center headquartered in Warrenville, Ill., as part of its marketing efforts, says IVP print publicity manager Brooke Nolen.

Although some evangelicals still critique Catholicism's dependence on written, repetitious prayers, Paulist Press publicist Jill Gleichman says, "many evangelical CBA-ers are hopping on the train; they're very interested in awe-filled encounters." Lawrence Boadt, publisher at Paulist, says that some of its books on lectio divina (reading scripture prayerfully) are beginning to receive attention in CBA as well as continuing to appeal to its primary market of Roman Catholics. Paulist recently hired Omni, a repping group, to promote its books to CBA stores.

The interdenominational interest in reclaiming tradition may well be the spark that has set Doubleday's The Divine Hours series by Phyllis Tickle on fire. The three volumes have more than 72,000 copies in print, and "that number is steadily rising" says Trace Murphy, editor-in-chief at Doubleday Religious. "What's most exciting to see is that the most potential growth for these titles seems to be in CBA, where many readers are only just being introduced to the concept of fixed-hour prayer," Murphy says. Doubleday recently published two trade paperbacks in the series in an effort to further broaden the audience: Christmastide (Oct. 2003) and Eastertide (Feb.). Doubleday has also partnered with the Ann Arbor, Mich., Vineyard Church to put the daily prayers from the books online at, and other Web site partnerships are in the works.

For those who find traditional language with a patriarchal focus difficult, Frank Buhrman, director of publicity at Morehouse Publishing, says the contemporary language of its new worship resource, Prayer Book for the 21st Century by John McQuiston II (Mar.) will be welcome. Books like this, Buhrman says, exemplify how publishing houses can address the needs of various niche groups. "Just as niche magazines have largely supplanted the 'one-size-fits-all' general audience publications, we have prayer books for families, women, traditionalists, non-traditionalists, devotees of Celtic spirituality and so forth."

Looking for niches is a strategy that Ave Maria/Sorin Books editorial director and author Robert Hamma is using in his prayer books releasing in June: In Times of Illness, In Times of Grieving and In Times of Caregiving. "In a sense, the idea of a situational prayer book is not new," Hamma says. "But it is the refinement of the situations that is new—those who are ill can benefit from a prayer book that is distinct from the one their caregivers may use."

Hamma is also finding "a keen interest in our books that reshape the tradition in a contemporary way." He believes Your Own Mysteries: Praying Your Life Through the Rosary by Philip Armstrong (Feb.) will tap into the renewed popularity of the rosary since Pope John Paul II added the "Luminous Mysteries" in 2002 (the first addition of a new rosary prayer since 1569). Doubleday is also on board with the changes in its Praying the Rosary by Megan McKenna, which serves as introduction and companion.

Another fresh look at an ancient practice is Burt Ghezzi's The Sign of the Cross (Loyola, Mar.). Senior trade acquisitions editor Joe Durepos says Ghezzi "reinvigorates for Catholics an almost all too common gesture they've been making for centuries without perhaps realizing the enormous benefits and extraordinary spiritual payoff." Marketing director Melissa Crane says she's successfully used an in-house mailing list of parish priests to promote the book, and will advertise it in PW, Ingram publications, Booklist, America (a national Catholic weekly) and through the Catholic Book Publishers Association monthly advertising packet.

Prayer Jewish Style

Breadth and depth of books on prayer helps keep the category humming at Rosenblum's World of Judaica in Chicago, according to senior manager Sandy Kanter. Rosenblum's caters to "the full gamut" of Jewish readers from all levels of observance and all sects, which is one of the keys to the 60-year-old independent bookstore's success, she says. The store stocks 32 feet of prayer books, 16 feet of prayer book commentaries in English, and another 20 feet of Hebrew prayer book commentaries. Recently, Kanter says, "There's more being published about women and prayer books. There are also more Orthodox views of prayer being published."

One title that fits this trend is The Jewish Publication Society's Seyder Tkhines, Rediscovered: Early Prayerbooks of Jewish Women by Devra Kay (July). "Although the literature of t'khines has been written about for the past 20 years or so, this 17th-century manuscript is a real discovery uncovered by its author in a rare book room in a British library," says marketing manager Helene Bludman.

For Passover prayers, The Holistic Haggadah by Michael Kagan (Mar.) is a new edition that uses the basic text as "a jumping-off point to widen and deepen the experience," according to Tzvi Mauer, publisher at Urim Publications. Having multiple Haggadah is not uncommon, Mauer says, noting there are "families who have the custom of purchasing one or even two new Haggadah each year. There are even collectors." With this in mind, Mesorah Publications will use print and radio to market two new spring titles on prayer, Wein Haggadah by Rabbi Berel Wein (Mar.), and Tractate Chullin (Apr.). Advertising director Efraim Perlowitz will promote books through radio advertising in the New York area and advertisements in newspapers like the Jewish Press and Jewish Week. They will also market the books through Mesorah's Passover catalogue, which mails to 40,000 customers.

Talking to a Higher Power

Customers for prayer books don't always fit neatly into a "religion" category. According to Gary Peattie, publisher at DeVorss & Company, "people are searching beyond traditional doctrine and are more open-minded to exploring different paths." Peattie says he's encouraged to see increased sales from trade wholesalers "which indicates interest from CBA and general trade booksellers."

DeVorss will promote two new books, The Prayer God Prays by Jim Rosemergy (Mar.) and Thinking from the Infinite by Carell Zaehn (Mar.) to the New Thought church network (Unity School of Christianity, Science of the Mind) at Book Expo America and at the International New Age Trade Show in Denver in June. They'll also advertise the books in Science of the Mind magazine and New Age Retailer.

To promote The Sailfish and the Sacred Mountain (June), publicity director Jody Winters says Inner Traditions/Bear & Co. created a "mini-reader" with an excerpt that will be distributed to sales reps and customers. A $30,000 ad budget will also allow for advertising in magazines such as Body & Soul as well as a postcard announcement. At Red Wheel/Weiser, San Francisco Bay—area author workshops and events will help promote writing instructor and hypnotherapist Janell Moon's The Prayer Box (Apr.); that will be supplemented with advertising in general-interest and New Age magazines. "We believe in launching locally," says publisher Jan Johnson. Skylight Paths will use an author tour to promote Prayers to an Evolutionary God by Bill Cleary (Apr.). The book will reach across many religion markets—including Protestants, Catholics, Unitarians, and readers of Science & Spirit magazine, according to Jon Sweeney, editor-in-chief. Cleary will tour several major Eastern cities, and Skylight Paths will mail press kits and review copies to 600 print and broadcast media.

As more and more readers search for spirituality across faith boundaries, prayer as a category should continue to earn its place on a bookstore's religion shelves. "A good book is a good book is a good book," notes Orbis's Leach, citing their Praying a New Story by Michael Morwood (Feb.) as a book that will appeal to a broad cross-section of readers. "If you publish quality books that speak to the heart of your core market, they are bound to speak to others as well."

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