As the Buddhist community in America continues to grow, and readers who are not necessarily Buddhist are drawn to Buddhist ideas and practices, publishers have found success promoting translated classic titles along with general, concise introductions that can both appeal to a general audience and be used in the classroom for religious studies courses. Although the big general trade houses publish some Buddhist titles, the more substantial and esoteric books are usually the province of specialty and scholarly publishers.
Lydia Anderson, marketing manager for Wisdom Publications, says one of the publisher’s most important recent titles was Nagarjuna’s Middle Way (May). The book is the second in Wisdom’s Classics of Indian Buddhism series. The first book, Divine Stories, was published in 2008 and the third is still in development, Anderson says.
Anderson says she has noted an increase in the number of dissertations being published about Buddhism, as well as a growing number of undergraduate courses specifically about Buddhism or Eastern and Asian religions. “Even though Buddhism isn’t yet one of the major religions in America, there’s a growing audience for it,” she says, and that’s true regardless of the format in which the books are sold. Wisdom publishes the Library of Tibetan Classics, hefty tomes that sell well in both print and digital editions. “People are wanting to have these teachings nearby, in the academic world and in the home,” says Anderson.
Oxford University Press, which has published Buddhist titles as part of its popular Very Short Introduction series, aims its books at both students and general audiences, says editor Theo Calderara. “Very Short Introductions are enormously popular with professors who can assign them as a single week’s worth of reading in a class—mixing and matching the books to cover myriad topics,” he says. The latest, Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction (Oct.), “is an indication, I think, of a hunger among readers to dig more deeply into Buddhism.” Other books soon to be published by OUP include Buddhist Biology: Ancient Eastern Wisdom Meets Modern Western Science (Dec.) and Mindful America: Meditation and the Mutual Transformation of Buddhism and American Culture (spring 2014).
Yet even recognized scholars in the field are publishing concise introductions and overviews to attract both general and academic interest. That was the case for Donald S. Lopez Jr.’s From Stone To Flesh: A Short History of the Buddha (Apr.), published with the University of Chicago Press.
Shambhala Publications acquired Snow Lion about a year and a half ago, growing the market for the Buddhist publisher’s backlist significantly, says Steven Pomije, marketing communications manager. “Now, along with our mainstream Shambhala titles, we are the largest publisher in the West of serious academic works on Buddhism. The depth of our title base continues to grow as we repackage and reissue older Snow Lion titles.”
Sacred texts, which have a more limited audience, are part of that. New releases include the Dalai Lama’s From Here to Enlightenment: An Introduction to Tsong-kha-pa’s Classic Text The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Feb. 2014) and Opening the Treasure of the Profound: Teachings of the Songs of Jigten Sumgon and Milarepa (Oct.). Pomije says that the publisher has ramped up direct-to-consumer e-marketing, including title-specific e-announcements, e-newsletters, and more e-catalogues. “Close to 100,000 people now receive our e-promotions each month,” he says. “And perhaps not surprisingly, it’s our academic and Snow Lion titles that benefit most from these direct pushes, as many of these titles are just not being picked up at your neighborhood bookstore.” The press is also working with Random House to place its books in Random’s catalogues.
On the more popular front, Shambhala will soon publish its first book on mindfulness for parents, Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents) (Dec.). And Everything Is Workable: A Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution by Diane Hamilton, a professional mediator and wife to a former Utah Supreme Court Justice, is scheduled to be released next year. Says Oxford’s Calderara, “Whether the focus is on Buddhist philosophy, texts, history, ritual, or lived Buddhism, we see an audience for work in this area from across the spectrum, from scholars to students to lay Buddhists, to folks who are just curious.”