Religion and spirituality publishers are putting a finer focus on reaching the 50 million Spanish-speaking and language learners in the U.S., and millions more worldwide. However, publishers looking toward the Spanish audience also see major challenges in starting up, including staffing for acquisitions and translations, choosing content for very diverse ethnic and cultural groups, and marketing and distribution to the U.S., Mexico, and beyond.

When Terumi Echols was named president and publisher of InterVarsity Press in August 2021, she told PW she wanted IVP to “walk boldly” toward broadening its reach to the Spanish-speaking church. Two years later, it’s still a walk—and work—in progress. The first book, planned for spring 2024, is a Spanish translation of Christian Mission in the Modern World by John Scott and Christopher J.H. Wright, published in partnership with the Spanish-language translation and publishing ministry Certeza UNIDA.

“We are in the investigation stage,” Echols admits, elaborating on their reasons for going cautiously. “One of the most important things you can do in order to address people appropriately and represent their culture effectively is to spend time getting to know them. We are trying to make sure we are doing the right thing, telling stories authentically, talking to the right authors and the right theologians, talking with Latino ministries to learn what they feel their needs are. If you get it wrong, it’s hard to undo.”

Where it’s working

Executives at faith houses that are seeing positive sales for books in Spanish—namely HarperCollins Christian Publishing and Inner Traditions—say it takes more than speaking the language to launch successfully into this territory. HCCP expanded into Spanish largely through acquisitions, says Cris Garrido, v-p and publisher for Spanish, who joined HCCP in 2018 from Lifeway, where he was director of Spanish publishing. The division includes three imprints. Editorial Vida, acquired in 1988, offers 3,000 active titles in print, including trade Bibles and nonfiction works from an evangelical viewpoint, and will release roughly 25 trade titles in 2023 in addition to Bibles, Garrido says. Grupo Nelson publishes translations of major Thomas Nelson authors, and was acquired 2012. It has about 680 active titles, and around 25 new titles per year. Lastly, Editorial CLIE, a Spain-based publisher of Christian academic and Bible reference books, is a distributed partner, “but very much core to what we do,” Garrido says. “They have well over 2,000 active titles and have 32 coming this calendar year.”

HarperEnfoque is the latest addition to the HCCP group of imprints, though it focuses on general trade titles addressed to a conservative religious audience and does not focus on Christian books. (See “HarperCollins Expands Its Spanish-Language Business,” p. 14.)

Garrido cites one major change since 2019 that has pushed the Spanish division to greater success: international expansion. “Over the past four years, HCCP has seen its Spanish publishing division grow revenues by 40%, while publishing 35% fewer trade titles per year,” he says. Some of that growth has been in overseas markets. “Half of our sales have been international, fueled by the growth in evangelical Christianity around the world.” While Spain, Argentina, and Mexico are the company’s largest overseas markets, Colombia has been the fastest growing in recent years.

“This has also been the result of acquiring works that are better suited for the target market, particularly works from voices actively engaged with Spanish-speaking audiences, be that directly or in translation,” Garrido says. “We used to say, ‘If something is huge in English, we would expect to get 10% of that in Spanish.’ Not anymore. Today, it takes knowing the trends, the needs, and the voices that are having an impact in the market.”

Garrido is not simply on the lookout to publish established names with big platforms: “We are reaching out to help people build their platforms so that when they do publish, readers will see their name, want to know more, and discover their book,” he says.

Ehud Sperling, founder of the mind-body-spirit publishing house Inner Traditions, first launched Inner Traditions en Español in 1993 but shut it down in 2003 after their Latin-America-based distributor at Lasser Press retired. But in 2022, Ehud’s bilingual, bicultural son Mahar Sperling, manager of special projects at IT, relaunched the division, working with Editorial Oceano de Mexico for distribution.

The division has released 11 books to date, with one more to come this year, 12 titles planned for 2024, and 12–24 in mind for 2025, Sperling says. The books are produced under the editorship of Beatriz Pimentel, who is based in Venezuela, where all the translating and typesetting is done with native Spanish speakers. Sperling and Pimentel make face-to-face visits to book fairs, book buyers, publishers, and stores to introduce their most popular translated titles, such as Lecciones de los 12 Arcángeles (Lessons from the Twelve Archangels), which is its lead title in Spain, and Herbolario de la senda de los venenos (The Poison Path Herbal), which sold out at the Miami Book Fair last year.

“Spanish is the biggest market after English, but it is very complicated. We have an advantage because the subjects we publish in—mind, body, and spirit—cross all borders,” Sperling says. “There are people in every country who are interested in angels or herbs or tarot. But for all this to work, you need a team of people who live and breathe Spanish and know Spanish cultures, and you need to build a web of contacts. When I meet with distributors and booksellers, it feels like family. It’s not enough to just speak Spanish. You have to know, for example, that we don’t phone or email, we communicate via texting on WhatsApp.”

In Chicago, where around 18% of the population speaks Spanish, Loyola Press president and publisher Joellyn Cicciarelli says Loyola has the advantage of a large and diverse staff for many departments, particularly for its Spanish-language books and catechetical materials. She also notes that diversity and inclusion go beyond race and ethnicity. For example, a new series, the Adaptive Finding God Spanish Lesson Cards, used for faith formation, is being developed in consultation with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability.

El Paso, Tex.–based Casa Bautista de Publicaciones/Editorial Mundo Hispano (The Baptist house of publishing for the Spanish-speaking world) offers a full range of titles—commentaries and references, as well as titles on evangelism, discipleship, family, and Christian Life. And they have a key advantage: CEO Raquel Contreras told The Baptist Standard that owning their own Spanish translation of the Bible, called Reina Valera Actualizada, “allows us to sell Bibles and to quote Bible verses in our books without paying royalties.”

Karey Circosta, publisher of Ave Maria Press, says Ave Maria has been publishing titles in Spanish for more than a decade, distributing through Catholic organizations, parishes, and schools. It is now adding free resources such as multimedia, duo-language productions, too. The first, to be released in September, is a seasonal reflection package for Advent, Prepare Your Heart (Prepara tu corazón), in both English and Spanish, created with bilingual author and speaker Agustino Torres. And another, for Lent, will be ready for spring 2024.

Ave Maria launched a seven-title series in Spanish-only in 2017 with resources for spiritual growth written by popular Hispanic theologians. And now, Circosta says, “we found a need to translate books on healing by bestselling author Bob Schuchts.” It started in 2021 with Be Healed (Sé sanado). Be Restored (Sé Restaurado) will be released in the fall of 2023, and two more books from Schuchts will be released in Spanish in the spring 2024: Be Transformed (Sé transformado) and Be Devoted (Sé devote).

Other U.S. publishers say they are not considering expansion of Spanish-language books at this time due to distribution and marketing challenges. At Baker Books, Jennifer Leep, executive v-p of trade, says, “While we have occasionally produced and sold our own Spanish editions, we have generally found it to be more effective for us to license our titles to Spanish-language publishers.”

New World Library currently publishes its backlist star title, Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now (El poder del ahora), and two other titles in Spanish. However, editorial director Georgia Hughes says, “it’s been five years since we published anything more. It is on our radar and we are hoping someday for a good reach into an underserved audience.”

Cathy Lynnn Grossman is a veteran religion editor living in Washington, D.C.