Joseph F. Girzone retired from the active priesthood in 1986 for health-related reasons. He had never written before when he began a fulfilling career as a novelist of three best-selling works featuring Joshua, the pious woodcarver.
Clearly, there is a renaissance of spirituality in the 1990s and, concomitantly, in what is called religious publishing. Some regard this quest as a counterbalance to the turbulence of our society, while others see it as a radical return to spiritual values. Whatever the compelling motivation, the result is clear-sales of religious books have had an upsurge in recent years.
The Wide Scope of Religious Books
The religious book category has come to include not only bibles and traditional books of faith, but also inspirational, New Age, and works of mysticism. So, for example, in a conventional bookstore, we might see The Essential Jesus alongside The Book of Blessings: A Recreation of Jewish Prayer, Shambhala's Living in the New Consciousness, a book dealing with Zen by a Jesuit priest, and the contemporary work of renewed Christianity, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ.
There are more than three thousand new books published in this field each year. The total annual sales volume for the category exceeds $900 million. A recent edition of Literary Marketplace lists eighty publishers whose output is predominantly books on Catholicism, more than one hundred that focus on Protestantism, about forty on Judaism, and 125 that are in the religious other category.
At the 1994 ABA Convention, almost two hundred publishers represented published books in the New Age category. Many publish exclusively in this category. In addition to books, they also produce audio and video discourse tapes, meditation sequences, and music. A trade association, New Age Publishing and Retailing Alliance (NAPRA) serves book retailers, publishers, authors, and editors in this burgeoning field.
In terms of bookstores, 70 percent of general bookstores carry religious books, with an average of 250 titles in each store. There are also thousands of religious bookstores across the nation. The Christian Booksellers Association has thirty-five member stores. The Mountain and New England regions have the highest sales activity in religious books, while the South Atlantic region has the lowest sales average.
Bibles account for 25 percent of the sales of religious books, inspirational represents 18 percent, motivational/self-help 17 percent, and children's religious books 11 percent.
One large mainstream publisher, HarperCollins, is a major participant in religious book publishing. A recent religious best-sellers list appearing in Publishers Weekly had two titles issued on the HarperCollins imprint, Tao Te Ching and The Gospel According to Jesus, and another book, The Historical Jesus, published under its Harper San Francisco division.
A recent advertisement for Harper San Francisco in Publishers Weekly is indicative of the range of titles of a religious imprint. It included Born of a Woman; Roget's Thesaurus of the Bible; Holy Siege: The Year That Shook Catholic America; Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home; The Gospel of Thomas', and Mother Teresa.
Zondervan is a wholly owned subsidiary of HarperCollins. It de-scribes itself as "the leading international Christian communications company." This specialized publisher employs fifteen hundred people nationwide and publishes about 130 titles a year.
Word, another major religious publisher, headquartered in Dallas, had two titles on a recent religious best-sellers list. They included the Rev. Pat Robertson's The New World Order, which made the list for many weeks, and Barbara Johnson's Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy Billy Graham is another Word author.
Publishers Weekly also publishes a Christian best-sellers list. On a recent listing, in addition to titles from Zondervan and Word, other religious publishers such as Bethany House, Thomas Nelson, and Crossway Books were well represented.
Alfred A. Knopf's The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran, a perennial religious best-seller, has been in continuous publication since 1938.
Some religious authors, such as Word's Rev. Charles Swindoll, have achieved mass audience popularity. His recent best-sellers include Growing Deep in the Christian Faith and Simple Faith. Swindoll, who has written twenty-two books as of this writing, is among the nation's top-selling authors in all categories.
In 1992, one enterprising religious publisher, Gospel Light/Regal Books, formed a consortium with publishers in the former Soviet Union to publish, print, and distribute religious books. Its initial output included ten books for adults and several children's books. Religious publishing has spread its wings all over the world. A children's Bible story series from publisher Arch Books has even been translated into Chinese and Vietnamese.
Careers in Religious Publishing
Most jobs in this field are similar to those in mainstream publishing. However, religion majors have the edge in the editorial phase of this specialty. Consult Literary Market Place for a listing of religious publishers. Another positive factor for job-seekers is that religious publishers are located all over the country.