If a number of religion publishers have their way, readers are going straight to hell.
Spurred by the much-anticipated release Tuesday (May 14) of Dan Brown’s Inferno (Doubleday), several publishers across the faith spectrum are offering their own titles purporting to lift the veil on the realm below. And just as Dante penned his poetry about more than just hell--heaven and purgatory were stops on his tour--the new books take readers to more than just the fiery realm below, also visiting the higher clime that is a bit more moderate in temperature.
The closest tie-in to Brown’s Inferno is Paraclete Press’s Faces from Dante’s Inferno: Who They Are, What They Say and What It All Means by Peter Celano (Aug.). Marketing director Carol Showalter says Paraclete, a nondenominational Christian house, will deliberately market this book to Brown’s readers, who will not all have a background in Italian Renaissance poetry. “People are going to be asking lots of questions about Dante because of Dan Brown's ability to titillate,” she says. “We wanted to provide some answers.”
Mainstream bestseller tie-in or not, books about the afterlife are always a hot topic with consumers and can grow legs of their own, Showalter notes. “People are fascinated about the end of life because we have no way of knowing anything certain about it. We experience firsthand things like sin, forgiveness, guilt, loss of faith, becoming born again, but the idea of the afterlife is endlessly intriguing, because it is tough to get your hands around.”
Houses with roots in evangelical Christianity, which considers hell a real, physical place, also have some new titles, including Harvest House’s What’s the Truth About Heaven and Hell? Sorting Out the Confusion About the Afterlife by Douglas A. Jacoby (April) and Bethany House’s Unseen: Angels, Satan, Heaven, Hell and Winning the Battle for Eternity by Jack Graham (Aug.). Andy McGuire, Bethany’s acquisitions editor, says the interest in titles about hell and heaven might be the result of a “backlash” against a more scientific worldview. “I think people are rebelling against a sort of pure scientism or naturalism and saying, ‘I want to believe in something more because I am something more.’” Aaron Dillon, publicist for Harvest House, also thinks interest in hell and heaven is driven by a reaction. “When you see things happen like Sandy Hook and the Boston Marathon bombing, that can prime people to look for resources like this,” he says. “It is a perennial topic, but there is a bit of a surge now.”
“Surge” is a good word to describe the trajectory of Heaven is Real But So is Hell: An Eyewitness Account of What’s to Come by Vassula Ryden (Alexian, Mar.), which is so far the most successful of these hellish books. Ryden, a Greek Orthodox woman who describes herself as a mystic and seer, serves up a prophetic vision of the afterlife and current events. Her self-published book hit some heavenly milestones--#1 on BarnesandNoble.com for more than a week, #3 on USA Today’s religion bestsellers list, and #12 on PW’s hardcover nonfiction bestsellers list, among others.
Kristin Cole, director of account services for A. Larry Ross, a public relations firm promoting Vassula’s book, credits its popularity to the high rate of belief in the afterlife among Americans--59 percent in 2008, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Still, marketing this book and others on hell presents publishers with a fine line to walk. “In publicizing Heaven is Real, But So is Hell, we have sought to not only educate audiences on the existence of hell, but to also counter with the hope it brings,” Cole says. “It may be uncomfortable, but discussing and studying these issues will bring us to a better understanding of our purpose here on Earth.”