Jonathan Merkh is quacking all the way to the bank at Howard Books. The publisher of Simon & Schuster’s Christian imprint is enjoying huge success with books tied to the Louisiana family whose unlikely mix of ZZ Top–style beards, a wooden duck-call business, and strong faith have made their A&E reality show, Duck Dynasty, a national favorite.
It’s not a two-week pop,” Merkh says of the appeal, which has produced extended stays at or near the top of the bestsellers charts for The Duck Commander Family: How Faith, Family, and Ducks Built a Dynasty by Willie and Korie Robertson with Mark Schlabach (Oct. 2012), and Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander by Phil Robertson, also coauthored with Schlabach (May). As of mid-July there were around 1.5 million copies of the two titles in print, with Merkh planning one of his company’s largest initial print runs of the past few years—775,000—for the September release of Si-cology 1: Tales and Wisdom from Duck Dynasty’s Favorite Uncle by another member of the clan, Si Robertson.
Merkh also hopes that duck calling may replace Jesus Calling—Sarah Young’s megaselling 2004 release—as the go-to devotional. With contributions from all members of the cast, The Duck Commander Devotional is due out in October, in pink and green duck camo editions. There’s also a cookbook coming in November and more titles likely next year. “I don’t believe there has been any reality TV show that has translated into book sales like this particular franchise has,” says Merkh, pointing to the family’s Christian faith as “a big element” in the success of the books.
What’s on TV?
The Duck Dynasty craze offers a classic illustration of the lure of celebrity titles for Christian publishers, with television a rich field from which to harvest “name” books. Howard also saw success in recent years with books by Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the parents of 20 children whose family was featured in the Discovery Channel series Meet the Duggars. Zondervan enjoyed healthy sales with books tied to the Discovery show Jon & Kate Plus Eight, though interest flagged after Jon and Kate Gosselin, the parents of sextuplets and two other children, divorced in 2009.
NBC’s The Biggest Loser has spawned several titles from contestants, including Julie Hadden’s Fat Chance: Losing the Weight, Gaining My Worth (Guideposts Books, 2009), Phil and Amy Parham’s The 90-Day Fitness Challenge (Harvest House, 2011), and Danny and Darci Cahill’s Losing Big (Harrison House, 2012).
Looking ahead, actress Roma Downey and producer-husband Mark Burnett team up for A Story of Christmas and All of Us (FaithWords, Oct.). Featuring photographs from their successful television series, The Bible—which earlier this year inspired their A Story of God and All of Us: A Novel Based on the Epic TV Miniseries “The Bible” (also FaithWords)—the forthcoming book celebrates the story of the nativity. An Easter edition is due next spring.
Singer Danny Gokey (profiled in this issue) touched hearts when he appeared on American Idol not long after his first wife’s death in 2008. In Hope in Front of Me: Find Purpose in Your Darkest Moments (NavPress, Oct.), he tells how his faith brought him through the loss.
While television series provide an extended promotional window for celebrity books, FaithWords tied its June release of Balance: A Story of Faith, Family, and Life on the Line by Nik Wallenda to a one-off event, a live Discovery Channel broadcast on June 23. It showed the seventh-generation member of the Great Wallendas become the first person to cross a gorge near the Grand Canyon on a high wire.
Three new books are for those with longer pop culture memories. Character actor Gavin McLeod, best known for his roles in the long-running television series The Love Boat and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, tells his story in This Is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage Through Hollywood, Faith, and Life (Thomas Nelson, Oct.). MacLeod (profiled in this issue) recounts meeting and working with stars like Cary Grant, Steve McQueen, and Bette Davis, and how his faith saw him through tough times, including divorce.
Comedian Tim Conway, best known for his featured appearances on The Carol Burnett Show, has enjoyed a long career, but never written a book until now. Collaborating with Jane Scovell, Conway focuses on his life in show business in What’s So Funny? My Hilarious Life (Howard Books, Oct.). The book features a foreword by Carol Burnett and will be supported by an author tour.
Best known for her role as DJ Tanner on the family sitcom Full House, actress and mother of three Candace Cameron Bure writes about how keeping God as her ultimate priority helps her juggle responsibilities and pressures. Balancing It All (B&H Publishing, Jan. 2014) follows her 2010 title with the publisher, Reshaping It All: Motivation for Physical and Spiritual Fitness.
A hermit who was thrust into the public eye through hosting a series of BBC documentaries about art, Wendy Beckett offers reflections on art and religion in two September releases from Franciscan Media, Sister Wendy on the Art of Mary and Sister Wendy on the Art of Christmas.
Publishers increasingly look to social media to help promote their books, but it also inspired one for Thomas Nelson. Jefferson Bethke’s four-minute “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” YouTube video generated seven million views within 48 hours of being posted last year, and more than 16 million more views in the following 12 months. In Jesus>Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough (Oct.), Bethke tells of overcoming a painful childhood and finding authentic faith, learning to embrace the grace of God rather than trying to earn love and acceptance by following the rules.
Serving Up Sales
Television tie-ins that serve up a mix of personality and kitchen prowess have helped cookbooks continue to thrive as a strong niche despite instant online access to recipes and cooking instructions.
Miss Kay’s Duck Commander Kitchen (Howard Books, Nov.) seeks to capitalize on the huge appeal of the Duck Dynasty Robertson family. Though cookbooks traditionally sell less well than trade books, the publisher was last month still toying with an initial print run of up to half a million copies to meet expected demand. Written by Kay Robertson, the matriarch of the Robertson family, with Chrys Howard, the book features “back-country, home-cooked” meals and includes recipes for the family’s favorites like fried deer steak, crawfish pie, and sticky frog legs.
Despite last year’s presidential election loss, Shadow Mountain’s generous 150,000 first print run for The Romney Family Table points to the publisher’s confidence that there is enduring interest in Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Along with family photos, recipes, and menu ideas, Ann Romney offers memories of raising a family—she and her husband of 44 years have five sons, five daughters-in-law, and 21 grandchildren—in the October release. Describing cooking as “part of the most important occupation on earth—raising a family,” Ann Romney offers kitchen tips and some of the stories behind favorite recipes like Mitt’s Meatloaf Cakes, homemade ice cream, and Welsh Skillet Cookies.
A paperback edition release in October follows last year’s hardcover edition of Welcome to Our Table (Harvest House). Shirley Dobson, the wife of Focus on the Family founder, radio personality, and author James Dobson, along with daughter Danae, present family memories, recipes, and seasonal party ideas to celebrate the art of hospitality.
On the Field and in the Ring
While popular culture provides plenty of opportunities for faith-based celebrity titles, the sports world is probably the richest seam to be mined, yielding more releases than any other area.
Among recent notable successes were two Zondervan titles by 2012 Olympic Gold medal gymnast Gabrielle Douglas, Grace, Gold & Glory: My Leap of Faith, written with Michelle Burford (Dec. 2012), and Raising the Bar (Apr.). In one of the latest sports releases, Robert Griffin III: Athlete, Leader, Believer (Thomas Nelson, Aug.) biographer Ted Kluck (profiled in this issue) explores how Griffin’s family background and Christian faith have been integral to the Heisman Trophy winner’s rise to fame with the Washington Redskins. The book features a foreword from Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly.
The Griffin book follows hard on the heels of teammate Kirk Cousins’ Game Changer: Faith, Football, & Finding Your Way (Zondervan, June). Aimed at teens, it offers advice from the record-holding Michigan State University quarterback who joined the Washington Redskins in the 2012 draft, finishing his rookie season with a strong passing record. Offering reflections on honesty, humility, and centering his life on faith while pursuing excellence as a competitive athlete, Cousins says the title—referring to biblical principles—is not intended to make him a poster boy, though the book does includes a full-color poster.
Though it is not focused exclusively on the Christian market, HarperOne has seen success with celebrity titles aimed at this space, notably 2011’s Tim Tebow autobiography, Through My Eyes, penned with Nathan Whitaker, who collaborated with Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy on Tyndale’s 2008 bestseller, Quiet Strength. Whitaker teams up again with Dungy and his wife, Lauren Dungy, for a relationship guide, Uncommon Marriage: What We’ve Learned About Lasting Love and Overcoming Life’s Obstacles Together (Tyndale Momentum, Feb. 2014).
Former Indianapolis Colt and Carolina Panther Derwin Gray has become a pastor since hanging up his cleats, and he offers hope to people with difficult pasts in Limitless Life: You Are More Than Your Past When God Holds Your Future (Thomas Nelson, Sept.). Gray reveals some of the struggles he faced and overcame, encouraging readers to escape “a life of mediocrity” and see God “do epic things” through them.
Lance Easley became the man many loved to hate—he even received death threats—when, as a replacement official during the NFL referees’ dispute in September 2012, he made a controversial call that gave the Seattle Seahawks victory over the Green Bay Packers. In Making the Call: Living With Your Decisions (Barbour Publishing, Aug.), Easley tells how his strong Christian faith saw him through the ensuing drama. A former U.S. Marine who serves on the board of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Easley collaborated on the book with close friend Brock Thoene, better known for his bestselling fiction with wife Bodie. Promotion efforts will culminate in late August, when the Seahawks and the Packers meet again.
Steve “Sting” Borden told his story of finding faith in the macho world of professional wrestling almost 10 years ago (Sting: Moment of Truth, Thomas Nelson, 2004) and now offers the foreword to another account of redemption from the world of smackdowns and over-the-top characters. Wrestling with the Devil: The True Story of a World Champion Professional Wrestler—His Reign, Ruin, and Redemption (Tyndale Momentum, Aug.) has Lex Luger (profiled in this issue) telling of his journey through addiction to faith. Luger’s girlfriend/manager died of a drug overdose, and he spent time in jail. Bridge Logos Foundation also turned to the grappling world for Tapped Out by Jesus: From the Cage to the Cross (2011). Ron Waterman’s autobiography tells how the former high school teacher competed in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Wrestling Entertainment arenas before becoming a full-time evangelist with Team Impact Ministries.
For some, celebrity status is not something they seek—it finds them as a result of being caught up in events that capture the world’s attention. This was true of Tyndale’s 2006 bestseller Let’s Roll by Lisa Beamer, widow of one of the men of who foiled the 9/11 hijackers on United Flight 93. Now, in Rescued (Harvest House, Sept.), Brian Brown tells of the faith that helped him and members of his family endure when their light aircraft crashed into Idaho’s War Eagle mountainside in bad weather. Subtitled “One Family’s Miraculous Story of Survival,” the account is co-written with Eileen Chambers, an independent filmmaker and author.
Seven years after the Nickel Mines, Pa., tragedy first shocked the country, one of the silent figures in the mass shooting of 10 young Amish girls at a schoolhouse, five of whom died, finally reveals her part in the story. Marie Monville—whose husband, Charlie Roberts, carried out the October 2006 attack before shooting himself dead—tells her story in One Light Still Shines: My Life Beyond the Shadow of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting (Zondervan, Oct.). Co-written with Cindy Lambert, Monville’s account of discovering God’s love and redemption in the aftermath is not the first Christian book on the incident. Think No Evil: Inside the Story of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting... and Beyond by Jonas Beiler and Shawn Smucker was published by Howard Books in 2009.
On the News
The latest crop of news-related titles is led by someone better known for presenting the headlines than making them, but with a compelling backstory of her own. Hattie Kauffman’s Falling into Place: A Memoir of Overcoming (Baker Books, Sept.; profiled in this issue), a correspondent and morning anchor with both ABC and CBS during her broadcasting career, reveals some of her own struggles and how God has transformed her life.
Tom Brokaw, NBC News special correspondent and The Greatest Generation author, narrates his book Christmas from Heaven (Shadow Mountain, Oct.) on an accompanying DVD, telling the story of the American pilot who became known as “The Candy Bomber” for the humanitarian food and supply drops he made to the people of West Berlin in the aftermath of WWII. The DVD featuring Brokaw’s narration includes a live performance with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (Shadow Mountain is a Mormon imprint). The book is illustrated by Robert T. Barrett.
Todd Starnes, the host of Fox News & Commentary, will publish God Less America with Charisma Media Group’s FrontLine imprint in May 2014. With stories and interviews, Starnes argues that Christian values in the United States are under attack.
Music-based celebrity books are widely seen to be difficult to get just right, but they can work. It’s All About Him: Finding the Love of My Life by Denise Jackson, wife of country superstar Alan Jackson, was a big hit for Thomas Nelson in 2008. Now award-winning songwriter Matthew West has recorded two albums of songs he wrote based on the personal stories shared by thousands of his fans in response to his appeal for testimonies, and he gathers some of their accounts around a recurring theme that gave the title to Forgiveness: Overcoming the Impossible, published in July by Thomas Nelson. Among the life-changing accounts that West says show that “forgiveness is both an unavoidable part of life and an essential factor in finding peace, joy and fulfillment” are the experiences of a mother who forgave the drunk driver who killed her daughter and an all-star athlete who came to terms with his own fall into, and recovery from, drug addiction.
The only three-time winner of the Grammy for Best Rock Gospel Album, Ashley Cleveland (profiled in this issue) tells some of the personal story that has shaped her music career in Little Black Sheep: A Memoir (David C. Cook, Sept.). That journey includes a difficult childhood and “destructive days” of drugs, alcohol, and sex before finding peace in God. Don Pape, Cook’s v-p of trade publishing, says he “knew that she had a story in her” when they first met more than a decade ago: “And here we are, and we’ll finally share her story for many more to know.”
With her own list of awards and nominations, gospel singer/songwriter Babbie Mason has written a second Bible study for Abingdon Press, following last year’s Embraced by God. Drawing from a passage in the New Testament, in This I Know for Sure: Taking God at His Word (Sept.) Mason presents five spiritual “landmarks”—what she describes as nonnegotiable principles of faith—pointing readers to unshakable truths.
On occasion publishers have twin platforms for a celebrity release, as with Abingdon’s 2012 Married for Real: Building a Loving, Powerful Life Together by Eddie and Tamara George—he a former NFL star turned broadcaster and she a singer and television personality. B&H Publishing has the same opportunity with Double Play (April 2014) by Ben and Julianna Zobrist. The couple—he’s an All-Star Major League baseball player and part of the Tampa Bay Rays’ World Series–winning team, she’s a Christian music artist—team up with Mike Yorkey to tell their story.
Famous by Association
Sometimes celebrity status is one step removed. Pattie Mallette, mother of pop star Justin Bieber, debuted on the New York Times bestseller list in September 2012 with Nowhere But Up (Revell), her story of surviving sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, and drug and alcohol addiction. The book was repackaged in July in a special teen edition, in which “she leaves out some of the grittier details that aren’t as teen appropriate,” says Jennifer Leep, Revell’s executive editor of the new version. “She’s also included sidebars and call-outs with answers to questions asked by her Twitter followers, relevant stats and info about various topics and struggles highlighted in the book, and discussion questions that help teens see what they can take away from reading her story.” In 2008, Thomas Nelson was less successful with a book by the mother of another famous child, Through the Storm: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World by Britney Spears’s mother, Lynne Spears.
Bob Buford, a TV executive turned motivational speaker and author, has been successful in his writing—Halftime (1995) has sold half a million copies—and as founder of the Leadership Network. His forthcoming book, Drucker & Me (Worthy Publishing, Apr. 2014), emphasizes his association with the famed management theorist Peter Drucker. With a foreword by Jim Collins—author of the bestselling leadership title Good to Great—Buford’s book tells of his long friendship with the late Drucker and how the two of them helped develop a new management model for nonprofit organizations.
HarperOne is planning a 75,000-copy first print run for the November release of The President’s Devotional: The Daily Readings That Inspired President Obama. It gathers some of the writings of Joshua Dubois, the former executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, who sent devotional e-mails to President Obama.
Now publishers have half an eye on Christmas sales for their fall celebrity releases, hoping their titles have the legs—or webbed feet—to carry them through to the big gift-buying season.