Books on marriage from a religious point of view are heavily published by evangelical Christian houses, and this year their books on the subject keep clearly in focus the idea that a good marriage requires effort. New titles that promise everything from long-term strategies to quick fixes are all designed to improve and strengthen what for many people is the longest, most complex relationship of their lives.
As has been true in the past, the targeted readers are women, who buy most of the books on this topic. But titles specifically aimed at men are gaining ground. And while established authors have new entries, the category is opening itself up to newer and younger voices, reflecting the views of a generation whose ideas about marriage are changing.
The Tried and True
At Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, there is faith in the tried-and-true titles for women about marital threats like infidelity and poor communication. Revell has had strong success in this category, most notably with His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage by Willard F. Harley Jr., originally released more than 25 years ago and revised by the author in 2011. It has sold more than 2.5 million copies in all formats, so editorial directo Jennifer Leep does not expect Revell’s approach to change. “The 10 basic needs explored in His Needs, Her Needs are the same as they were two and a half decades ago, even though the ways they express themselves in today’s culture are different,” she says. “That book is a good example of what’s true for this category as a whole.” New from Revell is The Marriage of Your Dreams: A Woman’s Guide to Understanding Her Man by Rick Johnson (Sept.) and Praying God’s Word for Your Husband by Kathi Lipp (June). The Baker Books imprint has Lifelong Love Affair: How to Have a Passionate and Deeply Rewarding Marriage by Jimmy Evans with Frank Martin (Sept.). And Crossway will publish The Fruitful Wife: Cultivating Love Only God Can Produce by Hayley DiMarco (Sept.; profiled in this issue), while Tyndale has Your Heart’s Desire: 14 Truths That Will Forever Change the Way You Love and Are Loved by Sheri Rose Shepherd (June).
At Whitaker House, titles also reflect the more traditional version of marriage with an emphasis on advice. Says publisher Bob Whitaker Jr., “If a book is not cutting to the issues of why marriages are failing and families are falling apart, I don’t think it is worth publishing.” New from Whitaker House are Releasing Family Blessings: God’s Plan for Your Marriage and Children by Larry and Tiz Huch (Aug.), who are top-selling authors for the house, and Faith, Family & Finances: Strong Foundations for a Better Life by Henry Fernandez (Mar.), a megachurch pastor.
Whitaker intends to expand its lineup of marriage books soon, but look for future titles to try for a male readership. “Men are not stepping up to the plate to support their families, so I am happy to publish books that address issues to men,” Whitaker says. He also expects future titles on “challenged marriages,” such as those struggling with addiction. The house publishes in Spanish to a market that has been responsive to its marriage titles. “The Spanish market struggles with the same marriage issues,” Whitaker notes. A Spanish version of Faith, Family & Finances releases in October, and Releasing Family Blessings will be published in Spanish next spring.
When it comes to marriage, Zondervan is wary of trends, says v-p of marketing Don Gates. “While the super-sexed-up books in the last year have received a lot of attention, they were not the best of sellers,” he says. “We focus on enduring themes and opportunities in marriage—communicating with each other, understanding the other, growing together spiritually, and the like.” He cites Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story by Joni Eareckson Tada and her husband and Couples of the Bible: A One-Year Devotional to Draw You Closer to God and Each Other by Robert and Bobbie Wolgemuth (both Apr. 2013).
Classic Takes, Fresh Views
At Moody, the 800-pound gorilla is The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman’s 1992 marriage bestseller, which has sold more than seven million copies and spawned a whole family of spinoffs. Those spinoffs continue with Chapman’s The Love Languages Devotional Bible (Oct.), which has commentary, devotions, and prayer guides for couples. Moody is also turning to fiction: for last Christmas the house produced A Marriage Carol, a retelling of the 19th-century Dickens classic as an instructional tale about modern marriage; Walk with Me: Pilgrim’s Progress for Married Couples by Annie Wald (Sept.; profiled in this issue) is a retelling of John Bunyan’s 17th-century Christian allegory. Deborah Keiser, Moody’s associate publisher, is looking for more fictional approaches to marriage and relationships. “In fiction, you can fall in love with a character and what’s happening in their lives and identify with them in a way you can’t with nonfiction,” she says. “Telling you is only one way of learning, and this is a different way, learning through story.”
At WaterBrook Multnomah, the Christian division of Random House, v-p and editor-in-chief Ken Petersen says the “general marriage book” may be a thing of the past. “Anything new has to have a distinctive concept,” he says. That’s what the house hopes it has with Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up About We by authors known only as “Claire and Eli” (Sept.; reviewed in this issue). The book is a critical look at the notions and pressures of marriage within the evangelical church; it is based on the authors’ own experiences as a young Christian couple. “Altared is a great example of this new literature and new emphasis,” says Petersen. “There’s less emphasis on avoiding divorce and more emphasis on creating deep, intimate relationships.” But the practical advice book retains its hold on the marketplace, too. One Month to Love: Thirty Days to Grow and Deepen Your Closest Relationships by Kerry and Chris Shook (WaterBrook, Dec.) is an attempt to build on the authors’ 2008 success, One Month to Live: Thirty Days to a No-Regrets Life.
Practical is the buzzword at Harvest House, where marriage titles account for approximately 25 % of its list. Publicist Aaron Dillon says readers are looking for “something relational.” Short is sweet, too. “Our readers respond well to a format of 31 days or 52 weeks,” Dillon says. “Things that are practical and implementable are generating success for us.” New titles reflect that with 31 Days to a Happy Husband by Arlene Pellicane (Aug.), 101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Remarried by H. Norman Wright (Oct.), and Singleness, Marriage, and the Will of God, described as a comprehensive biblical guide, by J. Robin Maxson with Garry Freisen (Aug.).
Harvest House recognizes the main customers for marriage titles are women, but it too would like to reach more men. “Those titles have to have the same concision and advice you want for the women, but even more so because men for the most part are not readers,” Dillon says. He points to 52 Things Wives Need from Their Husbands by Jay Payleitner (Feb.) as an example. And look for the category to niche into specific issues married people may confront, such as infertility, infidelity, and adoption.
What will the marriage book of the future look like? Studies show fewer couples are choosing to get married, and those that do are getting married later. At the same time, more couples are opting for childlessness, thereby redefining the idea of what marriage is traditionally “for”—creating families. “Generation Y and to some extent millennials are beginning to reinvent the marriage book of the future,” says WaterBrook Multnomah’s Petersen. “I see them less interested in traditional roles and more interested in adapting flexible roles that fit each personality within the marriage.” Whitaker agrees—to a point. He believes that while young people today no longer assume they should get married, they are not doing much thinking about what else they should do in terms of their relationships. “A growing group faces so many choices they find it difficult to make decisions,” Whitaker says. “Upcoming books on dating and marriage would do well to address the question ‘How can a person best serve God—as a married parent or as a single man or woman?’”
Before Mating, Dating
So many ways to meet potential partners—online dating services, social networking groups, even professional matchmakers. What can this season’s dating books from religion and spirituality publishers add to help the search? Words of experience leavened by practical advice. “It isn’t enough for someone to tell their story,” says Barry Russell, sales manager at Beacon Hill Press. “They need to have something people can take away and apply to their own situation.”
Beacon Hill has several new dating titles that reflect another trend Russell sees— the further niching of the category. “People want products specifically catered to their needs,” he says, and Beacon aims for that with Dating After Divorce: Preparing for a New Relationship by David and Lisa Frisbie (June). The same holds true at Bethany House, with its Dating and the Single Parent by Ron Deal (Oct.).
Not surprisingly, there is a good deal of focus on the young, too. Zondervan has Is This the One? Simple Dates for Finding the Love of Your Life by Stephen Arterburn (Apr.; reviewed in this issue). Mormon publisher Cedar Fort offers Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance by JeaNette G. Smith (July), and Thomas Nelson will publish The Truth About Breaking Up, Making Up, and Moving On by Chad Eastham (Jan. 2013). Nelson’s AnnJanette Toth, marketing director for children’s and family entertainment, says the future of this category will include more e-books, social media, and maybe even some apps. “A lot of young adults and kids are going to the Internet to find their answers, so it makes sense for us to meet them there,” she says.
In a play for younger readers, Servant Books, an imprint of Catholic publisher Franciscan Media, is publishing Would You Date You? by Anthony Buono (July), the founder of Ave Maria Singles, a Catholic dating site. Franciscan has had other titles that touched on dating—most notably If You Really Loved Me by Jason Evert (2009)—but Christopher Holmes, Franciscan’s marketing strategy and services manager, says Would You Date You? is its first book dedicated to the topic, and its author is perfectly poised to reach young Catholics and beyond. “Anthony’s background brings the possibility of a new audience, the younger adults we are always trying to reach,” he says.